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
On Sunday I finished 19th in HyVee. Not a result to be desired, nor one to be proud of. The reality is I'm getting slower at Olympic Distance, and the excitement is no longer there. Partly due to the priority of half-distance racing in my schedule, and partly due to the serious lack of apathy on courses and formats in the Olympic Distance circuit.
HyVee is a race you want to do because the money is so good. It's a 100k win. This was my 4th year of running in the race, & I've always gone by the philosophy that you can't not enter the race if you have the opportunity. I think I will now bury this mantra unless they actually bring the romance back to this race. It's a reality that I'll never win this race, I've always known this. I'm just simply not a fast enough runner, nor do I want to put in the work to get my 10km run fast enough. If I wanted to do this I would still be doing ITU racing. The unfortunate thing is non-drafting racing is no longer a true swim/bike/run test with terrible courses like the one we were dealt with on the weekend. This race has nothing left but money. No excitement, not even a Twitter feed of updates during the race. I don't do triathlon because it pays well, I do triathlon for the fun and the competition.
So without the litany of excuses and negativity above, here's what happened. I have to mention the swim start because it was really really botched. They have fireworks just before start during the US national anthem. After they had placed us 'in the starters hands', someone lit some more fireworks. Whether it was a mistake or intention is hard to say. I was one of the few ran in the water thinking that was the starting gun, and there was a split second of awkward flailing into the water realising I had false started. It was at that point the real starters gun went off. I was lucky I had an unintentional advantageous position heading into the swim because I felt like absolute balls. I was in the lead from the start but was hoping for someone to swim around me which unfortunately never happened.
Out of the water, we had a longish run to transition. I was on the bike in 3rd position I think, with the feet quickly in the shoes trying to peek through the open nose piece of my fogged helmet visor. Two things were certain, Cam Dye was riding away quick and the bunch behind me was forming. The flat nature of the course immediately bunched everyone up, only someone the ability of Cam was able to stay away. Many times attempts were made by athletes to fly off the front, but all were checked. Nothing more to report here that hasn't been said.
I was off the bike in second position, hoping the run legs would come. I've been training great on the run, but have done very little work at Olympic pace. I don't like to make excuses when I'm racing though and always expect myself to be competitive. I was pretty shattered when I was swarmed by more than a dozen athletes out of T2 as a top 10 was hard to imagine from this point on. I battled on hoping to feel a second wind that never came, crossing the line with heavy legs in 19th.
The goal was always more set on Tremblant as the sun continues to set on my Olympic Distance ability. Which each race like this I do I looked forward to a half and full distance career. My average on the bike ended up being 297w, wit,yh last 70.3 at 303w. It's like the bump in intensity takes me down a notch from my threshold. Eyes are on the prize in Mont Tremblant, but with no expectation other than to put myself in a position for a good result. With this kind of field, it's hard to know what a good result will be, top 5 or 10 sounds nice, but we'll see what happens. If I end up doing a flier off the front again, just know I'm in a much better shape than last year, and I've actually been training to race like I did in Vegas. Allez...
Josh Amberger's IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship Preparation
Thursday, August 28, 2014 | By AJ Johnson
On September 7th, 55 pro male athletes will line up at Mt. Tremblant, Quebec to race for the 70.3 World Championship. One of those athletes is Australian Josh Amberger. Known for his strong swim/bike combination, Amberger started working with coach Cliff English to find new ways to get even faster. Here’s a look into Amberger’s training leading up to Mt. Tremblant.
The Key Bike Session
English believes in race specific efforts, which of course are more critical the closer you get to race day. “I’m a huge fan of the longer tempo format for the ride, whether they are 20, 30, or 40 minute intervals definitely incorporating the terrain you are preparing for,” says English.
Muncie 70.3 wasn't on my race calendar four weeks ago, and to be honest I never expected to return to the namesake town after I raced there two years ago. It was one of the most desolate race experiences I've ever had as the event was held in the middle of the heatwave. The earth was scored and the land was barren. The atmosphere, the vibe of the race has to be right for me to go deep, and mother nature didn't present Muncie well the last time we met.
That being said, if the timing is right for a race, I will still show. Muncie fitted well as it has HyVee points attached (I didn't make the first round of qualifications), and it was better to get a 70.3 out of the way a week earlier before I traveled back home, rather than travelling home straight off the 70.3 race course. I'm racing Kansas 5150 tomorrow and then travelling, which makes more sense (again, I need the HyVee points).
Straight up, my experience this time around in Muncie was fantastic. The climate was nice, the fields were green and my mind was in a great space after a successful training block. The course is fast, but not entirely flat. There was still gain on the bike and run to be found, though the run was certainly more challenging than the bike. The competition was tough but not deep, though I knew winning here was always going to be a challenge on two accounts. Arguably the best cyclist (on flatter courses) in the sport, and best runner in the sport (valid but I confess still moot) were both present. I would need to be on top of my game to conquer both Andrew Starykowicz and Lionel Sanders. If you haven't heard of the latter athlete, get out of the gutter and pay attention!
The race plan was simple. Swim strong and at the front. Ride until Starky catches me then grit the teeth and see how long I can play, then run faster than he does, whether I'm behind or in front. Lionel has been cycling very inconsistently, but I knew that his bike leg was lethal enough to put him close behind and in striking distance for the run if he was having a good one.
The day started with a wetsuit swim in dangerous 24c/75f water temp (measured with the 'WTC' thermometer). This swim was all about trying to keep to a steady pace without overheating. As soon as the gun went I took my cap off and went about breaking things up. I was swapping leads with David Kahn until I make a push for the front at half way and stayed there. I could see the shore from 800m out, quietly teasing me while I baked in the reservoir. The water was warm and the core temperature much warmer.
I had anticipated the discomfort in the swim and had left an bottle of iced Instinct electrolytes at my transition spot. I sculled half a bottle while stomping out of my wetsuit. I did this so I didn't immediately drink my half of my biddon as soon as I mounted the bike, which would have left minimal amounts for the 90km ahead.
