Greetings from Florida!
Over the weekend I participated in a pretty small, local event in Wilmington North Carolina, North Carolina 70.3. I think this was the biggest race in terms of participants that I have participated in with over 3000 athletes signed up.
Wilmington North Carolina is not a town I grew up dreaming about visiting the same way Disney World in Orlando (where I am writing this race report) was. But after the weekend, Wilmington will have a special place in my heart.
So buckle up, check your harness is tight, place your personal items underneath your seat and keep your arms and legs inside the ride – I may have Disney World stuck in my head.
My lead in to Wilmington was a sort of return to a riskier method that has seemed to work for me in the past. In 2015 and 2016 I spent 2 weeks training hard and racing in Thailand before heading to New Zealand to race. I found that after a couple of weeks of hard training in the heat, despite a bit of fatigue I tended to race really well. So when I knew I was heading to Kona and then to the U.S. I thought let’s try that approach again.
I rode over 1000km in Kona swam nearly 20km and ran about 90km. I was sore, tired and sick of my training equipment when I left the island. There were several times out of panic I messaged my coach Ben Hammond saying “I have forgotten how to run fast.” But the plan was to leave Kona and scale things right back. I arrived in Wilmington on the Thursday and was shocked by how cold it was.
Other than the weather I had a few little hiccups in the lead up to the race. My bike was making a weird noise when I rode it to transition (also got properly screamed at twice by drivers) but the legends and Bike Cycle in Wilmington sorted my beauty out for me. Split transition made the logistics of this race a little challenging but by Friday evening, everything was were it was meant to be. All that was left to do was race.
I had a terrible night sleep which was not normal for me, I have been sleeping quite well before my recent races but I got myself ready and had the wonderful Cindy Cassady drive me to T1. I got myself set up, tried to remember where everything was and jumped on the shuttle to the swim start. This is a true point-point race. We start the race about 2km from T1 then ride to a different T2 and then finish somewhere else again. So, the bus to the swim start was a good opportunity for me to calm my mind and get ready.
The holding area was jam packed with athletes. This was a rolling self-seeded start, so I went straight to the sub 27 area where I was impressed by how many athletes were there. After some friendly chats with other athletes I made my way towards the front. We were led across the road and ordered into single file waiting for the start. The cannon went off and I made my way into the water.
Now it is important to note here that the Wilmington swim is tide assisted. I am not convinced it is for the whole way. I am man enough to admit I cannot hold 1:09 pace for the first 500m like I did in the swim but I think the remainder of the swim my pace was maybe 1 0r 2 seconds faster than normal.
Having said that, despite any tide, I had MY BEST EVER SWIM. Not my fastest ever but my best. I had no dramas with anyone. I swam with pretty much the same people most of the way and had clear water ahead of me the whole time. The biggest challenges I faced in the swim were the waves from the wind every time I looked up making me swallow water and getting tangled in not one but two buoys.
I want to take a moment here to thank my swim coach, Spot Anderson. I have been swimming with Spot for quite a while and recently I completed his stroke correction clinic. The simple changes like head position, arm depth and how to apply pressure in the water are the reason why my last two swims have been so great.
I am also starting to understand how important swim fitness is for setting up your race. My rate was high and the whole time I was swimming I really felt like I was racing, not just sort of going through the motions like I often to do in a swim. When I saw the swim exit, I was actually pumped up, not relieved and when I got out of the water and saw my split time, I thought I was in for a good day. My swim time was 25:08.
Christ this was a long run. It just kept going and going. I eventually made it to my bike. I cut the legs on my blueseventy helix and getting out of it is so easy now. I shoved all my swim stuff in my bag and grabbed my bike. I ran out to the mount line and as I started peddling, I nearly got run off the road by another athlete. I gave him the traditional Australian greeting “fucking watchout mate” and was off. My T1 time was 3:50 (I know my official result said 1:25 but I am not that fast over nearly a km. I think the extra was added to my bike.)
I am an old and wise triathlete. I have done 29 70.3 races and I know that flat courses are not always fast. In fact, I find most triathletes get excited by the prospect of a flat course and over bike meaning they struggle on the run.
The first 10km of the bike course was a struggle to me. It was a bit windier than I expected and I didn't really feel comfortable. There were more ups and downs as we went onto and off different roads, but I made a choice early on in the day to follow my watts and cadence. I wanted to ride 260 -270 watts for this race so that’s mostly what I tried to do. There were some pretty scary moments on the big highway we rode on. They had closed a lane for the race, but we were riding towards oncoming traffic. Two cars didn’t seem to think the road closures applied to them and came screaming into the bike lane. I was lucky I was at the front of the race. If this was later on people would have been hit.
