The training build up to this race was similar to my build up in 2014, which went nicely to plan until thwarted by the 2014 race cancellation due to closure of the national parks because of hot temperatures and windy weather. This event is special. It’s an off-road triple triathlon, that’s point-to-point, taking athletes through the multitude of lakes and trails of Canberra.
This 2015 event saw perfect conditions, warming up to mid-20s with some cloud covering in the middle section of the day. I felt this year I was going to be able to race, as compared to my 2012 effort which was a survival to the line with a lack of proper training in the preceding months due to heavy workloads and injury.
Swim 1 – 1.5k
5:30am start for us 8 foolhardy solo athletes, with a small crowd of family and friends to wish us off into the murky lake Ginninderra in the breaking light. I struggled to see the buoys in the distance for this first swim, and ended up trying to follow feet instead, until I realised some had no idea where they were going either – and there weren’t many feet to follow!
Bike 1 – 35k
First transition – Sarah Anne was ready with everything i needed for the first mountain bike leg, plus gilet and arm warmers as temp was still in single figures at this point in the day. I jumped onto the bike, and remembered how one has to be super attentive to look out for white arrows sprayed on the road / cycle path / trails to go the right way. I overtook a few people in front on the fireroads, determined to hold onto that comfortable / uncomfortable effort level. I missed one of the painted arrows and lost about a minute heading in the wrong direction in the forest. This wouldn’t be the last time! ‘Push bike hill’ lived up to its name – 10mins up super steep rocky trail that was difficult to walk up in cycle shoes. The trail climbed Black Mountain upto the base of Telstra tower, then we headed back down. Sarah Anne popped up on the trail on the way down and shouted that I was 5mins behind the lead solo in second place – wow, what a great surprise! Towards the end of the bike, I was passed by some gun bikers from the teams doing the event, and tried to jump onto their wheels for a draft but wasn’t able to hang on for long enough without going into the red zone. Sarah Anne met me at the transition zone with runners and running backpack holding water and gels.
Run 1 – 20k
Time to start the first and longest the run of the day. Out of T2 and straight up the first climb and then up to the highest point on the course, Mt Ainslie. Sarah Anne appeared at the top here, cheering me on as I touched the trig point and then headed across to Mt Taylor via some swoopy berm-filled downhill mountain bike trails – wish we could’ve ridden these instead of run them! Halfway through this run I looked at my watch and saw 3hrs36mins, and thought ah, if this was Xterra I’ll be finishing very shortly, but here I haven’t even finished the first triathlon! Felt fairly strong coming down Anzac Parade, past the multiple military memorials and then alongside Burley Griffin lake towards the leg I was dreading the most…
Swim 2 – 3.5k
The water was warmer than in previous years, but brown and visibility so poor you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. The first km I really struggled. The collar on my wetsuit rubbed, I felt super-restricted around my shoulders, and it was as though I’d forgotten how to swim – pulling through super early, lifting my head, etc, etc. Eventually I settled into a rhythm. I tried to keep a decent cadence, but it ended up being fairly low tick rate. My shoulders really ached, and I wasn’t able to relax them – perhaps the ride / run had made them tense/my wetsuit wasn’t pulled up enough over my sweat drenched skin in transition? either way it felt like slow going. You swim the length of the lake and cross to the other side, under the large concrete bridge, there’s a water stop on a jetty around half way, so I took a quick stop for a drink of water, then continued doggedly, under the second big bridge and back to the other side of the lake. Then cramp in the right leg struck, so it locked out and dragged rather as I continued to pull myself forward as much as I could. Again, seeing where to go was abit of a challenge as the buoys are rather small, so had to breast stroke at every one to get my bearings and work out where to head next. Eventually found myself on the beach the other side – it felt slower than it was, and definitely was a mental challenge. Time gap to first place is stretching out now to 12mins.
Bike 2 – 40k
The longest swim of the day is followed by the longest bike of the day. I headed off on the bike paths that crisscross Canberra to start, and then hit the trails. The race takes in ALL of Canberras hills and this leg had the please of the long slog of a granny ring climb up Mt Stromlo. I was conscious of keeping the regular food intake going, as well as the fluids and salt tabs (every transition Sarah Anne would feed me salt tabs as the temps climbed). I managed to jump onto the wheel of a passing biker from one of the teams and had a fantastic draft for 10mins on flat fire roads. I never got to thank him actually, as he was able to get across a road ahead of me before the traffic came through and we got split up. I headed down into the transition area, which is no more than an area of grass by a bike path, stacked with people, either waiting to tag team or looking for their solo racer. The heat was climbing at this point just in time for the next run.