I felt good from mount line, but I was frequently glancing down seeing what was coming out of my Quarq. I was holding a tick over 300w average and knew this was uncharted territory for a half. I had done 297w in Port Mac 70.3 last year which was my best ride to date, and even though I'd done these numbers in training there was a chance it was still too much. I was focused though, and feeling good. When I have minimal movement in my hands, I know it's going to be a good day. I was steady, and Starky was still behind by about 45 seconds at the first turnaround. I had him under pressure, but I knew he would catch me by the next turnaround. Going over the race plan in my head before the race, I toyed with potentially riding easy until he caught me, or alternatively running the risk of burning some matches before the battle began. I was in control, so I wanted to run the risk. I also had a feeling he was not expecting this and perhaps didn't know anything about my abilities on the bike, so I wanted to intimidate him a little.
He rode up to me at 41-2km into the cycle. I expected him to attack, and predictably he did just that. I had spoken to Andrew Yoder before the race to gain an understanding of his tactics, so I was fortunate to know the moments to raise the watts. Admittedly, he had me against the ropes for the first 10 or so minutes, but I was able to quickly dissect his ride style which made for many opportunities to recover and relax, helping me regain my breathe and poise. There were points where I thought I was as good a dropped, but I always found my way back to his 6.
I had the support of Zipp legend Dave 'Rip' Ripley out on the course, and it was motivation enough to be riding with Starky everytime I passed Rip. I knew once I passed Rip for the last time at 70km that I would be with Starky until the end. Naively, Starky didn't realise I was still with him until about 10km to go, but I had enough attention to realise Lionel Sanders was also having the ride of his life and wasn't losing much time to us at all. Starky kept the pressure on until the end to try and notch one under 2 hours, but he fell just 20 seconds short. I tapped the lap button at 90km just short of the dismount line, and recorded my best ever time of 2:01:12, with a 304NP (4.75w/kg) and VI of 1.01. I couldn't be happier with my ride. A lot of respect goes out to Starky who literally does this every time he toes the line. I'll keep dreaming... and training.
I was fortunate to have good legs off the bike. I was unsure whether at some points to just let Starky go and try to catch him on the run in fear of tanking myself, but I was just to obsessed by the goal of riding with him that I just pedalled and hoped. I took the lead a couple hundred meters in the run, and just did my thing trying to dial in a good pace. It was a very rolling half marathon, hard to get any sort of rhythm for a few minutes or longer before you were belted by the next hill. I was slowly making distance in front of Starky, but just before the turnaround Lionel Sanders came burning around me with his freakish foot speed. The chance of running with him was nil, and thus so was the win. I felt a little deflated and had a small loss of speed, but knew second was still where I wanted to be rather than third. I still was able to run in well after dropping down a gear and finish over a minute ahead of Starky.
I crossed the line satisfied with 2nd place, but still yearning for a win. Out of nowhere the Canadian Lionel Sanders has set a new bar for us all, and he had a jaw dropping performance to take the win. This result leaves me confident for Mont Tremblant in September, and my form is still building. I'm looking forward to returning home after Kansas 5150 tomorrow to refresh and cap the last few months of training. I'm always able to find another gear in my home environment of Brisbane, so it's an exciting prospect for me to return home.
An epitaph from this race is to further admire Starky. He has little to work with in terms of efficiency, but he has been able to maximise absolutely everything he has to work with. It's amazing to think someone with a body like he has can run as fast as he does after punishing the pedals as hard as he does. It's commendable, and something I hope I'm able to get out of myself, to squeeze every last gain I can out of my body. At that point, I will be content. Until then, the training must go on.
I'm never one to hold back details, so I'll just say it. I found out two days before Escape from Alcatraz that I had a parasite. I found out the unpleasant way. Not nice. I think I got it in St. Croix 5-6 weeks earlier, but I'll never really know. I spent that day in San Francisco running around a city I didn't know trying to get into a doctor to get it sorted out. It explained a few things though, like why the training block in Tucson was littered with many more bad days than usual, especially on the bike. But the here and now was to get a test done, get some medication, and get on with the race and think about my condition afterwards.
Once the race was over, the next thing was to plan what was next. The plan was to back up Escape from Alcatraz 6 days later with the 70.3 in Boise Idaho. After a conversation with my friend & manager Evan Gallagher from BPM, he had me convinced in the moment that I didn't need to go race in Boise, to focus on getting healthy straight away. I thought about it lot, about pulling the pin on Boise. In the end, I decided to go and race, for the reasoning that I wasn't in that bad a shape from the parasite, and because I know the course in Boise and had a great homestay setup that makes being in town easy. Had it been a race or location I wasn't familiar with I probably would have pulled out. I committed myself to racing, and boarded the plane for Boise.
The startlist in Boise was strong. It got easier in the days leading into the race with Crowie and Ben Hoffman pulling the pin, but McMahon, Wurtele, Bell, Twelsiek and some other great athletes were still present. This didn't deter me as I thought the course, conditions and 12noon start time were advantageous to me. I wanted to flex my muscle. Because of the ailment, I knew I wasn't at my best physically or mentally, but the will was there and sometimes that's all you need.
It's the weirdest feeling racing Boise. You're standing there in the baking heat, but waiting to step into ice cold water. The water was almost the same temperature as the bay in San Francisco a week earlier. It is however a gorgeous swim in the chilled clean/fresh water, not often do we have this luxury in Triathlon. Once the gun went off I settled into a rhythm, but had Kevin Everett on my hip. Hip swimming is one of those things, it's easier for the one on the hip, but harder for the one whose hydrodynamics are compromised. It's like having a anchor holding you down. I was keen for Kevin to swim with me because I wanted company on the bike, but I wanted to break him off my side which took a bit of cat and mouse. I eventually got out by myself and started to wind it up a little. The swim was almost too short, I didn't feel like I got into a rhythm until the last few hundred meters. I excited first with Kevin and Brent McMahon behind. I didn't panic, I wanted company on the bike as I mentioned before.
Out of transition it was clear Kevin was keen to set the pace. I sat in and tried to get some sort of clue who was where, and how far behind. The bike course was like one big wide open space, and it soon became clear an athlete behind was determined to bridge. It kept me guessing for five minutes or so who it could be and I was surprised to see it was Luke Bell. We weren't riding slow, so Luke must have been feeling great. It was right when Luke tacked onto the train that I heard the ping of metal on the road and instantly I thought I had lost a bidon cage from my behind my saddle. That theory was flattened when I felt my saddle slam back moments later. I had lost a bolt from my seat clamp and one rail was totally naked in the air, nothing pinning it in place.