The first 20km were tough but I was starting to feel ok. I had ridden up to and passed maybe 5 or 10 athletes at this point and then we hit the main road where the majority of the race unfolded. At the 30km mark I was off the pace. I am always aiming for an average speed over 40km an hour and I think I went through the first 30km in about 47 minutes. There were probably a few moments of panic but overall, I think I was still telling myself to follow my plan.
At about the 30km mark a couple of guys passed me and I made the decision to go with them. Now again, I was not drafting, my power was the same and I was probably more like 20-30 metres behind them than the required 12. We had marshals alongside of us several times and there were no dramas. Now that I have got the disclaimer for all of those ‘armchair experts’ who love to provide their ‘opinions’ (aka bullshit) on what I do out of the way I can get back to the race and it is time to make things a little dramatic…
Riding along a long straight road sucked. It was not fun, it was not picturesque and there was nothing to look at except the bikes ahead of me. You know things are a bit grim when you get excited by the fancy police cars they have in the U.S. as they blocked the side streets. After maybe 15km of riding with the group that had now increased to maybe 5 or 6 I did the gentlemanly thing and took my turn on the front.
For me, this is a much more comfortable place to ride. As before, I was following my numbers and cadence but wasn't forced to slow down when someone else would brake for no apparent reason. The locals either missed the memo about the race happening or didn’t really care (probably the later) because this section of the race was just on full on open roads and HAVE YOU SEEN THE SIZE OF THE TRUCKS PEOPLE DRIVE HERE?!?!?! I mean if you looked up overcompensating in the dictionary I think there would be an American man driving a ute or ‘pick-up’ the size of a fucking tank. The course did a sort of loop at the far end for about 15 km and just as we got back to the highway the group passed me again. Their timing was perfect…
If you are easily offended, or don’t like to read about the beautiful, natural ways in which our bodies work then skip ahead to the end of this paragraph… You have been warned…
I needed to piss. It had gone from “that’s annoying” to “If I go over another bump it is just going to come out.” I had a myriad of factors to consider but the main one was I simply didn’t want to piss on my bike. Now for those of you non-triathletes this is pretty common. We don’t usually stop for things like toilet stops in a race. I left it until basically I had no choice. I pissed. What can I say, there was something strangely empowering about being a man wearing skin tight lycra pissing himself on a highway in North Carolina on a top of the line bike. It was worth it. I instantly felt better and just as well because the pace was starting to pick up on the ride back to town.
The last 30km of the bike was fast. It was basically just tting and keeping focused. I was riding well over 43km/h on the way back and I know my last 30km was about 43 minutes.
I had to piss again on the bike and I did. I am a real bad boy now!
I was getting excited looking at my time and doing the math in my head. I had managed to get myself on track for a 2:16 bike split. That would be around my pb for 90km that I did in Melbourne earlier this year. The Kona work had paid off. I rode hard and felt strong all day. The test was going to be how I ran.
Then I saw the building that was next to transition… That isn’t 800m away. Garmin hits 90km. I thought there was a bridge we rode over? Garmin hits 91km. Ahh the last metal grating we have to ride over. Garmin hits 92km. Finally I can see transition, I slip out my feet and hope I don't crash the dismount. My total bike time was 2:21:39 (for a 93km course with an average speed of 39.3km/h)
I jumped off the bike and noticed how empty a transition set up for 3000 people is when there are only 2 other bikes in there! Yes, I was off the bike in 3rd place! I racked my bike then struggled to get my socks on because my feet were wet! I took a breath and got it sorted. I had even put all of my stuff inside of my hat then used a rubber band to keep it shut to make sure I was as quick as possible. My T2 time was 1:41.
The first thing I saw as I came out of T2 was someone saying, “You’re in 3rd place” and then a bloody lead bike started riding with me!!!! It freaked me out. I calmed myself down despite being excited and made my way around the first 1km loop of the course. I spotted Dez just after the 1km mark then started running the long straight out of town. I was feeling quite good, but you always know how quickly it can go pear shaped. My pace was around the 4:05 per km mark where I wanted it and I felt quite strong. All the spectators were screaming for me.
At the 3km mark I was passed by one of the guys I was riding with and to be honest I was a bit relieved. Now I could just run my own race. We turned off the main road out into the suburbs. The course was a big sort of curve next to a large lake. The aid stations were all Halloween themed and at some of them they were cheering so loud they couldn't hear what I wanted. My pace was still good, but I was starting to get a little worried. I could tell how close people were behind me by the time it took to hear them cheer again. I just kept telling myself run strong, run strong, control your race.
There were a few times I tried switching my watch over to overall time, but my brain could not do the math. I think I knew I wouldn’t be getting a PB, but I could still try and get a podium in my age group. At the 11km mark we turned around and I had seen the 3 guys ahead of me. Then as I turned around, I also got my first proper look at the guys behind me. There was another athlete maybe 300m behind me then another 2 maybe 500m behind me. They hadn’t caught me yet so just keep doing what I am doing.
