The day before the race during my pre-race spin and run, my shins were quite sore during the run. It had me quite worried, but I tried not to dwell on it and just prayed it would be okay on race day. I’m not a morning person. I hate early starts, yet I woke up before my alarm at 4:15 am race morning. I always try to organise as much as possible the night before to remove any thought process when I’m still sleepy. I mindlessly ate and prepared bottles etc. and it was then time to hop in the car and drive to the race venue. I arrived, signed in, racked my bike, and did my final prep. It’s amazing how quickly 90 minutes flies by! I was a little worried about the morning being a bit cold, but it was brilliant for racing, a cool but not too cold 12 degrees. I had a short jog and my shin was a little tender, but I didn’t have time to think about it much as I needed to get ready and down to the start.
I was a bit slow getting down to the swim start and had to zig zag my way through the crowd to get closer to the front (Mental note, I need to line up earlier next time!). The front of the race started (rolling start) and I jumped into the water to start my race about 1 minute later. I’ve had too many occasions in the swim where I’ve had a mild panic attack or completely blown up, that my confidence isn’t great with pushing myself in the swim. So I chose to just swim by myself, quickly aligning myself to the row buoys on course to aid sighting. Unlike last year only a few people came past (but far wide of me, so I chose not to chase the draft), and to my surprise, after about 400m I started catching some people ahead.
It was just before my watch auto-lapped for ~500m I found some feet to follow, that were also following the row buoys. We went around the turn buoys to head back towards transition. I was cruising behind, so I tried to overtake, but it was way harder than I wanted to work. So I backed off slightly and just sat back on the feet, just focusing on trying to do it as easily as possible. I found my breathing slowing to every 3rd stroke and I was really relaxed. With ~200m the pace had slowed and I brought my kick in and led into T1. Swim time 29:20.
I felt great. I wasn’t gassed and I ran to my bike. Unfortunately, I really struggled to get my feet out of my wetsuit. I think I need to cut some length off the legs, so it’s not so tight around my ankles! Finally got my suit off, and helmet on and ran to start the bike leg. T1 time was 1:36.
I typically have an idea of the power I can sustain for a 70.3, but in this race I wasn’t so sure, owing to a short and unusual build into this event (due to crashing at my last race). Ben my coach, said to race in the moment, which aligned with my sentiment, so I just went hard from the beginning of the bike. I focused on riding as fast as I felt I could sustain with the goal of catching the front of the race. I dropped everyone I passed and clocked a 3min gap to the front of the race at the first U-turn point. By the 2nd u-turn, this gap had increased to 3:20 and then further to 3:30 at the 3rd. I’d been chasing hard for 30km, and the gap was increasing.. With the gap growing my motivation to keep pushing was waning and now almost 90 minutes into the race, I was starting to feel the first signs of fatigue.
I was still averaging +40km/h, and at ~35km I slowed up a little to take in a gel and got passed by a chase pack that had formed behind me. I jumped into the pace line and was thankful for people to ride with. It was so much easier, and my motivation improved. I tried to do my part taking turns out the front, however, my legs were feeling heavy from the hard start, and the +300W pushes to go to the front started to bite. I liked doing my part though, it’s not meant to be easy so I’m happy to work hard. When I wasn’t at the front (or even when I was, but wanted someone to come by), I focused on trying to get my nutrition in. At the end of lap 1, my coach held up 4 fingers and said something that I didn’t quite catch… is that 4th or 4 minutes down or both?
This pattern continued into the 2nd lap, until about the final quarter of the bike leg, where Ben Exley came flying passed going straight to the front and pulling hard (45-48km/h). I saw it as an opportunity to split the pack and pushed hard (400-500W sprint) to go with him. The gap opened, but with a U-turn, it all came back together. Ben tried to go a couple more times, but it was just too hard as the draft effect even at 12-15m behind is quite powerful at ~45km/h. In retrospect maybe I could have executed things a little differently to help offload those getting an easy ride, but I was starting to think about the run and didn’t want lactate pouring out of my eyeballs into T2.
With 10km to go the speed went up, as guys started to race into T2. I was just trying to keep my perceived effort even, and I saw gaps opening ahead. I just let it go, as I was semi-confident in my run, and a few seconds wasn’t going to make a huge difference. I had a big desire to pee, but just couldn’t relax enough on the bike. I just hoped it would all go away on the run. As I took my feet out of my shoes to prepare to dismount, I realised they were a bit numb. Here we go, don’t fall when I dismount. The bike split was 2:12:36.
Thankfully, I had a clean dismount and ran to my bike rack. Helmet off, socks and shoes on, a quick pee (it wasn’t waiting till after the run!) and then ran to the exit in 2:04
I knew there were guys in my bike pack whom I was racing (in my AG). With the split at the end of the bike, I wasn’t sure what place I now was in. I had a desire to win but my focus wasn’t on my position but rather just executing my best. The carrot of a podium finish was just motivation to keep pushing on.
I didn’t feel great starting the run. I was tired, but I was also incredibly thankful for the opportunity to run and complete this triathlon in a manner that I would be proud of. The run is a 3-lap course, with a final out and back to the finish line. It’s listed as flat but with over 100m elevation, it is deceptively hard. My plan was all about feel, 1st lap best easy pace, 2nd lap dig in, 3rd lap all out, and then hold on for the final couple km to the finish. My coach informed me I was 4th in AG.
