Doing Your (Personal) Best
I have sat down many times in over the last month to put together my thoughts about my Bahrain 70.3 race report but have not really known where to start. For reasons that most people don’t know about, wouldn’t care about and are quite frankly not that interesting, the result meant a lot more to me than I expected. At the time, it sort of snuck up on me and I was in such a mess post-race that I didn't get the chance to appreciate it. Then the questions, comments and feedback started coming in from people I know, people I like and people I have never even heard of.
I have never in the entire time I have raced triathlon had more questions about my race. I had randoms ask for my ride file, people I know ask for my peak power, average speed, HR data and just about everything in between. I had people tell me that I cannot consider it my PB, people tell me that the result doesn't count, and someone even called me a cheat. The whole thing left a really weird taste in my mouth. I think the thing that amused me the most was the countless people asking me “how did that happen” like they were actually shocked I got a sub 4:10 70.3 result.
Well here you go internet, you can find out exactly how my 70.3 Bahrain race unfolded.
I was really nervous about this event. I am sure this is my own ignorance, but I was nervous about going to the Middle East. No, it wasn't because of terrorists or any of that bullshit. It was just the fear of the unknown. Culturally, I have zero experience and that was a bit intimidating. I didn’t know what to expect. What would it be like? What would the food be like? In all honesty, when we flew into Bahrain, I half expected the airport to be a shed next to a runway in the desert. When we touched down and I was driven to my hotel I realised I had nothing to worry about.
Bahrain really reminded me of Singapore. At least where the race is held, there are big, modern buildings in a beautiful area called Bahrain Bay. Seeing this and then being reunited with some friendly faces from MX instantly put me at ease. It was funny how quickly my nerves went and were replaced from excitement. I was going to enjoy the race but because of a few niggles and bouts of sickness I was optimistic about getting a PB but not a really big PB, I mean, I knew it was a fast race but I thought that might have been because Kristian Blummenfelt was so fast rather than it being such a quick course.
In the days before the race I swam and rode and they both gave me a lot of confidence. I was easily riding well over 40km/h and felt like a dolphin cutting through the water. You can ask the people I was there with. I was getting more and more excited and thought we were in for a great day.
I went through my usual routines and got myself to the race ready to rock. I was going to have a crack and see what I could do. Based on my numbers in training, I really thought I would have gone around 4:12 at Western Sydney so I wanted to see if I could do that in Bahrain.
The swim in Bahrain Bay was self-seeded with the fastest group being sub 25 min swimmers. I AM NOT a sub 25 min swimmer. But my swim splits this year were 30, 29, 27 and 25. I was confident I would be swimming under 27 so I figured I would put myself sort of towards the back of the sub 25 and see what happened. Well apparently, the majority of athletes in Bahrain were sub 25 min swimmers because it was absolutely packed. I positioned myself in the front 3rd ready to go.
I absolutely made the right decision. Straight into the water and I powered passed probably 50 people in the first 400m. I have been trying to work out why I am suddenly swimming in the water so much faster and apart from the changes to my stroke courtesy of BondiFit, I feel like I have flicked a switch and now treat the swim like a race. In the past I have always swum hard but always had it in my head that it is a long way and I should save my energy for the bike and run. That doesn't happen anymore. I swim like a man possessed, I thrash my arms like the Road Runner and as a result I am swimming much, much better. After passing what felt like nearly everyone in front of me without too many problems, I made the final left-hand turn to the exit. This was the only struggle I had during the swim as the sun was right behind the swim exit, so sighting was hard. I climbed the steps and knew I had swum well. My total swim time was 26:39
Transition was long. You ran in, grabbed your gear bag (mine only had my helmet and race number) and ripped off my wetsuit then put it in the bag. I was lucky to be so early out of the water because it was so empty. I made the long run to the other end of transition while putting on my helmet and race number (they made us wear them on the bike) then grabbed my bike and ran all the way back to the other end to start the bike. Considering how far it was I was very happy with a total time of 2:06.
Oh, the bike, the source of so much internet butthurt whinging. FOR THE RECORD, I measured 88.6km so yes it was a little short. Why this course being short is the cause of so much internet angst is a mystery to me. I have done races with a 1500m swim or a 20km run before and no one seems to care but for some reason, this race has seen more people lose their minds than I can understand. You want to know why it is a fast course? Then keep reading.