With all the preparation a triathlete can do for a race, it's a big blow to think it can all be undone because of a careless mechanical. I wondered how long it would take until my seat fell off entirely. At this point in the race about 20 minutes in, I thought I would be on the side of the road in a few minutes starting the long walk home, but I managed to stay in the pack, uncomfortably pivoting up and down on the saddle with its position as far back as the rails would allow. I found myself shifting around every 3-4 seconds, trying to get the saddle to some sort of horizontal position, but every effort was in vain. This was going to be a long ride.
We eventually got to a decent climb about 3-4 minutes in length. I was frustrated by sitting in the pack, it's just not my style and it was bugging me. Despite needing to sit in to compensate every watt I was losing from the limp seat position, I went to the front and hammered up the climb. It's easy in hindsight to say this was a mistake because I probably burnt the only match I had. I stayed on the front another 10 minutes or so until we got to the turnaround, at which point I was happy to sit back in. The boys had other ideas though and attacks started going, firstly by Luke Bell who had freshened up from his bridge at the start of the race. I had no power to respond, I was just getting nothing from the legs. At this point I resigned to the fact I would be fighting to finish the ride, as the perceived effort went up and the watts went down.
The next hour on the bike was one of the most mentally toughest periods I have endured in racing. I was getting shelved everywhere on the bike by guys that I know are no better than I. I couldn't even keep in a legal draft. The Boise 'steppe' is no place for a weak mind, and even though I could see the guys ahead who dropped me, I knew I was only going to get further behind. I made concessions with myself to get me to the end. The first concession was that it would be easier to actually finish the ride than wait for the sag wagon. The second concession was that as soon as I had finished the race I would book a flight back home to Australia and it would all be okay. That was the main thought that kept me going during the race, a flight home. A third reason I continued was simply that I needed the points to secure my spot for Mont Tremblant. In between all those thoughts were sub-thoughts cursing myself for not tightening a bolt The seat was now moving either every pump of the legs. I normally have the problem of over-tightening bolts and stripping threads. Shit happens...
I had memorised my bike split from Boise in 2013. I had a strong bike last year, but I knew between my stronger legs and faster equipment that I could go much faster. In thinking before the race, I was looking forward to seeing the time at dismount line minutes ahead of said memorised split. In reality, I watched that split tick over and knew I was still a good 4-5 minutes from T2. I just couldn't wait to get off that bike, I'd only gotten slower in the last 10 miles. I eventually made it.
I felt like a beginner getting off the bike, that same hurt I felt trying to run off the bike in my first triathlon. It was an odious feeling; my muscles hadn't taken well to the numerous different positions of the loose saddle. I was that far back in the field that I didn't put any pressure on myself to start cranking the first few miles. It would have been a victory just to finish the race. I saw Crowie on the sideline, he said something to me that I can't remember. I thought about stopping and telling the champ about my misfortune, an excuse as to why I was so far behind, but I chose to labour on as I had a better place to be; the finish line.
The first few miles were really lonely. I'm used to being up the front off the bike, so I either have a lead cyclist or other athletes around me in the race. This time I had nothing, no one in front, no one behind. It felt like I was on a training run, there were no race emotions. This all changed when I caught the first glimpse of 5th place up ahead. The turnover picked up. If I was a dog, my tail would have been wagging. I caught and passed Derek Garcia, a guy with an amazing story as a recent cancer patient who fought the illness throughout 2012. This was no time to be sympathetic though, I wanted my dignity back. I immediately started looking for 4th place.
I finished the first lap and immediately welcomed the presence of AG'ers on the course. Anyone to race against to keep the fire alive was all I needed, no matter how quickly I caught them. The turnover was good at this point, and the KM splits started to get faster, I felt like I was racing again. At about mile 10 I saw someone ahead and I could make out a bald patch on the back of his head. Could this have been Maik Twelsiek in 4th place? I surged to try and catch, confirmed it was Maik and quickly made the pass. I was in 4th.
I held the pace until the second last mile when I saw Luke Bell in 3rd place on an out and back section. I counted and he was just under 4 minutes ahead. I had done what I thought was impossible, to claw my way back to a decent, but there was going to be no podium heroics today. I cruised in the last mile of the race and was temporarily appeased with 4th place. A little victory of the self, I was able to control the uncontrollable on the bike, but I was in no way satisfied with the outcome. I sit here now in Vail CO 8 days after the race and am still not satisfied. I was able to put the emotions of the race aside and continue on with my training an race plan here in the USA, but I guess that's what racers feel, that's why they get up everyday; to feel that feeling of having done their best possible. I can only be satisfied when I have that feeling. I want to race right now to make up for the disappointment, but that's not good for the season goal at World Champs. I am hungry to feel that satisfaction. Post-parasite & Boise mechanical, I have a lot to look forward too....
Like many athletes out there, Escape from Alcatraz has been one of those races I've always wanted to do. I've flirted with the chance to race a couple of times before, also not unlike people out there who have to enter a lottery to gain a start for the event. The first chance I had to race was back in 2008 as a 19 year old, but ultimately dates conspired against me, and the ITU Junior World Champs in Vancouver happened to fall on the same weekend. Every year since then, my plans had me on another continent on raceday, so the stars never really aligned. This trend continued last year when I had signed up for the race with flights booked, only to sustain a stress fracture 10 days before race start. Cancel that trip.
2014 rolled around without any major mishaps, and I got to San Francicso fresh off a training block in Tucson AZ, mentally ready for the challenge ahead. The race was going to be challenging for two reasons. Firstly, the field was hot. Andy Potts was starting as a 5 time winner. This race is pretty much his home turf, he's got it nailed. Bevan Docherty was also coming off a win in IMTX two weeks earlier. Little training in between races had him fresh for Alcatraz with surprisingly vicious short course speed. I wanted a win, but these two guys were always going to make it diffucult Among some other strong starters were Graham O'Grady, Matt Reed and Brian Flieschmann, both either with past winners or podiums on this course. The second challenge was the course itself. It's a swim that everyone struggles with, no matter what ability. Currents and brutal chop hold back even the best. Not to mention the bike & run, where you are literally scaling hills the whole time.
