A China Man's Ironman – Adrian Li's Journey to an Ironman An Ironman Training Diary for Ironman Western Australia

Ironman Western Australia Busselton – Race Day Report Part II

Sunday 8th December: RACE DAY!

As expected the night before the race I only slept about 4 hours as I was restless and up thinking about the race. I got out of bed at 3:15AM (later than planned) to set about trying to get some breakfast in. Problem no.1! For some reason after my peanut butter sandwich (~250 Cal) I felt nauseous! So I couldn’t get my cliff bar, porridge or banana down (~700 Cal). This could have been because I was rushing my breakfast due to waking up 30 mins late anyway – lesson learned! (This I believe contributed to my mini “bonk” 10K into the marathon). I managed to finish my Accelerade sports drink and after a successful toilet routine headed off the lobby to catch the 4:15AM cab to the race start.

Straight into T1 to do a final bike check: gears, nutrition, tires, I pulled on my wet suit sent in my street gear bag and headed down to the jetty to do a quick swim warm up and then over to see the pro’s start. It’s also important that you have your wetsuit pulled up comfortably. Lift your arm up and back down to make sure there isn’t too much tightness. Also my wetsuit has a velcro strap at the back of the neck. Make sure that this is strapped down such that it will not expose the velcro to your neck. Mine worked its way up around half way and I had a nasty strap burn on the back of my neck by the time I finished.

This year with 1,500 competitors instead of a deep-water start we had a beach start. I decided to start mid pack – neither with the guys racing to the water at the front, nor the guys standing back. I also quickly checked for whoever was immediately behind me – no overly zealous or ambitious people or gigantic aussies ready to step over me – check! Now just minutes and seconds away I calmed my mind and prepared for the race.

Tip! I was actually surprisingly calm at race start. Something I did almost every night in the week running up to the race was to imagine myself at the start line looking out towards the jetty getting ready to start. Pro athletes focus a lot on proper visioning and mental preparation for a race and this can help make sure that you don’t waste valuable energy being nervous/ stressed on race day as well as give you an edge in performance.  

The race gun fires…

3.8KM Swim around Busselton Jetty:

Adrian Li at T1

In the midst of an immediate flurry of splashing and arms I quickly found myself a spot behind a similar paced swimmer and tried to get into a good rhythm. The swim is one loop around the jetty so it’s relatively easy to stay on course by sighting the jetty to the left. Despite there being 1,500+ swimmers everyone was well spaced out so after about 400 meters it was quite easy to find my own space in the middle of the pack. I ended up being more comfortable swimming in my own space vs. drafting another swimmer so that is something I will have to work on going forward. The swim proceeded well and at the half way mark I checked my watch and with a quick calculation was on course for a 1hr 10-15 min swim. Great – I thought to myself I’m ahead of my budgeted 1:30 estimate! Every now and then I would wonder if looking out to my left or right I’d see a shark but in fact I didn’t even see any fish swim by! Coming around the turn around we had a chance to look back to shore – all 1.8KM away but I was feeling good so attempted to pick up my pace to get back home. Eventually the black inflated IM gate came into view and a few more strokes later the swim was finished.

  • Swim: 1Hr 15Mins

180KM Bike on 3 loop course:


Getting out of the water I ran up to transition where I grabbed my bag and found a spot to settle myself down for the change to bike. Transition was fairly smooth and in just under 10 minutes I was out onto the bike course. Wary of over expending too early I kept my HR under 150 bpm during the entire bike course. Early on I did feel a slight twinge in my left calf and so I popped a couple of salt tabs and the feeling went away by the last loop of the course. The course was a 3 loop 60KM course that took riders on out and back legs around Busselton. The ride was mostly straight and flat – which was good and bad. Good in that there were no tiring climbs or technical turns but it did mean that you had to be pedaling all the time. There were a few sections with strong cross and head/tail winds but what you got in head winds you took back in tail winds so it was fair. We had a mostly overcast day which helped with the temperature – however used to training in humid and hot temperatures I found myself needing the the toilet many more times than I planned for. In all I needed 3 pit stops on the course official porta-loos accounting for around 5-6 minutes.


There were quite a few technical marshals on the course however despite the 12M drafting rule and many riders in groups I didn’t see any penalties handed out. I figured that they were less concerned about the age groupers and with an IM distance were just letting people do their race. One thing that I had to be wary of were the bottles, CO2 canisters and other items that were occasionally found strewn across the road – definitely something to watch out for! Each lap took me through the town where the streets were lined with spectators. One thing I can’t say enough about are the spectators who really get into the atmosphere of the race helping all the riders along. Even out halfway through the lap there was an outpost with people ringing bells and shouting cheers to help everyone along. As I came into the final stretch of the 3rd lap I finally spotted my family and a gorgeous poster of my son welcoming me into T2. Amazing – 2 parts down now only a marathon to go! I was still feeling great but checking my watch at 6 hours 14+ minutes the bike had taken me 15 minutes longer than I had anticipated – most likely from the wind and toilet stops I had not planned for. But also – continually in my mind was the fear of “blowing up” and as this was my first IM the over arching goal would be to just finish in a respectable time.