Straight onto the bike and it was apparent just how good these road surfaces were. My speed quickly went to about 45km/h and despite what people may think, my watts were high. I was EASILY holding 310 watts and it felt effortless. At one point I thought, “did the prince install engines in all of our bikes overnight?” I was absolutely flying on the bike, but I was working hard for it. My effort was extremely high but knowing that for what felt like the first time in my life, that all of my effort directly translated to speed I was motivated to keep going. I soon settled into a groove. My watts were higher than I had expected but I was anywhere between 260 and 290 watts consistently. I rode past maybe 6 or 7 other athletes but otherwise I was all by myself. This section of the course was on the fast lane on a 3-lane motorway that was open for traffic. Cars were flying past us and I think that this helped to cause a bit of a vacuum. Not so much drafting but like a wind tunnel that again made the wind less significant. The roads were flawless, like riding on black marble that make the roads in Sydney look like rough goat tracks in a paddock. While I was absolutely giving it everything, I was LOVING IT.
After we turned off the main highway for the first out and back section, I spotted Mark Cavendish and assumed it was a long out and back section but it really wasn’t. There were a few out and back sections before a longer straight that led to the F1 track. Here the wind really picked up a fair bit and for the first time my speed dropped a bit. It was also where I was passed by the first (and only) pack I came across. I have to point out that going the other way I saw so many blatant pelotons I was grateful to be so far at the front of the race.
The next part of the bike that was significant was the F1 Track. I knew we got to ride on the F1 track but wasn't sure what to expect. Compared to the regular roads we had ridden on the racetrack was rough. It was undulating with tight turns and it was fucking amazing. I was making actual car noises as I tried to take the shortest lines through the corners. The photographers must have thought I was high. It was so great to ride around an actual racetrack with eerie empty stadiums all around you. It was extremely difficult to hold consistent speed or watts in here but damn it was fun.
After the race track it was the same road back to the main highway and I was starting to feel the effort I had been putting in for the last 50 odd kms. I was starting to hurt but I was also getting an idea of the sort of time I would ride. I could do a 2:10 split if I keep this up. I was definitely going to PB if I just kept going and ran ok.
I made the big loop back onto the highway and as it was like the clouds opened up and a rainbow shone down on me. Incredible roads + tail wind = 50km/h + The last 30ishkms back to transition was like someone had attached a rocket to the back of my bike. Realising what an opportunity this was (and probably a little bit of that old-Tim arrogance) I kept pushing on the bike to get every single km of speed possible out of my bike. My speed was now over 50km/h. In hindsight, I should have been aware of the pain in my quads. I should have considered backing it off before the run. But all I was thinking about was a sub 2:10 bike split.
Before I knew it I was back at transition with only a lap of the bay to finish. I was now obsessed with getting as fast a bike split as possible, so I continued to push way too much power the whole way around. I even passed a few people in those final kms (who were probably being smarter than me) then made my way to the dismount line. I took my feet out of my shoes I will admit a little curious to see how my legs would be feeling. My total ride time was 2:04:24 I rode a normalised power of 270 watts for the 90km with an average speed over 43km/h. 12 minutes faster than my previous best bike split!
Truth be told, T2 was a blur of excitement and panic. I knew I had ridden under 2:10 and I knew I had swum 26 minutes. I was rushing through transition, getting my gear sorted and getting out all while trying to do the maths. Considering how flustered I was and the adrenalin pumping through my body I was impressed with how composed I was. I did have to yell at the volunteers who were standing there. They were blocking the signs with the row numbers on them and trust me, transition was basically empty at this point. My T2 time was 2:16.
The first thing I did after getting my hat and run gear sorted was switch my Garmin to overall time. It read 2:35… At first, I couldn't make sense of this. There was a time when I dreamed of seeing 3:00 when I came off the bike. Then the maths started… Hang on…. 2:35… If I run 90 minutes… That’s 4:05… Have you ever had a moment that was as quick as a blink of an eye but dragged on for an eternity? A moment where you are suddenly bombarded by a tidal wave of realisation and pressure? That was that moment for me. I can run 90 minutes EVERY. DAY. OF. THE. WEEK!
I went out in a panic and my first km clicked at just over 4-minute pace. I heard my swim coach, Spot Anderson’s voice in my head “all you need to do is evenly pace yourself or negative split”. He was right. I am not trying to go under 4 hours. I am trying to go 4:05. All I need to do is run 4:15 pace and I have it in the bag. I made a conscious effort to slow my pace down. I even patted myself on the back a bit. I was being a smart athlete and absolutely setting myself up for success. I was going to go 4:05. What the actual fuck. I was going to do it today. In less than 90 minutes a decade of training would be about to pay off.
The Bahrain course is 3 laps like a very very tight C so you are always running next to the other part of the course. For a race I really enjoyed, I did not enjoy the run course. I was so far in my own head for most of the run to be honest. What if I do go 4:05? What will I do? Do I have to do an IronMan? Should I consider having children? Will I retire from triathlon? Why isn’t Dez here to see this happen? Who is going to take a photo of me at the finish? These and about a million other thoughts were going through my head as well as moments of elation, excitement, panic and to be honest, fear. My pace was starting to slip by the 7km mark and a high-five and encouragement from Macca surrounded by the Bahrain Endurance 13 gave me a real surge of adrenalin, but it didn't last.