The morning started with a 5:30am arrival at transition. After a quick set up, I dropped the kids off at the pool and got on the bus to head to the pier for the ferry departure. Once on the boat, it's nothing but waiting around for a 6:30am departure and 7:30am race start. I lay on the ferry floor in a catatonic state thinking about what we were about to do. I've never been so pumped for a race start but sitting so still at the same time. It was a weird experience as there's not much room to move on the boat. Once one pro suited up it was like a row of dominos and soon everyone else was doing the same. At this point we started to jostle towards the side of the ferry near the exit, ready to nab our starting place when the signal came. The carpeted floor was surprisingly wet even though no one was allowed in the water before hand. It doesn't take much imagination to work out what that was about, sorry boat people.
So on the command we herded out the opening on the side and hung against the railing looking at the cold bay before us, and trying to make out the landmarks to site in the distance. I really had no idea what I was doing, so my goal in the swim was simply to stay with Andy Potts. The horn blew and we were in the water, but it wasn't as cold as I was expecting. That's a good start. I quickly found Andy and set about dialing myself into the pace on his feet. As we got further into the bay the swell picked up. We were getting tossed around like ragdolls and I was taking in a lot of water when I was breathing. Minute by minute it got harder to stay with Andy. I was totally gassed about 10 minutes in and had to let him go. I'm not sure what was holding me back in the water, I've never been outswum by Andy so it was a hard pill to swallow knowing that was my chance of winning ahead of me, but I knew it was important to just stick to my pace so I held back. It was truly the only challenging swim I have ever done in triathlon, and I was relieved to finally see the shorline. I counted that I was about 30 seconds back to Andy, a gap I thought I could peg back in the ride.
From the swim exit everyone faces a 1km stretch of pavement to T1. Some choose to put shoes on, others strip the wetsuit, but pros just gun it. Man that hurt the feet, but who wants to stop, it's a race! I could see Andy ahead of me & I was keen to get on the bike & begin the chase. The first mile is flat, at which point the climbing begins and doesn't really stop until one reaches that same point on the way back. Up we went, through enchanting forest of Australian gum trees and under the Golden Gate bridge. I was climbing well, but Docherty was climbing better. He caught me in no time and we rode in stagger together for another 5 minutes until I had to let him go too. I didn't know what to make of it, because my power was great. I was honestly expecting the others to ride up to me as well but I kept my head strong and kept battling through. There were points where I could get glimpses of Bevan, but at no point did he look like he was coming back to me. My running isn't at the ability yet where I can chase guys like Bevan and Andy down, so at this point I conceded to race for third place.
I hit the run with a good stride, kind of anxious at what lay ahead. The run follows the same direction as the bike so I knew the scale of what climbs we had to cross, but I had no way of running the course before the race so I was going blind. Again I caught a fleeting glimpse of Bevan in the first mile and I kicked a little, thinking there was a chance of catching him if he had tired Ironman legs. Eventually I got to the first staircase and I was ascending well, but with wobbly legs like a foal. Do I jump two steps at a time, or two then one, one step a stride? So many questions, but to get up anyway I could suited me. After a fun trail section with intermittent stair cases I hit the downhill with a smile. I cranked that out, but still with caution against the rocks and tight gravel corners that would topple me if I wasn't careful.
At the bottom of the downhill one hits the out and back section along the beach, the only spot to get a decent time gap on your competition. It was exciting to see the race unfold between Andy and Bevan, they were tied at about 30 seconds apart. I was further back at about 2 minutes, but with a huge gap to fourth. I could relax a little and focus on the next speed bump, the sand ladder. You run to the sand ladder over a good 30-40 meters of soft sand, so you're literally hitting it with no speed. The first five steps are okay, the next couple hundred or so is just the most heinous, diabolical affliction you could ever feel in your life. Half way up all you are seeing is stars. I felt embarrassed to walk, but looking at my time I was only a few seconds off Bevan and Andy. This makes me feel better about doing it next time as I thought I would have lost minutes ascending that thing.
After the sand ladder you continue to climb for another few minutes, but this feels easy compared to the ladder. It's almost too easy you can't believe it. I would hate to of been locked in a battle at this point though as there's still a lot of technical trail, stairs and descents to negotiate on the way back down the headland. I was able to enjoy the last couple of miles though, but it was interesting trying to dodge athletes on the way back. Some were to the left, some to the right of the trail. Either side works when you're in to much pain to care I guess. The last five minutes of the run was lined with crowd which made it very memorable finish. I doubt there would be an athlete finish without a big dirty smile on their face. Me; I was smiling because I secured myself a podium to two great athletes in an iconic race, but also because it was simply the best race experience I've ever had. A thanks goes out to IMG for keeping the race alive each year and for having me along to the iconic event. I will be back!
Thanks to Rocky Arroyo, Larry Rosa & Justin Green for the pictures!
One of the changes I wanted to make after last season was to find a coach. I settled with a coach based in Tucson Arizona named Cliff English. Cliff coaches mainly via correspondence, but also periodically works in a squad environment with camps. I've kind of had a solo camp going on, and I'm just finishing up a three week block which ties things over from St. Croix to Escape from Alcatraz this coming weekend.
Tucson is unlike any place I've trained in before. It's basically a desert floor at a moderate altitude (950m/3,100ft where I'm staying) that it bordered by a large mountain range. It's only May but the last three weeks has seen some really hot weather. The voluminous mountains make everything seem so close together, but it takes you ages to get from here to there. It will take 30-40mins to drive into town to the best coffee shops, or 45-60 mintues to ride to the TT area or base of the Mt. Lemmon climb. It's certainly a healthy training environment though, and the desert trails, smooth asphalt TT loops (Pistol Hill) and hairpins of Mt Lemmon have made some very memorable sessions. Amongst it all is a quirky variety or desert fauna and flora. The natural adaptation here is amazing and everything seems poised ready to utter death upon it predators or riddle one careless enough with thorns and barbs at any point. I've had to adapt to the conditions myself, & three-bidon rides & FuelBelt runs with lots of Instinct electrolytes are mandatory. If I gave into my legs every time I hurt or had difficulty in this training block I just wouldn't have got any work done. It's an honest place to train this time of year & it's been great to have a new training experience in North America. It's also been great to train in the private pool in Ventana Canyon without having to worry about lane space and the particular 'split-lane or die' denizens that sometimes make swimming the US such a headache. I've even adapted to some solo swims past 8pm which I have found to be very therapeutic!
