No great story of my domination in Melbourne this week. Instead I have a story to tell that to be honest, I did not expect to be writing until it happened to me. So I will paint you a word picture today of how I turned a tough, useless and disappointing day into something that I am very proud of.
Challenge Melbourne is a sentimental favourite race for me. I cracked 4:30 there last year and also had one of the hardest days of swim, bike and run there in my life. I thought after the highlight of 2016 that I was done with the race. Melbourne is a fantastic place but the weather is a little too shit and a little too inconsistent to really race with any sort of confidence. However, the organisers of the event decided to completely re-vamp the event with a completely new course. The course looked much much faster so I thought I would have a crack.
After my 4:17 in Tauranga underprepared I was confident that with a good build I could go close to 4:10 in Melbourne. I trained hard, sometimes maybe too hard but I was determined. About a week out from the race I started to check the weather. It wasn’t looking good. Still, it’s Melbourne and anything can happen weather wise. I was still confident. I was so strong on the bike and running better than ever before. I couldn’t fail.
I got my new Giant Trinity from Giant Sydney on Thursday and took it for a few test rides. It is an amazing bike to ride and I was sure with this amazing piece of technology between my legs I would be riding well under 2:15 on the fast, flat course. I was so confident until the day before the race. The weather was beautiful (if not a bit windy) but I was so sure the reports were wrong. I rode a lap of the bike and swam a bit of the course. Perfect little hit out the day before. Then the weather changed…
One of things that I know is a big issue for me and to be honest one of my biggest limiting factors is that when I think things aren’t going my way I lose motivation and interest. It was honestly like a scene out of the Wizard of Oz. It felt like a huge storm was going to hit. I went to bed the night before the race and I wasn’t feeling great.
When I woke up I was surprised to see the weather was actually pretty good. It was overcast but not too windy and very dry. I felt well rested and ready to go. We drove to St Kilda and I kid you not, I stepped foot out of the car and it started raining. Ah well, At least it wasn’t too windy… Then it was. Shit, oh well focus on what I can control. I had 20 minutes until transition closed. I was going through setting up and tried to inflate my tyres. My rear tyre was a bit tricky but I got there ok. The front wheel, I could not get any air to go in. I tried removing the valve extender and when I tried to put it back on I couldn’t do it. SHIT! I tried and tried and before I knew it they said 4 minutes until transition closes. By now I was FREAKING OUT. I ran to a marshal and said can I run out and get some mechanical help. He told me to be quick. I sprinted the length of transition and the guys from CBD Cycles in Melbourne assured me they could get it fixed. They also assured me the race wasn’t starting anytime soon with the lighting. He told me the valve extender I had was no good and replaced it for me. He saved my race. Blood pumping I sprinted back into a now empty and wet transition and as quick as I could I set myself up. Shit, it was only 15 minutes until I was meant to start. I ran back out and found Dez, threw on my wetsuit and sprinted for the beach. To say I was stressed was an understatement. But I made it just as the pro’s were starting. I was going to race.
The water looked pretty calm and the course was very well marked. I have been really working on my technique this year, which means I swim quite differently now and I was excited to see how I went. I felt very calm in the water from the get go and actually felt like I was swimming very well. At the far turn can I was surprised how quickly I got there. I had very little contact with other swimmers, which is usually a good sign. I was feeling optimistic. Then I turned around and things got tough. It was a lot rougher than I realised and I was struggling to sight. I don’t think it was really that bad but it was tougher than I expected. I was desperate to get out of the water and as I approached the shore I was thinking while I hadn’t swum fantastic I was still probably well under 30 minutes. I was wrong. My total swim time was 35:07 and I literally cannot explain why.
For the first time ever I had decided to try leaving my shoes on the bike and mount them after starting to ride. I was delighted to succeed. The transition was very easy to navigate. Considering the distance I was quite happy with the speed of my transition. Total T1 time of 2:00.
You know the old saying ‘never try something new on race day?” I understand it now. As soon as I was riding there was a rubbing noise. I had heard it the day before but thought I had the matter dealt with. I think in the first 5 km I stopped 4 times to try and fix it. The position of the brakes on my new bike make it quite difficult to adjust the width of the rear brake callipers. It isn’t a fault with the bike, more the user. I should have made sure it was all working before the race. But after the fourth unsuccessful attempt to remedy it I was seriously considering if I should pull the pin. Would finishing the bike course damage the bike? I decided to continue. Seeing the swim split out of the water had made me realise it wasn’t going to be my day pretty early on. But when I decided to keep going I remember my friend Robo, who in his first Ironman decided to enjoy the race instead of lose interest when he had issues. I was going to enjoy the race. I was going to wave at the children, smile for the cameras.
