*below is a transcript of an interview I did before the race. It was never published by Ironman, so I thought I'd share it with my readers here! I'll be posting a podcast soon with my report from my 2nd place result
Standard Bank IRONMAN African Championship 2018
Josh Amberger – Pro Athlete Feature
1. How many IRONMAN Africa races have you competed in and/or completed?
Just the one, last year in 2017.
2. Prior to competing in your very first IRONMAN Africa race, what was your impression of the IRONMAN brand?
For me, the IRONMAN brand is all about racing. We all have many different paths that lead to IRONMAN, but as a professional, IRONMAN for me is best associated with fierce and relentless endurance competition amongst the best & fittest athletes in the world.
3. Ahead of race day at the African Regional Championships, what are you looking forward to the most?
First and foremost, I’m looking forward to testing my abilities against many great athletes. I’ve had a fantastic preparation leading into the race, and I’m ready for these athletes to bring out the best in me on race day. Secondly, I’m looking forward to the cultural immersion all the athletes feel out there on the racecourse. It’s obvious that South Africans love their sport, and Port Elizabeth hosts this race exceptionally well. So I can’t wait for the crazy support we all feel on course, and the intoxicating smell of brie!
4. As this is your chosen career, what has been your biggest challenge thus far and how did you overcome it?
I wouldn’t say that it’s an easy road to becoming a professional. One must have a combination of talent and immense drive in some or equal measure to be successful, and I feel like I was gifted with enough of both to have a constant trajectory to or near the top of the sport. I’ve had some definite low points and some years or slack results, but in the end, my passion for the sport and my resolve to be the best I can be has always kept me fighting and excited to pursue this sport as a career. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you love what you do, and you don’t mind the constant suffering in training to attain glory, then it’s not so great a challenge after all, because at the end there’s always happiness.
5. Apart from being a triathlete, do/did you have any other passions that you followed?
I love dark and atmospheric music. Much like the dopamine release I feel from training, I feel that heavy music similarly transports me to another dimension. I spend a lot of my time training to music as well as relaxing to music, and I passionately collect vinyl records. I also obsess over specialty coffee, craft beer and Land Rovers on an endemic level.
6. Do you have any training/race rituals that are part of your routine as a pro triathlete?
Not really. But I would say that now I’m racing Ironman events consistently, I’m finding value in choosing a ‘battle song’ as such to train to, and draw energy from during the race. These songs typically follow a formula of being 10-20 minutes in length and intense in rhythm, melody and lyrical themses, so I can run them over and over in my head throughout the race.
7. Who would you say forms part of your greatest support system?
I have support systems on many levels. My partner Ashleigh Gentle is a short course professional, and we both draw on each other for inspiration and guidance. My parents introduced me to a sporting in my early years, and have shown me values of dedication and pride, and also supported me along my path to becoming a professional. I also have my coach who I see on a daily basis, as well as many loyal sponsors who’ve back me and my goals year after year.
8. Do you see yourself competing in future IRONMAN Africa races? If so, would you encourage others to do the same and why?
I think the course and the vibe here in Port Elizabeth is fantastic, and the timing of this race is always good as an early season event. As long as I have the desire to race Ironman, I’d come back to Nelson Mandela Bay to race, and would encourage any other athletes desiring a memorable race experience to do the same.
9. What is your greatest triathlete philosophy? Please share some of the words that you live by.
I’m not sure I’ve ever had a philosophy on triathlete as such, but my view is that triathlon is extremely malleable. I compete for the thrill of competition. Some may compete for fitness or healthy lifestyle. Some may train as a mechanism of catharsis. Some may do it only once as a bucket list thing. Triathlon can have importance to anyone and everyone who wants to give it a go, so just find your reason and enjoy if while your body allows you to.
10. Please share your best memories or moments as a triathlete competing in an IRONMAN race.
My most treasured moment was winning the IRONMAN Asia-Pacific Championship last year in Cairns, Australia. It was my first major win at the distance, and came off the back of a big personal defeat in this event last year. The feeling of crossing the line in course-record time and putting together a perfect race was just simply incredible.
11. What are the goals that you have set for yourself in 2018?
I want to continue to discover or redefine my limits on the race course. Short goals would be to win races such as the Ironman Africa Championships, and a long season goal would be to podium at the Ironman World Championships in Kona.
12. What is one common sense assumption or stigma that is attached to triathletes that simply untrue?
Everything you have heard is true, we are a crazy species! J
Aussie Josh Amberger has quite an impressive resume to his name and we expect to see much more from him. Last year as a rookie at the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona he moved into the limelight with an impressive swim and lead quite a while on the bike. In the end he finished 29th, but many lessons were learned. We followed up with him about his swimming and much more.
Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time.
Josh Amberger: Of course. Let’s kick this off
ST: What are you getting ready for as we speak?
Josh: I’ve got Ironman South Africa in a little under 6 weeks now. I’m looking forward to hitting this race again, as last years’ race in South Africa I took a big defeat but also celebrated my first Ironman finish. Now that I’m a year into the distance, I feel like I can prepare for it much better than last year, where I fully bombed out on the bike leg after trying to ride with Wurf, Hoffman and Frommhold on a sub-8 day. I had the Super League pilot race 2 weeks before IMSA last year, which unsurprisingly didn’t turn out to be conducive to long distance racing, so I look forward to having less distractions leading into the race this year.
ST: No distractions?
Josh: It was great to be part of, but Super League just didn’t help the preparation for Ironman. It was a brutal 3 days of racing, and not possible to prepare for adequately as an Ironman athlete, training for and Ironman two weeks later. The whole idea of it though, apart from taking up the unique opportunity, was to develop some hardness against athletes much better than myself, and to just to be forced to deal with uncomfortable situations as best I could.
ST: I hear you, but I actually meant, are there no other distractions for you now. Along those lines, how much of the year are you based in Australia?
From Super League to Ironman. In two weeks. Sounds rather haphazard, doesn’t it? Well that’s just kind of the way it goes in triathlon sometimes. Despite the infinite greatness of old-school race photos and stories from decades past, it’s still a relatively new sport with a DIY attitude. Training and racing for multi-sport is a developing and still imperfect science; where some people race better doing 3-6 Ironman’s per year, others would crumble. Most imperative, it’s a crazy sport that will hurt and sting you, no matter what style or distance you race. Triathlon was always known as an extreme sport, and long shall it continue to be so. So sometimes, you just gotta go for it!
So how did I get to this juncture? I had locked in Ironman South Africa (April 2) in the latter stages of 2016. We had it all worked out and I wanted to do really well in the race as my Ironman debut after some false starts in Ironman AUstralia last year. Not so much to qualify for Kona as an immediate goal or anything, but rather to just nail the distance as a first step of progression. I had chosen to do South Africa as a Regional Championship race to get an exposure of what it’s like racing Ironman at the highest level, next to Kona. I’d raced well in January under my new coach Cam Watt, and we hit a great result in 70.3 Dubai with a 2nd place to Javier Gomez, and Reudi Wild on the other side of me. About the time I got home from Dubai, Chris McCormack reached out to me about racing Super League on March 17-19. It was a vague invitation in a sense that it was kind of more an expression of interest. He wanted me there but more than likely, his partners were unsure. From the initial talk, I had no idea who else had been invited and I had no idea what kind of prizemoney there would be (albeit I’d been told it was lucrative). I liked the sound of it, but I had no idea if I’d be good at it and if it was worth my time, particularly as it out being two weeks before Ironman South Africa.
A couple of weeks went by pondering my involvement in the race, but as details started being publicly divulged I had a pretty strong feeling that I wanted to be racing on Hamilton Island in the Super League. Looking at some public commentary on the Super League as it was announced, a lot of people were excited, but some were dubious. I saw a few ‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ styled comments, but I knew that with Macca at the helm this event would not be a folly. This guy lives for greatness perhaps more than anyone. In the meantime, I performed well at another 70.3 race in February at Geelong with a 2nd place to fellow Wattie Inker Sam Appleton. I was happy with how my fitness was and my overall progression into Ironman South Africa, which was now only five weeks away. At this point, Cam and I thought we could manage the Super League/Ironman balance through careful recovery practices and a short top up of IM pacing and strength work post-Super League if the body let me. It was not a perfect scenario, but at this point I was now all-in.
Here’s some ways I’d justified racing Super League.
- I would have regretted turning down the invitation when watching it unfold from TV at home, and killed myself with ‘what ifs’.
- Some guys had great results in IM last year after competing in similar formats and multi-day racing at Island House Invitational (Sanders at IMAZ, McMahon at IMAZ, Terenzo at IMWA). So in some ways, I told myself that we could make it work for Ironman. I was really disappointed to of been a late withdrawal from Island House last year as well, and Super League was a pretty good way to make up for that lost opportunity.
- While I knew I was never going to be at the point end, I couldn’t resist the chance to test myself in an exciting format against guys I haven’t raced in years. Who could resist a rare ITU vs Ironman battle, no matter what the odds seemingly are?
The pre-race chatter came and went pretty quick and race weekend came around in no time. To fast forward to end, I got punished at Super League. I was competitive in some aspects, but I finished 17th out of 25 starters and out of the money (top 10 only). I pride myself somewhat on always being realistic about my expectations, and I never avoided the possibility of walking away without pennies (but I did acquire a pile full of kick-ass merch and an awesome experience). I knew roughly what the outcome would be upon signing up, because I know how specialised draft-legal athletes are (as non-draft IM athletes are on the other end of the spectrum), and I’m aware that I fit nowhere on the speed spectrum in the year 2017, 5 years after racing my last ever ITU race. Island House being non-drafting is a totally different event to the 90% draft-legal formats of Super League, and the 6km Equalizer individual time trial on day 2 of the Super League was just simply too short to gain any advantage on that day of competition. I thought that in some respects I would be advantaged with my good strength/endurance base training for Ironman, but at the end of the day, I think every triathlete is an endurance athlete, so it was of little advantage in short draft-legal racing at all. The advantages of being fit for Ironman didn't cancel out the speed aspect required to be competitive in Super League. Once you're dropped in this racing, there's no coming back.
Despite my handicaps, I respected the invitation by going full tilt each and every day, and throwing myself at the competition as best I could. It was crazy how painful and unfamiliar the racing was, but I’ve sought out this kind of adrenaline all my life, so no matter the result, it still brought a smile to my face. At the end of the day, I just didn’t have the time to train for it to limit the would-be weaknesses. The invitation came late, and the priority was always getting ready for Ironman South Africa. In the time I had to train for it, I was only able to fit in two specific sessions in for Super League. A 3x swim/bike brick at Enoggera Reservoir, and a 3x bike/run brick at Nundah crit track. You could count the times I’ve ridden on my road bike in 2017 on one hand. Sure we could have done more preparation for it, but the time it took to recover on the other side of these lactic-inducing sessions would just knock me around too much, and absorb too much time away from Ironman. Not to sound like I’m complaining, I chose to do it and still would have dont it in hindsight. It’s just the circumstances around it can’t be overlooked.