Two of the best places to train have been Sabino Canyon and Mt. Lemmon. Lemmon in particular has been very testing. It's a 26mile (40km) climb if you were to go all the way to the top, but lucky for me Cliff never made me spend all day climbing in oxygen debt. I've ridden up there three times to mile 14, and two of these times I've gotten a lift down in the car once I've reached the 14th mile at Windy Point. It's lucky I've had Cliff there with me both these times or I would have had my frostbitten thumb out trying to hitch a lift down. One of the sessions was so windy that I unclipped quite a few times fearing an impromptu basejump off the side of the road. The other we got caught in a hailstorm. Both of these days the session was mile 1-3 as a build warm up with mile 4 an easy spin. The mile 4-14 as a 70.3 pace effort building into Olympic Distance effort. A TrainingPeaks graph is below, & it's fun to note the temperature from the desert floor (the blue line) that drops as the altitude goes up and the rain turns to hail. On this particular day I ran into Maik Twelsiek (the one below with no warmers) who stubbornly abandoned with me into Cliff's car.
So the work is done now & it's time to move onto San Francisco for Escape from Alcatraz this weekend. It will be my first outing in the long-running event and I can't wait to get out there. 6 days after Alcatraz I'm backing up with the Boise 70.3 in Idaho against a neat little field. Thanks for tuning in, my next update will be after the race!
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*
No one wants to hear a bag of feeble excuses, so I'm going to mould this race report into a number of critiques. But to give some context, here's a brief blow by blowup account of my race.
I swam well & swam solo, gaped the field but got owned by an unknown who was 45 seconds up on me in T1. Apparently this man Hunter Lussi used to train with Phelps. Once he adds some experience to his game, calms down on the swim a little and can ride consistently he will be a great asset in non-drafting racing & I welcome him to the fold. Onto the bike, I rode to a conservative OD pace wattage, but totally blew up at 11km. At this point I watched Cam Dye ride away into the St. Petersburg wilderness. At 15km I was caught by the bunch. After nearly getting taken out by a poorly handled pedalsman in Michael Pool (NZL) about a dozen times I safely made it off the bike in 3rd, but with heavy and tattered legs, and about 20 cyclists not far behind who couldn't be dropped despite a furious pace set by youngblood Mark Bowstead. The first KM of the run was on target, but felt terrible. Once I was caught by the pack my race was over and the legs gave up. I went from a 3:10 opening kilometer to a 3:30, the to a 4:00, obviously an unsound progression. My race was nothing short of pathetic, no other word comes to mind.
#1 - I never gave myself a chance
My history in this race is 3 terrible results to 1 good one. The first 2 bad results were achieved by showing up to this race underdone and rushed returning from injury. I didn't have this excuse for last weeks 20th place, but the correlation between all 3 results is that I traveled 28 hours from Australia no less than 3-4days out from the race. This would have affected my body greatly across the 14 time zone difference, and it's a mistake I have made every time. The year I did well in this race and placed 4th I traveled in 6 days before. I was missing so much sleep it was ridiculous, to the point where I was up at 1:30am on race morning and couldn't go back to sleep. I'm hoping this is the last time I make this mistake.
#2 - I'm just not that motivated by Olympic Distance anymore
It's something that I want to continue doing for some time, but when blow outs like this happen time and time again it's not really inspiring me to really commit to it. Something like Boulder Peak which a hilly & tough bike course gets me motivated, but a flat course around the suburbs in Florida doesn't.
#3 - It's no longer a true non-drafting race
The sport has grown to a point where the three podium finishers and a majority of the top 10 could sit comfortably in a pack the entire 40km, to a point where the wattage difference between the guy leading the pack & the guys sitting 3rd to 10th+ wheel is so stark that they can freewheel like it's an ITU race. Mark Bowstead who lead the chase pack finished with a 350w NP, he's a much heavier guy than I, but I finished with him at the end with 282w, which is much lower than my 70.3 pace. Everyone knows how to manipulate the terrible stagger rule, and everyone is looking for wheels. How many guys in the results have a 54 minute split, and how many could actually do this split by themselves? Probably very few. This is all I will say about this, it's not fair racing and something needs to change, from courses to course formats. A total overhaul is needed. This is not an excuse for my race because had I run my best I could still have been way up there, it's just a critique and I'm telling it like it is.
So from this race I move onto the St. Croix 70.3 this weekend. I did this race last year, but failed to finish after a flat and and broken shift lever leaving me stuck in gear on one of the most graded courses on the circuit. This is a truly killer course with brutal tropical conditions, and I'm back because I can't walk away from it until I've unloaded everything I've got onto the pavement. It has the best startlist seen on the island in years, and hopefully the week in between St. A's and St. Croix gives my body enough time to adapt to the time change and travel. The form is there & I know I'm ready, I just have to wait until Sunday, and hope for no flats or mechanicals to see what that form looks like. It's a fabulous place, and I'll enjoy my time here no matter what. Here's some shots of the training & the view from my homestay!
I just woke up from a glorious 90 minute nap. You know, one of those ones you snooze 3 times on, leaving you painfully numb and literally unable to get out of bed. My mind & body was bound horizontally under the calm but wretched warmth of the bed linen, totally unwilling for life. I was in a helpless cycle until the deadly slow call of my travelers brew bar downstairs grew to a tinnitus-like ring in my ear. It was calling in desperation, my subconscious begging for a perilous grip on the hand grinder with throttle on bearings & burr, simultaneously adorning scent and sound, yearning for the whistle of the stovetop kettle. Yep, I'm jet lagged in the USA. But my brew bar is here so what does it matter. I feel so inspired by the delight of brewed coffee that I'm going to share my experience with you just now, with my tools carefully juxtaposed against the heinous, mass-appeal mentality of the Mr. Coffee percolator, belonging of course to my wonderful but poor-tasted homestay (don't feel bad about owning one of these, I'm just a snobby a**hole).
