It’s done! Finished! All over for 2016. The 70.3 World Championships is behind me and I can’t believe it. This race was 12 months in the making after qualifying in August last year. I want to start by saying how grateful I am for having the opportunity to race against the best athletes in the world. Just being on the start line was a dream and to finish the race carrying the Australian flag is an experience I will never ever forget. But before I get into how my race unfolded I want to set the scene for you all a little bit. Because this experience was more than just a race, it was a week of highs and lows, new experiences and challenges.
Dez and I arrived in Mooloolaba, the race hub on Wednesday afternoon and were excited to find the accommodation we booked could not have been in a better location. Directly opposite the swim start and right near my favourite coffee place in town. I was keen to be in a good location because traditionally at this race there is a decent chunk of time between transition closing on race morning and the race actually starting. We settled in and I attempted to commence my final race preparations. I wanted to swim everyday in the lead up to the race. I am a big believer that it is important to really keep a feel for the water. It doesn’t have to be a long swim or particularly structured but just be in the water and swim like you would when you race. In the days leading up to the event I had the opportunity to meet a number of people who I have met through the sport online but never in person. It was great to put faces to the names.
One of my biggest priorities in the lead up to the race was to head out and scout the new section of the course. A Swedish athlete, Karl, who I first met in Phuket last year, joined me for the course recon. When I looked at the race map I was pretty sure I knew where we were going. I was wrong. We ended up climbing a monster climb before eventually finding our way onto the course. Sorry about that mate. But once we found the course I was excited to see just how good it was. It was a significant improvement on the old course. The loop was challenging and beautiful. If it was possible, this made me even more excited for the race.
There was just so much happening around Mooloolaba with a breakfast for AWA athletes and a 5km beach run which Dez signed up for. I think the biggest highlight in the lead up to the event though was the Parade of Nations. They grouped all the athletes into their countries and had us march up to the beach. It was like a mini opening ceremony. I was actually surprised how few Australians took part in it. But as we were the last to walk onto the beach and pass, the other athletes went ballistic for us. It was an amazing thing to be part of. That same day my family had started to arrive. So having my brother, dad and wife there to see it was so good. There were so many other highlights in the lead up to the event but I think it is time to get into the actual race.
So where do we start? I went into the race with big expectations. I wasn’t fussed where I placed but I wanted to go quick. I think after seeing the course we were on I had accepted I wasn’t going to be dropping a super fast time but I definitely felt like this was still a fast course. Looking at the pro times I think I was right. The day before the race I dropped all of my gear into transition, racked my bike and tried to chill. By Saturday afternoon not only was my whole family (with the exception of my sister who lives in London) in town but my coach also made the trip up. I wasn’t too nervous. I was really excited. We chilled out in the afternoon, had an early dinner and I was in bed early. I woke up the next morning and my excitement had turned to nerves. Horrible, terrifying nerves. I kept my game face on to my wife and family but Dez knew I was in a bit of strife. The best thing about Dez is that after years of this sort of racing she is pretty good at knowing what I need. She let me do my own thing. I went to transition and set everything up. I then came up, got ready and made my way to the swim start. I gave her my usual farewell “Ill see you in a few hours.” Then I headed down to the holding area where I got myself ready. We were let into the water about 5 minutes before we started. I got myself into a good starting position and waited for the gun to go. It was time to deliver.
So the siren sounds and off I go. The thing I noticed about swimming in this race compared with others was firstly, I was nowhere near the front and secondly, I was surrounded the whole time. At no point did I manage to find rhythm. I had people touching me in all the wrong places (get your mind out of the gutter) the entire way. By having my arms and feet constantly being hit I was unable to swim the way I wanted. The swim tips I learned from Chris McCormack certainly came in handy as there were times where I literally had to climb over other swimmers as they cut across me. While I was swimming it felt like I was swimming for a long time and I was worried that my poor swim form was catching up with me again. When I finally managed to spot the swim exit I was actually quite relieved. It was a hard physical swim. I realised after the race that my swim cap had actually been knocked off at some point during the swim. This made me thankful for wearing two with my goggles inbetween them. Otherwise I may have lost my goggles and that would have been a disaster. When I exited the water my garmin was just under 28:30 which I was actually very happy with. When I checked my GPS file I was delighted to see it measured the course at 1910 metres and even more surprising, I seem to have swum straight the whole way. My official swim time was 28:47.
Because there were so many athletes on course there were some huge changes to transition this year. It was actually moved up towards the beach. The biggest issue was that it was very long. We came out of the water then took a left to run down to where our gear bags were. We then changed and ran to our bikes where we then ran to exit the transition. I measured the total distance at 700m. When I came into transition I was elated to see so many friendly faces who were cheering for me. I also knew I had swum harder than I realised because I kept dry heaving like I was about to vomit. All in all the actual transition process was quite smooth. The only obvious mistake I made was forgetting to turn my visor the right way down. But in reality it probably cost me 10 seconds. My total T1 time was 4:23.
Ahh the bike. In the past I have been a notorious over-biker. I have always thought of myself as a very strong cyclist and have set out to prove that point. Accepting that I am guilty of doing this has taken a while but I went into this race determined not to over-bike. The plan was simple. Be conservative for the first 30km, and build each 30km. I knew there were some serious hills in the back end of the course and I also wanted to run well. So out of transition and onto the bike. I want to say something here about what I saw on course. I have heard lots of people complaining about drafting on Sunday. Maybe because I was one of the first waves to get out there but I was actually impressed with the riding I saw. It seemed to me that most people were sitting far enough back. I certainly saw far less drafting this year than I did last year. Last year’s race was an absolute disgrace. It really seemed to me that spreading out the age group wave starts as much as they did seemed to make it much better. I can understand it might have been worse after I was off the highway but that is what I saw.