I think that all things considered however, I did pretty well, and showed to myself and others that I have a broad sword of both swim/bike speed and strength that can still advantage me moving forward in Ironman. Ironman is changing rapidly, and these additional skillsets will only become more valuable. Likewise, after many years of solo innocuous rides on a time trial bike, I can say I can still handle a push bike reasonably well on a technical course. It was, as always, my run that let me down. For a laugh though, I won the ‘Ironman Cup’ on two out of three days beating Brent and Terenzo in the Equalizer and Eliminator formats. But the real win is that I’m one more step to knowing that whenever it is I finish my time in professional triathlon, I can walk away knowing I’ve have experienced this crazy sport in all its shapes and sizes, from Super League to Ironman.
For anyone interested, here’s some Quarq power files from day 1 & 2 of the racing, starting with the 3 Triple Mix races, the Equalizer TT & then the Equalizer. I seemed to of lost the file from the final day of racing, but being in sequential order, it might be fun to see the variability in my heart and lungs throughout the two days of racing shown. In the next part 2 of the blog (yet to write of course) you can have fun spotting the differences between these and an Ironman file!
Some data cherry picks of some cool stuff I can see...
- 935w max power, Triple Mix race 1
- 399w NP average, last 4 minutes of the 6km Equalizer TT up One Tree Hill climb
- 405w NP average, highest 1 minute draft-legal power, Triple Mix 3
- 465w NP average, highest 1 minute TT power, 6km Equalizer TT
- 34.2km/h fastest average speed, Triple Mix race 1 (gives an idea how brutal the course was!)
- Average race temperatures of 30c +, with 70-90% humidity!
To talk more about some performance related points...
- My swim speed was muted simply by the 80-100m distance to the first buoy, and the 6inches of room we had between each athletes. I just couldn't swim away from anyone because of the closeness, nor was it worth the energy. The swimming was so varied all weekend because of the different orders of racing. I've never felt so weak in the water as when I did during the 2nd and 3rd Triple Mix races, diving into the water after a run or a ride. My freshness and swimming advantage was totally scrubbed from the first race. I even recall Richard Murray swimming past me!
- My running could have been better, if perhaps not for the 8 tight u-turns in each 2km leg. I could keep up for one or two laps, but the turn of speed wasn't there in and out of the corners, and there was no hiding that. It was like doing static rest 200m sprints at 180bpm.
- Because of the short run legs, I was running with a form totally alien to me. While I still do a lot of track and treadmill training, after spending years of majority run training at 70.3 & Ironman pace, plucking an all-out 2km run style out of thin air was really difficult. I felt like a ginger newborn foal without proper motor function.
- Coming into Super League, I knew the run would always be the most difficult adaptation. What I was most nervous about was the cycling, and if I would be able to handle the power spikes on the climbs and out of the corners, as well as sound technical handling of my Felt steed. I was pretty surprised in the end, and felt like I was one of the stronger and more able guys in the bunch. What I could have brushed up on was better tactics. Triple Mix race 3 is a pretty good example, I attacked on lap 1 and went solo (Andreas Salvisberg was with me but didn't hit the front) and committed to getting as much time as I could for the run to try and pull myself up in the rankings. My time gap probably peaked at lap 3, and the next three laps I stung hard and hung myself out to dry. Ryan Bailie bridged the gap on the last lap seemingly easy, which shows how easily I could have gained that very same advantage, but entered the run with more freshness had I sat in for the first 3-4 laps, then attacked.
“This is the race plan, all or nothing”, he screamed. These were the words of a three time world champion as he overtook for me for the lead 50 miles into the bike ride of the 2013 70.3 Worlds in Henderson, NV. He went on to win the Championship, whereas I went on to stagger over the line after a massive meltdown and multiple stops in the portajohn. We had vastly different results, but we had the same tactic; all or nothing.
Video interview with Red Dog Triathlon Training
At this point in my career, I haven't proven to be a championship racer. That's the hard truth. I haven't done well in a World Championship since 2012, when I naively toed the line in Las Vegas and got 7th in only my 3rd ever 70.3. While I've improved in a lot of ways since then, the game has changed in a way that doesn't posture to my strengths. I've had a great year so far; in 70.3 racing I've had multiple podiums and a win. But as professionals we are always looking to validate ourselves and our achievements against the best in the world, because that's who we are, competitors. In some ways I've done that. This year I've had 2nd place finishes to Jan Frodeno, Andy Potts and Craig Alexander, three of the most baller racers in the sport (I realise 2nd is not 1st, but against these guys it's decent!). But I haven't had recent success in a race under a World Championship banner. I was in the best shape I've been in for a long time leading up to Worlds, and I approached the race with a 'who dares wins' attitude. I knew this would be risky, because I've f***ked up before, but if I raced to my strengths I thought it would still put me in with chance of success. I gave it my best shot, but the reality is my run just isn't where it needs to be yet to be competitive in these championships fields. On a different course with a stricter application of drafting and overtaking rules, the result would more than likely be different, and maybe I'd have something better to show for my fitness on the day. One can interpret this reasoning as an excuse, but I don't see it that way, I see it as the truth. It's not just me who took this critical line after the race. Arguably the two most successful 70.3 athletes of 2016, Lionel Sanders and Andreas Drietz, were both guys in the same camp as me. In the case of these guys, you don't win every other race then not do well at Worlds for no reason. And no, they both didn't 'peak' early. I'm well aware of my weaknesses, of the places that I can race and expect to do well, and the places where there's no point in showing up. And I know I'm not always the smartest racer, but I'm a racer nonetheless, and just didn't race Worlds in the way I needed to to do well. It was a running race, a race that I burnt my matches in during hour 1, when I needed to be burning them in hour 3. But I must move on. The way I see it, you can't dwell on victory. That's called arrogance. Similarly, you can't dwell on defeat either, or you'll never make it back to the top!
Ironman 70.3 World Championship, 12th Place
Conditions were mild on race morning. The harsh winds we had in the days leading up to the race decided to go on vacation and the ocean was calm and flat. With wetsuit-legal temperatures, this made swimming conditions easy and fast. After a deep-water start we we off and racing. I went eyeballs into the back of the head fast for the first 100m, then settled into a strong rhythm. I couldn't see anyone to my right or my left, so I knew I'd had a good take off. The tactic wasn't necessarily to 'break away' from the group, but with the unfortunately withdrawal of Jake Montgomery before the race, I had a feeling that I could end up by myself. The idea for the swim was that we had three turning boys in a counter-clockwise rectangular shape. We had sighting buoys to the right, but we didn't have to round them. I went about cutting a straight line for the first turning buoy, but ended up dealing with a lead kayaker that had false understanding of the course, pushing me far right to the sighting buoys. They were so far to the right from the starting alley that they weren't really sighting buoys at all, but it's not the first time something like this has happened. It's hard deal with, because in moments like these you all you can imagine is your lead vaporising, but I after the high decibel scream I put his way and a shimmy over his kayak, I was back on course. I could see I had a good gap to the pack rounding the buoys, but kept my head down until I hit the beach. I led out of the water with a record swim time, which unfortunately is nothing much more than a fun fact.
I have to say, the crowd support exiting the swim was unreal. There was wall to wall spectators the whole way to T1, which was a good 400m or so. I haven't ever experienced something like this racing in Australia before, normally we all enjoy a sleep in too much! Once I was out of T1 and onto the bike, I got my feet into my shoes as quickly as possible before the shallow hills that were to take us out to the flat highway section. I knew I had the lead to a very large chase pack, but wanted to stay in control at the front of the race for as long as I could. I knew it was inevitable until some of the uber-bikers caught me, but my expectation was once that they would have blown the pace lines apart before they caught me, keeping the front group small. I still had the lead after riding with my head down for the first 30 minutes, but hit the first u-turn to see that was about to change. Dreitz was on the front as I expected, but with about 25 athletes slotted behind him. I eased up a bit and waited for the pass. I expected him to attack as he rounded me, which I think he did, but once I was in the slipstream even at a legal distance, it was just too easy, and my watts halved. With no wind on a flat asphalt highway, it was a piece of cake. There was no way there was going to be any separation. From this point for the next 90 minutes of the bike ride, we all stayed as a group despite the hills the 2nd part of the course was to threw at us. The problem was, once one athlete got away with pushing the draft zone, or failing to make a pass and slotting in, everyone started doing it. Technical officials did nothing but get in the way and made the drafting situation worse by cutting the air with their motorbikes and keeping the slipstream moving forward. It's frustrating to even find words for it, because not only were the rules ignored by a lot of athletes, it was plain and simple one of the most boring bike rides of my life when it was supposed to be one of the most focused. Like we could just call time anywhere and start running, and it wouldn't have made a difference. I tried to stay positive, because I knew I was in good run shape, but I couldn't help but shake my head and cuss that it wasn't meant to be this way. The funny thing is that I should have expected this, because technical officials in Australia have always been inadequate enforcing rules on the bike, like they are afraid to do their job. Though ironically, I had a draft penalty and DQ in IMOZ this year under the same 'rulebook'. As they say, you can't have your cake and eat it too...
We finally, eventually, and longingly hit T2 after a 2:06 bike ride. I had positioned myself up towards the front of the pack by the time we hit transition, and was out and running in 3rd position. I felt great running up the hill out of transition, energised by the crowd and focused on the job ahead. When the pack went past me after 1km however, I just couldn't keep pace. My VMO's started cramping, which was unusual and unexpected, but I was still able to run with a high turnover hitting 3:25 k's. The guys at the front were just running too fast for me, so I turned my attention to trying to run my own race. Ahead of me was Kienle, Reed, Dreitz, Appleton, Bozzone, Clavel and Butterfield, which is not in any way hard to believe, but behind me were guys like Alexander, Don, Gambles, McMahon and Wild. So I can't be disappointed with the way I ran, because neither did I go out too hard nor too slow, I just couldn't take the pace up the front. After 5km, Crowie caught me and we began to run together. It was at about 6km that I found a 2nd wind and was able to lift the pace a little bit, running away from him and closer to the guys just up the road. To attack a guy that is as surgical when it comes to pacing as Crowie is probably the dumbest thing I've done all year. If I just hung onto him I could have potentially been vying for top 10 at the end of the race. Instead, he passed me 10 minutes further up the road and I didn't have the muster to go with him. Fighting on, I finished 12th place with a solid, but not obviously world class, 1:15 half-marathon.
In the moment I was happy. I gave it my best shot. I'm always of the belief that if you give your best, than that's all you can ask for. It's a reason to smile. But after it all sunk in, I'm unhappy with the things I couldn't control, like the course or technical officials. But it's still a 12th place in a World Championship, which is more than I could say for some of my other attempts which haven't turned out. So let's settle with this; I'm happy, but not satisfied.
