I’ve spent the last few days living in isolation as I lick the ‘wounds’ from the weekend. I usually put together a race report following my bigger races because it gives me a good opportunity to go through my performance in my own head. However, on the weekend, something happened which shocked me to my core and has left me wondering if I even want to do triathlon anymore.
Before I get to Western Sydney 70.3 I want to talk about my experiences in triathlon. I came to the sport as an extremely unfit, overweight guy with no real interest in taking care of myself. Through training and racing triathlon I lost over 50kg and made my health a priority. I have completely changed my approach to life, my relationships with friends and family and through some stroke of luck, I have even managed to turn it into my job. Not bad when I consider that all I wanted to do when I started this blog was to try and encourage some other people to give triathlon a go.
You see, I feel like I am indebted to triathlon. This sport literally handed me the keys to my own life and I genuinely believe, saved it too. I am one of the first people to talk of the positive benefits of the lifestyle, of the incredible support I felt running (walking) the 10km of my first ever triathlon. Or how you can do this sport and feel welcomed and included. It is not a sport where you will have people laugh at you when you are struggling or kick you when you’re down. I think this opinion is so engrained in my view of triathlon that I am unable to separate the two. Triathlon = inclusion.
Now I am also not an idiot. I have been around the sport long enough to know there are bad apples and I also know in a competitive environment people can say and do things in the heat of the moment. It is part of racing. I have especially noticed this as I have gone from the back, and I mean back of the pack, up to the front. The attitude of your competiors change. The conversations at the start of the race are different and the vibe is much more intense.
I am also not naïve enough to know that some people do not like to see others succeed. You know that after I won my age group at North Carolina a few weeks ago I lost over 200 Instagram followers in 24 hours? I do not obsessively follow those numbers but it was a significant enough drop for me to notice (and no, this was not after they read about me pissing on the bike). I have had people tell me that I no longer know what it is like to do it tough out on course, or that I am a corporate lacky who only ever pushed the products of his sponsors. My personal favourite is that I am lucky to be fast!
In some of the more extreme cases, I have had people set up fake Instagram accounts and message my followers telling them that I have been talking shit about them behind there back. If I have an issue with you, I say it to your front! I have been accused of doping, accused of having weight loss surgery, I have been accused of lying about my weight loss, fucking hell I have even been accused of photoshopping Instagram photos (that are clearly photoshopped). The point is, this stuff has made me pretty thick skinned. I figure the people who really know me will know I try my hardest not to be a dick. I try and encourage people as much as I can and really do want to bring as many people as I can to the sport. People may interpret the way I act online (or how I write these posts) in a way that makes them think I am a C**T but I go to bed at night truly thinking I try and be a good guy.
So to have my race ruined on the weekend because of the actions of a coward has cut me to my core.
I came out of the water on Sunday surprised to see I had swum under 30 minutes at the infamous Regatta swamp thinking, if I race how I know I will today I could be on track for a very very fast time. I have now done 30 70.3s and I have most of the processes down. I set my bike in the optimal gear for pushing off while also trying to get my feet in my shoes. On Sunday when I pushed off at the mount line there was a horrible crunch as my gears went haywire. Someone had shifted them from one of my easiest gears to my hardest gear. When you change gears without pedalling then try and pedal you hear a noise that would make you think you have snapped your chain. My gears had been changed 7 times to put the bike in my hardest gear. Another athlete I know Nat even said to me “slow it down mate” assuming I had made an error and as I saw my Physio Matt Sweeney he heckled me about nearly falling over. I told him someone had messed with my gears. Oh well, a minor inconvenience that cost me what? 2 seconds and maybe a slight surge of adrenalin. This has happened to me before and wasn't that big a deal. I put my head down and started riding.
My power and speed instantly went where I wanted them and a small smile came over my face… I am going to have a good day. The conditions are perfect and I am at the front of the race. Let’s do this. I was told by my coach to really go hard on the bike and felt like I was in the perfect position to do so.
Then I got a puncture…
In some ways, I didn't hate that this happened. The race was only ever meant to be an exercise in preparing for Bahrain (I hate saying it was going to be a training day) and the thoughts of maybe getting a PB went instantly out the window. It meant I would fix the flat then do exactly as Ben said, ride the first 30km conservatively then send it for the last 60km and treat the run like it was only 18km long.
