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