Beijing International Triathlon - 6th place
The next race after 70.3 Worlds was the Beijing International Triathlon. It's an annual invitational Olympic Distance event that's always one week after 70.3 Worlds, and I was glad to get the call up again for the third time. I really like Beijing because it's a small field of around 7-8 top athletes, each with their own strengths on a really tough course that's unlike anything else out there. In some ways it's more like an adventure race. Each year IMG invites athletes from all backgrounds; ITU, OD non-draft and middle distance/Ironman., snd this year was by far the best looking startlist with three recent Olympians (Alistair Brownlee, Joe Maloy, Vincente Hernandez), ITU gazelle Eric Lagerstrom (defending champion), Cam Dye and Greg Bennett (OD bosses), middle distance/Ironman athlete Kevin Collington and myself. Obviously coming off an Olympic gold, Brownlee was going to be nearly impossible to beat, but the excitement for me was to see how close I could get to him, while seeing how many other guys I could beat at the same time. It's hard to predict any outcome before the race, because most of these guys I never get to race!
A smaller field like this plays to my strengths. It allows for the possibility of getting away in the swim, and building a bigger lead on the bike. I was able to do this two years ago when I got 2nd to Javier Gomez, and was hoping that something similar would happen this year. With my good swim shape, I thought it was a given that Brownlee and I would get a gap in the swim. What was then to happen on the bike was less than certain, but I knew this split in the swim had to happen for the best possible chance to stand on the podium, and I turned out to be right!
We dove into the water, and again I went eyes into the back of the head fast for the first 100m. Then I did it again at 200m. And again at 300m. After a few hundred meters, Brownlee suggested at the start that he'd come around me and attack again to keep the tempo high, and we'd keep this cycle up for the remainder of the swim. Once I settled back into 2nd, it seemed like I'd totally eased off the throttle. I don't know if that's because he was going slower than I was at the front, or if swimming behind is that much more advantageous that I'd forgotten how good it was. Regardless, I attacked around him again after a short break, but he never gave the returning tap on the feet so gesture that he was coming back around me. I knew I was swimming well, so Plan B was to just keep throttling. Rounding the buoys gives an opportunity to look to the side and see where your competition is, but I could see that we were all still a pack, and coming out of the water this proved to be true. I literally gave everything in the swim to split it, and just got caught up in it too much in this tactic that I no longer had any top end left in me for the bike and the run. The long 800m to transition was like another punch in the guts, and I was just, only just holding on to the 5 guys getting onto the bike. I watched in helpless agony as Cam Dye and Ali took the bike ride up the road (where I needed to be!), while I was back fighting to even stay in aero-position I was in that short of air. It took about 30km for Joe Maloy, Eric Lagerstrom and I form a cohesive chase pack, as we were all yoyo-ing from each other on different parts of the hilly course. My power was good, 4.6w/kg approximately, but it was not where I needed to be racing Cam Dye (best 40km TT in the world) and Ali. The feeling just wasn't there. It was good to have some company from the other boys howver, because I knew that come time for the run these speedy ITU guys would leave me in the dust. Ali and Cam were far ahead of us, but we'd managed to put some time into Vincente Hernandez, who while inexperienced in this format, is a huge talent on the ITU scene. As predicted the boys ran away from me and left me in 5th to fight off Vincente coming from behind, which I managed hold off until 5km. I stayed in 6th to finish one of the most painful races I've started in in a long time. Greg Bennett didn't finish, and Kevin Collington was a fair way behind. On the day, us middle distance guys just didn't bring anything to the table.
I was really glad that I had the opportunity to race these guys, even if it meant another lethal dose of punishment following on from 70.3 Worlds, but it was a level playing field. It's a race that none of us prepared specifically for, given the nature of run course with endless staircases and technical elements. I also haven't trained specifically for Olympic Distance for 4 years now, so each year it seems my speed and top end is in inevitable decline. But again, I gave it my best shot. If I get the call up again next year, you can bet I'll say yes without even one thought to how much pain it left me in this year, but I'll take a different approach to the swim that will still leave me with some sting for the rest of the race.
Withdrawal from ITU Long Course WC
From Beijing, I flew to the USA where the intention was to compete in the ITU Long Course World Championship on September 24. It's a race I did last year in Sweden, with an interesting 4/120/30km format, and one I really wanted to have another tilt at. I've since decided to scratch from the race and am enjoying a much needed weeks rest to rejuvenate. I've slept only half of the amount I should since landing in the US last week, and have had next to no energy to train. The two hard races back to back and travel to and from China absolutely floored me, so there's no choice on the table but to take some rest. Initially, I was sleeping easy but waking up at 2-3am, now I can't sleep until 2-3am and am waking up more tired than I was before going to sleep. I've never experienced jet lag like it, and it's still ongoing. With no sleep came no motivation and energy to train, and in the end the decision to miss ITU Long Course was easy. I've hardly even had the desire to write an email in the last week, let alone write an update. But writing it all down now is a way of dealing with it and processing the disappointment. Withdrawing from the race is not something I wanted to do, but it was the smart thing to do if I want to be competitive come late-October at the Island House Tri. I think at the end of the day I have a habit over-committing, and in the respect of being fit and healthy for a whole season, I have found out where my limits are. I've been racing since Dubai 70.3 in January, so I don't feel guilty to rest now. And when the time is right to start training again, I will be doing it with purpose, to finish the season well at Island House and in Xiamen 70.3 back in China in October. So until the next update, whenever that may be, thanks for reading, and thanks for the support!
Time to get this blog started again, there's a bit to catch up. The easiest way to do this is a timeline of the last 5 or so months
October 2015 - 2x Stress Reactions, Season Over
One week before Port Mac 70.3 mid-October I was diagnosed with two stress reactions in the 3rd & 4th metatarsils of my right foot. This wasn't a total surprise, I'd had a gammy right foot & ankle for most of 2015 up until that point. Nothing in there was moving, it seemed like every joint in the ankle had some sort of adhesion preventing correct biomechanical function of the foot. My running in training and racing had gone from bad to worse most of 2015, and this was the culmination.
I decided to race Port Mac despite the risks of multiple fractures because I still thought I had a chance to win. I was also heading South anyway to race the Nepean Tri the week afterwards to support my sponsor Cellarbrations who sponsors Nepean Tri. Unsurprisingly, I swim and biked to perfection in Port, but ran terribly in Port and finished 6th. A few days after Port I got terribly sick while staying in Bondi before Nepean. It was the logical choice to scratch from that race, my body was simply saying 'no more'.
Despite the illness that week, it was a great chance to catch up with one of my support crew, Clovelly based sports chiropractor Michael Black. We worked every day treating my ankle and getting my pelvis back into alignment, both big issues that were a side effect of adding the heel raise at the begging on 2015. My body was trying to work out it's new position, and was in constant need of realignment. We made some excellent progress that week, my ankle was now moving and I could run normally again. The hallmark of this was that I could actually run around corners to the right instead of tip-toeing. I literally had zero eversion in my calcaneus, which meant that my ankle couldn't ankle move the way it needed to when banking right, no matter how steep or shallow the angle, it was incredibly frustrating. We also did a lot of video analysis experimenting with orthotics and forefoot corrections to prevent the incorrect toe-off that resulted in poor foot mechanics and the stress reactions diagnosed two weeks earlier. For most of my life I'd worn orthotics, though I'd ditched them 4 years earlier for reasons I can't really recall, other than just wanting to try running without them.
Here's a couple a pictures from Port Mac illustrating my gammy ankle. Click on the pics to enlarge and read the notes on the picture to the right.
Below is a video from the week of treatment with Mike. This one in particular is a posterior capsule release of the right femoral head. I've always run with a bowed right leg when tired or under load. This is quite palpable if you've ever seen me half way through a run on a 70.3. But this bow isn't something that was caused entirely because of impact and glute instability, more so, as my leg has been swinging through in the recover stage of the stride it's been pivoted on an angle from the femoral capsule. We did this release on the thompson drop table to break up the adhesions within the capsule and restore it's functional movement to a normal pattern.
The plan after all this tratment was to then take 3 weeks off and heal. Ash finished her season with a 2nd and 1st in Nepean and Noosa Tri's, then we went up North to Fraser Island for a week off. Here's a video of the trip
November to December 2015 - Back Training Fresh
I resumed training feeling fresh and with a the feeling that I had a new body to work with. Once I rediscovered how good it was to be training fresh, it was obvious with hindsight that I should have taken a break much much earlier in 2015, rather than doing it late October with the candle burning at both ends. I'm a fighter and typically try to make the best out of the worst situations. This meant I could always find a way to tell myself that after each disappointment and with a little consistency in training a good race was just around the corner. I would have been better to take a month off in May or June, get the treatment I needed (which is trifle difficult when traveling the world), then been able to reboot fresh to assault the rest of the season. I was half-strength the whole season, fighting niggles and sickness. In 2015 I was one big long wet fart culminating in a very loose bowel movement by October. To go the full metaphor, it was just a shit year. Though really, it was the bad season that I had to have in order to get the most out the changes that I'd committed to make with my heel raise. There was no easy way these changes were going to happen. By body had to straighten up and start working in ways not possible until now, and things were going to get messy on the way. I knew this was going to happen, I'd been told it would happen, but I guess i never accepted it was going to happen.
With the good results I was getting in training, I decided to make a race plan for 2016 begging with Dubai 70.3 late January. I'd never raced this early in the season, opting always to miss big opening races in the past like the now defunct Auckland 70.3 in the effort to build a bigger base. But things were going well and Dubai was a good paying race, so I wanted to put myself in a big one to start things off. It felt like last year, because I missed 70.3 Worlds with injury, that I just never raced any top dogs. I'd trained with Sebastian Kienle but not raced with him, and it annoyed me. I knew Jan Frodeno was doing Dubai so I was pretty happy about the choice to go and race.
January 2016 - Success in Dubai 70.3
I was starting to feel really fit and was doing some good mileage and getting stuck into some decent key sessions. I got back on the Felt IA TT bike early January, and had just enough time do a few longer rides on it in preparation for Dubai. I hadn't had any of the problems of 2015 yet either. No back pain, no psoas pain, the ankle was moving freely and I could run trail and uneven surfaces without issue, and visually my shoulders, spine and upper body was starting to straighten out. My head wasn't sitting 4cm to the right of my pelvis anymore as it was for a long time, and I was focusing more on reducing lateral upper body movement in my running, something which I'd never given much thought to before. Because I was now straight and my joints moving better, I could make some good changes to my running for once other than just tweaking training volume and structure. I could really make some inroads on addressing the biomechanical efficiency issues I had. My foot mechanics had improved tremendously with the orthotics and built in forefoot corrections and I was running easier and toeing off better. Win win.