...So onto the more pertinent topic of triathlon, I'm currently in St. Petersburg FL ready to kick off my 2014 international campaign in the St. Anthony's 5150 Spring classic. I know the risks of coming here, it's is my fourth time I've traveled from Oz over the 14 time zones to get here & sleeping is always hard after a total flip of the body clock. While the travel is not appealing, this race has always suited my seasons plan but never my immediate travel or location arrangements. Nevertheless, it's a fantastic event that I like to be a part of, and I have still done well here in the past despite the brutally long travel. My best finish here was 4th in 2012, I was even leading the race until the 9km mark on the run and lost 3 places within the last 3 minutes. I had good lead into that 2012 edition so I've replicated it somewhat heading into this race.
The replicated journey to performing in this race started two weeks ago in the Gold Coast Triathlon in Australia, which I also did as a lead in to St. A's two years ago. It's Gold Coast's biggest race & actually run by Ironman Asia-Pacific so you know that it's a quality event. I respect athletes that are able to get the job done over any distance and format, which is why I try to race as many formats as I can, while of course still being within the realms of reason & rationale. The benefit of this race two weeks leading into St. A's is palpable, a hard-to-replicate non-drafting 50+ minute long S/B/R hit-out, perfect in servicing the fast twitch fibers that are mostly underdone when training for 70.3 distance events. A kind of baptism to the fast racing that awaits on Sunday.
The field on the Gold Coast wasn't overly strong, but there were some good ITU talents as well as Clayton Fettell, another true format journeyman. I led from start to finish in the race, with the honest tactic of just going hard from the gun. I broke away on the bike from Clayton in the gut-wrenching headwind, aided obviously by the supreme yaws of my Felt IA but still fortified by my current strong cycling legs. The wattage wasn't overly impressive but still enough to bring a smile and induce a good amount of fatigue for the 5km run, which I cranked out in a solid 15:28. My run has improved a lot this year, and I'm excited to test it against the best in the races to come. I think the main difference in my run is that I've been able to start with fresh legs after hard bike segments. Even though in my last two races I've finished the ride with legs close to exhaustion, I've been able to shed that feeling as soon as I'm out on the run, something I've not experienced in the past. Cycle fatigue was always passed immediately into the running legs, always creating a frustratingly different feeling to 'race' running from 'training' running.
Considering my performance on the Gold Coast and my small but tough top-up of training since, I know I have the goods to perform in St. A's on Sunday. I want to perform, and more than that, I want to beat the old guard of athletes still hanging around like long-haul travel constipation. It's time the youngbloods took control, and I'm out to prove that on Sunday.
Thanks or reading, and until Sunday, over and out!
Tonight I can't sleep. It could be for a number of reasons, but I can't seem to settle on one. It is the four coffees I had today? I don't think so, I can drink double that and still get to sleep by a reasonable hour. Is it the light day of training I had today? Possibly. Is it because of the 90 minute nap I had at 9AM that I rarely have? Maybe (who has time to nap these days?). But whatever, it's not important. What is important though is that I can't wait to wake up and have a crack at my tempo run in the morning.
Sitting here thinking about the session sparked a desire to re-read an email conversation I had recently with a well-known age grouper here in Oz. I asked him what his training plans were for the weekend & the resulting colloquy went something like this...
Ah mate trying to do Port but training patchy at best due to work plus got flu.
Swam 6km this morn
Will do 3hrs on trainer tonight
Tomoz 5.5hrs on bike if not wet inc. 2x1hr tt plus jog 1hr off
Swim 1hr at Bondi in arvo
Sun plan to get big run day - 40km in morn
Then do another 8km in arvo
I was stunned. This guy trains more than me, and probably everyone else too. After my reply, he knocked me away again with a late night 9-10am reply...
Yep, just finished training now.
On the bike at 4:45am.
Still have to have dinner etc too.
So, those times when you feel like it is a struggle take my word - make everyday count mate. It is fleeting.
Enjoy the struggle.
Life doesn't get better than chasing your dream.
And like the Kenyans say celebrate quickly the good ones, move on very quickly after the bad ones.
So with these thoughts I'll eventually fade away tonight, knowing that tomorrow I'll be out there running through the trails and living my dream. There will be no audience like on race day, no one to share the moment with; just my own consciousness, some black metal tunes and the beautiful Australian bush. It's all for the fantasy of winning, but in a sick way like every endurance junkie I'll be loving every minute of it. I wont be taking it for granted. And when I'm engulfed with pain & lactic acid, I certainly wont need reminding that I wouldn't want to be anywhere else...
I don't think I've ever kicked a season off with a good result. Not recently with non-drafting racing, and definitely never with my former ITU racing. There's always been a 'baptism of fire' element to my season openers, so it's not hard to imagine why I didn't have much of an expectation of myself before Challenge Batemans Bay on the weekend. Surprisingly, it went really smooth and I'm really happy with my 2nd place result. Excitingly, the result is just one of many positive things I can take away from the race.
#1 - I can keep my cool when things go wrong.
- It's not often pro's have to rack our bikes in transition the day before and leave them in T1 overnight, so I don't have advanced knowledge of the 'what to do & what not to do's'. One thing that's definitely getting stored away in the memory bank is to never leave my computer unit on my bike. I have a fleeting suspicion that someone turned my computer on once I left the transition compound, and whether intentional or not, drained the battery so it was flat by the time I got there race morning. This is problematic when you train to race at certain powers, and put so much emphasis and focus on hitting those targets to execute a specific race plan.
When I realised the battery was flat on race morning, I ran around frantically trying to find someone with a cable to charge the unit for 15mins which would have given me enough juice for the race. This was unsuccessful so I just had to keep my cool & remind myself that I trained and raced without power for years, that is is possible to race without it and that this was only a season opener not a World Championship. I did feel quite embarrassed within myself though because I've been working with the new Texas based startup Best Bike Split, and we had quite aggressively advertised a power plan for a fun pre & post race analysis of my race. This obviously was not going to happen without any charge in my computer for my Quarq to relay data to.
