The 70.3 double experiment was in full swing. Racing two races in two weeks has always seemed crazy to me. Now I was in Ballarat, suffering no signs of soreness from Western Sydney and actually feeling pretty positive. I got through more training in between races than I’d expected to and didn’t feel like my fitness had dropped off. The only nagging concern was that I had not run within sixty seconds per kilometre of my targeted race pace since the prior event. I tend to forget how fit or fast I am without constant reminders so this was a little off putting. A conversation with a fellow professional prior to the race didn’t help those doubts. He spoke of the last time he raced two weeks apart and how spectacularly miserable the run was after a good swim and bike. You never know how it will turn out so you just have to cross your fingers and pray that you have not bitten off more than you can chew. Ballarat closed out the season so I had planned to finish as best I could regardless of how things unfolded.
The beautiful Lake Wendouree in the centre of Ballarat plays host to the start. Coming to Ballarat in December I was looking forward to high temperatures and hot racing. Yet here I stood in a wetsuit, heated vest and beanie. The locals gleefully informed everyone who complained that Ballarat is actually the coldest town in Australia. I’m not sure if that’s a fact but it sure seemed like it! After a warm up in the lake (with a adjusted temperature of 16 degrees) the professionals were called back ashore. The top ten were announced back into the water before the rest of us were allowed to follow. With a clear inside line the prime starting position was hotly contested. Placing myself right in the mix I was determined to not be pushed back. Bang. The gun which sounded for the start was barely heard as the preceding countdown meant that the majority of the professional field launched on two. It was rough. Very rough. I know of two swimmers that lost their goggles and I consider myself lucky to get away with just a few kicks. Immediately I found myself at the back and hopelessly unable to navigate my way around the traffic. After swimming on the spot for a prolonged period, I managed to squeeze through and latch onto the tail of the main pack. Even then, I found myself fighting for position and banging arms with those around me. With a quick look at my competitor I noticed it was the familiar face of Nick Baldwin. I think we both had this realisation at the same time and instantly gave each other space. The perks of knowing who’s who! Staying with the group proved more tiresome than expected as the pace hotted up. I don’t really see the point in making a near maximum effort to move up a few places in the closing stages of the swim. Although, I don’t exactly have an impressive turn of speed anyway, so it isn’t much of an option. Instead, I treated T1 as the race course and mounted comfortably with the main group.
Speaking of the mount, what a fiasco! For once it wasn’t me. The field spread itself all over the place with each man solely concerned with their own mount. Riders careened left and right as they tried to balance and put their shoes on at low speeds. Be it by chance or some bizarre kind of choreography everyone zig-zagged their way onto the bike course safely. As a group we got away quickly. I established myself near the back of the group behind the tallest athlete on course. After discovering that it was easier to ride behind a larger group than closer up, I was set to make the most of that. What I didn’t take into account was the size of the group. With thirteen members there was well over a hundred metres from front to back and each U-turn point saw something of an accordion effect. This means the riders at the rear have to ride particularly hard as the field strings out again. Unfortunately, my cycling prowess wasn’t up to the task. We were strung out when we hit the main road and strong crosswinds broke the invisible leash, which tied me to the group. I only wish I had been riding further up the group as it didn’t take long before the pack splintered into small groups. Riding largely solo I found my way back to some of the group around the halfway mark. On the second lap I worked at holding a strong even pace. Around the sixty-kilometre mark, I sighted the lean, tanned figure of 2012 Ironman World Champion, Pete Jacobs. This provided a mental boost and provided me with the catalyst I needed to attack the final part of the course. I didn’t exactly blow the final part of the bike course away but I did ride away from some followers and pass a few more professionals on my way back in. I came into T2 with a positive mind set and set out to see how I’d fair on the run.
The run course took three scenic loops on a primarily dirt trail around the lake. Beautiful, but a little frustrating when it comes to keeping track of who’s ahead of you. Playing catch up wasn’t my only concern. With my friends story fresh in my mind I found my legs feeling terrible throughout the first three kilometres. The pace was slow and getting slower. Thankfully, the winds that terrorised the bike course were also in play on the run. I just hadn’t noticed them. Once on the far side of the lake the wind was at your back and increasing the pace came naturally. Having the latter half of each lap feel slightly better made the going that much easier. I never felt like I did in Western Sydney but I managed to hold the pace even and come away with the fastest run split. I moved from 17th place up to 7th, agonisingly short of the 6th professional. It should be noted that stand out amateur Hayden Armstrong later clocked the 5th fastest time. This moved me to 8th overall. From where I started the run this was a great result and dipping under four hours overall made the effort feel worthwhile. Despite the time gaps on the bike, there was only five minutes between second and twelfth. At the finish I was able to congratulate Nick Baldwin on his third place performance which came off the back of the fastest bike.
So the experiment? I’d call it a success. As of writing this my body is sending me mixed messages. Post race soreness is not to be found. Nor is energy. I now feel like I am strong enough to race 70.3 races two weeks apart. However, I still don’t think it is ideal due to the unavoidably taxing nature of these efforts. Will I do it again? Only if the circumstances demand it. For now I am unsure of my 2016 calendar. I have ideas and plans but they are not set in stone. On one hand, I’d like to partake in the local South Australian Olympic distance races but I don’t want to compromise on racing over the 70.3 distance. I’ll work it out as I go, but I’d tip Challenge Melbourne as my next appearance. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy Christmas and my new professional 70.3 ranking as #100 in the world. It feels pretty special to break into the top hundred for the first time.
Happy Christmas to all. Make use of the Mistletoe and return to training slowly.