Race reports

Challenge Canberra Race Report 2023

Just after a storm passed, I drove to Canberra Friday evening with the family. The weather wasn’t looking good for the weekend, but although I was a little worried about bike safety, I was committed to racing. Saturday morning I got up and did my pre-race spin/run in light rain, and then the weather started to improve! At registration and bike check-in the weather looked great, until a heavy rain shower hit, but the forecast for race day was now sunny.

Mentally I felt a little different than usual about this race. After absolutely smashing all expectations (and myself) at Western Sydney 70.3 I wasn’t hungry to test myself. I tried to get excited about the potential of testing a new aero position and my swim progress, but I didn’t have the usual drive/nervous excitement towards the event. 

I got to transition at 4:50am, set everything up and then exited to find a spot to get my wetsuit on. I bumped into the friendly face of James Alexander, and we chatted while struggling with our respective wetties (why is it so hard to put them on, but they come off so easily?!?). We walked to the startline still engaged in conversation and lined up still chatting. I thought we might start together (rolling start) but as it played out we’d a slightly staggered start with James just ahead of me.

Swim Leg

I’ve raced James many times before, and historically speaking his a better swimmer than I. I dived in and took off to try and catch up with the 5 or so-second deficient to James. I felt the draft and thought I was good, but without continuing to sight I drifted off line (rookie mistake). I re-aligned, dug in again, and likewise picked up some draft but now I realised to my horror I was too far into the red. I could feel the panic rising in me as I fought hard to gain control of my breath while continuing to swim. It wasn’t working, just breath it’ll be ok, I was reasoning with myself. I just couldn’t keep going and stopped dead in the water trying to breathe.

I was upset with myself, which wasn’t helping. I started some breathstroke, so at least I was moving. After a short break, I resumed freestyle. I focused on myself and started moving fairly well. I spotted another swimmer going the same speed and figured I could get an easier ride in the draft. Alas, as I had to increase the effort a fraction to get over to them, but with the splashing I missed a couple of breaths. All of a sudden I was back in panic mode. I was still swimming, but I couldn’t calm myself and get into a rhythm. I was forced to stop again.

No more swimming with anyone, just focus on yourself Luke! I was in a race and I was sabotaging myself in my drive to go faster. The rest of the swim was fairly uneventful. I kept my effort well within myself and focused on what I could feel in the water. How my arm might put more pressure downwards at certain points of the stroke etc, trying to tweak things to be more efficient. The swim flew by and before I knew it I was aiming for the buoy near the swim exit. Swim time was 31.03

Transition 1

Initially I felt rubbish, but T1 was long and I could make up time. So while I stripped my wetsuit off, I got running! I passed quite a lot of people, took the rest of my wetsuit off, helmet on, and then ran for the exit overtaking more competitors. T2 time was 2:25

Bike Leg

After my shocking swim, I got to it. Even in non drafting racing 12m draft is still quite powerful at 40km/h and I didn’t want to be left wondering if I could have made the front. I rode to feel but had full attack mode engaged. I started to quickly reel people in and I spotted James a little before the climb at the arboretum.

I didn’t realise it at the time, but I’d just done one of my highest 10-minute power on the bike, but my legs felt good. I tried to be smart in the climb, not going too hard, and then I employed caution on the descent (especially with my history).

James came past me and we were talking. I didn’t want to pull any more guys along, so we’d slingshot each other into the downhills. When you’re doing +60km/h the draft even at 20-30m is powerful. I was spinning out with a 54 tooth chainring, and having a hoot too. I found myself quite often in the front driving, but James came past serval times and did some good pulls too. The company was great, and we were making good progress with getting the distance completed.

We were a bike pack of 3, James, a TA official on a moto and I haha. I use the term bike pack loosely as you can see above it was very fair riding. For the first 60km, we must have had a drafting official lingering just behind us for 75-80% of the time. I actually welcomed it, and I’m pretty sure it’s why no real packs formed, as although I was progressing through the field people didn’t get the opportunity to sit on my wheel and get a free ride.

By 70km James had dropped off and I was alone, but still catching the odd rider. I didn’t know what laps they were on, but with only 1 lap to go, I decided to ease up and try to prepare best I could for the run ahead.

I clicked over the 90km at ~2hr20min, and was a bit depressed as I wasn’t at transition yet! Another 2 or so km and I finished the bike with a 2:25:04 split.

Transition 2

Having taken the last 15km easier on the bike, I all of a sudden needed to pee. So I sat down to put my shoes and socks on while multitasking with something else I needed to do. All done and out of transition in 1:26.

Run Leg

Here we go, aiming to run between 3:30-3:35/km. First km and I was struggling to run under 3:40. I hoped my legs might come good, but it didn’t. It just got harder to run well. I was mostly running alone on the first lap, nobody ahead to chase, and nobody behind to run scared from. The aid stations seemed so far apart (2 available per lap), but thankfully the course seemed to flow pretty well.

By the second lap, I’d thrown away any ideas of trying to run a fast time. I was in complete survival mode, just ticking each km off to the end. I desired to go faster, but my willingness to suffer wasn’t there. I found out I was 1st in AG, but I wanted to race to get the best out of myself. I chased people who were a lap down, caught and passed.. what next?

My motivation was waning, and I needed something to take my mind off the constant thought of stopping. I caught some pros and found myself with a front-row seat watching their race unfold. That was interesting until they finished, 2 laps down, 1 to go.

‘Wow it’s hot, those aid stations really are spread out!’ I thought, as my mouth was quite dry. Less than 30mins to go, you’ve been going for over 3.5hrs, so don’t stop now. I just counted down the km. 6km to go, 5km to go (only a parkrun to go!), 4km to go (if I run 3:45s only 15mins, common lets go! .. alas body unresponsive to pace increase), 3km to go, 2 to go (yes! less than 10mins and you’re done!!), final km to go! Whoops there’s still a hundred meters to go, but I can see the finish!

The run split was 1:21:26, quite a bit off what I know I’m capable of however in hindsight, I was a bit cooked. My core temperature raised quickly to 39C during the run and then stabilised at 39.4-39.5C for the majority of the run. This explains some of the challenges I faced.

My total race time was 4:21:26, for 1st in AG, and didn’t get chicked 😉


When I don’t have a lot of fitness behind me, I’m much more tactical with how I use my energy. For this race, I had the base to support a good performance. However, just because I’m fit doesn’t mean that I can race execution doesn’t matter. It’s still important to be smart with how I race, if I want to extract the best from myself on the day.

When I’m wearing a core sensor I should check it once periodically just to be smart around cooling if I need to do it. When I get hot, everything becomes harder to do. It’s a little similar to not having enough energy from lack of nutrition, yet you can’t just get a coke for a pick-up.. effectively if you’re hot there’s no coming back as it takes a long time to cool.

My stroke rate / pace at the start is nice to know I can do that for a couple of minutes. However, I need to practice getting comfortable with not being comfortable in the open water. The wetsuit adds that tiny bit of restriction on the chest, but it doesn’t stop you breathing. The other glaring problem was that I didn’t do a swim warm-up, which would have improved my chances of not going out so hard in the beginning or panicking. I know this lesson, but I was lazy and enjoying my conversation 😉

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