- The tactics of any race I do is pretty much always going to be planned on the strength or depth of the startlist and the current form of specific athletes on that list. When I see an equally strong swim/biker as myself on a startlist, it's natural for me to plan a race assuming we'll be working together to build a substantial lead by the end of the bike ride.
My initial race plan was to work with Clayton Fettell to gain an advantage on the best runners in the field like Brah Kahlefeldt and Pete Jacobs. I knew I could throw away my chances of winning if I was getting off the bike with these two athletes. Immediately out of T1 Clayton and I were able to get a little pocket, which grew to probably 45 seconds by 4-5km in and at which point we were to make a hard right and head up a steep gradient for 3-4 minutes. I was in the lead at the time and made the turn, but Clayton for some reason chose not to follow me and rode off course. The turn was made on a downhill, so once he realised his mistake he turned around but was stuck in gear and couldn't make a bridge back up. I turned my computer on at this point and got about three minutes of juice out of it before it switched off again. I was riding this hill at 400watts and feeling great. I kept focused and prepared myself for another long solo ride. It would be naive to not believe this mistake by Clayton changed the race entirely.
#2 - I can race smart and tactically
- I'll always admit that this has never been a strong point of mine. When I was racing ITU it was all grunt on the swim & bike and I never left anything for the run. You could say the same about some of my middle distance races but typically I have met success with this tactic in this distance. When it comes to big fields in the championship races though, sometimes better tactics are only an afterthought. Not saying I'm terrible tactically, but it's something that's always needed work. Patience and confidence are imperative in triathlon, and this is something I finally found on the weekend.
Here's a map of the bike course and a hideous bonus terrain illustration
The course was laid out so that we hit about 15km of grinding hills at the beginning and end of the ride. In the middle was two laps of a flat & sheltered course. There was literally no wind to be found the whole bike leg because tall and dense trees were branching over the course almost the entire way, which makes it a lot easier to sit in a pack, and on the other end of the scale, harder to ride away from a pack.
At about 30-35km I hit the first turnaround still with a lead, but it's hard to say how much lead I had because I had no computer to get an accurate time. It was likely around 1 minute & 15 seconds. On the front of the pack was none other than Fettell who was driving the pace to catch me. Even though I was feeling good, I still had no indication of how my body was performing without the power meter. Because this was my first test of the season, I thought it was safer to drop back into the pack and try to get away again once we hit the hills on the way home.
Once I dropped back into the group and gave Fettell a verbal bollocking for being such a kook, I got to work by quickly examining the group dynamic. It was very surgey, with both Clayton & Pete Jacobs putting in small bursts of speed to try and split the group. Other than raising the watts momentarily when the attacks went, the conditions and course meant it was too hard to ever split the group, it would have just taken too much gas needed later on. Sam Appleton & Brad Kahlefeldt were sitting at the back and the attacks were no where near enough to drop them. I was bored & frustrated but I kept my cool and waited for the right moment, which came on approach to an aid station at 70km. In the five minutes prior to this, the lead changed a few times as athletes got to the front and then sat up on the hoods. I took advantage of this trend and caught them off-guard, quickly consolidating a lead once I got to the front. I was in ecstasy by the time I got to the hills, getting a huge rush from my successful break, feeling great up the climbs and grinding it out back to T2. The move wasn't enough to win the race, but it was enough to consolidate 2nd without digging deep on the run.
#3 - I can run
- It's not that I'm bad, it's just that I'm not great. The last two seasons I dedicated to getting my bike up to scratch, now the next season will be dedicated to getting a full box of tools with a sharp run leg. I have been doing a lot of work on my run this year with high repetition race-pace workouts and the work showed dividends with a 1:16:22 run leg.
While a 1:16 split is not blazing by any means, it was good for this 2.5 lap exposed course. There were 3 sections into a substantial headwind, and only 2 into the reciprocating tailwind. My 1km splits would be 15 seconds slower or faster accounting for the wind direction. Plus I've only run faster than this once, which was a 1:14 in the Euro Champs last year in Wiesbaden, but this was shaded &protected, and also my peak run for the 2013 season. A 1:16 is a good split on my first outing, and with only 3 months of focused work behind this time it tells me I've got a lot more improvement to find. It's the only run I've done where I've got off the bike feeling great, and finished the race with almost no decline by 21.1km.
So at the end of every race, I always draw on the positives but also debate what I could have done to improve my performance or the result. I think had both of the things I spoke about above in #1 occurred organically there was a chance that I could have won the race regardless of Brad Kahlefeldt's blazing 1:12 run. Interestingly, Best Bike Split had me predicted to ride at 293watts average to net a time of 2:09:59. My final split was 2:13:17 so a long way behind the prediction, but using this time the algorithm suggests I finished with about a 289watt average. I think this wattage is a bit generous because the ride was quite slow when I was sitting in and it should look more like 280-3watts. What I do know however is that had I ridden to my potential I would have been a long way up at T2, but that's getting too far into speculation. Instead I'm going to settle with the fact that my first outing of 2014 in Batemans Bay was better than what I was expecting, and that I have shelved a lot of confidence from the race to build on throughout the season. Why should I speculate anyway when I have bigger things to conquer this year. Mont Tremblant is less than 6 months away :)
Being relatively young at 24, I’ve progressed quickly through the formats of ITU junior & U23, to 5150/non-drafting Olympic distance to now firmly settling on 70.3 as a goal distance. In having so many changes in format & distance in a short space of time, while my body & endurance is still developing, I find a good marker to use is that of yearly improvement. For example, what have I already done this year that I hadn’t done last year, are my times or power better this year than last (though some things have slowed down since stopping ITU), or simply am I just in a better place this time around? In comparing the short two and a-bit months of 2014, I can easily say already that I’ve found improvement since last year in many ways.
I’m reflecting on this because I’m just about to engage in my first race of the year in Batemans Bay, a three hour drive South of Sydney. It’s an inaugural Challenge event, one of four the organization has added to the Australian domestic calendar. It’s a really good field, especially considering Pete Jacobs the 2012 Ironman World Champion is racing. I should be nervous, but I’m not. The first race of the season is always difficult for a number of reasons, but I’m not putting pressure on myself because I already know in the bigger picture that I’m much healthier, fitter and happier than this time last year....
