NSW Club Champions – Forster
The NSW club championships race was taking part 4 hours north of Sydney in a place called Forster. I arrived late the evening before the race and did a quick drive of the bike course before going to bed. I awoke well before dawn to get ready to race. I registered and got set up in transition just as the sun rose. My start wave was to be the 2nd one to go at 6:05am. I noted that there was a big swell from the storm the previous night. And just like that, we were racing.
The swim was a rolling start, and I started mid pack. Running down the beach into the water I dived into the water and came to a complete halt. I’d just jumped into a wall of seaweed and couldn’t really swim through or under it. I stood back up (the water was at my chest height) and pushed / waded a meter before getting back into the swim. I’ve never experienced such thick seaweed in my life! Trying to spot the buoys was hard with the swell. I swam with sinking legs as I tried to get a good sight of which direction I wanted to swim. I knew it wasn’t ideal and yet I couldn’t think of any better options. With the sun just above the horizon by this stage, things were even more challenging in the sighting department.
Having picked up some blisters earlier in the week running, I had bandaids on my feet to protect me on the run. I could feel them starting to come off. I was trying to be as gentle as I could with my kick so they could stay put.. but after a little while I felt them let go. ‘Well, there goes that plan’ I thought, ‘I guess there’s nothing I can do now but pray I’ll be ok on the run’. Then I remembered I’d not put any baby powder in my shoes (which I typically do). Still, I can’t change anything now, so let’s just focus on swimming. But it wasn’t too long until I wondered whether we had to do 2 laps of the swim or just 1? But about halfway through the first lap my Garmin buzzed completing the first 500m lap. Thankful that it was tracking somewhat okay I contended myself that it was just 1 lap, and I needed to start pushing. But as I headed for shore, I had this sinking feeling in my gut, maybe we had to do more. I couldn’t shake it and searched for other swimmers to see what they were doing. Finally confirming that I wasn’t entirely alone (although my chosen line had me very much all by myself) I focused on getting to land. I chickened out on catching a decent wave in and bashed my way through the white water up to shore. Swim time was 19:03.
Transition was pretty long from the beach up to the bike racks. I saw others gunning it up the beach, but I didn’t quite have the leg speed yet. Running into transition was tough, the transition itself was loose bitumen and it hurt. I tried to pick my line and move as swiftly as possible. Wetsuit off, helmet on, grab the bike and run for the exit. T1 time was 1:16.
Onto the bike, and after my drive the previous evening I knew it would not be a typical bike leg. At the first corner, I heard the marshalls say be careful on the path. I couldn’t really see too well as was looking into the sun, but spotted a path straight ahead, which I proceeded down. After 30-40m the path was narrowing, plus it really wasn’t a suitable surface for racing being more suitable for a gravel bike than TT. I decided this can’t be the course and turned around, came back to the corner and went down the hill.. ah this is better, back on course. Thankfully, only lost 30secs with my wrong turn.
The course was undulating, to begin with, and the straights really weren’t that long. The back half of the course got really hilly though, and I changed down into the little chain rings as I pushed up the hills. My big focus was to push up and over the crests on every hill. Mentally I wanted to ease up at the top of every hill, but the gains I made on everyone around me as I continued to push, spurred me on. The roads were wet, but running low pressure on my enves gave me confidence, as I flew down the short hills almost reaching 70km/h. On the completion of the first lap, I missed the turnaround spot. I assumed it would be closer to transition as there was no u-turn marked on course maps (just that it would be 3 laps). I overshot the turn by 10-20m (only lost 5-10 seconds), and was re-passed by a bunch of traffic I’d just overtaken. I now knew where the turning point was though!
As each lap passed, the course started to dry and my downhill velocity also increased. It was hard work grinding up against each hill, avoiding traffic (other competitors), and just seeing where I was going (the sun was still very low in the sky, and the water spray on the visor didn’t help). I was thoroughly enjoying this unique style of the bike course though! I was riding to feel, as I didn’t have any heart rate data, and power was all over the place because of the course profile. In retrospect, I’m pretty proud to have ridden with a NP of 98% of my FTP. Even my average power is the highest I’ve recorded for a race. Bike split time was 45:47.
My dismount was like clockwork and I ran into transition, only to be sharply reminded how much it hurt to run on the surface in transition. After racking my bike, I was superthankful to have my shoes on. I grabbed my hat and sunnies and headed for the run start. I wondered how my blisters would cope, but this thought was swiftly interrupted as I heard my kids and wife cheering me on. What a surprise! I’d not expected to see them really at all considering how early the race was. I exited T2 in a time of 1:10.
Run Leg 2
On to the run, and I decided to stop and really tighten my laces up. My reasoning being that if they can’t move my feet will hurt less, and better to do it now before things escalate in the pain department. After rounding the headland, for a 3rd time I went the wrong way (I couldn’t believe it! haha). But was quickly redirected by those watching ‘Mr clueless’ where I needed to go. With all that out the way, it was time to get into a groove and find that uncomfortable/comfortable pace.
The legs felt a little numb from the bike but were slowly coming back to life. I found myself just focusing on my technique and counting those ahead of me. I was ticking along nicely (maybe a little too comfortable) and noticed the gap behind closing. With 3km to go, I shifted gear and picked things up. If there was a time to embrace the suck now was it. At the final u-turn with 2km to go, I judged the gap to be ~25 seconds to my competitor behind. I kept the pressure on myself to keep going. I figured if they were going to catch me, they would need to run low 3min/km, and then I’d just out sprint them to the line. Confident in my race plan, I continued towards the finish. I was fortunate enough to get some more high 5s and cheers from my kids as I braced myself for the final kilometre. With 500m to go, I decided I no longer wanted a side-by-side sprint finish and kicked for home. I finished the run leg: 29:05.
Only after finishing did I realise that I’d not had any issues with my blisters I’d been dreading. The total race time was 1:36:22. I finished 1st in my AG, and 7th overall.
Definitely having time to do a course reconnaissance pays off. Unfortunately, I didn’t really have heaps of time before this race to do so and although I looked at the course maps; I didn’t really take the time to digest and mentally walk through what I was looking at. Another take away from this race is that I need to work on my focus for the swim leg. I should think either about my breathing or stroke, rather than wondering how many laps to do, or what I’m going to eat post-race.