Im sitting at the bar overlooking the pool at Thanyapura on my last day here. I am flying back to Sydney after what has been an incredible 2 weeks here. I have met amazing new people including coaches, age groupers (some who are nearly 80) and even some World Champion athletes. I have been pushed harder than I thought I could or should go. I have learned a lot about myself as an athlete, husband, man and human. I have found the focus I have been missing for most of this year. I also won 2 races.
Now before you all get too excited about the title of this blog and start mentioning lady boys and other Thai stereotypes I want to be honest with you. I wanted to win on Sunday. While I never came here with that exact goal, I decided while I was up on stage after the Laguna Phuket Triathlon that I wanted to do the double. The only problem I had was that everyone here also wanted me to win. Maybe it is part of being Australian and our whole idea of 'tall poppy syndrome' but I am never comfortable admitting my big goals or accepting praise for my success. I think part of it was also the fear of failure. If I put it out there that I wanted to win and failed I would be worried I would look like a dick. So this week has been a real challenge for me with a large contingent of people asking me or telling me that they think I will win my age group at Challenge Phuket.
So sit back, grab a drink and settle in for what will be one hell of a ride. Trust me when I say I really enjoyed this race so I am expecting to enjoy writing this race report too.
On Saturday night I was terrified. I was convinced that there was no way I would be able to have a good race. All the excuses came into my mind. I went to bed early knowing I would need to be up at 3:30 in the morning (we do this for fun). I struggled to really sleep but did manage to get some rest. In the morning we got to transition as it opened and I was delighted to find that on my rack there were only 2 bikes. This meant I had extra room to set up my stuff. I specifically requested transition training during the week and was keen to put those lessons into practice. I got everything ready, then made my way to the beach start. Like LPT the wave starts were determined based on your estimated swim time. This meant that I was in the first wave. I did not enjoy the swim the week before and decided to go to the far left instead of the right. I thought it was actually a straighter line to the far turning buoy from the left. We lined up and waited for the gun to go on my 14th 70.3 triathlon.
Straight into the water and I went out very hard. I breath to my right which meant I had a good view of all of the swimmers on my right. Straight away I knew I had made the right decision. I was not being kicked, punched or grabbed. There was a group that got away after a few hundred metres but other than that, not too many people were passing me. I was swimming really well and was surprised how quickly the far buoy came up. At this time I noticed that someone was swimming on my feet. No free ride for you today dickhead. I kicked hard and put on a bit of a surge and actually found the feet of someone swimming slightly quicker than me. Jackpot! There was also some cloud cover which made sighting very easy. The swim back to the beach was completely non-eventful with nothing major to report. I came out of the beach and started to make my way over the sand dunes. When I hit the lagoon for the last part of the swim I knew I had been swimming hard because I was struggling to breath. I did maybe 5 strokes of breastroke and got on with it. In the lagoon I felt like I was overtaken by a large number of swimmers. I didn't really care though because I just wanted to get out of the water. I was delighted to swim and almost straight line across the lagoon and come out of the water. I did not realise it at the time but I completed the swim in 27:00 and my Garmin had the distance as 2160m! Finally a well executed swim!
I was having issues with my speed suit in transition and also forgot to grab my race number as I ran off with my bike. The quicker swim was obviously impacting on my ability to act like a normal person. I ran to the mount line with my shirt undone and did it up before jumping on the bike. I was still very happy with my transition time of 1:46.
Ask anyone who has done this course and they will tell you I am not lying when I say it is fucking brutally brilliant. What do I mean? I mean that the nice parts are some of the sexiest roads you will ever ride in your life while the hard parts are some of the worst. The course is essentially divided into three parts. Before the first hills, between the two sets of hills and after the last hills. This is a race where you need to ride conservatively because the hills are that bad. Not to mention the fact that it is somewhere around 40c and so humid you can barely breath. I was trying to ride within myself for the start of the bike. There is a pedestrian bridge which you are required to jump off your bike and run over at this race because it goes over the major Phuket highway. I dropped my chain on the way down which meant I had to stress to get it sorted. Much like the week before, I was not seeing many riders and those I did see I was passing pretty easily. At around the 30km mark a guy passed me on the bike and he looked like he might be my age. He was the only person I saw that was of a similar age so I assumed he was in my age group. forget conservative, it was time to work. I started to follow him (ensuring I did not draft). I also noticed this guy was looking back at me ALOT. Im a nice guy so I even took a turn on the front but as we came towards the first hills I backed right off to get the body ready.
One of the highlights of the day was getting to climb the first set of hills with Beth Gerdes, an amazing female pro who with her partner, Luke McKenzie, are doing amazing things for the sport. As we rode over the first set off hills I stayed seated and wanted a nice smooth pace. On the descent my cycling mate disappeared out of sight. I assumed I would catch him again on the bike (I didn't). Onto the second part of the race. This time I was going to push to the pedestrian bridge which I would need to cross again then conserve before the second set of brutal horrid climbs. There were some glorious patches of smooth fast roads which made pushing the pace easy. There were some parts where I felt like a TDF rider on cobblestones. Still, the ride was not really hurting me. I felt amazing and I was really enjoying the race. I had no idea where I was in my age group but had assumed that I had lost a fair chunk of time in the swim. I was completely ok with it.
