I’ve raced husky for the last few years but unfortunately, I’ve always been recovering from some sort of injury (i.e. last year I sprained my ankle 4 weeks prior). So I was excited to be at the start line with no major issues.
Being designated as the Australian long course championships I knew the competition would be fierce and I was interested to see how I compared. I made the choice to not stay at Huskisson, instead driving the 1hr from home on race morning. The AG waves delayed allowing the pro field to finish the swim, I’d plenty of time to set up in transition, go for a short swim and then wait for my start wave.
I lined up next to Karim, someone I know is a solid swimmer and I also know I’m capable of staying with. We started the race together, and after the first buoy, Karim took the lead. Quick get his feet before it’s too late, I thought. But as we continued to pass multiple other swimmers, I lost him in the mix and so focused on the next buoy I needed to reach.
It happened 2-3 times throughout the swim, I’d notice a faster swimmer coming past, and deviate slightly to jump on their feet, only to lose them when negotiating all the slower competitors strung out on the course. I contented myself with trying to maintain my form and mentally working through what steps I needed to do to execute T1 well. I finished the swim with a split of 31:45, somewhat slower than I’d been banking on. I was going to have to attack the bike.
The run from the beach into transition is hard. I wanted to walk and reminisce in the fact I’d just swam 1.9km. However, transition is still part of the race and so I willed myself to get on with it. Wetsuit off, helmet off and run hard for the exit with my bike. Throw in a few polite words about getting out of my way and I was on to the bike course 2min 18sec later.
The first thing I noticed once on the bike was, I couldn’t see! With the humidity level nearing 100% my visor was all fogged up. I hoped with some moving air it might clear, but alas it didn’t improve even after 10mins. So I wiped at the inside of my visor with my fingers to clear the fog. Thankfully, once cleared it remained clear. My plan was to ride hard to the first u-turn and access my time losses to the guys I was racing. Unfortunately, I clocked them approximately 4 minutes up the road but I wasn’t quite ready to give up yet. I continued to work hard for the first 20km, trying to close the gap. It was hard riding alone when I could see the paceline coming the other way. Just before the final turnaround point to head back into town to complete the first lap, Tim Van Berkel passed me. He didn’t seem to go that much faster than me, but I let him go as I wasn’t prepared to push any harder than I already was.
At the end of lap 1 the pro train caught me. This put me in an interesting situation in which I’ve never experienced before (always playing catchup after my swim performance or lack of). I wasn’t strong enough to stay ahead, but the effort of staying draft legal (at least 12m behind) was easier than what I’d trained to ride. As the speeds got higher 45-50km/h the more benefit from being in the pace line. The pro field was on their last lap, so I focused on nailing my fueling and enjoying a different perspective of the race. I distinctly remember my neck aching, as being aero as possible didn’t matter so much as maintaining position (adjusting speed to match the guy ahead).
After the 2nd lap, we started the final lap. ‘We’ is all the age groupers who’d been riding with the pro men. As I climbed the first hill out of town, I realised my big chain ring wouldn’t shift, that’ll teach me for trusting it should have enough charge. Aside from a cross chaining, I figured I should be ok, and pushed it from my mind. After making a turn I was near the front and thought maybe I could break away, I gave it a crack. But after 65km, it only took 2 mins @ 320W and I was cooked me with everyone still lined up off my wheel. I backed off to threshold effort and took a final gel. I had one final dig, with similar results, so I’d just have to wait for the run I thought. In retrospect, I think attacking uphill is a better way to go, rather than my attempts which involved a sprint out of the turn into downhill sections.
As we made the final turn towards the town for the last time, things seemed to spread out. After almost 3 laps, I clocked the group ahead at ~3mins, whoop we’ve closed 1min on them. I was focused on riding as efficient as I could as I shifted focus towards the run. I finished the 90km bike in 2:16:40.
On a side note, I passed Owen Matthews into transition (an amazing triathlete). I was a little confused to see him running on the bike course, can only assume he got confused with the bike dismount point.
I’d already decided that as soon as I racked my bike I was going to sit down to put my socks on. I didn’t trust my hip flexors not to cramp on me after the bike effort, and so that’s what I did. In the middle of the Australian long course triathlon championships, I sat down. It felt good, but I’d a task before me still uncompleted and so, therefore, no time to linger. Shoes on, grab my hat, race belt, and sunnies and out of transition in a time of 1min 27sec.
The start of the run was pretty busy. Lots of guys exited T2 together. I was keen to get away but mindful I still had a half marathon between me and the finish. It was hard to judge the condition of my legs as they felt dead, but as 1km passed, I realised I was moving at a decent clip around 10km pace. I was informed I was currently in 2nd in AG. I can do this! I thought. Around 2km in Owen came back past me, I suggested I’d help where I could with the pacing, but it became clear a kilometre later he was going too quickly for me!
I settled in around the 3:40/km pace feeling like I could hold that. About 5km in I passed Owen again who was stretching his hamstrings. It was a clear reminder that just because things were going alright now it can quickly go south. Time to take a gel, don’t forget my nutrition! As I neared the first turnaround point, I spied all my competitors ahead. I didn’t know who I was actually racing, but it didn’t matter I was going to systematically try and pick them off one at a time.
The return section to finish my first lap I’d the company of Matt Lewis a local pro. He was suffering, but holding it together. I was just focusing on my form and trying to get through to the 2nd lap as easy as possible, with a couple kilometers to go Matt took off to the finish (or did I just slow?). My 10km split was 37:15. I did the math for the half, okay I should be still within my limits.
I was told I was now first in AG by 4mins! By 11km I was suffering, time for another gel. There was still some competitors ahead I was keen to catch, but I also didn’t want to keep pushing too hard and potentially blow up since it was now mine to lose. I was told to catch the man with the Pikachu hat (Michael Entwistle) another stand out performer. I could see him in the distance and as I closed in on 15km, I finally made the pass. The only other age groupers I saw ahead was Liam Duval and Hamish Longmuir, but they were a long way ahead and flying. I couldn’t imagine catching them though, but I still tried to up my effort for the final 5km push home. Though, this was short-lived as my rear lumbar started to ache. 3:50s it was, as I pushed the best I could go, to get to the finish.
I’d time to contemplate the race as I ran to the finish. I was most appreciative of my wife for getting up super early with me to drive down and follow me around all race. My family also came to support me, even with the threat of rain. Winning my AG championships in front of them was amazing. I finished the half marathon in 80min and 36sec. Total time of 4:12:48.
I really need to work on my swim! The benefits of riding in a paceline are immense and have totally opened my eyes to the importance of not losing too much time in the swim. Second, if attacking the bike, better to do it on a section of the course that is already hard (i.e. up a hill), same rules as in cycle races still apply for triathlon. Also, make sure everything is charged and ready to go. It doesn’t hurt to double-check to avoid disappointments on race day! Finally, practice race day nutrition and then remember to keep on top of it in the race. I did better than I have in the past in this race, taking on ~250g carbs without issues, thanks to my coach getting me to practice this in training.