I've been putting this blog off for exactly two weeks now, because of no particular reason other than a mired literal apathy and the fact there's nothing overly good to write about. This wont be a negative blog by any means, just a blog about mistakes & lessons!
Mistake #1- don't be a dickhead and travel earlier next time.
My body and mental focus turned around quickly from the bad result in St. Anthony's a week preceeding St. Croix. The good outcome was that I had accumulated little fatigue that from the race in Florida because I had hardly 'raced' it. It was one of those ones where you just walk away scratching your head, wondering just 'what the f**k happened'. My excuse lay firmly with the jetlag that I experienced leading into St. A's, which unfortunately didn't dissipate leading into St. Croix either. While I wasn't sore at all, and felt ready to race again over the hard course in St. Croix, I just wasn't sleeping. I would fall asleep every night without much issue, but would wake up every morning around 3:30am for a slash and then never get back to sleep. I was staying on the island with a doctor, and even a cocktail of prescribed sleeping pills couldn't stop the early wakes up, nor going to bed consuming less fluid. I was lucky I had a wonderful homestay however, and everything was taken care of and I could just focus on the race that lay ahead, just with a little time-zone disorientation. I was so anxious to get out there that time stood still in the days leading into the race. Race morning eventually came, but not before a cracking 2 hours of sleep the night before. Don't you just love that!
Mistake #2- Over-confident swim sighting
The swim started really well. After a successful beach start I took the lead from Aussie youngblood Sam Douglas 100m in. I got to work to build some gaps in the field and was feeling great. We had an outrigger that was sighting the course for us but about 400m into the swim I noticed he was going way of course, paddling to the far left. I put my head up to see where the buoys were & looked around to see where my competition was. I had built a small solo lead and readjusted my position for the first turning bouy. At this point, it was an acute turn to the next sighting buoy. Because of the sloppy lines the outrigger was setting, I decided to disregard his course, and set my sights on what I thought was the next sighting buoy. I realised a few minutes later I was off course when I swam into someone coming from the other way. Oops, yep, better turn around and find out where the f*** I am. I was so far off course it was crazy. I didn't know whether we had to keep every buoy on our right so I swam back to the most recent bouy just to be safe in case I would have been DQ'd in T1. I panicked so hard I had this instant surge of energy and my pace lifted dramatically. My race plan was to stay with Ben Collins on the bike for as long as I could, assuming he was fit & healthy. Last year he rode 2 minutes quicker than Lance Armstrong (raced in St. Croix in 2012), and I happen to stick with him last year until 35km in when I flatted. I knew it was realistic to ride with him, but unrealistic to ride him down. At this point I feared my race had gone down the toilet & I would never make it back up to the lead.
I rounded the buoy and it wasn't long until I caught a pack. I hoped it was the lead one but I recognised some suits of slower swimmers. Shit, better get back to work. I pulled away from the group and saw another ahead. It took me a couple of minutes to bridge the gap but I made it & was relieved to see the suits of TO, Sam Douglas, Ben Collins & Brad Kahlefeldt. I was a little winded from the extra effort, but swam to the front and took the swim lead out.
Mistake #3 - Zero patience on the bike
Onto the bike, I was happy to sit in 3rd wheel for a while to rebuild some of the energy I lost from the swim. Everyone was going to wait and see what Ben Collins would do anyway so this worked for the meantime. Ben had different ideas though, and it was evident to me early on his strategy was different to what we all imagined, and what I had maniacally hoped for. There were points where he was slowing down to the point where we had to pass to keep any sort of pace. I was in second wheel at one point and reluctantly took the lead from him. I rode to my watts, but I was feeling good so I wasn't too concerned about blowing a gasket early on.
The thing about this course is that the pressure is on the whole way, with bestial hills and malevolent winds, with no reprieve from the scorching sun at any point. A third of the way in you hit a climb called 'The Beast', aptly named as it's a 6-7min grind in the 28 ring at V02 max. They say the race doesn't really start until this point, so I was eager to hit it pretty fresh.
