Every year previous competitors rave on about how this event is something special and for good reason. It’s simply the 70.3 event that all other events organisers should come along to and take notes.
One minor thing Busso 70.3 does particularly well that never gets mentioned is hiring enough portaloos. My only superstition when racing is how many times I get to visit the throne pre race and the more than adequate number of loos made my lucky third drop off far too easy. Superstition checked I made my way to the swim start. I wasn’t as relaxed as usual. I hadn’t done my usual last few sessions or had the time to rest like I would ideally want. I was given the opportunity to repay my generous sponsors by being very involved with the event’s TV package pre race which involved totally nailing risky action shots like pulling my Zoot bag off the conveyer belt 12 times in slow motion and providing scripted voice overs that will make it sound like I’m heading off to war. Intense stuff.
I was also nervous about a moderate but fairly annoying calf problem that had my run confidence a little down. Or perhaps I was letting that seep into my head as an excuse because I knew I was lining up against a guy who could pants me on the run.
I didn’t think out my start position in the swim very well and was soon tangled up with one other swimmer. I fought to break free and by the time I finally shook this guy I was 10m off the back of the front group almost from the gun. Once you’re in the front group it’s fairly smooth sailing after the halfway point but if you’re me and 10m back you know that it’s going to be a swim about limiting losses as it’s very difficult for me to lift to the specialist swimmers pace unless I’m saving a lot of energy right on their feet. I stayed 10m back for about 300m before I knew I wasn’t going to close the gap to the front group and I had to really back off to clear the lactate burning through my body. From there I swam solo until the last 20-30m of the swim where the 2nd chase group caught me up.
Plan B had to be unfurled as I was already about 2 minutes down on Hodge and 90 seconds from the front trio of Brad Khalefeldt, Sam Appleton and Michael Fox. So I set about racing the numbers on my Garmin 810 and 18 minutes into the ride I had closed the gap to the trio and thankfully not dragged up the rest of the pro field who were in a big group behind. My relief to be back in the race soon turned to disappointment when I saw that the pace was rather pedestrian. The defending champ, 21 year old, James Hodge is a freakish talent like no one I’ve seen and at this point was already 2 minutes ahead. I had a choice, I could play the game and preserve for the run but at the speed we were going, I predicted Hodge would be 5 minutes ahead going onto the run putting him in prime position for the win. Alternatively, I could set about keeping his gap to 2 minutes, a time I felt I could comfortably run down but with the enormous risk of bringing Brad Khalefeldt one of the fastest runners in the sport with me off the bike. In the end I decided I had to chase Hodge hard and at every aid station would put in a particularly big surge to try and shake the other guys.
At times I would hold the surge for 5-10 minutes and look back and be clear, drop my power to a realistic level only to look back a few minutes later and see Sam Appleton slowly clawing his way back with the other guys behind him. Far out it was annoying. Seriously impressive riding from Sam but so annoying as I knew I needed at least 90 seconds lead on Brad to have a chance. Sam really motored the whole way on the bike. We didn’t have a draft buster with us most of the ride but to his credit he sat about 15-20m behind me whenever we were in contact and came through and set the pace in the back half for a good section. Finally I got a little smarter in the last 10kms and realised that the way to try and shake Brad was to let Sam get ahead and leave a really big gap before attacking trying to leave Brad and Foxy behind. It worked but too little too late and Brad with his world cup transition skills made up any lost time by the time I clumsily clambered out of transition behind him.
Brad was seriously hooking along holding low 3 min/km pace. I was dropped immediately and then I gradually wound him back by 3.5kms and settled in behind for the head wind on the return loop. The pace was hot but aerobically I felt like I could sustain it for at least another 10-15kms. My muscles begged to differ with my ambitious brain and soon after my right inner thigh started cramping, obviously not enjoying the load of the hard 90km ride followed by trying to run a speed I haven’t done much of ever in training. By 7kms Brad had a decent gap and I was in conservation mode to make sure I could still run down Hodge but not fall completely apart by trying to push harder.
Brad showed why he’s been to two Olympics and won a Commonwealth Games gold medal with a smoking 1.10 half marathon. I haven’t been in a 70.3 with someone running near that speed. Hanging out with Brad you soon realise that there is a lot more to Brad’s success then amazing run speed. He’s got buckets of mongrel and an insatiable desire to win. The sort of guy that any weaknesses will always be ironed out in time because of a work ethic and tenacity that other guys can’t match. I came home in 2nd a fairly big margin behind Brad with an exciting sprint finish taking place for 3rd, James Hodge edging out Sam Appleton.
Once again the Busso crew put on a post race function of magnificent proportions. Huge thank you to organising team.