Race week in Dubai came around and I'd made the 14 hour transit to Dubai in good shape. I ended up leading the swim but getting dropped by Jan on the long 1km soft-sand run to T1. It took me 30km's to ride him down in 40km/h tail winds, and I rode with him to the turnaround. He dropped me pretty quick smart after this and put 3 minutes back into me in the headwind back to T2. He rode like a World Champ should, and I was at capacity with the ride I put in, perhaps burning too much fuel trying to close the gap before the turnaround. What I was really looking forward to in this race was the run, I wanted to test the improvements I'd made in 3 short months. In the end, I lost another 3 minutes to Jan but held off a fast moving Bart Aernouts and Terenzo for 2nd place. I was able to run steady, hold form in the brutal cross winds and just focus on form. In 2015 I spent most of my time leading off the bike but running scared losing form quickly. I was thrilled and totally proud with how I'd managed to turn things around from a woeful 2015. It was also nice to put a 10K USD check back into the account!
February 2016 - Committing to Ironman
In December when things were back on track, I got this idea that if I kept going well and was injury free that I would make my debut Ironman in 2016. I always knew that I wanted to make my debut at Port Macquarie, a place where I've experienced success on a course that plays to my strengths, but the result in Dubai was reassurance I needed to to fully commit myself Ironman Australia on May 1.
So the plan from Dubai was to race Geelong 70.3 the following weekend back in Australia, then this would allow a 8 week block until my pre-Ironman hitout in Putrajaya 70.3 on April 3, then another 4 weeks until Ironman Australia.
I'd never raced a back to back 70.3 before. While some guys eat them up like a bowl of noodles with only one chopstick (looking at Terenzo), I don't really think this is for me. Geelong was a total reversal from Dubai the week earlier. I just never recovered after the travel back home, and was struggling to sleep all week with jetlag. Jake Montgomery was in top form and had me against the ropes for most of the bike ride, and I was fighting momentum the whole run. Just not really a day to remember but I still finished 3rd after getting bettered by a fast finishing and Ironman fit Cyril Viennot. Though I could go home with a smile with another podium and paycheck, two in two weeks, exactly 100% more podiums than all of 2015.
So after the recovery from Geelong, the long training days started. I had a short stint in Queenstown NZ mid February for a 30km trail race, but that just wasn't meant to be. Ideally, it would have been a great long run and strength session with 1,500m or so of elevation over gnarly sheepstation backcountry. The reality was by 3km I had rolled my left ankle numerous times and had to walk for the next two hours to the first extraction point. I'll leave this stuff for another day when i can truly bust myself up and not care about what's just around the corner, it's great fun otherwise. Though that healed quite well and I back into the miles later in the week.
March 2016 - Full Frontal Ironman Prep
In terms of volume, I haven't been doing any more K's than I would do training for a 70.3 There have been a few exceptions to some run weeks however, I topped 110km one week, but most of the weeks have been built around a key long bike/run off and long run. The last key run workout I finished was a 37km run, 5km warm up and then 2x15km at race tempo. I hit 4:04 and 4:00km averages for the two. I've done a handful of runs around 35km also, all with 30km of accumulated intervals. The bike rides have been similar with structure, with the volume and intervals combined. The longest was a 35km warm up, then 5x25km at race pace, 5km easy in between and 20km warm down. I posted my last key ride up on social media last week, which similarly was 180km, with 30km warm up, 4x30km TT at race pace with 15km cool down. Here it is below
The training has certainly been different and challenging, I've done sessions and volumes I never thought I would touch in a single ride or run. I've had some disastrous days, and some freakishly good days. One of which I was about 80km away from home on my bike, I was mid interval but totally spent and pedaling squares., I pulled over to the side of the road and unclipped, contemplating just how I was going to get through the session. Needless to say I'd given on on the intervals, but what else could I do but keep riding? I ended up riding the next 60km really slow, but got a 2nd wind closer to home and did the last 20km TT home to the front door and finished the 60 minute run off really well. That was a 7.5 hour brick session because of how slow I was riding. But with each of these sessions, good or bad, I'm discovering the essence of Ironman. I may hit this wall on race day, I may not. Whatever happens, I've been training to race to my strengths and not have to rely on anyone on course to set the pace. We'll see what comes on race day. Tomorrow I'm racing Putrajaya 70.3 in really hot and humid conditions. I'm excited to race, maybe we'll get a good preview of my fitness for Port.
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Without a doubt, the year to date has been the slowest, most frustrating year I can remember as a triathlete. I'm currently sitting at home in Australia 8 days before the start of the 70.3 World Championships in Austria, having made the tough decision to withdraw from the race. I arrived home five days ago to try to heal and refocus, and to salvage what remains of 2015.
So how did I get to this point? ...from a few bloody good kicks in the pants. It's not my intention to make the following sound like a 'pity piece'. I don't wont votes of sympathy. If you read this and feel I'm an emotional pussy then I'm sorry for that. Anyone that knows me personally would hopefully agree with that this isn't the case. I can imagine there's some athletes out there that are probably in a worse state of affairs than me at the moment, but this is my story of the year thus far. I'ts not all doom & gloom though, I finished this post with my chin held high and an optimism for what lays ahead in the remaining months of 2015.
So what's the story?
There's no story really. Embarrassingly, the injury that has kept me from starting at Zell am See is not a story of crazy training or heroic run mileage or anything like that. It's because I fell on some wet stairs while walking home from the swimming pool in the rain. I hit my knee on the steel handrail and that was that, a bone contusion on the lateral condyle of the tibia. Sure, there's worse things that could have happened. I could have fractured my leg. I could actually have an overloading injury or have crashed or been hit by a car. It's just gone 2 weeks from the fall and I might even be running by tomorrow, so it's nothing serious. But the timing was unquestionably bad 3 weeks before a world championship. I've been under performing the whole year, and have been dealing with ongoing niggles that made training difficult. To miss out on two weeks of bike & run training three weeks before Worlds was the final kick in the pants I needed to book that flight home.
The fact that is my first blog in 4 months should probably read that things just weren't on track. Ironically my last blog written in April talked about dealing with injury. I've had no wins or podiums to report. I haven't even raced for two months because I was just that focused on just getting the work done for Worlds. The lack of blogging doesn't make it much easier to explain the year to date, so I'll just try and briefly detail each kick in the pants as they came.
Ongoing psoas injury
If you read my last blog, you would be aware of the biomechanical changes I have made regarding my leg length discrepancy and the heel raised I've utilised to reduce said deficit. I began with a 4mm heel raise in February, and rather quickly moved to a 6mm raise 6 weeks later. This was too early. Not long after starting with the 6mm heel raise I began dealing with a lot of pain in my iliopsoas as my body tried to adapt to the drastic changes forced upon it. The issue was that my pelvis on the short side rotated itself forward, which resulted in a constantly overcontracted psoas muscle (location of referred pain visible in the diagram below). It would hurt almost entirely throughout the day, for months on end. In April I started chiropratic treatment at CNS Chiropractic Mooloolaba, and was managing well with the issue while under big load preparing for the ITU Long Course World Champs in late June. Adjustments through the SI joint on a Thomas drop leaf table were helping a lot to correct the pelvis rotation but the issue was still lingering. In May I left for the annual pilgrimage overseas, and consistent effective treatment became harder to find. The issue got quite bad after the travel to the US for Escape from Alcatraz, then straight onwards to Europe for a stint of training in Spain. I was getting the training done, but it was so uncomfortable I wasn't enjoying any second of running. Kick in the pants.
Escape from Alcatraz & ITU Long Course Worlds
I had drafted race reports for these events, but never found the motivation to finish them. In short, I raced well at Alcatraz but just wasn't good enough finishing in 4th place. I led from the gun, and went from 1st to 4th in the last 10 minutes of the race. ITU Long Course was just a complete failure and disappointment. The failure was my performance, and the disappointment came from the poor organisation and judgement from race officials leading to a shortened swim (4km to 1.5km). The fact that I haven't raced since ITU Long Course in June just makes the pants kick feel like it was done with a steel capped boot.
Opportunity for consistency beset by interruptions
With the ITU Long Course chapter closed on June 27, I still had the months of July & August to finally get some training done that I would be content with. These months would be crucial to a good performance in the 70.3 Worlds on August 30 in Zell Am See. There were some good racing options available in Europe in these months, such as the European Championships in Wiesbaden (which is a really good, tough course) , but I just wanted to train. I spent the first week of July training in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Spain) with Ash. After one week recovery from ITU Long Course, I had one good week of re-entry and volume, then had to take the next week off after taking a hit from a solid bout of gastro (actually that week was anything but solid). Once I recovered, I had another few re-entry days, cramming in some good workouts in anxiety of the next training block with Sebastian Kienle in Germany. I moved into the family home in Mulacker on July 24 and was really excited for the opportunity to train with him in the lead up to Zell Am See. We had two cracking days of speed and strength work on the bike and run as Seb dialed himself back in after a big effort in Frankfurt, then we headed off for 5 days of course reconnaissance in Zell Am See. After the on-course training camp, which was bookended by a couple of easy days, we returned to Muhlacker and got back to work. Three days later I had my uninteresting fumble on the stairs as we walked home from the swimming pool. My knee was initially pain free, but I had obvious swelling and fluid around the impact site. I thought after a few days it would be sweet. Four days after the fall I did a short run off the bike for 20mins and I didn't feel anything until I stopped. I then had an intense pain in the back of the knee down into the back of my lower leg. I guessed this was from a further accumulation of swelling, perhaps putting pressure on the sciatic or tibial nerve. A couple of says later Seb & I were scheduled to do a local olympic distance race as a tune up three weeks out from Worlds. Because of the neural pain I was having I only intended to swim & bike. Upon hitting the beach at the swim exit and running to the bike, the neural pain in the back of my knee switched to excruciating pain on the impact site of the tibia. Like hell I was going to walk in front of a crowd though, so I stubbornly soldiered on. I knew instantly that I had made the problem much worse, and I knew this would likely happen before I started the race; but with Worlds not far away I just couldn't sit still. I had to test it out and know for sure whether I was injured or not injured. By the 20km mark on the bike my affected leg suddenly went numb. I pulled out, and when I got off the bike I could hardly walk. I had an MRI the next day which came back negative to any fractures which was positive, but came with a recommended 2 weeks off running. I already knew I would need this much time off anyway, and had pretty much already made the decision that Worlds would not be feasible. Even if I could get to the startline with just one week of running in my legs there would be no point. If I couldn't bring 100% fitness to the startline I didn't want to have to deal with more disappointment. Each night Seb would tell me epic stories of his three world title wins to complete surprise off very little running after months of plaguing injuries, but I had no interest in believing these circumstances could be favorable for me. Mentally I have already hit an all time low. Some more kicks in the pants.
When you're a long way from home...
