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.