Run 2 – 12k
This run is the shortest, but one of the toughest. Mentally, thing just start to feel hard at this point in the race. You don’t get much time to spin the legs out before your climbing straight up to the top of Mt Taylor, touching the trig point briefly, before bombing down the quad-busting steep path the other side. I can’t remember much of the remainder of this run except that I felt much better than I had the previous time when I had to walk backwards up the hill due to shot legs and stomach cramps! This run ends along some thankful shaded and flatter cycle paths all the way to Tuggeranong and the start of the final ‘triathlon’ of the day!
Swim 3 – 1.2k
Lake Tuggeranong was closed to swimming which, quite frankly, was a relief to me as last time this swim took me 37mins, and climbing out the metal ladder at the end with cramping legs was not fun! This time we were in the overheated water of Tuggeranong Leisure Centre for 1200m worth of laps. I was hoping this would be cruise, and a big push off each 25m length would save my aching shoulders. Unfortunately each push off made my right leg cramp so there was little value in doing this! Up and down the lane, under the lane rope for 8 lanes, get out walk to the start and repeat 3 times. The team swimmers were slamming around in the water, for some this is the only leg they do so they give it everything with little regard for anyone else, my yellow soloers cap meant nothing as they splashed and thundered past. My lazy cadence meant I was swiftly passed by someone in a yellow swimcap indicating another solo athlete which was devastating! He eyeballed me as he came past, checking out the competition. I then realised he was in first place and was doing laps in front of me, so wasn’t the 3rd place athlete overtaking me after all – phew!
Bike 3 – 24k
24km sounds short, but was this bike is very tough, with 2 big climbs, and a chunky 5mins+ of bike pushing due to rock-laden steepness. At this stage I was struggling to get myself into the comfortable / uncomfortable edge, as didn’t have the energy to get myself to that place, despite diligent eating & drinking. I ended up missing a turning so got lost with a couple of other guys to the tune of 7-8mins and using up more energy having to climb back up hills. Frustrating, and started to make me panic a little as I knew 3rd place had started in the pool as I was leaving, even with a 25min time gap I didn’t know if he had more in the tank than me after this long racing. I tried to calm myself and focus on my own effort. When I didn’t trust my tired self not to crash on a not particularly technical downhill, I walked it, giving up more valuable time. The final 100m of this leg is through a tight storm drain tunnel – scooted myself along sitting on the top tube with my helmet scraping on the top of the tunnel, focussing on the light and noise of people at the final transition area at the end. Lovely to come out into daylight and hear the cheers for the person in 2nd place solo category – me!! Sarah Anne was again super-organised and diligent – quick turnaround and out onto the final run.
Run 3 – 13k
Up onto the trails and final set of hills to finish us off, then down to the relative flat concrete cycle paths for 6k to the finish. I looked at my watch as hit the cycle path – 11:28 on the clock, 6k to go, possible to go under 12hrs if 5min/k pace is held. I was ticking over at 5:20, and could just hit 5:10, but taking it down to 5min/k and holding it was beyond my energy levels. I was struggling to keep gels steady in my stomach too by this stage. Tried to relax and just keep moving forward. There were a few slopes encountered in the last couple of kms which made me smile, as I remember in 2012 these were the ‘hills’ that I was unable to run up in the darkness despite Sarah Anne, would run out from the finish line to find me, encouraging me on to the end! I managed to push on and cross the line in 12:07, feeling very satisfied with my effort and the result .
I definitely felt I was able to race this event this year, even if swims 2 & 3 were slower than wanted, and the final bike / run was not as racy as I wanted them to be. Massive thank you first and foremost to the lovely Sarah Anne who kept me moving swiftly through all transitions and gave me all the support and encouragement I needed. Thank you to Pachar and the team at Sri Chinmoy for another great event, creating a relaxed, friendly atmosphere and a fantastic spread of food post-race. And thank you to my fellow adversaries out on course, and all of you who sent messages of support, whether via text, email or FB – it really makes a difference. Now, where’s that cake??