After the second crossing of the pedestrian bridge (complete with a piss stop) I rode very conservatively. I knew how bad the Naithon hills were from the week before and this time we were going the opposite (and harder) direction. Right before the turn off for the hills I had a truck pull out in front of me and slow right down. I used a set of words that I do not think even a fluent english speaker would understand or approve of. He speed up and I was ready for the hills. At the bottom I kid you not, I was talking to my bike "Come on baby, we have seen so much together". "Lets do this, we know what to do". The climb started and it was the same as the first set. Stay seated and find a good rhythm. I was delighted to pass so many familiar faces on the hills including Azza from MaccaX and Clint Kimmins, one of the legends from Thanyapura. Clint was at the point of the 3rd climb which is steepest (something like 30%) and shouted to flush the legs out for the run. It was good advice. I increased my cadence for the last 10km home. I was actually excited to try the new dismount we had practiced that week while training. As I came towards transition I thought I heard my friends yell "you are in 3rd place". This run was going to be fun. Total bike split of 2:36.
I managed to do a proper dismount without kicking off any bottles and ran into transition very quickly. I did everything I had learned that week. Things as simple as put your hat on last (you can do it while running) all made a difference and I came away with my fastest T2 split to date of 57 seconds.
The plan for the run was to split the race into three 7km sections and run the first in around 33 minutes. This is a much slower pace to what I normally run but you cannot run fast in this heat. I set off and straight away focused on staying conservative and in control. I felt really comfortable running at 4:30 pace and was able to focus on staying cool by grabbing multiple sponges at every aid station. The run course is 2 laps with 2 sections where it is very easy to spot your competition. When I came to the first of these sections which is a big T I spotted my mate off the bike. He wasn't as far ahead of me as I had expected. I set my sights on him and kept going. At about the 4km mark he stopped at an aid station and I managed to pass him. I assumed that having to stop meant he was in a bit of pain. The hardest part of this course is an out and back again section which is HOT and LONG. Today for some reason it seemed like every person in Phuket wanted to be out in their car, truck or bike and drive down this stretch of road. So add to the heat some amazing exhaust fumes. I was still feeling pretty good and saw that my first 7km was in around 32 minutes so I was running a bit quicker than I had expected. But man I was having fun and feeling good. I don't remember seeing the guy at the turn around point on that section of the run but I was having a great time. I completed the first lap and had all of my non-racing friends cheering me on. One of them, Marek, who was following the online results told me that the guy I had been targeting was indeed in my age group and at the same time I noticed that he had not fallen very far behind me, maybe 75 metres. I had a plan on how I was going to deal with it.
*** I have no idea if the following actually made any difference or anything but in my mind it is a gripping story of race strategy and tactics. Plus it is my blog and I will write it how I bloody want***
One of the good things about having access to someone like Chris McCormack is that you learn race strategy. He is constantly telling me things like 'don't be a victim' or passing on some of his race knowledge. I decided I needed to break my competitor mentally. The big T section of the course was going to be the perfect place to do it. I wanted to stay quite conservative so that when we passed each other again the gap wasn't too big. That is how it happened. When I turned around I was maybe 150 metres ahead of him. Then as soon as I passed him I buried myself. I ran a much faster pace trying to put as big a gap on him as I could. It hurt really bad but I was not over doing it as there was still another 8km to run after the T. As I made the turn I really tried to make sure that I looked good. I wanted it to look like I was running very easy. The pace part had worked. I had put a decent chunk of time into him and as I passed him I gave him a look. He didn't look back at me. I still wasn't convinced I was in first place at this time but I was sure I was on the podium. It was mine to lose. As I came to the long straight it was starting to hurt a bit. I could feel my hamstrings starting to twinge a little and was just hoping they would hold it together. Once again I wanted to run the last part hard so at 1.5km I threw away the multiple sponges stored within my clothing and zipped up my shirt. I managed to pick up the pace a bit and as I turned the final turn towards the finish I looked over my shoulder. Old mate was no where to be seen. I was not only finishing the race but I knew I had made the podium. I ran down the finish chute with a smile and even did a little celebration as I crossed the finish line. My run split was 1:38 which was almost the same as my Sunny Coast run a few months earlier in much tougher conditions. My total race time was 4:45 and we confirmed after the race I had won my age group.
I was pretty excited after the race but like the week before with the swim starts I did not believe I had won the AG until I got that trophy in my hands. We had multiple athletes from MaccaX racing including my room mate Matho. Matho was not having a good time of it and when he came in for his second lap he started saying that he was going to pull out. I put down my beer and grabbed my hat and told him I would run with him. His coach Justin Granger did the same thing so we started to run the last lap together. I realised pretty quickly I would not be able to run the whole way so instead would go to key turn around points and wait for Matho and Justin. I love cheering on other athletes after I have finished and this was the perfect opportunity to do so. Matho was starting to run really well which made me happy and came across the line with a massive negative split. We waited for everyone to come across the line.
The awards ceremony was awesome and there was some crazy stuff happening at the after party. I got to meet Tim O'Donnell and Mirinda Carfare and a whole heap of other professional triathletes but what happens in Phuket stays in Phuket.
I have had an absolute blast here in Phuket over the last two weeks. I really think this is an incredible place to come and train and it is fast becoming a real centre for triathlon. I can't wait to come back again next year and race again.
Now to the thank you's. As always my amazing wife Dez, I know you weren't there on Sunday but trust me when I say that you really were. You were the first thing I thought about as I crossed that finish line. To my coach Ben, mate this is becoming a habit. I look forward to lifting the bar again next year. To my family who really must be starting to get a good understanding of this as they actually knew I had won before I told them! To the entire gang at MaccaX, My phone nearly exploded after the race on Sunday. A special shout out to Craig Toh for his amazing photography skills and for out-stalking the stalker. To the team at Thanyapura, it is an honour to represent you and I am so happy to be able to achieve this success at your local race.
So that is is, my lucky number is 14, always has been. I think that me winning my first 70.3 at my 14th 70.3 is not a coincidence. What a whirlwind this trip has been . I hope to have some of you, my readers, here with me next year!
Train hard, dream big and whatever you do always remember to TRI!