There were a few rough patches were my pace dropped a bit but overall, I was feeling quite good. I decided that at the 16km mark I would switch back to overall time and then attack the last 5km. Not too long after the run turn around I heard footsteps and thought this is it, I have finally been caught by the guy behind me (who was a really nice guy) but I was shocked to see it was the 2 guys who had been 500m behind me at the run turn around. THEY. WERE. FLYING. Later boys, I am a pretty good athlete but Timmy can’t run that fast. I saw one of them had 32 on his leg which meant he was in my age group. I just hoped the other guys ahead of him weren’t. I had gotten a good look at them as they had passed and I didn't think they were
They quickly put maybe 100m into me and then I started to notice the other athletes. Nearly every person running the other way had something positive to say to me “you’re looking strong”, “chase him down” or my favourite “you’ve got this!” It was incredible and I was starting to feel better and better. The 16km mark came, I switched over my Garmin and if I ran about 20 minutes for the last 5km I would go under 4:20. My goal became the Taupo slot.
My pace was there and it wasn't hurting as much as I expected. That would come. I noticed the other athletes were starting to say “he is just ahead” or “5th place is suffering” then I spotted him. He was in sight. I kept doing my own thing, there was plenty of time to pass him. Then as I got closer, I thought he didn't look like he was having a great day anymore. When he had passed me before it looked effortless and gorgeous. Now it looked like he had tightened up and was struggling a bit.
A whole list of questions came up in my head as a true over-analyser… Do I pass and go? Do I wait and attack the last km? Who am I? What is the meaning of life? What is grits? Then suddenly my decision was made for me. He was walking an aid station and I was only 10 metres behind him. We had 3km to go. I knew how well this guy could run. All I could do was give it my all.
Now in my head this was a battle equivalent to the famous triathlons like the 89 IronWar or Macca V Raelert in 2010 or even Frodo V Brownlee V Gomez in 2018. I passed and ran as hard as I could for 3km. I pride myself on not looking over my shoulder. I think I checked over my shoulder about 15 times in those last 3km. I was running scared. It’s funny because I always talk about how much I do not care about placing high etc but I will tell you what. Give me a taste of the podium and I will change my tune in an instant. I was in 5th place and I knew for a fact 2 of the guys ahead of me were not in my age group. I could podium if I kept going.
The last 2km felt like it never ended and I was running scared while my body protested HARD. All of that pain however disappeared as I saw the finish come into view. I checked over my shoulder again, not that it actually did any good as I am sure I saw athletes right behind me every time. But this race I wanted to celebrate. I had run well, I had swam well and I had ridden well. I was on the podium and I was fairly confident I was top in my age group. I soaked it up, I played it for the crowd and I had so much uncontrollable emotion come out in that finish chute that I don’t actually really remember finishing. My total run time was 1:27:20 and my total time was 4:19:35. I was first in my age group and 6th overall.
I was pretty excited and, in the days after I have thought on the race alot. Technically, this is not a PB. I have done a 4:17 and a 4:18. As a true triathlete though, I am convinced this is my best performance. I did the math and those extra 3km on the bike (which were hilly and had a steel no pass section) cost me around 6 minutes. If I take that off my time I did not only PB, I crushed my PB.
I feel like this is my strongest total performance I have put in. I had a plan, I stuck to it, I didn't make any little mistakes and I took control of what I could control. In the process I won my age group at my first Iron Man 70.3 (I have won a Challenge 70.3) before and I also qualified for the World Championship in Taupo 2020. Again, just a weird personal thing here but to me I take great pride in the fact that I qualified by winning my age group. In 2016 I came 3rd when I got my slot so this is pretty special for me.
Most importantly though, this is a real sort of end of a chapter in my life. 2018 was terrible for so many reasons and there have been so many times this year when I have thought it was all behind me to have something pop up. This to me really is the start of the next phase for me. My coach Ben has been saying to me that I am on the precipice of a big result and I feel like that was on the weekend.
I am ready for what comes next and I know that because of the support of people like my Coach Ben, my swim coach, Spot, my physio Matt, my dietitian Chloe, my friends like Robo, Charlie, Tom, Jenna, James, Lucy and everyone at MX Endurance and all of my supporters I am going to be in the best possible shape for them.
There is always one person who deserves the most thanks and that is my very own Minnie Mouse, Dez. Let’s do this darling!
Dream big, chase your goals and remember to TRI!
I want to add this in here. I have had so many people reach out to me after this race saying they wish they could do the same. You can! If you are looking for some guidance get your applicaiton in for the MX Endurance Race Team and be one of our ambassadors! We want people off all shapes and sizes to represent the brand!