Ever since I started triathlon, I’ve had a goal of going under 2 hours for a standard/Olympic distance triathlon. In case you’re not aware this is a 1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run. The distance is brutal, because it is short enough to go really hard, yet long enough that some fueling is needed and it’s mentally quite draining. After doing a 2:03 in 2019, I’d struggled to actually find a race that wasn’t cancelled to have another crack at achieving my goal until Canberra in 2022. Unfortunately, a few days before Canberra I woke up with a crookneck, and its effects were still lingering on race day (it was painful to turn to the left). But there wasn’t anything I could do about it, instead, I focused on getting from the start to finish line as fast as my body would allow.
Much to my excitement, the swim was a mass start. Unfortunately, this meant I totally forgot my swim plan, and I got caught up in the race. Trying to go with the swimmer next to me (the eventual overall winner and as I later found out from a swim background), put me deep into the red zone.
I quickly realised I couldn’t keep up the pace and needed to get myself under control, but try as I might I just couldn’t get back in control. I couldn’t see underwater, and the tightness of the wetsuit.. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and panicked. My Garmin HR chest strap recorded a noticeable spike in heart rate (towards 180BPM) and all I could do was halt and then breaststroke to recover. At the turnaround of the first buoy, it surprised me to see that I was still very much mid-pack although somewhat isolated swimming alone between a front group and in front of a larger group behind.
Swimming back to complete the first lap of two I couldn’t see buoy as the sun was in my eyes, so went off course. I swam out before the race started, but failed to find a solution, and didn’t persist to find something suitable to sight by, hoping that the sun would be higher by the time the race started.
Once back on course a few passed me from a later wave, but otherwise my swim was just a solo grind of trying to survive. I didn’t feel comfortable at any point and once I finally finished the swim leg it did not surprise me to see a time of 27:59, one of my worst swims to date.
Looking at the time on my watch, my hopes of going sub 2 hours were low. But then I heard my family cheering me. Having raced Canberra before I hoped the new bike course would be fast. My mentality shifted, it was time to get to work. I stripped my wetsuit off, grabbed my helmet and bike. Unfortunately, as I ran for the transition exit, I realised I’d forgotten to fix my shoes with rubber bands to stop them bouncing around. Taking a little more care, not to lose a shoe, I exited transition in a time of 1:46.
I got up to speed (+35km/h) before trying to get my feet in my shoes. Much to my dismay I just couldn’t get my left foot in. I sped up and slowed (as I struggled to get my food in) twice until I realised the wire from my back boa had wrapped around the front boa system. It took me a while to get into the groove on the bike. I was pushing decent power, but just not getting the speed I’d hoped.
After ~10mins though my pace clicked into gear. I stayed quite controlled, racing to a plan of not trying to over bike so I could run well. I took a gel and things were ticking along well, although as the laps passed I could visibly see that I wasn’t making any progress on the race leaders. I also realised that the bike course was short.. how short I wasn’t sure, but it meant my <2hr goal was back on.
The course was harder than the old Canberra course, which some noticeable hills that caused my speed to dramatically drop. Although, this allowed for some movement on the bike, as staying aero wasn’t so important when you’re only doing <20km/h. The end of the bike leg sort of snuck up on me, I wondered whether or not I needed to do an extra lap, but realised an extra lap would put me way over race distance (~45km).
I banked the fastest bike split of the day, finished the bike leg in a time of 54:19 (41.4km/h avg).
T2 messed up my bike stats as I failed to hit the lap button. Running across the rocks barefoot was brutal. My feet are pretty tough from my running and general lifestyle I live, but I was thankful that my feet were a little numb from the bike so I didn’t have to feel every sharp rock as I tried to move as swiftly as possible to my rack location. Got my shoes on, grabbed my hat/sunnies/race belt and headed out onto the run. T2 time was 1:07.
Hitting my lap button to start the run, it wasn’t until I was ~200 meters in that I realised I was recording my transition 🙂 I lapped again and settled into a rhythm. The first km passed in 3:50, I had a quick check of the overall time. Doing some quick math I realised if I ran ~3:35/km I could do it. Ok let’s do this I thought.
The second km was 3:40 though. That’s alright I can still bring back that time.. I saw the leaders returning on their first lap. I too hit the turnaround before the 3rd km split. The run course was going to be short too. How short? I don’t know, but my goal was all but in the bag now. I ticked over, 3:38 for the 3rd km, but try as I might to increase the pace I just didn’t have the will to do so.
I was stuck at this pace running like a metronome, not slowing anymore, nor speeding up. I had no motivation to hurt more though; I knew I couldn’t catch anyone ahead; I was confident to go under 2 hours and there was no way someone could catch me (as I wasn’t slowing). With a final km to go, I dug as deep as I could.. the last thing I wanted was to finish seconds over 2 hours. I finished the run leg in 32:16 (~9km), with a total race time of 1:57:28.
Yes, the race was short. But you can never pick what will happen on race day, just do your best with what you have in the moment. So I’m ticking off my <2hr goal. If I’d swam my typical average pace, I’m confident I’d still have achieved the time. So the short course was a blessing for my stuff up on the first race of 2022.
Swimming well isn’t something that comes naturally to me. I need to be very calculating to maximise my potential. Too many times have I gone out too hard and blown a gasket and I still don’t seem to learn, as I’m a competitive individual. So my plan is to count a certain amount of ‘hard’ strokes at a race start. My hope is this will allow me to keep more control before I settle into a rhythm. I’ve got a couple of races coming up to try this on. Let’s see how I go!
The other big reminder from this race is to double-check your transition setup. I’d plenty of time, but I was too blasé with my setup as I’ve raced many times before. Yet I made a rookie mistake of not setting my shoes up and checking my shoes could get my feet in easily ultimately costing me free time.
Finally, although I was ok energy wise, I think I’m going to try taking on just a little more carbs. I feel my mental position was probably the first sign of being low on fuel. Something that is a constant trial and error in finding what I can take on to get the best out of myself.