So out onto the highway and straight away I had to keep my cool. There were some riders passing me and my old ego wanted to try and go with them. But instead I focused on my own race and was content to keep riding my own pace. This continued for the first 30km and I attempted to increase my efforts after each 30km. When I came off the highway at the 40km mark I felt like I was riding very well. My speed was high and it was definitely taking less out of me. One of my highlights of the day was when I was passed by another competitor who congratulated me on my journey as he rode by. It really put a smile on my face. So the next part of the course was the loops with the hill. When I rode them a couple of days earlier I was surprised how they weren’t as bad as I expected. Let me tell you, after 55km of hard riding that hill was significantly harder than I remembered. It was steep. Thailand steep. The only saving grace was that it wasn’t very long. From this point until transition the course was very undulating. There were some crazy descents (where some guys went past so fast I couldn’t believe it) and some sections with very rough roads.
I still felt pretty good when I left the loop section and was making my way back to the highway. I like to spin out my legs in the last 5kms to get them ready for the run. On this course that isn’t so easy because there are some pinchy little hills as you approach transition. I made a point to try and keep the cadence up and as I approached transition I was feeling good for the run. I was happy with my bike split. I wonder if I had of gone much faster in the first 3rd what my split would have been but I am glad that I didn’t. My total ride time was 2:21:00.
T2 was completely non eventful. I dropped my bike off and started to run to get my gear bag. I spotted my coach who told me to keep going. I grabbed my stuff, quickly put on my shoes and started to run and keep getting dressed as I ran out onto the course. My T2 time was 2:47
I was looking forward to the run all day. I wanted to go out and run faster than I had in Norway. So I wanted to go 1:24 or faster. The first thing I noticed as I made my way onto the run course was how many people were spectating. The crowd was AMAZING! The course was almost identical with one big hill you deal with twice (4 climbs total.) Again, the plan was a conservative first 7km and then to build into the second before “unleashing hell” in the final 3rd. I realised about 2km into the run that I had forgotten to set my Garmin to auto-lap on the run with my splits. I attempted to do it while I was running but gave up quickly. This actually bothered me a lot more than it should of but I decided just to get on with it. I was spurred on at the 4km mark to spot some of the members of the Wolfpack who gave me plenty of encouragement and equal parts heckling. I was also so excited to have my family on course cheering for me. You could literally hear my mother for about a minute before I could see her.
Everything seemed to be going ok. I was running the race I had planned if maybe a little slower than I thought I would. As I approached the 14km point where I knew it was time to cut loose I got a bit of a stitch. I get these fairly often when I run so when it started I did all the things I could to get rid of it. The bastard just wouldn’t piss off. I came close to walking for a little while but managed to get it to the point where I could feel it but still deal with it. A few times I tried to pick up the pace but the stitch would put an end to that quick smart. It felt like it did at Western Sydney all those years ago. This time though it didn’t beat me. I was still running around 4:20 pace which was fine for me at that point. The wind had also picked up a bit too which made the last push to the finish quite tough. With about 2km to go it really started to hurt but come on, 2km is nothing and this is the World Championships. I just kept saying to myself “get to the top of the hill” and that is what I did. Once I got to the top it was literally all down hill. By this point I wasn’t thinking about times or anything. I wanted to enjoy the finish. I spotted my Dad about halfway down the finisher chute who had an Aussie flag for me. I ran the last 100m waving it smiling. It was done. 12 months of work was put into 4:25 of fun. I finished with a run split of 1:28:28 and a total time of 4:25:25
The first people to find me at the finish were Ben and Dez. I was on cloud 9. Lots of people came down and in what felt like no time at all we were all at the pub. Yes I proceeded to drink too many beers and I had a blast doing it. There was a point when I was at the pub and I looked around and realised just how many people were there to support me. I left the room because I had tears in my eyes and didn’t want anyone to know. People came from all over the place for the sole purpose to support me. I think that was half the reason I enjoyed the whole thing so much. The question everyone kept asking me was if I was happy. Even now I give an answer that lots of people don’t understand. But the truth of it is I am both happy and unhappy.
I am so happy about the race and the experience and even the time. I was 15 minutes faster than last year on a course which was much harder. But at the same time I was a little disappointed that I didn’t have the run I wanted. But just because I was a little disappointed doesn’t mean I had a bad race. I literally loved every second of being on course. It was my reward and I have never enjoyed a race so much before. I am definitely going to try and qualify for next year. I was so proud to represent my country at a global event and to do it on home soil in front of my family made it so special. If I had to sum up my feelings about the race in one word it is grateful.
I wanted to prove to myself that I was a legitimate athlete on Sunday and I feel like I did that.
I understand that this is becoming a very long race report. The scary thing is I could literally just keep writing about it. So I will leave it here. As always huge thanks to everyone especially my wife and family, my coach Ben Hammond, my supporters, Thanyapura, Giant Sydney, True Amino, Pioneer, Mizuno, and Suplest and of course everyone who cheered me on whether on course or from wherever you followed the race.
THANK YOU and remember to TRI!
***Oh I forgot to include this but I am racing Noosa Tri in 8 weeks and in order to race I need to raise money for the RSPCA. So if you want to support a great cause and help get me to the start line please follow this link and make a donation. Honestly any amount is greatly appreciated!
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