I put my head down and started to ride. I was flying on the way out but was not surprised to hit a shocking head wind on the way back. My legs are very strong from all the work I have been doing so I was actually still able to hold a pretty decent speed on the way back. I gave Dez a “YEEE HAAA” as I started my second lap. I was having a bit of fun. Then the wind changed. When I hit the stretch next to the ocean I could not use my aero bars it was so windy. I consider myself a pretty good bike handler, or I did until Sunday. As I struggled to keep control of the bike it felt like half the field passed me. A guy whizzed past me in aero and no sooner did he pass me did the wind literally sweep the wheels out from under him. I was playing it safe! The wind was so bad that I was like Harry Potter on the cursed broomstick in the Philosophers Stone. I was just trying to stay upright. By this point I wasn’t enjoying myself. I wanted out. It was freezing, wet and windy as all hell. I wanted them to cancel the race. I managed to keep myself going and my focus became the run. At least I can run well. I kept plugging away and with about 10km to go the wind died down a bit and all thoughts were on the run.
Then I punctured. I literally laughed as I pulled over. I started changing the tube which was not easy with numb fingers. I was super careful not to pinch the inner tube and when I inflated the tyre all the air blew out from under the tyre? I didn’t get it? I also didn’t have a 2nd co2 canister. Here we go, I have my excuse to pull out. No one will see my terrible bike split and to be honest, no one would probably blame me for withdrawing.
It’s hard to put into words what came over me but it was like I was inflated with a sense of purpose. What a fucking cop out. So my time was shit, there are people still out there suffering in the exact same conditions as I am and most of them would have been suffering for a longer time than I would. If they could do it so could I. I was finishing this race. I put my shoes back on the bike and started the long 7km walk back to transition. I ran where I could but some sections were just too rough. I walked where I had to. Every volunteer or marshal asked if I was ok, if I wanted them to call the van to come and get me. I explained that if I pushed my bike back I could still finish. Most of them were pretty impressed. About 2km from transition my friend Craig stopped and gave me his spare set. I tried again and the exact same thing happened. An onlooker even had a hand pump and we tried to use it. No air was going into the inner tube. The valve extender wouldn’t seal. So I continued on foot all the way back to transition. My Dad and Dez were there and were worried out of their minds. Dad asked me, was I going to run (while he jogged along next to me – actually one of my highlights) and I replied shocked “I didn’t just run with my fucking bike for 7km to not finish this fucking race!” My total bike time was 3:54:09.
I carried my bike in and grabbed my stuff. I was out in a flash. Total T2 time of 2:17.
I was a man on a mission and I wanted something out of the day. I went out hard and was either going to run a PB or end up walking. My legs were sore from running the 7km barefoot. My legs were also very heavy after the hard riding in the wind. But I felt strong. Starting so far back in the field meant that I passed lots and lots of people. So many people gave me encouragement. It was a completely different experience to what I am used to. I was running right around that 4:00 per km mark and in fact more of my kms were under 4:00. I flew through the first lap and was amazed by how beautiful the new run course was. I was LOVING this. I felt so strong on the run. I was being so consistent and it wasn’t even feeling that hard. With about 5km to go I noticed the weather start to change again and the wind picked up. I really had to work those last kms. Mostly because the weather went bad again and also because I was getting a bit tired. But I just kept going and had a little smile on my face as I passed Craig, the same guy who gave me his spare kit, with about 1km to go. I crossed the finish line for a total race time of 5:56:56 but a new run PB of 1:23:22.
POST RACE REFLECTIONS
I was seriously invested in delivering a very fast performance here. Part of me is disappointed that it didn’t work out. I think the stress pre-race didn’t help and the weather certainly got the best of me. But I really think I made the right decision to keep going. A big part of why I write these blogs and post so many photos of myself in lycra is to try and inspire people and motivate them to realise that if I can do it ANYONE can. I had a bad day, everything went wrong. I could have pulled the pin and called it a day. But what sort of example does that set? When things get tough give up? No, I decided to keep going because it was the right thing to do. My wife sacrifices a lot for me to do this sport, my supporters are invested in me as well. I didn’t want to be out there yesterday but I am very proud of myself for persevering. I learned a lot about myself yesterday and ultimately, I kept going because it is what I wanted to do. I am not a quitter. My wife once told me it would take something seriously bad for me not to finish and those words were in my head yesterday.
When it gets hard don’t give up and remember to TRI!