I took off the disc and started changing the tyre. After I removed the inner tube I ran my finger along the inside of my tyre to see if whatever caused the puncture was not still there.
In another piece of luck I ran my finger the same direction as the foreign object I discovered, If I hadn’t I would have pricked my finger because I found a sewing needle stuck in my tyre. I pulled it out and got on with changing my flat. At the same time an official came to see if I was ok, he watched as I made the change then struggled to reinflate my disc because after the innertube inflated I couldn't get the Co2 valve out. The end result was a semi-inflated rear disc wheel. He radioed and found out the only on course mechanics were back in transition. I decided I would ride back and get them to pump it back up to where I wanted it. I was ok about it still, just get it sorted then get back on course. I will admit there were thoughts about just pulling the pin but I have never DNF’d a race and didn't want something as simple as a puncture to be the reason why. I left my timing chip at the penalty box so I didn't trip the timing mats and followed the officials instructions to ride on the run course. I got back pumped up my tyre, made my way back to the bike start and was off again, I went back to the penalty box, picked up my timing chip and was off.
It is funny but in the heat of the moment I didn't even really dwell on the needle that much. When I was out on the course I saw the guys I had come out of the water with coming back and they were a LOOOOOONGG way ahead of me. That is when it hit me. Fuck! Someone must have done this to me. The gears were an inconvenience and a puncture could just be bad luck but you tell me how a sewing needle unless it somehow was pointed up instead of laying flat on the ground would have ended up in my tyre… I got mad.
My head was out of it and I found my mind wandering a lot through the run but one thought kept going through my head, “What could I have done to someone to make them want to do that to me?” As I said, I really try and be as encouraging as I can be. I try and respond to every private Instagram message or question on my website (if you send me dick pics I block you – this really happens) but more than anything else I felt violated.
Triathlon is my safe space, it is the thing I love doing and where I feel more like me than anywhere else. To have someone set out to ruin my day broke my heart.
I got a bit upset again on the run seeing people I am usually much further ahead of literally miles in front of me but kept telling myself to worry about Bahrain. I also felt like I had to make everyone understand that I wasn't having a bad day, someone had made me have a bad day so I told my friends exactly what had happened. Don't feel sorry for me, feel angry for me!
I finished with a 4:48 and I felt worse than I have ever felt after a race. Even now, days later I feel… flat? Down? I don’t know how to explain it. I imagine it is the same feeling you get after having someone break into your house?
I hate that this sounds like a cliché triathlete coming out with all the excuses. I hate that I sound like Lionel Sanders talking about how I forgot to drink water in the hottest race of the year but I also hate that this experience has affected me so much. Whoever it was that did this probably wants me to feel like this and I hate that it is working.
The support from people has been fantastic. Everyone has said the same things to me, get back out there, don't let one person ruin the thing you love. That is what I choose to do. I signed up for a sprint tri this weekend for that exact reason, to get back out there and prove to myself it was an aberration.
To whoever you are, I feel like I owe you an apology for whatever it was I did to make you want to do this to me. What really makes me uncomfortable is the thought of you planning this. Thinking up the idea, getting a needle and packing it, lurking around my bike and then doing what you did. You must have been terrified of getting caught.
But I am not going to apologise. If you read this and you don’t like how I present myself online, delete me, block me, unfollow me. If you did it because you were worried I would beat you (which I couldn't care less if I did or not) train harder. I don't take any shortcuts or have some secret for success, I train, HARD. If you did it because you are jealous of the opportunities that I have been given, put yourself out there and see what happens too. There are so many different ways you could have reacted to your negative opinions of me and what you did is not one of them. There were people on course on Sunday that I would not piss on if they were on fire to put them out and the thought of sabotaging their race never even entered my head for a second…
So there you go, this ended up being a lot longer than I anticipated. Despite this, I still think triathlon is the most wonderful sport there is and I need to remind myself that nothing like this had happened in the previous 29 70.3s I have done.
Let’s not let people like that win, let’s continue to make this sport encouraging positive and one where we all want to TRI!