After a couple of km my legs started to feel a little better, and I moved up into 3rd place. However, the gap to the leader in my AG (John Ketelbey) was massive (>4min). It did cross my mind to close the gap fast to put pressure on John, but instead, I had an incredible focus on just trying to execute my own plan irrespective of that around me. I trusted that if I stayed true then anything was possible. At the end of lap 1, I took a gel and was told I’d moved into 2nd place, plus the gap to 1st was decreasing (I was clocking the time split at every u-turn). I did the math and thought: it’s going to be tight to close the gap, and that’s assuming I don’t slow. Trust the process.. run strong and don’t get lazy. I had this internal battle of really wanting to win, but also not wanting to sabotage myself by overdoing it. Thankfully, I just focused on the moment. I got through the 2nd lap while still holding pace, however, my perceived effort was starting to ramp up exponentially.
Another gel and that was my nutrition plan completed for the race. Just focus on getting to the finish line! The gap continued to seriously reduce. It was great to have something to focus on, rather than my discomfort, and with 4 U-turns every lap, lots of opportunities to gap a time split. It was only when the gap got under 1min that I began to truly believe I could do it. We were nearing the end of lap 3, which mentally felt like the run should be over, however, there was still 5km to go when I finally made the pass into P1 for AG. John said ‘Took you long enough’ as I made the pass. His huge lead really helped me get the best out of myself (thanks John!). I went over the bridge to start the final out and back. Less than 10 minutes to go, don’t cramp, don’t stop, don’t slow. I was trying to give everything to stay strong to the end, and even though it was dead flat I was struggling.
I finally went around the final U-turn to head for the finish line just over 1km in the distance.. it felt like the longest km of the whole race and it literally was too (slower than even when I had to run up the hills!). I’d given everything, the gap to those ahead on the course was large, and the gap behind me was substantial too. Without the motivation of others, I just couldn’t ignore my brain telling me to slow down anymore. I flicked my watch over to total time and was blown away, 3:58 and the finish line was in sight! For a second… actually a microsec I considered whether I could make it under 4 hours, but instantly realised that was never going to happen. Then the emotions started to hit me.
I couldn’t believe what I’d just accomplished, especially as only a couple of months prior to the race I could barely walk (a month prior I had just started to run again). I spotted my wife behind the camera, I was hit by a wave of gratitude. So many things to be thankful for such as, it occurred to me that my shin hadn’t hurt at all! I’d gotten through the race without incident and I was about to achieve a huge PB. I saw a bell and gave it a ding (I didn’t read it was the first-timer’s bell, which the commentator started to call out first-timer blah blah lol), I was celebrating the moment. I high-fived people and crossed the finish line with a run split of 1:15:31, and a total time of 4:01:08.
Be present. I had amazing attention and focus for the entirety of this race. It’s the most focus I’ve ever had, I didn’t think about lunch or dinner or even an upcoming holiday I was looking forward to. I was 100% present, and this had a massive impact on my performance. I found myself going in and out of ‘the zone’, not that I realised it in the moment (more retrospectively) but it was incredible how I could think about different dynamics and see things happening making decisions to try and get me from start to finish as quick as possible. The conditions to facilitate this for me were, mentally being fresh (it’s been the shortest training build I’ve ever done!), having people around you who support you (parents looking after my kids, my wife giving up her time without complaint, my coach coming along etc), and being well fuelled (if I don’t have enough energy it’s very hard to stay positive).
Fitness doesn’t just disappear. As much as trainingpeaks / Garmin connect etc. will tell you otherwise, don’t get caught up in the data. After spending 4 weeks on holiday with the family and then crashing and putting myself out for a few more weeks, I had 2 months of negligible training. I had 1 week starting to move (very easy training, no structure), then 4-week build into a taper for the race. Yes, the conditions were perfect for fast racing, but I still smashed out a PB, actually setting PBs in all three legs. Don’t let your worries about lack of preparation limit your physical ability. The mind can either be used to help push your physical limits or on the other hand self-sabotage. Part of me was a little worried, but I decided I couldn’t change my situation, just do the best I could with what I had. Whatever happens will happen. This thought process freed up my mental capacity for things that I can actually control.
I need to cut my wetsuit, which seems crazy considering the cost of a top-end wetsuit. However, the longer legs don’t help swim times, and the seams are taped to allow for it to be cut to length. Every time I raced with it, even with cream to help make things slippery it’s still tough to get over my ankles. It’s only 10-15secs, but it’s free time. On this same thought process, before every race I need to practice a couple of bike mounts. I shouldn’t be stopping stationary to mount, it’s free time I’m throwing away. At the end of a triathlon, imagine trying to run 5-10sec quicker for a km.. that would be amazing. Yet I can save this time by just spending 5-10 mins to do a little practice.
Finally, although I was really happy with my swim, there were a few guys that swam past that I could have used to help swim me to a faster swim split. However, that is being prepared to swim at a higher swim intensity. During this race, I wasn’t in that position and I feel I made the right choices in the swim, but to improve this is an area that I’ve a lot of opportunity to grow in.