The last time I wrote a race report about the Western Sydney 70.3 I called it ‘The Dark Side of Triathlon’ because I had the worst race of my life. It is still a memory I lean on it training to make sure I never have another repeat. But as you will no doubt find out, things went much much better for me the second time around.
There have been significant changes to the race in Penrith, however, at its core, it is still the same race. I decided on this race instead of my usual trip to Thailand for a number of reasons but the main reason was that I felt it was time to try and overcome some demons. I am not going to go into the detail of what happened last time but if you are interested in the backstory I would recommend you have a read. The article is linked here.
But for now, let me whisk you away to the pristine waters of the Regatta Centre at the foot of the Blue Mountains. I probably shouldn’t have used the word pristine…. I’ll try again, let me which you away to the …. hmmmm… clear? No. delightful? Hardly…. Fresh? Too simple… Ok. Let me whisk you away to the waters of the Regatta Centre (nailed it!) As I mentioned, this was a big redemption race for me that was turning out to be as much of a mental battle as physical one. The last time I completed this race there were some serious psychological scars left. So yeah, I wasn't excited about doing it over again.
My lead up was actually pretty good. With the completition of my law degree in the days before the race I found my mind was settling down a bit and my body was also starting to recover from the hole of overtraining I had put myself in earlier this year. I was swimming better than I ever have at this time of year and felt that both my bike and run were the strongest they have ever been. There were even whispers that the weather was going to be mild and it might even be a wetsuit swim. The race was already playing mental games with me! I went out to rack my bike the day before the race and my number one priority was calmness. No rushing. Take my time. Be chill! No dramas. The night before the race I had a surprisingly good night’s sleep and woke up on race day ready to go.
When I arrived on race morning I found that I had plenty of room around me in transition. A few other athletes had not shown up which meant I could spread myself out. I got my transition area set up without hassles and wished my friends and one of the athletes I coach, Ashley, good luck (we also talked race strategy and she bloody nailed her PB by the way) I had a bit of a wait before I got into the water but before I knew it I was treading water waiting for the start of the race. The water was 26c and as far as I could tell (by sinking) it was not buoyant at all.
So I was swimming well in the lead up to the race and was excited to see how I preformed. I chose to start on the left as I sight to my right and found that as soon as the gun went off I felt very very strong. The changes that I have made to my stroke in addition to the introduction of strength and conditioning work has seen big improvements in my swimming. I felt like I was swimming the fastest swim leg of my life. It felt effortless and the buoys were passing by in rapid succession. I also didn't really notice too many people swim away from me. I made my way to the lane rope leading to the turn buoy and started working my way towards the first turn.
After a few hundred metres I started to pass a few athletes from the earlier wave starts and before I knew it I was at the far end of the swim course. As I took the first right turn I looked up (for one of the first times) and saw a washing machine full of people ahead of me. For the rest of the swim I needed to dodge and weave around lots and lots of other athletes. But at no point did I ever really feel like I was struggling. I know one woman grabbed me on the leg as I passed. I might have swum close to her but I was really making an effort to not be a prick. I think after about 20 minutes I swallowed a bit of water which saw my heart rate spike a bit. But honestly, it felt so good. I was so confident this was going to be a lighting fast swim split. Today was going to be my day… Until it wasn't. As I exited the water I glanced down at my watch. My total swim time was 31:26 and I have no idea why.
I came ripping into T1 after hearing many voices shout out my name as I ran past. It was all a bit of a blur. By now I have mastered the art of shoes clipped into the bike in advance. I ripped off my swim skin, put on my helmet. Took the bike and was off. I had no real issues mounting or anything. My T1 time was 1:20.
Straight away on the bike I was feeling strong. I took a few moments getting shoes on properly and making sure my visor was on before I settled in. The very start of the bike course required a lap with some tight turns before eventually making my way out onto the main drag. Once I got out there I got myself into my tight aero position and started to work. I was determined not to over bike at this race so I could run well off the bike. My speed was nice and high and my power was relatively low. I had a few guys who tried to come with me then pass but that only lasted a little while. By the time I made it to the far end of the course they were well and truly behind me. The course is mostly flat and smooth but you do pull off the main drag for a little section of about 10km. The roads weren’t so smooth here. In fact, I took a corner a little too fast at one point and nearly crashed when I came straight into a very rough patch of road. It was definitely put in the bank for the second lap. I was keeping an eye on my speed and at the end of the first lap I was averaging about 40.5km/h In fact, if I doubled the first 45km time I would have done the bike course in 2:14.