All your problems feel worse and magnified, especially when the sole purpose of your time abroad, to train & race, dissolves overnight. I was in a fantastic environment training with Seb, but in the absence of loved ones and a support team it's just that much harder to get your shit together. In ones home environment, support mechanism are known and easy to utilise. All I could think about these last two weeks was getting home and starting again, but on the other hand I didn't want to be weak and give up so easily. I've been in many tough spots over the years, many times I've thought about packing up & heading home. Typically after the initial emotions settle everything is then fine and I could easily push on, but in this instance I still knew going home was the only option. Aussies, Kiwis, & some others like South Africans/South Americans etc. all spend more time away from home than anyone else. It's not ideal but we get on with it for the sake of a career. The positive of it is that time away from home adds to the adventure that triathlon has to offer, the yearly vagabond migration to chase the dream. But when things go wrong, the adventure is always the first thing that I forget about. It's no longer and adventure when you're unhappy. As I said, I've been close many times to giving up and heading home, but I had never actually followed through. There was one time when the very thought of booking a flight home was the only thing that kept me from pulling out of the race. The idea of packing it in and starting again can be a real catharsis in tough times. That particular time I finished the race, gave it a day, and everything was fine. I went on to success. In the present situation of 70.3 Worlds, the thought that my parents were coming from Australia to watch me in Zell made the decision to pull out of Worlds even harder. I also knew & loved the course. I wanted to race. My whole season was about that race, so I gave it another week. With little tangible improvement across those seven days I confirmed my doubts and got on the plane home. 32 hours later door to door and I was home.
So where to from here?
Part of the reason I was eager to get home was that there's so many more options for racing left in 2015. For instance, I have the option for a 70.3 on the Sunshine Coast in 3 weeks time, which is an hours drive from home door to door. Should I be able to run with some load between now and then, I will definitely start. The following week is the Beijing International Triathlon. I have the option to race from home half a dozen more times before the year is up, not including Challenge Bahrain which I will most certainly attend.
After a good kick in the pants...
you do whatever it takes to avoid the same thing happening again. After all, it just downright hurts. I remember when I was 7 years old, my sister kicked me in the nuts so hard that I was actually happy to pull my pants down in front a doc to check that everything was still in place. The good news was that everything was fine for pre-pubescent Burgerman, and I certainly made sure I didn't drop and break any of my sisters Easter eggs ever again. I went on to forgive her for her cruel and hasty judgement of the situation.
I'm a history student. I always try to avoid mistakes of the past, so I will do what it takes to avoid the disappointments 2015 happening again. Though this year I have learnt a heck of a lot, and I intend to take these lessons forward with me. Fortunately, training with Seb was one of the best lessons in triathlon I've ever had, and I feel really fortunate to have spent three short weeks with him with the prospect of doing it all again next year. The new sessions and approaches to training I absorbed in this time has me foaming at the mouth to get running and fit again, ready to tackle the remaining races of 2015. It had been years since I'd last had a full-time training partner, and while there's some positives to training by oneself, you inevitably fall into habits that feel convenient, not necessarily beneficial. After training with Seb, I now have the knowledge and motivation to avoid what's convenient. Better again is that since early July I've had no more problems with my psoas and had been running pain free since then. Hopefully this means the last of the heel raise adaptations have fallen into place, and I can look forward to getting on with the job.
For those interested and providing my recovery goes well, the rest of my season will look something like this...
September 13 - Sunshine Coast 70.3
September 20 - Beijing International Triathlon
October 18 - Port Macquarie 70.3
October 25 - Nepean Triathlon
November 20 - Challenge Bahrain
November 30 - Western Sydney 70.3
December 5 - Bahrain 70.3 or December 13 - Ballarat 70.3
Time to get this blog out of the way.
A few weeks ago I had to pull out of the run leg during the Putrajaya 70.3. A fresh niggle in the left soleus kept me from running more than one kilometer without gritting the teeth in pain. It has since cleared up though, and was just an issue of bad timing in the broader context of some biomechanical changes that I have recently made. So here's the story...
Running has palpably always been my weakest of the three sports. I've never had that stellar run off the bike needed to do big things in the sport thus far. While I am the first to admit I'm not a thoroughbred runner, I have always felt ripped off knowing that I have more potential that what I put out there on race course. I have a big engine, that's my biggest asset in this game. I'm a gifted swimmer. I worked hard at that when I was young and that has stayed with me. Similarly, the hard work I have put into my cycling over the years reflects the results, but the hard work I put into my running doesn't dividend anywhere near the other two sports. Without making excuses, it's always be a thought of mine that there's something holding me back in running. Can some of these under-performing runs be attributable to going harder on the bike than I should have? Of course. But some days, I just don't have that gear needed to run strong & fast. It was fortunate that last year I met a chiropractor that instantly noticed some things about my body and suggested getting some scans done in relation to leg length, something pertinent to this 'lacking' run leg of mine.
I brushed it off at first, but then once my training load in early January picked up I started to get chronic back pain that has been reoccurring for years on my lower right lumbar spine. I called up Michael Black and flew down to Sydney for an EOS, a low-radiation full body scan. It came back I have a functional and structural 10mm difference from right to left leg. Some people might say this is nothing, others say it's a lot. My opinion is that it's been enough to drastically reduce my running economy and form. Here's a cropped section of the scan illustrating what the 10mm leg difference has done to my body
With a 10mm structural shortness in my right leg has come a 12mm pelvic tilt, and a pelvic rotation of 1° to compensate for the shortened running gate on that leg. This affects a whole host of other things as my body has had to find ways to compensate for the deficiency. Noticeable on the scan is also a spinal scoliosis, which even worsens further up, to which my chin sits 4cm to the right of the middle of my pelvis. As a further result, my left shoulder is aggressively cocked up. While my body has adapted well to what it has to work with and I've had no resulting injuries, it's certainly not running as economically as it can if everything was symmetrical. If you've ever seen me running under load and fatigue, all these anatomical difference should be starting to make sense. Here's two more pictures illustrating my imperfections.
Pretty obvious as to which is the shorter side? When performance in endurance sport is as much about efficiency as it is anything else, it shouldn't be too hard to understand the impact a difference like this would have on ones economy. So, what to do about this difference in leg length?
Some people have told me naively that I've had good results with this existing condition, and have questioned why I would change anything. To me this is nonsensical, especially when I spend every day of the year trying to be fitter, stronger and faster than I was yesterday, an endless cycle of obsessive improvement. The easy solution is to use a heel raise to essentially prop up the short side to see an improved pelvic and spinal alignment. A cleat spacer is also needed for bike position.
The two most reliable opinions I have in this area have both said that a 6mm raise would be sufficient enough, and that going any higher would be impractical. Both also suggested starting at a smaller 4mm increment and build into the 6mm. The first 4mm stage started in February, and all was going really well until I did the 25km trail race in mid-March. The distance wasn't so much the problem, but more the elevation loss (950m of it). Being the stubborn athlete I am, I wanted to get the course record and made sure to squeeze every second of time out of myself as I could. See my previous post to watch the video of the jarring downhills. It's obvious now that this wasn't such a smart thing to do considering I won by 13 minutes.
The week after the Up the Buff I developed the pain in my soleus that kept me from running in Putrajaya 70.3. Never fearing it was a tear or anything like that, I knew it was relative to the changes I had made with the heel raise compounded with the load of the 25km race. I could run without pain for 10 minutes or so before it set it, so it was nothing serious, but I didn't get the treatment I needed to fix it before I went away for the race. It turned out to be chronically tight soleus fascia that Jimmi Matthews worked out in a couple of treatments at Mooloolaba's CNS Chiropractic. When it was so easily treated, it made me wonder what could have been at Putrajaya 70.3 when I came off the bike with a 3 minute lead, but I guess there's bigger things to look forward to this season.
Gains were still made by going to Putrajaya to compete, even if I didn't get to finish the race. It showed my bike form is back on track, and close to the career-best form I was in at the end of the 2014 season. In 30+ degree heat for the rides' entirety my power was up and I felt smooth, delivering a 2:06 split on a course that had 550m of elevation gain. It also reminded me just how much humidity stifles the bodies functions, a nice lesson before Vietnam 70.3 in two weeks time. Domenico Passuello matched my bike split and went on to win by 9 minutes over the great Craig Alexander, proving that he's going to be hard to beat in this distance in future encounters, but I look forward to the challenge. Furthermore, the course in Putrajaya was unreal, the bike course had immaculate roads with an interesting highway loop around the stylish new city. And while I didn't do the run, by looking at the course maps it certainly beats the tired out and back affair. I would recommend the race for anyone looking for a good challenge over the 70.3 distance. For now, I look forward to getting back onto the start line in Vietnam on May 10.
Here's a little bit of footage from the Up The Buff Trail Race, which doubled as the South-East Queensland trail running championships. I finished first with a course record time of 1.52.04, an average of 4.24/km pace. The race was perfect timing for me in the middle of Subic Bay 70.3, and Putrajaya 70.3, two weeks either side of both events, and it was a unique opportunity for a strength/tempo run hit out.
The course was 25km with 940m of elevation gain, essentially straddling the border between QLD & NSW. Nothing but mountain running madness, evidence of which is the fact my buddy could only film me on the downhills, most of the course was too hilly and simply unrideable. Though it should be noted he definitely wasn't fit enough for the challenge!
For 1st place, both myself & the female winner have earned a free trip Queenstown NZ to compete in the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon in Feburary 2016. It should be a pretty cool first outing in the 42.2, something which I'll look to use as training for my first build into Ironman racing in 2016. Check out the Shotover race below!
Here's a video of my annual pilgrimage with Ash to the magical Moreton Island. Please enjoy!
I never imagined I’d be in a position at the end of 2014 where I would be going for three 70.3/half-distance wins in a row. Well, the three wins happened, and I finished my best season as a professional triathlete to date with a victory in the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Western Sydney.
If you've been reading my blogs on the previous race wins, you’d notice I spoke each time about whether I didn't know if I had what it took to clench a win, let alone consecutive wins, considering the little amount of time I’d spent training, and mega amount of time I’d spent racing. I've since learned and now have the confidence to believe, that I don’t need mega-miles and hours to compete with the best. It’s not clear whether that’s come about through a long period of physical maturation into the half-distance, or just accumulative training benefits, or a combination of the two. Though without the process being clear, the outcome in unambiguous; I’m well suited to the 4 hour +/- race bracket.
I've scalped some good athletes to win each race in this last-ditch effort to bank wins in 2014. I've come to believe that no matter who shows up, I can always believe in my ability to swim and bike at the front of a race with 100% reliance on my own body & mind. Without being egotistical, each time I race I try my best to live up to my mantra, Non Ducor Duco. Meaning, I am not led, I lead. Though in saying this, I realise that winning bigger races next year is going to prove much harder. As I've written numerously the last few months, smaller pure time-trial races give me the best chance of winning. It just happened that my recent wins all fall in this 'pure time-trial' category, and I know I have a big job in front of me to adapt to other styles of racing in 2015.
