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!