A Seventh in her first Ironman – Anna Cleaver takes us through her journey to Melbourne

Like former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Anna Cleaver has come back for a second time to have a crack at her dream. This time it is long course and her first Ironman in Melbourne last weekend was a success. She may not have won or placed on the podium but seventh female overall for [&helli

Like former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Anna Cleaver has come back for a second time to have a crack at her dream. This time it is long course and her first Ironman in Melbourne last weekend was a success. She may not have won or placed on the podium but seventh female overall for someone who most suggested ‘wouldn’t be able to run a fast marathon’ her 3:08 was impressive. A shortened swim stole some of the advantage that Cleaver would normally gain over a majority of the field but that didn’t affect her.

The former New Zealand representative swimmer and investment banker is now banking on long course triathlon to take her to the top.

On the beach at the start of Ironman Melbourne Cleaver could not stop giggling as the pros, and everyone else, stood around for close to an hour while the start was delayed. She is not a surf swimmer so the rough water and short swim took the sting out of her first leg. In addition a penalty on the bike added to her overall time.

One of the revelations in Anna’s race report is that she could be be first person who was busted for drafting that was actually drafting at the time. This is a revelation in the sport as never before has anyone been busted drafting while actually drafting (tongue firmly in cheek).

In Anna’s words…

This particular ‘Ironman Journey’ begins before 24th March. Years before in fact.

Rewind to 2004. I had resigned from a highly stressful job in Investment Banking. My teen years were spent as a NZ swimmer and my university studies were accompanied by a short stint in ITU triathlon as an U23 athlete. 3 years in an Investment Bank environment working 80-100 hour weeks and I needed a break. A US vacation for my birthday brought me to Hawaii in October. It was a coincidence that this solo vacation brought me to Kona at the same time as the famous Ironman World Championships. I didn’t know anybody there. I watched the inspiring Cameron Brown race on a day that didn’t prove to be ‘his day’. I was still inspired. I couldn’t tell you who won that day. I didn’t know athlete names. I do remember going back to my hotel room (now that I know more about the event, how I got a hotel room in Kona at this time of year I do not know!). I called my Dad and said I am going to get back into triathlon. I am going to do Ironman. One day.

Since then I have tried to be patient in this triathlon journey, something that for those who know me well is a difficult thing to achieve. I continued to work and it wasn’t until recent years that I returned to the sport. After being plagued by illness, injuries and crashes I was finally finding my feet again. Nick White from Carmichael Coaching Systems started working with me in September last year. I had just had a bike crash which left me with fractures. I told him I wanted to do Ironman and I thought Melbourne would be a good one for my first. He agreed.

So to many my decision to race the Asia Pacific Ironman Championships seemed like a sudden/ last minute one. But the decision had been made many months prior, in fact many years before. I chose this particular event for a few reasons:

  • Timing. Regardless of whether I raced or not, training for a March Ironman would provide me with a great base and building blocks for the US season
  • It is close to home. Minimal travel time would be needed, its familiar, there aren’t any unknown culture issues to deal with and family and friends could be there
  • The course. I thought it would be one that would suit my strengths. On race day the course did not play out to these strengths. But ironically my strengths were not what I had expected them to be

The build up

For the 5 weeks leading up to Melbourne I was based in Gold Coast, prior to that I was working and training in Sydney. The preparation was about consistency for me. Nick and I viewed this race as an experience one. Sure I wanted to do well, but what ‘well’ was I had no idea. Each week we saw improvements across all 3 disciplines, particularly in the last few weeks of February. We didn’t cram in extra long runs or rides.   We didn’t plan for me to be in my fittest ever state for this event. It was about progressing my fitness and consistency. I made a deal with Nick that I would enter the event, I would train for it, but if my body was not ready I would not race. “I’ll get you ready” he assured me. I doubted whether I could run a marathon. It took one particular 30km run session (where I held a pace I didn’t know I could maintain) for me to be convinced that I could do this marathon thing. So I booked my flights. That was less than 2 weeks out.

Recruiting the experts

I am fortunate to have friends who have raced Ironman many times, like Jason Shortis and Rhodsey (Bryan Rhodes). They answered many of my Ironman rookie questions, and I am impressed they did so without laughing at me. As did my friends Simon in the US and Jacqui in Sydney (the questions a girl can only ask a girl!). Aid stations, special needs, transitions, bike set up, gear check in, restroom stops, this was all different to my previous triathlon experiences. Gone are the days of taping one gel to my bike.

I realised pretty quickly that nutrition is the 4th leg of the triathlon. I can train my body to swim bike and run but if I don’t fuel my body correctly, it won’t perform for me on race day. I found the Shotz products to be incredible. They allowed me to separate out my nutrition and hydration plans. I established a strategy with Darryl from Shotz, whom I am extremely grateful to. I practiced it in every session for the 3 weeks leading up to the event. Going into race day, I knew what my body could tolerate over a long period of time but also during intensity.