Reflecting on the above, Joe Gambles was always going to be harder to beat than I feel athletes like Brad Kahlefeldt or Reudi Wild would be, assuming a pure time-trial race. While the latter two athletes have plenty of titles to their name, Joe’s record is proven; copious wins, some in running races, and some bike-run flyers. No matter the course or competition, you can expect Joe to ride and run ruthlessly in pursuit of anyone ahead. Kind of like athletes such as Sebastian Kienle, Terenzo Bozzone or Tim Reed; athletes with a high-regard for all-out racing but still with an intellectual edge, smart enough that you can always expect them to apply this hit and miss ‘all-out’ strategy with sound and effective tactics. I’ve always respected Joe as an athlete and have always been fond of his racing style. While there were other great athletes on the startline like Jimmy Seear and Joey Lampe, Joe was going to be the one to beat. Last minute withdrawals from Craig Alexander and Leon Griffin made the startlist somewhat lighter, but it was still a strong field.
The course was good and made for speed. The swim & run were based at the Penrith Regatta (a venue for the 2000 Sydney Olympics), and the bike was out on Aussie rural roads with lots of classic bush scenery. We started in the 26C water with no wetsuits, much to my relief. Apparently there were some angry AG'ers that it was non-wetsuit, which is always entertaining to hear. Cooking and dehydrating yourself in a wetsuit is never a good way to start a race, people should appreciate that! I was thankful to be wearing my cool yet buoyant TYR Torque swimskin, and got off to a good start. It was magical to swim in the regatta, if athletes were worried about a bad swim because of non-wetsuit rule, they should have rejoiced in the fact that it was as calm as could be. We even had a sighting aid below the water and could follow then entire swim route by underwater cable. Bloody rippa! I felt really good and pushed the pace with little sighting needed to slow my rhythm down. I got out of the water with a good gap, but had Joey Lampe with me as expected.
I knew heading out onto the bike that I would need as much gap on Joe as possible, as I expected him to ride a similar time to me. I would have been happy with 2 minutes, and ended up with 2:07. I was happy with this start. Jimmy Seear, who I expected to swim with joey and I was 45 seconds back,which meant that everyone would sort themselves out on the bike from this point. I quickly took the lead from Joey, who was first onto the bikes at the mount line. I set at riding to my pace and steadily began to pull a gap over Joey. I felt really great and settled into perhaps my best power output of the season. I was holding 5w/kg for the first 30 minutes, which settled to about 4.9w/kg for the next 30 minutes. I couldn't believe how good I was feeling, and quickly started to ride time into all the athletes. We were benefited with 2 time checks a lap, for two laps, and from memory I had almost 4 minutes on Joe Gambles by the 2nd time check approximately 35km in. I had no expectation to put this much time into Joe so early on, so I was emphatically motivated to continue the grimace. While Joe had IM Busso the following week, he noted in the press conference for Western Sydney that was 100% in for the 70.3 and less for the full Ironman, so I was weary that I was still in for a potential battle.
I was thankful again to have the company of AG'ers on lap two. It definitely eases the burn, for the simple presence of others on the course helps me concentrate and maintain power, even tussling here and there with zealous athletes that try and keep up with you. While the course was getting crowded in parts, I thoroughly enjoyed the route through the Aussie bush roads. The roads were quite rough, not the best for PB splits. They were so dead that while it is essentially a flat course, you don't feel at any point like it is. It was quite open to wind as well, and you really just had to be on your watts the whole way to maintain momentum. It was truly picturesque however, riding next to the Blue Mountains was really cool. However as the temperature rose and the ride was nearing the end, my power slowly began to fade as I thought about the run that lay ahead. I finished with a 4.7w/kg average.
I may have escaped a battle with Joe on the bike, but he sure as hell wasn't going to let me walk away with the title easily. I had 7 minutes on him and the main pack heading out onto run, and 5 minutes on Joey Lampe. Run courses that loop back onto the bike course are really handy for assessing gaps off the bike, and I saw the boys roll by and was able to know the exact time I had to spare. Joe quickly started chipping time away from me, but I knew at the pace I was holding (3:45k's) that he would have to do something really special to catch me. I just kept on holding the pace which was comfortable for me, but the course was relentless on the mind. Up and back, across and down, around the regatta we went, with the other athletes in full view almost the entire way. All you could really think about was getting to the next aid station, and putting one foot in front of the other. I focused on sipping my Instinct Sports electrolytes stored in my Fuelbelt, and started counting down the k's as Joe got closer and closer. The thought of winning another title kept me honest but the run course was so tiresome on the mind, and as the sun got higher in the sky we all started to strain. The feet really started to burn as the tarmac heated up, and every step was more uncomfortable than the last. I was thankful I wasn't locked in dual because the run around the regatta would have turned into a devastating coliseum of hurt. It didn't help that my guts were slipping either, but I made it to the end with a couple minutes to spare over Joe and then some. While my 1:19 half-marathon time was less than sterling, it was all I needed to do to get to the line first, and I look forward to chipping away at this aspect of my racing next season. The walk over the line was immensely satisfying for the suffering I put out there on the pavement, and I'm sure everyone else that finished the race would have felt that same satisfaction in crossing the line irrespective of place. Joey Lampe had a really solid 'welcome back' race to come in third, and I was happy to see longtime racing mate Jimmy Seear in 4th.
I couldn't have been happier to take the the inaugural Ironman 70.3 Western Sydney title, which was my third half-distance title for the year, and my 5th win in total for the season. I honestly never thought I would have lined up against Joe Gambles to beat him the way I did. I've surprised myself in many instances this year and I'm really looking forward to carrying to form through to the 2015 season, albeit after a well-earned break. I heard the Ironman will shake up the course in Penrith in 2015 with neighbouring parklands opening before the event next year. While I really enjoyed the first running of the event, I know the next one will be even better. Thanks to everyone for their support the support this year, it's been fun to have you all along for the ride!
Images thanks to ©JGRimages, Paul Robbins and Liam Bromilow
It was with great satisfaction that I took my second half-distance win in Challenge Shepparton last week. It was also my fourth half-distance win to date, with two in Port Macquarie and one in Singapore. I never really expected to be carrying form this late in the year, and only really signed up to these races because the opportunity to race was there. There's so much racing happening in Australia this time of year that I've always considered it crazy to turn it down. I haven't done a training block since before 70.3 Worlds in September, so to actually expect to win when not logging the weekly miles and consistent key sessions is a bit out of order for me. I typically get confidence from knowing that I've done the hard work, but that literally hasn't happened for months. I guess from this non-stop racing I've taken a new type of confidence, that I can rely on my talent, gain fitness from racing and feel good about racing even when I haven't had those 'validation' sessions in the weeks leading into the race. This is probably something that has definitely held me back in the past and I've used too many matches before I even get to the startline. I guess at the end of the day, triathlon really is an imperfect science, and there's never that special one formula to get results.
Speaking earlier of the amount of racing on offer in Australia this time of year, the inaugural Ballarat 70.3 was competing for pro and amateur entries on the same day less than two hours drive away. I could have gone to either Ballarat or Shepparton but I obviously went with the latter. A couple athletes had decided to nominate for both events and ended up picking the one Michael Raelert didn't go to, but without sounding like I had avoided a fight, I was always committed to Shep. I wanted to come back to Shepparton because I had a great race experience the year prior when it was run by Ironman, it's a relaxed country event that I reckon every Australian athlete should experience. With the added thought of Challenge bringing in a in a new course at a new venue, I knew it would be a ripper event. Here's a race video before we get into the nitty gritty
The pro field that had assembled in Shep was bolstered with talent. There were three athletes in the race that had won big events throughout the season, namely Brad Kahlefeldt (Bateman's Bay, Putrajaya), Ruedi Wild (St. Anthony's) and Leon Griffin (Timberman), and also Tim Berkel coming off a huge debut result (7th) in Kona. These athletes were mostly great runners. With my strength in the swim & bike, the chance was palpably there to lead the race from the start to finish, had I put enough time into the other on my stronger legs. I know how to beat the fast runners, and I was keen to show that Port was no fluke and that there was no magic lead motorcycle in front of me for 90km to waltz along with. The conditions we woke up to on Sunday morning greatly increased my chances for a successful breakaway. I was actually kept awake for big chunks of time early on Sunday morning because the rain was so fierce. The wind was also blowing maniacally. With a big slog of the out and back course into a cross-headwind, it was always going to be a day for the cyclists.
I started hard from the gun in the water on the fun M shape course. With the calm water and big red Challenge bouys, it was pretty easy to put the head down and throw the arms over. Because the M-shape allowed very acute turns, I could count the time gap in my head every time we flipped around, and was surprised to see the gap well over 60 seconds by 3/4ths of the way through. I felt good but kind of tired, the feeling that everyone probably gets; 'I'm swimming pretty hard and it's already hurting. Do I really have to get on the bike & ride 90k's?' kind of thing. I did however find some motivation to pin in once I mounted the IA. It was raining and the win was blowing, but they say that when the going gets tough the tough get going. That's what was going through my head anyway. My power was very high into the wind and I was comfortable. I actually really enjoy riding into the headwinds; grinding that bit more and the slower speeds kind of makes me feel like I'm climbing, and I do really love the hurt of climbing.
At the first chance for a time gap at 1/4th of the way, I think I counted I had three minutes already back to Griffin. This meant that I had made at least 90 seconds up on top of the swim gap in the first portion of the ride. I was happy with this and felt it reflected the high effort I was putting onto the black top in the pissing rain and howling wind. I was pleased to see that the riders behind Griffin had splintered, and the next athlete I saw was Kahlefeldt riding on his own. I knew from this point he would only keep losing time until the pack behind caught him, which looked like it was made up of Berkel, Kastelein, Wild and some others. But these guys were maybe at least 4 minutes behind already. The race was mine to lose from this point on. I was now into the tailwind and loving the sail effect of the Zipp Super9 disc. I was coming to round the first lap and split the lap on my computer at 1:01:43, with an average of 300w. This was pushing slightly above 4.6w/kg, validating the thought that I was having a great ride. The interesting fact is on lap two I rode the exact same split, 1:01:43, but managed it putting out only 290w. I put the difference down to the slip stream on offer from a full course of AG athletes fresh out of the swim. While having the AG'ers on the course for lap 2 sometimes means it's a bit sketchy and congested when riding through at pace, it gives me great comfort mentally, it just breaks the effort up and makes it more enjoyable to share the road.
One thing I can put my good ride down to is some changes I made to my position and setup. I changed back from 165mm to 170mm cranks (I went to 165mm in July this year). There's good arguments for going to shorter cranks, and I was convinced enough to try, but I feel as if I was compromised in my pedaling efficiency and got really lazy and quad dominant. This was quite palpable in races like Mont Tremblant when I totally suffered on the run, even in Port Macquarie recently, where I still won but it hurt like hell; a hurt that just wasn't normal. Something was a miss, and I feel that by changing to shorter cranks my overall bike/run was compromised through inefficient pedaling and the consequent quad loading. So with the move to 170mm, I could still keep my hip angle open but just feel more comfortable in my pedal stroke, loading the legs more evenly through the quads, glutes & hammies to be fresher for a better run off the bike.