Onto the second lap and this time I noticed that the wind had picked up a bit. My speed wasn't as high on the way out and the effort was a bit higher. Still, I was sitting around the speed and watts I wanted. In hindsight, I think this was probably one of the biggest mistakes I made on the day. I wanted to ride an average watts of between 250 and 260 and I think based on my file I actually averaged around 235. I was too focused on my speed and when it was over 40km/h I was happy. If I had of really stuck to my power I think I would have ridden much better. Anywhoo, the wind was piking up and my speed was dropping a bit. I had made a point of really staying on top of my nutrition to try and minimise the chance of a stich on the run. With about 15km to go , an athlete who I had been riding in the vicinity of the bike course with, Scott Bavel, went away from me and again, keeping an eye on my speed instead of power I decided to let him go (maybe I didn't really have too big a say in the matter.) But when I was within the last 10km of the bike course I was feeling surprisingly good and almost excited to get onto the run. Highlights of the bike course for me were spotting so many people I knew out there including Kelly, Carlijn, Ben, Ashlee, Andy and Edouard. I made a quick dismount and made my way into T2. My total bike time was 2:17:18, my fastest bike split to date.
In and out in a flash for T2. I racked my bike, took off my helmet, put on my shoes and grabbed my hat which had everything else in it. The whole time I was in T2 I could hear Joel Murray talking me up on the mic which absolutely put a smile on my face. My T2 time was 1:01.
What is the point of reading a race report if it doesn't contain a bit of drama? There was plenty for me on the run (at least internally!) To say I was scared of the run was an understatement. I had fallen to pieces the last time I raced the 70.3 here and I was terrified it would happen again. I felt very comfortable from the get go but also noticed very quickly I was starting to get a stitch. I did whatever I could think of to try and get rid of it but it insisted on being a passenger. Despite this, I was holding 4 min pace effortlessly. So I bloody should too! I rode so I could run and it seemed to be working. The stitch would eventually leave me about 8km into the run but by then I had other things on my mind. I completed the first 5km in just over 20 seconds which was exactly where I wanted to be. Then the next time I glanced at my stupid fucking useless piece of shit Garmin, my pace was at 5:55/km… What the hell? I picked up the pace…. 6:10/km I started to panic. I dug even deeper. What the hell is going on? I am not being dropped by the other athletes? I am gaining on them? Then suddenly a km split came through ‘3:34’ now I was really confused. Next KM 4:48. I am not sure at what point I realised there was a problem with my Garmin but work it out I did.
I am a little bit embarrassed to be honest, but once I lost my pace it really through me. Also the attempt to speed up and hurt me more than I realised and I was not feeling as good anymore. Basically, the satellite wasn't connecting properly so I had no idea how far or how fast I had run. My file for the run is only 15km… I am pretty sure it wasn't 6km short… Anyway, I tried to then just focus on what I could. My form, my breathing, my nutrition. I certainly wasn't running slowly but I wasn't comfortable either. As we made our way back into the regatta centre I spotted my mate Charlie who ripped into me. Then I saw Dez and even managed to blow her a kiss. I knew by this point I wasn't going to have the same sort of disaster as last time. Eventually I gave up on the watch all together and just switched it over to total race time.
It also started to get hot. Really fucking hot! Any thoughts I had about the weather being mild and a nice and pleasant 25 degree day went out the window. I had the volunteers at each and every aid station throw the cups of water on me. I ran threw the hoses. I did everything I could to stay cool. It’s funny though, the heat in Australia is very different to the heat in Asia. While I could feel it and it had an impact on my race, it wasn't the soul sucking heat that I am used to in Asia.
As I got closer to the end of the race I was still aiming to try and go under 4:20 for the race. Like on the bike, I spotted many familiar faces on course, which really helped and even managed to pick up the pace in the last 2km. I made the final approach to the finish line realising I would miss out on sub 4:20 today but if I pushed it I would manage a sub 4:22 (my last race time). I crossed the finish line relieved that it wasn't an absolute disaster like last time. Far from a perfect race but man, not a repeat of the darkest day I have had in the sport. My total run time was 1:30:23 and my total race time was 4:21:28.
We did the usual debrief after the race and I got to see Andy and Edouard come across the line. I was a little deflated with the time because I felt like once again, something out of my control had gone wrong (even though I know I am the one who let it affect me.) Dez made her way over to recovery and my physio Matt was there too (Matt didn't make it out of the swim after being sick for 2 weeks.) We spoke about how I wasn't super happy when Matt said, not bad for 3rd place? I didn't really understand. Dez got a smile and said like I was a complete idiot ‘you came 3rd!’ I could not believe it. In truth I still cannot. I had assumed I was in 10th place or something like that. 3rd in my age group at the Asia-Pacific Championships! Bloody take that Western Sydney 70.3! You thought you beat me last time but I came back and made the podium! I was over the moon!
The messages of support I have received from so many people has blown me away. I know most of the people who know me are aware of my tri addiction. But even people who could not care less about triathlon were congratulating me. I had conquered my demons in the best possible style! So while the last time I had raced there had been the worst triathlon experience of my life I cannot help but feel like last Sunday was one of the best.
So that’s it! I have so many people as always to thank. My coach Ben Hammond, my Dietitian, Chloe McLeod, my physio, Matt Sweeney and the team at Precision Athletica. All of the people and companies that support me and most importantly, my Dez!
If you want to hear me talk about the race (even though you are probably sick of it after reading all of this) you should check out the latest episode of Think Fit.
Remember guys, dark times exist so we can compare them to the good. So even if you don't think that you can, remember to TRI!