With November almost past, it was a late start to the Australian calendar. Despite my adventures in Spain, this felt like the beginning of the new season. With a jam packed race calendar in November, I thought that a later race may thin the field. Quite the opposite. Racing three weeks apart used to be the norm in professional racing. The increasing number of races, depth of fields, and the 2016 70.3 World Championships on the Sunshine Coast are seeing athletes racing week after week. Recovery in-between events is evaporating. The majority of performances are still at a high level with an occasional exception. I experimented with a three-week gap earlier in the year and will be attempting a two-week turnaround this time. This is partly motivated by seeing my friend Nick Baldwin who has taken to racing two Ironmans in two weeks routinely. Potential cherry picking motives aside, wanted to race Western Sydney 70.3 while it was my home race. I’ll be relocating to South Australia after Christmas and Western Sydney provided the opportunity to showcase my local bike shop and key sponsor Velocipede. I’m incredibly grateful for the support they have given over the past few years.
With high temperatures in the West, the swim course had been heated to 25.5 degrees. Positively stifling according to some, still a tad cold in my books. I felt a little more prepared than Lanzarote with my swim skin in hand. Little did I know that it would come back to bite – or more accurately chafe – me. Race start ran like clock work and after introducing the top professionals they left us to determine when we wanted to get off the pontoon and make our way out to the start. Still very cautious about getting chilled pre race, I stayed on the pontoon longer than anyone else. This led to an unexpected and mildly embarrassing moment. One by one the professionals dived off the pontoon like synchronised lemmings. I could count the number of dives I’ve made in my life on one hand and I wasn’t sure that this was the time to draw on all that experience. After awkwardly sitting and then plopping into the water, I wish I’d rethought this.
I had one goal on the start line. I wanted to race with people. Lanzarote 70.3 was a fantastic and challenging race but I wasn’t keen on another four-hour time trial. The swim started reasonably comfortable and when I could make sure that I was still in the main pack, I took a glance under my arm to see that we had gapped those behind. I was the last man to make the lead group. I took a few looks and noted that the athletes were spread quite wide with a tail of three athletes including myself. Despite feeling comfortable and noting my position was a little precarious, I didn’t push up the field. This hasn’t worked for me in the past and I figured we are all professionals, so I just had to trust the guys ahead to follow feet. The hard part of the swim was over. Shortly after this, the tail dropped off. I came around my fellow athletes but by the time I’d made it past them, the gap to the first group had grown tolarge to bridge. Bugger. Settling back in, I swum to the finish with those two guys. I had dreams of bridging to the leaders early on the bike. I came out of the water and quickly pulled my swim skin down to my hips. Compared to a wetsuit I felt fast, free, and like it was barely there. I tore through transition, mounted the bike, and bent down to clip my shoes up. Double bugger. My barely there swim skin was very much there. I spent some time pondering what to do and eventually decided that I could only ride on. By the time I hit the main road, there was no hint of the lead pack ahead and as one of my swimming partners flew by I thought my race was done. I was uncomfortable and very negative. Perhaps I just throw a U-turn and focus on Ballarat in two weeks?
Around 20km into my half hearted bike leg a group, of six athletes arrived. On the front was Derek Cross, my swim/bike partner from Japan 70.3 My spirits and confidence were bolstered by his presence and that of the other athletes. I’m not someone who believes that the sport is a mental dual where the person who wants it more prevails. If your body runs low on glycogen then it is going to fight you all the way to the finish regardless of any mind of matter techniques. This situation was different. Being back with a group made me feel like I was racing again. After allhat is all I wanted to do. I wasn’t exactly racing at the pointy end of the field, but I was racing nonetheless. One of my former top age group rivals and now professional Dylan Hill, was also in the group. He couldn’t help making a good humoured comment about my selection of attire. This sort of thing helps make light of the fact that you are riding in a swim suit that may as well be lined with sandpaper. The bike passed by fairly uneventfully with steady time losses to the front group. The roads dried after the first half of the bike that was a little sketchy in the wet. Lucky I dressed for an aquatic environment!
While I was riding found myself pondering the difference between age group and professional bike splits. As an amateur always assumed that the professionals gained a massive advantage by working in a well-oiled group at nicely spaced legal distances. Not to mention they don’t have to contend with other athletes cluttering up the course as much. It is and isn’t true. There is an undeniable advantage of working in a group. Whether that group wants to work with you is another thing. The groups often end up either going slowly as only a few members are willing to set the pace, or they get stretched out as individual members attempt to make solo breaks. I had never appreciated the fact that what I was calling a cluttered course actually meant you are continually riding into a draft, and often it is a big one. The more people, the stronger the draft. When you are riding in a group of professionals there isn’t a lot to dodge. That is true. But when all the draft you are benefiting from is coming off a single rider 12m ahead, who has the front end of their bike set up a foot lower than yours, the benefit isn’t as great as you would think.
Swim skin, swim skin, and swim skin were my only thoughts in the final stages of the bike. Thankfully, I remembered to remove it in the second transition. I trailed Sebastien Jouffret onto the run course, a Frenchman with an impeccable taste in races. I didn’t think there would be anyone else penciling in Lanzarote, Western Sydney, and Ballarat 70.3’s for the back end of 2015. I was wrong. Seriously though, what are the odds?
I was hoping for a little more company early on the run. With a 12-minute deficit to 11th –my group comprised places 13th-17th–, I had my work cut out catching anyone. I was not aggressive on the run. Rather, I elected to run at a strong pace and see how long it would hold. The time gaps were coming down at an agonisingly slow rate but I figured I could still make a top 10 with some luck.
At this point, you really are running for fun. The professional prize purse pays to 6th place and that would have been asking too much of anyone’s legs. I was lucky enough to move myself up to 10th with just over 3km to run. I was well aware that my effort was above what would have been sensible but I figured the confidence I’d take into Ballarat from a strong run would be worth it. I made a quick calculation as to the pace I needed to run under 75 minutes and then took a few seconds off to provide myself with a margin for error. Courses are usually accurate but there are some shockers.
Despite the boring nature of the run course it ticked by fairly quickly. Perhaps it was because I was moving well or maybe it was the crowd support. Racing in Sydney was a nice change and I heard my name called many times which is always a motivating factor. Coming in tenth was nice, but as athletes, I think we always want more! David Mainwaring took out the win on the back of a fantastic race. With a similar background to David in distance running, I hope that in time I will be able to achieve similar things.
Now my recovery turns… or has turned given the timing of this blog to recovery. I’ll be putting everything into it and will be keen to test how well my latest acquisition works out. A pair of Recovery Pump boots, giant inflating space age type things which assist in recovery through similar principles to massage and hot/cold therapy. Having tested them earlier in the year with Ryan Twist at Bayswater Foot & Ankle Clinic in Melbourne, I trust it will have been a good investment. You’ll hear from me again following the race in Ballarat. I’m just as interested as anyone to see how a short turn around works out. Mentally, I’m prepared to give it a 100% but I think I’m also prepared for the wheels to fall off. Lets hope it is the former.