After a year of no long course racing, I was excited to line up on the start line for the Husky Ultimate triathlon. Doubling as the Australian long course championships, an excellent field had shown up. I always find it somewhat intimidating seeing all the other fit looking triathletes at a race start. Many thoughts race through my mind, but the main 2 are: 1) I’m not strong enough to keep up and 2) You can do this!
The battle rages as we file into the pen for a rolling start. As someone who is driven by competition I detest rolling starts, but there’s no choice but to ‘roll’ with it. 1sec, 2sec, GO.. instantly the multitude of thoughts disappear with a single focus of catching the guys a couple seconds ahead.
A group forms in the swim, and I’m feeling good. But slowly the pace drops off, and it feels too easy. I look over and see another pack coming by, and take off after them. Alas, I’m too slow to make the move and end up in no-man’s-land. As I make sure I’m staying in control of my breathing I wonder whether maybe I’m swimming too easy, but I satisfy myself with preparing for the bike leg. I make a conscious decision not to push the pace back to shore so that I can hopefully transition faster. Exit the swim in 31:12, feeling flat as I’d hoped for at least under 30min.
The stairs up from the shore to transition is tough. I focus on my breathing and as soon as I’m at the top I push myself into a run. It’s hard and my legs are heavy. I’m thankful for the strap on my ankle as it’s offering some protection to my soft feet. As I wrestle with my wetsuit, trying not to fall over I spot my wife. Ok really don’t fall over now.. wetsuit off, helmet on, grab bike and bolt for the exit. A bit of traffic through transition but not too bad, exit T1 is 2:25
Onto the bike and let’s go. Up to speed before feet into shoes and push. I tried to spot guys who I was racing, but it wasn’t very clear who was who, with competitors spread out everywhere. I guess 90km TT it is.
Completed the first lap of 3 and feeling very comfortable. Start seeing some massive packs forming on the road and keep catching cars which is a little problematic. Thankfully, they give me enough room that I can overtake without crossing the double lines.
I feel like I’m in a good groove although I still do not know where anyone I’m racing is. My focus is to keep on top of my nutrition and hold my power. At approximately halfway I refill my empty front bottle. In hindsight, maybe not the best move to do this going up a hill. But, I was thinking about the aero penalty, rather than my ability to hold my power, while focusing on not pouring liquid everywhere. I slowed a lot but thankfully it was only around 25-30sec. Back to it and playing a game of trying to get my average power back up.
Getting back into a groove was challenging, and I was really struggling to stay mentally focused. My legs still had the grunt when I put my mind to it, but with nobody remotely close, to keep me honest my mind kept wandering. I finished most of my nutrition on the bike, but could tell from similar feelings in training that I was at my limits, and decided to delay any more until I was well and truly settled in the run. With around 5-6km to go, I let up battling to hold power, instead rolling back into town preparing for the run. Bike leg split was 2:21:13
T2 wasn’t executed as smoothly as I hoped. Forgetting which tree my racking spot was near, I stopped twice before I found it. Bike on rack, helmet off, socks on, shoes on, grab everything else and run out of transition as quick as my legs would facilitate. Time 1:36
I sprained my ankle 3 weeks prior to husky, so with next to no running I’m really unsure how the run will eventuate. I feel tired.. understandable I think, as I had just done a swim and a bike.. I’ll just go with the flow on the first km and let myself settle into a rhythm. 2nd km, much the same, as with the 3rd. Ok, readjust my expectations, as my legs don’t have it in them to push the pace. The first turn around I spot someone I know (James) a couple of minutes ahead. Someone to chase!
I spot my family on the run course and hear their cheers. It picks me up a little, I’d love to have that feeling the whole time, but it quickly dissipates once passed. It feels like someone cranked up the thermostat, and it was getting harder and harder to hold form and pace. I slowly had a gel, assisted by water from an aid station. My pace suffers on the 2nd lap.
I still catch and pass James before the turnaround, his pace really falling off the cliff. I consider another gel, but decide it’s probably too late to get any real benefit before I finish. For the last time I pass my family, and there’s only 3km to go. I’ve got this.. and then I hear it. Footsteps catching me.. is it a pro? Or maybe another age grouper? I had seen no one looking remotely fast that I’d passed. Once they catch and pass me I realise it’s an age grouper I passed shortly after leaving transition.
I jump onto their feet, and the race to the finish is on. I’m tired, but I can’t let him get the better of me. We run shoulder to shoulder for a bit, before I fall back behind, picking my moment. He slows a little on the small hill up from the creek, and I surge. A small gap opens, but just as quickly closes. <2km to go. After a couple of hundred metres I surge again, with the same outcome. I’m thinking I really don’t want a sprint finish, but I want to win, so I need to break him. Ok, maybe on the last hill near the caravan park. We hit it and my competition slows, but I speed up. Again the gap opens but on the flat, it’s quickly closed. 1km to go.
I’m exhausted at this stage, but decide to back myself for a final sprint. The pace winds up as transition final appears into view. 400m to go and I’m off. Kaboom, the adrenaline fires as he surges to keep up. I’m going flat out (Garmin recorded 2:48km/min) and trying to hold it. I can sense that I’m pulling ahead, but I don’t dare look.. just get to the finish line. I spot the finish chute and enter it, thinking I’m finished.. only to realise I’ve another 30m to the finish line. Thankfully, the gap was good and I run to cross the finish before collapsing on the grass. Run split was 1:22:12. Total time: 4:18:40.
I can’t help but praise God as I cross the finish line. A flood of emotions hit me, as I really did not know whether I could even race a couple of weeks prior when an x-ray showed a slight stress fracture. But I’d experienced no pain from the ankle and I’m so grateful for that. Racing provides a roller coaster ride of emotions, and although I maybe didn’t swim, ride or run to my expectations it was my best effort/choices in the moment and I am proud of that.
Swimming threshold in a pool is much easier as I break it into 50m chunks. Swimming threshold in the open water takes practice of in the open water. This is something that I need to take seriously if I want to maximise my potential.
Regularly topping up your bottle (which I’ve done in other races) on the bike, is a better strategy for maintaining pace.
Listening to your body is important to avoid cramps or stomach upsets. Less is typically better in my mind, as going a little slower is a lot better than having to stop all together (been there done that!). But again it’s important to keep practicing this as I find my body keeps changing, so I’m always learning what I can and can’t do.
Given the right stimulation/motivation it’s amazing what our bodies are capable of. Never limit yourself or give up.