I had a lot of confidence heading out onto the run with a good feeling in my legs, thought it took my feet a good 15-20mins to regain feeling from the cold & wet ride. I just happened to be running on a section of the run course right next to the bike leg when I saw the others on their way back into T2. I looked at my watch and it read 9+ mintutes. I'm not sure if they saw me, but I could imagine they wouldn't have been happy. I knew this kind of gap was possible, but you never toe the line expecting to completely show your competition the back door. When it does happen though it is a real nice feeling, really really nice. Something would have had to of gone majorly wrong on my end not to hold on for the win, but with Brad K in the field I kept my focus and just kept telling myself I hadn't won until I crossed the line. There's too many horror videos/stories of athletes wobbling in the finish chute only to collapse and have the victory snatched way. Lucky for me I was feeling good.
Brad was taking time out of me but I still had the gap I needed. I got my last time check at 19km, with a 4 minute buffer. It was time to turn the engines off and think about Western Sydney 70.3 which was only two weeks away. I crossed the line & enjoyed the cellarbrations, and awed somwhat in Brad's 1:10 run split. Lucky I had a really good ride. I have to say I was really impressed with the run course. It was a very 'Aussie' affair with a three lap course taking you on roads through enchanting eucalypt forests, there was just never a dull moment, so a big high-5 for Challenge for the new course. All-round, it was a marvelous day, I was very happy to participated and even more thrilled to walk away with my first Challenge half-distance title. I hope to see you all at Challenge Shepp next year. Cheers all!
Part 2 (takes a couple minutes to load, be patient!)
For me, racing this time of year is always hard. I’m bouncing from race to race in attempt to wring out every last drop of performance out of the body. As a professional early on in my career, I think it’s the only way to go about my business if I want to continue on some sort of linear progression in terms of exposure, strong bonds with my sponsors and general opportunity in the sport. The years’ worth of training is still there driving me forward, but the body is getting tired. Race, recover, train a little & race. That’s what it’s pretty much all about from World’s until late November. December is the month for rest.
Without having won a 70.3 this season, I came to Port Macquarie in anticipation of defending my title from 2013 on a course that I know suits me. The race has been won on the bike in the last five editions; with me the past two, Clayton Fettell the two before that and then Joe Gambles before him. If my bike shape was good, a repeat win was always likely. I had proven bike fitness in my last three races, with World’s in Mont Tremblant, the Beijing International and Philippines 5150. I had seen in my previous two weeks of training since the Philippines that my bike form was carrying through so I was confident going in to Port.
The course in Port is great. It’s a nice swim through a shallow salt water estuary. You’re cutting tangents in and out of yachts to the buoys which keeps it interesting, and also kept me very reliant on the lead kayaker. Sighting this one cold turkey would be hard yakka. After getting out of the water & the wetsuit, it’s off onto a two lap gander on the bike over classic rough rural roads. I like to break this course into two sections; the first hilly coastal section, then the rough and flat dead road out to Lake Cathie. At this point you drop a u-turn and head back the same way. After a net descent on the bike the last 10 minutes, you hit T2 and get in the shoes for another two lap course, mostly flat but exposed to wind and a climb up from the lovely breakwall at the mouth of the Hastings River.
I started the swim on the far right of the line, surprised that everyone was bunched up to the other side. This start was probably the cleanest I’ve experienced in a long time with very little creeping forward. Pat yourselves on the back boys, nothing worse than one guy that’s arrogantly two metres ahead of everyone else. Also no count down from 1 minute to 30 seconds to go etc. helped, that always makes everyone start swimming 10 seconds before the gun. I set off on a solid pace feeling quite good. I kept the tempo high for the first five minutes and glanced around to see that I already had a gap. The start couldn’t have been better really, but the guys behind were no doubt swimming well. I came out of the water with a mere 30-40 seconds on the pack, nevertheless a solid buffer and enough to be out of sight immediately on the bike.
For anyone who raced or watched Mont Tremblant recently, the start of the ride in Port is like the last 20km of the bike on that course, just with a better view. Hard punchy climbs followed by short steep descents giving way to the next peak. My power and tempo was high as I was enjoying testing myself early on, perhaps gaining some sort of metal gauge of what I could expect for the next 80-85km or so. Once clear from the hills, I settled into the flat section holding good watts, around 310-320 for the 15-20minutes out to the turnaround. I knew with this power I would be putting time on the pack. Once at the turnaround I counted back to be about 1:50 clear of the pack, putting over a minute on them in the first quarter of the ride. I was happy with this start, but eager to keep pushing it out.
It was comforting when riding back into town, crossing paths with the AG’ers beginning their journey at 70.3 Port. Seeing other athletes out there that I’m not competing against definitely helps relieve the pressure I put on myself during the bike. After clearing the flat and pushing up the 15-20% or so Mathew Flinders hill I was excited to be back on the net downhill to T2, tucking for 15-30 seconds then jamming up the hills in the 55 ring. After the turnaround back at transition and heading back out, I was checking every corner in the distance in anticipation for the other pros. They went passed and I think I read 1:45, meaning a 3:30 gap had now opened. I cracked a smile as my plan was coming together.
I let my power slip a little on the climbs on the second lap, and relaxed a lot more on the downhills. I had no impetus to make up the 1% of time that I was on the first lap. Besides, one of the bolts on my extensions had come loose on the rough roads and I didn’t want to put any pressure through the bars that would jerk it undone. This proved pretty tricky once we got out to the rough roads and the whole thing came off altogether. I rode with the left extension sitting on the basebar, only attached by the cable. On the climbs, I had to hold it awkwardly between my hand and the hoods. When I made it to the turnaround at 3/4ths of the way through the ride I again began the count to the pack. Once it clicked over 5 minutes I immediately had the feeling I was going to win, and I think the pack ended up going through 5:30 down. Alex Reithmeier (3rd place) was in the lead of the pack at this point though with a little time buffer. It was good to see him taking charge to the pack and having a go. I must say though that being in this position in a race is always fun, there’s always lots of banter and self-talk that goes through my head when in such a commanding position; just little things to keep pushing you on, most of which couldn't be repeated here.
I kept the pressure on the entire way back to T2, and even started getting little twitches of fatigue in my muscles along the way. I was happy with my ride, even though it ended up being 2 minutes slower than the previous year. Factor in the basebar/extension issue and we have a little time, and it’s probably still within the ballpark of last year’s effort. Not bad.
I put the shoes and GPS watch on, and was pretty happy to see the first 3-4km of the run ticked off at 3:30 km’s. Brad Kahlefeldt was the first runner I crossed paths with and I counted that he was 7 minutes back. I knew with that pace I was holding I would have the race sewn up, unless he could put out a 1:08 half mara or faster. It was at this point though the body started to slow cook and 3:30’s quickly went to 3:45’s. I was getting sporadic time checks, not surprised to hear I was bleeding time to Brad. The VMO’s and quads started to load and I was getting really tired, but still confident I was in shape for the win. I kept pushing, kept focussing on good head position, nutrition and turnover. I wasn’t getting faster but I wasn’t getting slower. Crossing paths with Brad again with 8km to go I was less than 3 minutes in front. The confidence turned to nervousness that I might actually lose the race from this position.
The last part of the run was just pure mongrel to stay in front and I’m sure it looked nasty as hell. I’m not a pure runner, so when I don’t have a great uninterrupted preparation leading into a race it definitely shows. This was my 5th race in a 7 week period, hence why my run turned ugly fast. I knew I was holding my ground, but the win was still not guaranteed until I got to that finish chute and when I did I was completely overjoyed. I ended up with 34 seconds on Kahlefeldt in an honest swim/bike vs run battle. Last year I was great to win wire to wire, but I was largely unchallenged with Sam Appo finishing 2nd 4 minutes back. This year I almost got rolled, but got the job done to immense satisfaction. I’ve come pretty close to tearing up at a few 70.3 finishes this year, the two others being St. Croix and Mont Tremblant. Those two the emotion was out of very near failure and the resulting satisfaction in finishing. This was a feeling of pride and accomplishment.
I hope to push on with the season with this spirit for the three races I have left; Nepean, Challenge Shepparton and Western Sydney 70.3. I wish to thank everyone for the support, the fans, followers and sponsors, and especially my parents who came down to watch the race. The first race they’ve both seen me out outside of Noosa since 2007. I love Port Macquarie, I’ll be back in 2015 and I hope to see some of you there!
Photo credits- Delly Carr, www.nashyspix.com & Port Macquarie News
I should have had this done earlier, but shit happens.
Three weeks ago I was one of seven pros invited to compete in the Beijing International Triathlon. It was to be my third race in a row after HyVee & Mont Tremblant. While athletes are perennially re-writing the rule books on exactly how many races can be seamlessly backed up week after week (looking at you Javier), I'd never attempted such a busy three week racing block with so many time changes in between. I knew it would be hard to race for the third week in a row, but the positive was that I was carrying a lot of fitness from my build into World Champs. With a couple days off training traveling from Mont Tremblant to Beijing, I also knew I would be somewhat fresh (apart from the dirty long haul travel clothes).
Some background on the Beijing International Tri
- 2014 was the third year running
- invite only professional field, open entry Age Group race
- sister event to Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon (both IMG races)
- features a refreshing 100k prize purse
- course very similar to Escape from Alcatraz, minus the sand and swell
- serves as a qualifying race for Escape From Alcatraz the following year
It's obviously an exclusive event to be part of as a pro. The first year it was announced, I had already booked and paid for my flights to Beijing before I found out I wasn't invited, a costly mistake. This year I was very excited to get the official nod and invitation to race. Joining me in the Men's pro race was evergreen Javier Gomez, Greg Bennett, Mario Mola, Graham O'Grady, Matt Reed and Brian Fleischmann.
I drew this race into comparison with Mont Tremblant for one reason, to show myself that I am better than the athlete that placed 28th in the 70.3 World Champs the week before Beijing. Race dynamics and often the final result are directly affected by number and quality of the athletes on the the start line, and the individual strengths of each of these athletes. In my case, the fewer on the startline means I have a better chance of a result. Obviously this is the case with anything to do with odds, but I'm saying this is a sense that with fewer athletes in a triathlon, the more it becomes and overall swim, bike and run test, not just a test of ones ability to sit in a pack on the swim & bike. While my running is no where near the standard of many other athletes, I believe I am one of the better overall triathletes, and I feel my 2nd place result in Beijing validates that fact. Now, off from the soapbox...here's what happened
The day started with a simple layout for the swim course. There was a bit of breeze about. I always welcome as much chop on the water as possible, and this played into the hands of Javier and I being the strongest swimmers in the field. I knew it was always going to be him & I swimming up front, but who would lead was something I was unsure of. That always gets sorted out in the first few hundred metres. After the gun and after some frantic strokes, I looked around to see Javier and I clear of the field but at a deadlock. A few more hundred metres went by with neither of us giving an inch, so I decided to drop back to save the gas. The gap was growing and so was the grin on my face. The race was on.
