I nearly pulled the pin completely. I was already a little unsure whether I should desert Monica on a weekend when we were suppose to be moving house when I read Mitch Anderson’s tweet that race day temperatures were suppose to reach a high of 9 degrees. I’m small and runtish which I blame completely on my twin sister for stealing precious nutrients while fighting for space in Mum’s womb. Hence, I hate the cold and have never raced well in the cold. Thankfully that size thieving twin, Liz, was incredibly generous and offered to fly up from Sydney and help Monica make the move. That sealed the deal. I was off to Falls Creek to see whether I could not embarrass myself and hopefully be in the mix for an Aussie title.
With prize money that seriously needs an upgrade, there certainly wasn’t all the top Aussie guys there. A $10 000 prize pools looks particularly poor when 30th place at U.S 5150 Championships pays $1000 more then the win here. TA- Maybe cut the $500 000 on coaches (well some are actually called development officers because they are not actually suppose to coach) and build young athlete depth in the sport through re-creating what Australia had through the 1990s- An exciting, sponsor attractive televised series that gets thousands of kids wanting to try triathlons as opposed to the very small number that a talent ID program based around useless individual sport time trials. Wow, two coffees and I’m off topic and ranting already.
However, there were some very good guys competing indeed. Joe Gambles is widely recognised as one of the best in the world at this distance and recently finished 2nd at the ITU Long Course World Championships. Luke Bell has had more 70.3 and long course wins then all but one other (I think..), Mitch Anderson, is an Ironman champion known as one of the best bike riders in the sport with a run that ain’t shabby and a swim that is. Also in the field was bronze Olympic medallist Jan Rehula and Noosa triathlon winner, Dave Dellow.
I tried to warm up but the 13-15 degree water was inflicting a fairly heavy ice cream head ache. The gun went as did any sufficient amount of oxygen as I was quickly reminded that we were racing at 1500 metre above sea level. I was dropped early from the front pack but as I warmed up I rallied to get back onto the feet of the front guys. With 400m to go Ben Allen, an exceptional swimmer with a competitive surf life saving background lifted the pace and I popped off the back into no mans land. I did what I could to minimise the damage and took advantage of my numb feet through the stony transition run to end up only being 20 seconds down on the main group.
Onto the bike and I was relieved to note that the legs were there. With quite a few casual teaching days the past two weeks while taking on a lot more coaching clients I had been forced to cut back the training and after a heavy block it was probably exactly what I needed for this race though not desirable for the fast approaching Ironman New Zealand.
I could see Luke Bell had already made his move with Gambles pulling away also. I put my head down passed the main pack and over the next 10kms gradually pulled Gambles within about 30-40 metres. Luke Bell was clear and it was obvious he was not going to be brought back once again demonstrating his dominance on two wheels. There was nothing I could do except to try to minimize the damage his power output was causing.
The course was tough. While there are no real killer climbs, you are always descending or climbing with a nice altitude induced burn in your lungs and my electrical tape shoe warmers not quite doing the job. My heart sank as I realised I had made a very rookie error. I normally mix my SIS energy gels into my speedfil bottle and suck them as I ride to avoid the hassle of opening gels while trying to remain aero. While this normally works brilliantly, the current temperature had meant that they were close to solidified at the bottom of the speedfil container and were not coming out despite my best sucking effort. I was carrying one emergency energy gel in my back pocket and had one in transition for the run which meant I was going to have to race off two gels when I normally have about 8 for a race of this distance.
Gambles was putting time into me on every descent while I would hold my own on the flats and make back a little on the climbs. Gradually he would extend his lead to about 40 seconds with Luke Bell jumping off the bike 2 minutes clear.
The 2 loop run is completely off road climbing up the main ski slope before running on a reasonably flat out and back trail. It didn’t take long to see something was wrong with Bell. Word is that he had given his ankle a roll on the ascent up the mountain and when I passed him he was coming out of the bushes. We ran together for a few hundred metres before he dropped off. Gambles had a clear lead however I felt relaxed, fluid and comfortable and I could see that he was slowly coming back to me.
I kept the breathing steady and by the 10km turn around I had closed the gap. You can’t beat this situation. Joe shouldn’t be beaten by me so I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I decided to really rest up before I made my move and let Joe lead the next 2kms. As we climbed up the mountain section I felt my inner thighs cramp and I let out some silent screams of frustration but was grateful I was behind Joe so that he couldn’t see my awkward stride. Thankfully they subsided as soon as we stopped the upward climb. Back on the flats I listened to Joe’s breathing and was disappointed to note that he was breathing fairly easy. I figured that he was probably cruising for a bit waiting for me to make my move. I decided to opt for the dummy surge, lifting the pace for 100m just to see how he where he was at with a quicker pace. I lifted pace to 3.20/km and came around Joe. After 100m at that pace I turned to note that a decent gap had opened up and it was a dummy move no longer. I went hard for the next 2kms building a reasonable lead.
From there, I was returned to a comfortable pace and felt the goosebumps arrive at the idea that I was going to win an Australian title. At 18kms with only two gels on board my body was really craving some sugar to fight the growing light headed sensation, thankfully the finish line arrived in time and I was able to lift the banner in disbelief that I had won an Australian title. Gambles finished 2nd with Mitch Anderson blasting the bike and run to finish 3rd.
Since sorting out my gluten intolerance/anaemia issues September last year I’ve felt a drastic transformation in how I feel when racing. It’s as if someone handed me back 5th gear. There has been a big mental improvement too. Knowing that Monica and I have a baby on the way has also increased my all round professionalism. I can’t keep doing this if I can’t justify it with financial benefits. Many people look from the outside and accuse me of having an amazing lifestyle and while I wouldn’t argue against this I wouldn’t say it’s all smooth sailing. Coaching 25 athletes, teaching and trying to be of some assistance to my amazing fiance (who makes what I do look like a stroll in the park) means that I rarely get more than 6 hrs sleep and certainly makes for a lot of 4am zombie training sessions. The worst part is that Monica doesn’t always get the day to day support she deserves as I try and train sufficient hours and then use my free time to support my racing income.
I’m more motivated then ever to keep racing well because if it works out it would allow an amazing family life. I didn’t leave full-time work on a complete gamble. A good friend paid for me to go and get as much laboratory testing as I could before I made the decision. The testing showed that I had an exceptional aerobic engine at the very upper ranges of elite levels so I was confident that if I could put in the training and remain injury free physiologically I could be successful. I’m training with and beating guys earning 2-3 times what I would get with full-time teaching salary so while there is definitely a part of racing that is all about ego, I’m also motivated by what I think could be very good for my new family. For now I’ll keep my head down and legs ticking over and hope that 2012 is a very good year.
As always, biggest thank you to Monica, her family and my family.
Huge thanks to my sponsors: Zoot, Vision, Rudy Project, SiS, Speedfil, Aeromax Team and Budgy Smuggler.
Top photo courtesy of www.trizone.com.au