I receded from the lead about 10 minutes before the climb to conserve energy. I expected Ben to gun the climb. In the pack we had Brad Kahlefeldt sitting in, obviously new to non-drafting but an absolute parasite on the bike nonetheless. I knew we needed to get rid of him at some point, but sooner would always be better than later. At a point before the climb I looked back to see him an arms-length away in complete disregard for the rules. Someone like TO was always going to be hard to get rid of, but I hoped Ben and I could break away up the Beast. We got to the climb and I took the lead. I hammered away and looked back a couple minutes into the climb to see I was unexpectedly by myself. If someone had gone with me at this point, the outcome for the race would certainly have been much different for myself because this is where I committed to going solo, and it was just far too early to do so if I wanted to remain in one piece.
I looked back again almost at the top of the climb and I could make out Ben dropping off the back. He was having a bad day. I knew I could outrun Ben off the bike, but not TO or Brad. If there was someone ideally ride with it would have been Ben. Now that I was ahead though I felt like I needed to stay ahead. I began the descent motivated and chanted to myself the race had just begun.
No matter what point in the 90km from here, I would look around to see TO the exact same distance behind as before. Into crushing winds we rode about 45seconds apart until the last section of the tailwind where he got really close to me, almost catching and overtaking. I was happy he was by himself and had dropped the others, but I regretted not having more patience to sit up at one point and wait for him. If I had done this, I would have saved a lot more gas for the run, and essentially got off the bike at the same point, or maybe even further up the road had we worked well together. It's not like I was ruined from the ride, but I sure was tired.
For some stats, I had the 3rd quickest split in the history of the race behind Lance Armstrong (3 minutes) and Marino Van Hoenacker (10 seconds). Ben Collins last year rode 2 minutes into Lance's time but passed out on the run. I averaged 281wNP for the 90km, and 377NP for 6:25 up the Beast, which is 5.98w/kg. Ouch! For a full summary you can head over the the case study on Best Bike Split. They predicted my bike split to within one minute of my end time.
Mistake #4 - I sucked on the run. Not really a mistake, but it's the truth.
It's a really hard run course. Rolling hills on asphalt take you out to a golf course on grass & gravel, with lots of steep pinches & rhythm breakers. This kind of course just doesn't suit me.
I ran out of T1 at a good pace. Faster than what I should have, but still holding back to a degree. I felt fine. I was keen to battle with TO, and I was confident. He caught me after 1km and I sat in on him. Soon after we hit the first hill and I curled over in cramps. The first rise & I cramp. Not a good sign. I had great nutrition the entire ride, and got all my electrolytes in with my new Instinct products, but I think my legs just weren't ready for hills after such a hard effort on the bike. I stopped, stretched and watched TO run out of sight. Brad caught me about 5km in which was expected considering my slow plodding. After the cramps I was just never able to find a rhythm, and by the half way I only had 2 minutes on Reudi Wild and the other chasers. I yielded about 3 minutes to them on the first lap which just wasn't good enough and they pulled me in really quickly. Things just went from bad to worse. By 4km to go I was in 6th and was staying there. I didn't have the gas to go with anyone who passed me, and it was a long slog to the finish. I didn't give up, but I was close to having a pit stop for #2's. If there was a portajohn I would have. Lucky there wasn't or I would have finished out of the money.
Running down the finish chute I was overcome with emotion. It was a hard honest day and a tough reality to finish in 6th. I really wanted to win the race. I think no matter what, even if I had swum on course and share the workload on the bike with TO, even if it was a flat run, TO still would have beaten me. He had an amazing race. But I look at what happened and believe that I should have been on the podium. It's not the end of the world and I have moved on, but I wanted a podium badly. I will come back to this course in the future and try again when I am stronger.
*thanks to Lee Gruenfeld for the pics*