Carmichael Training Systems might have had to increase Nick’s email capacity in the last week. Poor Nick received email after email and text after text asking questions. “What is a wetsuit stripper”, “What if I need to go to the restroom”, do my cycle shoes go in this bag thing”. We debated what my sustainable power numbers would be. He said X. I said X++++. We met somewhere in the middle (I like to negotiate).

Race day

7th place. Due to a timing chip issue we have to rely on Garmin time for this one. Swim time ?, Sub 4:57 bike, 3:08min marathon, 8hr40 finish time (yes if you do the math, you will  realise even with my swim time I may have had a few cups of tea in transition)


By now it is well known that the conditions required the swim to be cut short and the race start delayed. These decisions didn’t concern me. When I heard it was going to be a short swim I thought ‘great, I’ve done 70.3s, I know how to do this’. The situation wasn’t ideal for me though. I like to use my swim strength and prefer that the agegroup men start with a large gap behind the professional women. But Ironman is a long day and I wanted to test myself over the bike and run, so not a problem.

At the start some girls were lining up behind me, I guess to get my feet. I did giggle to myself. Yes I grew up as a swimmer. But I followed a black line in a swimming pool and swam many miles in lakes. I didn’t plough my way through messy waves and chop like what was presented to us on Sunday. You are welcome to sit on my feet but I’m not sure it will be that helpful…

As expected the swim was a mess. I couldn’t sight, I felt like I couldn’t get in any powerful strokes, it was just arms and limbs everywhere. A bit of a shame as I was proudly wearing the new HUUB wetsuit and I wanted to see what this thing could do. I must admit that I can’t find one photo of me in the wetsuit exiting the water as its breakaway zipper makes it so fast to take off that it was half way down my back within a few meters of the swim exit. Congrats HUUB, you have nailed it with this wetsuit.


The first 40km of the bike was a solo effort for me, riding slightly above the numbers Nick and I had agreed on, but I was still comfortable and maintaining good cadence in the strong head wind. My focus was on nutrition and hydration, getting the targeted amount of calories and sodium into my body. I managed to distract myself from thinking about how brutal the wind actually was.

Then the packs came. At first they weren’t too big, but I certainly could see how much easier the headwind riding experience would be if you chose to ride in one. I realize that everyone is out there racing, going for the best they can do on their day. However when it interferes with others’ races it is frustrating. I would try to sit back but agegroup men would jump in the gap and block me, something many of us girls battled with. I did get a penalty and I deserved it. An agegroup man kept jumping infront of my wheel, blocking me. I found it hard to make forward progress when I would pass someone, trying to keep a gap yet this blocking kept happening. When I was given my penalty, the official reminded me that we areall required to drop back and wait 25 seconds before passing someone. When I was blocked by this particular agegrouper I didn’t wait, I wanted to get away from the group. I proceeded to pass him and the pack and that is when I got the yellow card. For not waiting 25 seconds to pass. Now I know.

I used the 4 minute stop in the penalty box to relax, stretch, drink and eat. It didn’t concern me that others were riding by, I was having a rest!

With my now semi- rested body I proceeded to pick off people and packs and make my way back up the field. I cycled through entire packs, trying to get to the front, away from the mess. I was enjoying it. But in the last 45km I was thinking ‘I have to do a marathon soon, haven’t done one of those before’. I coped fine with the distance, had it been 10km longer I am not so sure I would have enjoyed it as much.


I’m not sure whether it was adrenalin or what it was but I started the run at a pace I had no right to hold! After 4km I settled in and maintained my rhythm, constantly assessing what my body needed to prevent it from going into too much deficit in any particular area. How dehydrated am I?… drink. When was your last gel?… eat. My stomach feels bloated…back off the fluid. I ran through the

half marathon in a respectable time for even a 70.3 (half marathon) distance. I continued that pace, maintaining a calm headspace until I got to the 30km mark. I had heard countless stories about the 30km barrier. This is when legs fall off, shuffling begins, limping, walking, vomiting and bad thoughts enter the mind apparently. 30km went by and I still felt good. OK lets pick up the pace and get to 32km… I did and I was still OK. That’s how I went for the next 10km, waiting for the dreaded pain to kick in so I can see what it is all about, but pleased that at every 2km mark it hadn’t joined me yet and I could continue to accelerate.   I spotted the green uniform of Meredith up ahead and that excited me, something to aim for. If she was there, then there might be another girl further up. That’s when I found Carrie and passed her with less than 2km to go.

I glanced at my garmin as I sprinted (yes sprinted?!) through the finish line, it read 3.08. My first marathon, my longest run by an hour and a time that I was very pleased with.

I am not a swimmer or a swim/ biker. I can run. I am a triathlete. What the heck… I am an Ironman

Bring on the emotion

Mum shared my Port Macquarie Half win with me in 2010. This one was Dad’s turn. It meant the absolute world to me having him there. I looked out for him during the entire race and smiled whenever I saw him. He got the biggest hug at the finish line. He was there with my Uncle (thank you for being there!). And then of course there was Erin. Like my family, Erin has shared with me the ups and downs of the journey to get to my first Ironman. I am so grateful for her friendship.