My pace was now down to 4:20 per km and the conversation stopped being what do I do once I go 4:05 to DO NOT FUCK THIS UP! People on course must have thought I was crazy. At points I was screaming at myself “4:05” over and over. But no matter what I did, my pace would not increase. At the 14km mark it was still a possibility, but I knew I would need to suffer. I reminded myself of Challenge Melbourne and North Carolina earlier in the year where I went harder for the last 5km. The carrot of my 4:05 would surely push me to go beyond what I was capable of.
By the last lap I was suffering, and the doubt started to creep in. I knew I was going to have to pull something out of the hat to make it happen. I still refused to give up. My pace had increased to 4:10 and it was costing me everything I had just to maintain that. I know at one point someone called my name then ran up to me trying to chat with me. All I could muster was “NOT NOW” and “I’m sorry” then kept going. Inside the last km I think I accepted I was not going to make it but I also told myself, you don’t know where the timing maps are, you don’t know what point you crossed the start mat… DO NOT GIVE UP!
I don’t remember the finish line. For a huge PB my finish photos are pretty crap. I half threw my arms in the air in elation? Disappointment? Frustration? I was not well. But I did turn around and see my name with 4:06 next to it. FUCK! So close! My total run time was 1:31:21 and my finish time was 4:06:47.
If you had of told me I would go 4:06 before the race I would have been ecstatic. But to me it was almost bittersweet. 48 seconds… That’s all that stood between me and 4:05… I have spent a lot of time thinking about this result and to be honest, the attitude of other people, including some people I would have expected unconditional support from, added to my feelings of dissatisfaction. It is really bizarre to be honest. To come so close and not get there. I guess in a lot of ways it is sort of my way of going about things. I mean it took my 2 years to crack 4:30. The thing that I think upsets me the most though is how relieved I was that I didn’t make it. That is really hard for me to admit and to type for the internet to read but it is the truth. I have come to realise since the race that what has soured this result for me the most is how ashamed I am of my relief of failing.
I was never in the right headspace for this result. 4:05 was not even on my radar and to have it thrust upon me like that was a real head fuck. I was forced to have a very hard look at myself and in a lot of ways I did not like what I saw. But I also worked out what I can do to work on it.
As the weeks have passed, I have become extremely proud of that race. I definitely could have done things better. Maybe I should have backed off on the bike a bit. Maybe I should have just trusted myself and ran the way I normally do. All questions I will never know the answers to. But I also learned that I am capable of putting in a good sub 27-minute swim. I am capable of riding over 40km/h and I know that with hard work I can definitely make sure I run well under 90 minutes.
As for the haters, the people who have told me it isn’t a real result. Or all the other random, unwanted opinions and questions. My 70.3 PB is now 4:06. No one can ever take that away from me. I will argue with anyone who says it isn’t.
Do I think this makes me a better athlete than some of my friends? Absolutely not. Do I think this result should mean anything to anyone else? Hell no! Doing this race made me realise that this huge goal I have for a 4:05 doesn't matter to anyone else than me. Would the crowd have erupted, and the Prince and all the pro athletes have come out and celebrated if I went 4:05? Of course not. I still would have been shuffled along, asked for my timing chip and sent to recovery with no one caring. But let me tell you what. My result means a lot for me. It means that I am moving in the right direction. It means I am able to reach my goals and it means that I should have more faith in myself and it means I am better than I was a decade ago.
Not bad for a man who struggled to complete an Olympic Distance race in 2010 in 4 hours and 5 minutes hey!
I will always remember that and it is why I will always remember to TRI!
14/1/2020 10:38:51 am
Great read Timbo - solid, honest and humble reflection on a great achievement.
14/1/2020 12:15:38 pm
This is a great review of what going all out and not giving up is all about.No one can take this race from you and it was a feeling many of us have but aren't always able to express .Kudos to you !!
22/2/2020 05:08:22 pm
They say that we need to do our best every time we need to. In triathlon, winning should not be the goal. As long as we did our best and we know that we were happy while we were on it, then there should be no room for regrets. What I love about you is you are always optimistic, whatever situation may it be. We need more people like you because if not, this world will be dark and sad! Though it was physically and mentally tiring, what's god about this is you have overcome everything!
16/5/2020 03:38:14 pm
As a new triathlete living and training for Bahrain 70.3 I found this article super positive and informative :)) Thank you
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I lost 50kgs though triathlon and completed the 2016 70.3 World Championships. Aiming to hit 4:05 for a 70.3, the same time it took me to complete my first Olympic Distance Triathlon. I want to bring as many new people to the sport as possible. Whether you are fit and active or want to make positive changes to your life.