Javi was always going to be near impossible to beat in the race, but I knew I was a chance of 2nd if I could hold Greg Bennett off on the bike to have a buffer into the run, and Mario Mola on the final few KM's of the run when he would possibly fly through the field. The other guys were all fit, but Greg & Mario were the biggest threats obviously after Javi. 2nd place was my realistic goal, and having a good gap out of the swim on these athletes was the best possible start in reaching this goal.
After the swim exit, we had a nice and comfortable 800m run to T1, replicating the run out of the bay in Alcatraz. Surprisingly, Javi let me lead, probably with the goal in mind of staying behind me the whole of the 40km ride. I was cool with this, as long as we were putting time into the others. I felt great from the start of the ride, which was a really fun course over perfect asphalt the entire way. The great folk of IMG & Fengtai/Beijing had crafted immaculate roads, even some one way sections specifically for the triathlon. We were met by significant climbs and false flats almost the entire way.
After putting pressure on Javi through the first half dozen u-turns, I was able to break clear and continue my goal of riding time into Greg & Mario. I felt great up the climbs and my descending was sharp. While the lead car was always about 400m up the road, I was able to catch it on the first technical descent and had to coast behind with the brakes almost locked. I was nervous at this point, not wanting Javi to catch me. A car or motorbike is never going to be able to descend faster than a motivated cyclist, and moments like these are always the longest seconds of the race. Eventually we reached the bottom of the descent and it was business as usual heading out to the turn-around, the first opportunity to gauge time and place.
I had a good amount of time on Javi and Greg was just behind. I was happy with the gap, and happier with my effort. I can always push harder when I'm comfortable and not agitated. There was no opportunity to see placing of time the rest of the 40km, so I did my best to stay smooth and powerful whilst best predicting the movement of the wild village dogs. The course was lined by villagers most of the way which was really special, many of whom are probably only seeing triathlon for the first time.
In the interest of comparing races, I found that I put more effort in the ride at Worlds than I did in Beijing, and was easily able to drop Javi early into the ride in Beijing whereas he held on until very late into the ride at Mont Tremblant. There's many variable at play here, but one that's at the top of the pile was there was simply more athletes around him on the bike in Mont Tremblant. Sure you can say he was more motivated at Worlds than Beijing to hold wheels, but I think it's a fair call to say riding with 8 other guys around you is much easier than 1. Of further note is the fact that every Olympic Distance race the last few years, Greg Bennett has caught me by at least 15km into the ride, even after a similar swim deficit of 1 minute. On this day he only rode 3 seconds faster than me. It's easy to say that when there's less athletes, there's less legal & illegal drafting, and less tactics; it's more of a pure time trial. In no way am I saying here that Greg drafts. Greg's a great cyclist and is a fair racer. It's just that it's much easier and faster to ride within the rules with athletes around oneself than without, especially with the stagger rule in the US. As a faster swimmer with less company, I'm always more disadvantaged than Greg, unless he has a smaller amount of athletes around him as was the case in this race.
So with all this aside, I got into T2 with 1 minute on Greg and 1:10 on Javi.
I was on the run and feeling good. I'm always a much better runner off the bike when the ride is a steady effort. Javi was running fast, but I knew the other boys would have a hard time catching me if I kept myself together. There's a section on this run course with 606 stairs, up and down, with a lot more climbing and downhills in between. We basically run up stairs, around a monolithic pagoda, then back down. Absolutely stunning part of the course, but simply the most sustained pain I've ever endured, no exceptions. Ignore that elevation chart above, that's wrong. You know it's a slow course when Javi only runs a 34:31. He caught me just before the beginning of the stairs at the 4km mark. Funnily enough he attacked me, saying after the race that he can never be too sure about winning after racing the Brownlees so many times. I watched him bound up two stairs at a time. Comparatively, I was walking after about a dozen. The fear of Benno catching me kept me moving however, and after shaking off some near cramps I made it safely at the bottom with only 4km to go. This was an all-out dash to the line, with Javi in the distance giving me some comfort I was still going well. The final part of the course was crazy technical and fun. I almost forgot about the battle behind weaving in and out of the paths and trees with a drone following overhead, but I eventually made it to the line, just 79 seconds shy of Javi, and 37 seconds clear of Greg. I was overjoyed.
While the talent in the race was enormous, the field was small. At the end of the day the race was a pure time trial, unlike Mont Tremblant the week before. This comparison trumps all. To me, this is the pure essence of non-drafting triathlon, how an athlete fares against the clock, against others, when all tactics are removed. Javi is the best, and Greg has had one of the best and most consistent careers in the history of the sport. It was an honor to share the podium with these two.
The Beijing International was a fantastic event. The water was clean, the air quality was good, and the course was amazing. It allowed a pure race, and best of all, everyone had a smile at the finish, feeling as if they had achieved no matter the result. It was also a pleasure to see the enthusiasm for triathlon from the Chinese. It's a sport that seems to be on the fringes of popularity in this country, and there was an incredible amount of enthusiasm for the professional athletes. I hope to return to Fengtai every year, and if you're interested in racing, keep an eye out for a 2015 date in the coming months on http://www.beijinginternationaltriathlon.com/
Like many others, Mont Tremblant was my goal race for the year and I couldn't have imagined being fitter on the start line. Training was going great, my July races showed good signs of form and I was confident that I was going to have a really good race. Considering it was the highest caliber field to ever toe the line in a 70.3, I would have been happy with a top 10. I finished 28th. The only happiness I can take away from the race is the fact that I gave it a go. At the end of the day, I wasn't racing for a top 10, I was racing for something more like a top 5 or 3. Lofty yes, but it doesn't motivate me to imagine racing for something like 8th, 9th or 10th. It's this kind of attitude that had me ride off the front in Vegas last year, and similarly had me blow up and finish 28th this year, but that's the risk that it takes for me to get a top result at a World Championship when I don't yet have crazy run ability. The reality is the level is phenominal at the moment. I gave everything I had on the bike to try and get away from the main players. I only decided to back it off at 20km to go when I knew it just wasn't going to happen. With the remaining 20km being the hardest part of the bike course, I really never gave myself a chance to be competitive on a long grueling run. But before I go on, let's start at the beginning...
The swim felt good. After the start I swam stroke for stroke with Frodo for several hundred meters. The pace was solid so I was happy to sit behind and let him continue setting the pace. Once or twice I went up again to take the lead but again was content with the pace. By the end Javier had come up and was jostling with Frodo. I again sat back conserving as much as I could. After the exit and long run to T1, I had some sort of idea about who was around us, but no idea about who was just behind. I set out on the bike and took a good turn to try and string it out in the case there was a long line of athletes behind. Pretty quickly Frodo and Ben Collins came around me, which was exactly how I imagined and hoped it would be at this point.
By the pace we were going, I had no doubt in my mind that if there was a group that was behind it would split. I was never further back than 4th wheel the entire race, so at no point did I ever have a comprehensive understanding of how many/what athletes were behind me, I just knew we were riding fast. All I was concerned about was doing my bit at the front to keep the tempo high, and going with the attacks when they went. By the time we hit the turnaround, I believe about 30km in, I couldn't believe how many athletes were still hanging on, and how many were close to catching up. The highway that we were riding on was flat and unchallenging, but the terrain was about to get harder. I kept my cool as I knew there was another chance to push the pace on a steep climb ahead.
Ben Collins was ahead at the time we reached the climb, and whether he attacked or just kept and even tempo is unclear, what was clear however was that there was a small gap. At the top of the hill I knew it was a chance to go. I committed and went around Ben, and spent the next 15 minutes on the rivet trying to consolidate our gap. Ben failed to come around me again so we lost a lot of momentum and some athletes found their way back to us. These were the best of the best however, so I would expect these guys to always chase a gap. We hit another u-turn and I could see almost all of the weaker cyclists had dropped off at this point. I pushed on somewhat appeased with this outcome.
I continued to push at the front with Frodo the only one also doing his bit until Joe Gambles came around with 20km to go. The only ones to see the front the entire race were Joe, Frodo, Ben and myself. I'm kind of proud of this even though it really means f**k all. But if anything, I felt as if I rode well and hard; a strategy that thankfully rewards me from time to time. Maybe if there was some better officiating it would have been a different outcome at the end of the bike, but like I said before, I was never farther back than 4th wheel so it's impossible for me to say if there was cheating in the front pack. As for the cheating going on behind us, I don't have to say much that hasn't already been said & seen. But for what it's worth, I will repost some soundbites.
Sebastian Kienle is among the most genuine & authentic athletes in the sport. A hard working, no BS champion. When he says something like this, you know there's a problem...
Of further interest, here's a shot just after Gambles took the lead from me at 70km. Frodo is behind and we're all keeping a legal distance (maybe except for 4th, but I don't know who that is). Contrast that with an image from the same photographer at the same angle and space on the course, and you have a clear example of a typical race day injustice that sadly affects us all. If you can spot yourself in the seconds pic, punch yourself in the face (It brings me shame that there's a lot of Aussies in this pack).
Here's my Quarq file from the ride. It's one of my best rides ever as far an NP goes, but with probably just too many matches burned, not unlike my ride from Vegas last year.
My run has been going really well in training, so even as I got off the bike a bit tired, I still felt as if I would be able to pull through. I never bothered trying to keep up with any of the better runners that went past (Frodeno, Gomez, Don, Gambles, Reed, Terenzo, Frommhold etc.), I just wanted to go my own pace confident I would be able to build into it knowing how hard the course was. I made it to the turnaround pretty much last out of the guys I got off the bike with, but still about 8th place I think. Only another 10 minuntes down the road I would already be out of the top 10, and slipping into a state of inescapable fatigue after a hard bike ride. I gobbled down all my three gels I'd packed by the end of the first lap hoping for a second wind, but it never came. It didn't hurt, I was just out of gas. In fact I couldn't hurt myself at all I was that far gone. As the age groupers fresh out onto the course were passing me, I turned the emotions off and immediately started thinking about Beijing the following week. There ain't no difference between finishing 18th and 28th to me, so it was never in my interest to fight for such positions.
It's no excuse, but at 25 I'm still young. I anticipate with each passing year I can be stronger than the previous. I still have ambition, but each race like this it's checked into more of a long term focus. I believe I have the right team around me to go the distance, and I'm looking forward to continuing my journey as an athlete. Sorry if at times this blog read like an excuse, but I only ever want a fair race. I train for a fair race, and expect nothing less than an unconditional respect for the rule by my competitors on race day and for officials to do what is required of them. Please don't punish me for that. Thanks goes to those who've supported me along the way, and congratulations goes to the athletes that were better than me on the day. I look forward to rounding out the season with some racing Australia. Cheers