And a big thank you to Mick, Scott and Neil for coming out to watch. They pulled me around many a lap of the Tan (Botanical Gardens) in our Melbourne lunch time work runs years ago.

Sharing the event with other friends who were racing was also very special (Juan and Mia) and seeing friends who have shared the journey with you on the course is incredible (Kim and Dean, Ester and Derek, BondiFit). I am sorry to the friends who were unable to follow me due to the faulty timing chip. Very grateful for the messages of commiserations I received (assumptions were made about me crashing, pulling out, not starting)!

Whats next?

The Easter Bunny. I have that calorie deficit to replace.


Apparel: I am very excited about my custom Hincapie Sportswear apparel that is waiting for me in the US. Hincapie involve you in the process, with colors, design and logo placement. If your team needs high quality custom kit, consider using Hincapie (now in Australia). Final touches were being put on my kit for the US season, so I raced in the 2013 Fluid Tri retail range. During the run I received compliments from 3 girls about the black and pink number I was wearing.

Coaching and bike fit: Carmichael Training Systems (Nick White and team)


Pre race: 5-round fury of course

During: Shotz gels and electrolyte tabs. Wouldn’t change a thing with my nutrition plan. This stuff works

Post race: Isagenix IsaLean and IsaPro shake

Eyewear and Helmet: Rudy Project Wingspan helmet (lightest TT helmet I have worn) and Rudy Project glasses (hypermask for the cycle and Noyz for the run)

Wetsuit: HUUB. An absolute pleasure to swim in this suit. Fitted like it was made for me and the breakaway zipper lets the wetsuit peel off me with incredible speed

Bike set up: The Cervelo was set up with a Cobb Saddle, Zipp 808/ disc combo (thank you Southeast Sports Marketing), SRM and a Garmin 910. XLAB products kept my bike as aero as possible while providing me with hydration and nutrition storage.

Run gear: Wearing a Fuel Belt allowed me to implement my hydration/ nutrition plan. The belt is light, bottles don’t bounce and it was color co-ordinated to my race kit. Saucony Fasttwitch led me to my 3.08 marathon

It was an honor to race with such a high caliber of athletes. Between them all, they have had countless Ironman podiums. I have so much respect for them and what they have achieved.

NameCountrySwimBikeRunFinishDiv. RankOverall
ABRAHAM, CorinneGreat Britain0:28:234:42:092:56:508:10:561818
VAN VLERKEN, YvonneAustria0:27:094:55:013:00:468:26:402230
STEFFEN, CarolineSwitzerland0:24:344:53:173:09:238:31:222437
BADMANN, NatschaSwitzerland1:01:464:46:583:16:338:34:372543
CRAWFORD, GinaNew Zealand0:25:155:02:033:05:568:37:232647
STEVENS, AmandaUnited States0:21:535:00:503:12:438:39:392753
CLEAVER, AnnaAustralia0:00:004:57:003:08:??8:40:452958
LESTER, CarrieAustralia0:24:214:54:283:18:128:41:223160
PIAMPIANO, SarahUnited States0:26:470:00:003:16:448:44:523270
MARTIN, BrittaNew Zealand0:27:304:59:333:14:458:45:503373
ROSS, AnnaNew Zealand0:27:175:01:453:16:108:49:323583
KESSLER, MeredithUnited States0:21:544:56:493:29:038:51:333693
WERNICK, CharisaUnited States0:27:465:01:033:24:058:56:3538121
SCHUECKER, LindaGermany0:29:425:06:023:22:219:02:0039140
TANAKA, KeikoJapan0:25:225:14:003:19:019:02:4040143
DUFFIELD, KatyAustralia0:27:295:16:473:14:589:03:3915148
WILLIS, JanineCanada0:26:115:06:133:29:049:05:2438161
HALLETT, KristyAustralia0:29:365:10:393:21:389:05:5341163
SNIPE, RhiannonAustralia0:26:285:23:183:11:429:06:0828166
LLOYD, FelicityAustralia0:27:085:08:493:28:319:10:1934190
SIMPSON, JessicaAustralia0:26:245:18:253:29:309:18:1425230
DAUBEN, CorneliaGermany0:28:565:13:013:36:489:23:1242257
GROVE, SarahAustralia0:28:195:10:483:37:559:23:1746259
FINCH, SaraAustralia0:29:445:21:503:26:169:24:0650265
DOUGLAS, TracyAustralia0:31:505:10:373:37:079:25:4333271
STRETTON, ElizabethAustralia0:27:475:27:093:26:059:26:4566282
THIELE, CatherineAustralia0:26:165:20:213:35:089:27:4068287
REID, KristineNew Zealand0:26:215:33:503:22:019:28:3457294
HOOGLAND, TenilleCanada0:23:415:07:303:53:079:28:3943295
BROWN, EmmaAustralia0:28:575:21:053:34:319:29:4371302