  • Bike: 6Hrs 14Mins
  • Avg. HR: 147
  • Avg. Speed: 29KM/H


42.2KM Run on a 4 loop course:


T2 required a massive application of sun block and also filling up my running bottles with the Gu infused mixture. Once done I was out with a total transition time of 8 minutes. The marathon part of the IMWA is one of the most fun parts of the race. Running along the coast and passing the IM finish line twice on every lap is a constant reminder to get to the finish line. With bands playing, the paths lined with spectators and the hundreds of other participants you are never alone in the last leg of the race.

I started out strong in the run – I completed my first 10K in just over an hour. However at KM 12 I suddenly hit a wall and all I could think of was getting something to eat and some nutrition in. My thoughts wandered back to my breakfast and whether this was the result of not getting the full breakfast in! Arriving at an aid station I grabbed a banana, two slices of watermelon and a vegemite sandwich which I stuffed into my running belt.

I then decided to start a run/ walk strategy which meant doing a fast walk through each aid station allowing me to drink some water and recover before the next section. At the half way mark I also started seeing many other people walking – even those on their last lap with just a few KMs to go.


With a slightly overcast sky and occasional ocean breeze the run turned out not to be to hot, this was quite a blessing compared to the previous year. On my 3rd lap my younger brother Andrew spotted me from the side line and ran a couple of kilometers with me – this was a massive boost and he was a welcome sight to see. As I turned into the final lap most people I saw were moving at a slow shuffle – but with the finish line just another 10KM away I tried to shut out the soreness in my legs and reached for the the photos of my wife and kid in my running belt. Slowly but surely I started down the last 2KM – where my youngest brother Alex spotted me and supported me with words of encouragement and got me racing to the finish line. The last few hundred meters became a blur as I swung into the finish chute between a sea of spectators towards the IM arch. Under my sunglasses my eyes immediately welled up as hundreds of images flashed in front of me from the past years worth of training to get to this finish line.

“Adrian Li You – Are An Ironman” I heard as I crossed the Ironman arch to a time of 13 hours 2 minutes.


  • Run: 5Hrs 11Mins
  • Avg. HR 142
  • Best lap: 1Hr 4 mins

Tip!: If you are not racing for a specific time try NOT to sprint into the finish line arch. Take your time to soak in the crowd and savor the moment as you complete one of the toughest one day events in the world. Also this allows for your friends and family to take videos/ pictures of you as you come in – finally it probably isn’t the safest time to push your max HR at the finale of an Ironman!

Post Race: Thoughts, plans and future

So what’s next? For at least 24 hours after the event I would continue to say that the Ironman was a once in a lifetime bucket list experience. Now just 7 days later I’m researching how to get into Kona (lottery chances are about 1% or qualify by doing an Ironman in just over 9 hours). Certainly an Ironman is not a once a year undertaking for me – the amount of time, sacrifice and support from my family and friends is too demanding to do that often – at least at this stage of my life. However the spirit and learnings I have from the Ironman experience will definitely have me coming back in the future. May be one day I will even get to race side by side my son Aaron in his first Ironman.

The completion of the Ironman was a culmination of a year’s long preparation and support from my family, friends, donors and colleagues. It is a hugely empowering experience and all manner of benefits from physical fitness, to more mental discipline and about what is possible when one is determined enough. However most of all it has also filled me with gratitude for life, the opportunity to even experience this and all the people who helped me make this goal possible.

Thank you’s and Mentions:


This has been one of the most incredible 12 months of my life from getting married to our first son, to starting a business I am passionate about to the completion of my first Ironman. Like all great challenges in life these are overcome not by individuals but by teams – the Ironman is certainly no exception. I would never have got even to the start line without the incredible support I received.

First and foremost to my wife, Vanessa, who helped me in every way from constant words of support to putting in all the extra time with Aaron as I put in the hours of training. I dedicate my finish of this race to you and Aaron and hope that it proves that I can go to the end of the world for you.

Next to my family, my mum, dad and both my brothers Andrew and Alex. Thank you for the support for coming all the way down to Australia for the race and being there on this event.

My co-founders and business partners Steven and Sean for allowing me to pursue this passion during our busy start up times.

To my Heng Dai Ironman Tevis Ong. We signed up together, trained and suffered together and finished IMWA together – it was great to have a buddy throughout this year’s experience. Next stop Kona!

To the tribuddies family, the guys I train with and who offer their support on chat and in our group – it’s great to have this fantastic community in Jakarta to keep me motivated.

To all my donors who generously donated to CNYTrust to help migrant school children. I’m excited and proud to say that together we also broke through my fund raising goal and that these funds will go a long way to support our next few years of teachers.

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