A special thanks to the team behind the magazine for putting this together for the current issue. Coffee, vinyl, Felt IA... man I would read that!
As the title boldly states, here's an arbitrary account of the year 2013. Nothing personal here, it's just for laughs. I've got the memory of a peanut, so if you think my list sucks feel free to make your own. There's a 'collective' list & a small 'personal' list at the bottom. I haven't done a Women's list, I wouldn't be able to do it justice (peanut memory). Enjoy!
- Most memorable performance- Sebastian Kienle, Las Vegas. He did the same thing, two years in a row & still no one could stop him!
- Biggest implosion- Ben Collins x2: San Juan & St. Croix
- Most dominating performance- Pete Jacobs, Sunshine Coast
- Old dog but gets it done- Greg Bennett
- Best swim- Tim Berkel, Mandurah, front pack effort
- Best ride- Seb Kienle, Las Vegas yeow
- Best run- Ritchie Nicholls, Wiesbaden
- King Beef of 2013- Terenzo Bozzone
- Comeback king- Terenzo Bozzone
- Breakthrough athlete- Christian Kemp
- Most consistent- Tim Reed
- Most inconsistent- Ivan Vasiliev
- Best newcomer- Jan Frodeno or Courtney Atkinson
- The phantom- Filip Ospaly
- Best quote- Tim Don; "Dirty fast".
- Best backhanded compliment-Tim Reed, backhanded compliment to author after Vegas; "Big respect for the way you raced on Sunday. Sorry it didn't work out. The pack was pretty ridiculous there for a while although I have to say I found it harder in the pack then when I got the front later on and could just ride steady state".
- Failure to launch- 75% of the field in St. Croix, flat tyres
- Fastest first mile- Jan Frodeno, Las Vegas
- Slowest last mile- Peter Robertson, Wiesbaden 70.3
- Want to see more of- Javier Gomez
- Most memorable performance- Luke McKenzie, Kona
- Biggest implosion- Courtney Atkinson, Metaman
- Most dominating performance- Tim O'Donnell, IM Brasil
- Old dog but can't get it done- Bryan Rhodes
- Best swim- Don't know, Andy Potts?
- Best ride- Sebastian Kienle, Kona (how could anyone else have ridden up to the front & still lasted?)
- Best run- Bart Aernouts, IM Nice (2.37.01)
- Breakthrough athlete- Tyler Butterfield
- Best newcomer- Bevan Docherty, IM NZ
- Comeback king- Chris 'Big Sexy' McDonald Or Luke Bell
- Most consistent- Eneko Llanos & Victor Del Corral
- Most inconsistent- Chris McCormack
- Sure can race a lot- Pedro Gomes
- King Beef of 2013- Freddy Van Lierde
- Best quote- Sebastian Kienle, Kona post-race presser(we've all thought this!)
- Good, but please know when to stop!- Andrew Starkowicz's 'diamond man'
- Did he really say that?- Unknown, Kona post-race presser (see bottom of page)
- Failure to launch-Pete Jacobs, Kona press conference
- Most honest/humble-Craig Alexander, Kona post-race
- Best swim: St. Anthony's 5150 (1st out, 18.55 & a little long)
- Best cycle: Port Macquarie 70.3 (2:10:10, fastest ride)
- Best run: Weisbaden 70.3 (1.14.46)
- Best overall race: Port Macquarie 70.3 (1st)
- Hardest race: Wiesbaden 70.3 (crazy bike course)
- Most competitive: Las Vegas 70.3 (it's a World Champs)
- Worst swim: Buffalo Springs 70.3 (HOT water, diabolically uncomfortable)
- Worst cycle: Hy-Vee 5150 (drafting penalty + blow up)
- Worst run: Las Vegas 70.3 (mmm poor bike tactics)
- Worst overall performance: Hy-Vee 5150
- Best training base: Boulder
- Best race destination: St. Croix
- Best race experience: Wiesbaden 70.3
- Best crowd support: Noosa Tri
- Best training Partner: Martin Van Barneveld
- Worst blog of 2013: You've just read it!!
I spend most of the year on planes, so it's nice to be able to get in the car & drive somewhere exotic for once. Moreton Island has been on the menu for the last three years, but it's a paradise only 90mins from my door so it's hard to beat. This island is a magical place, it's so far removed from the normal routines of life that it's hard to believe there's a huge metropolis just across the bay. Take me back!!!
I'm stretching things a bit blogging two weeks after an event, but amid some pretty tardy (and some unintentionally omitted) entries this year it's just a good thing I'm getting it done. Shepparton was my last event for 2013, and while it came and went quite quickly in the moment, it feels like this season has stretched over an eternity and it took 50 phases of the moon for Shep to arrive.
It must be said that I've never raced this late into a season. To be racing from April to November is a big ask from a young body, but I wanted to make it happen for a number of reasons. Thinking I would have been racing from March onwards if I didn't have a stress fracture that month seems a little daunting, but with a well planned season incorporating intermittent rest & builds, it's entirely possible to race for that long a stretch, most international Southern Hemisphere athletes do it perennially. One thing I wanted to do this year was race more in front of an Australian crowd, and the end of year string of events gave me this opportunity. I had a weird & unexpected late season peak in Port Macquarie in October which kicked off the string of Australian events. After my win in Port it was quite obvious to myself that the body and mind were sliding out of shape & out of focus. Port was everything I wanted to do in a race this year, the feeling mid-race was impeccable. It was a huge relief to feel that way, so once it came and went the other races on the calendar (Noosa & Shep) seemed perfunctory. But with a daily metaphorical kick in the ball bag, I was able to keep things in a reasonable shape to compete at a respectable level in both races. I kept telling myself that I wanted one more win. While I can say things felt perfunctory after Port, the desire to win was/is always there, it's just training and getting out the door became that much harder. I wanted to win again for myself and my sponsors, all of which have shown unwavering support for me this year. But without a doubt I needed to stop and refresh, something that only an end of season break can service.
Shepparton & the Course
Shepparton is one of those races that everyone talks about. It's dubbed as 'the people's race', and come race day the moniker becomes intensely palpable. It's one of the most professional races I've done, with a really really cool vibe amongst a beautiful but harsh outback Australian setting.
The swim was dangerously fun but frustrating at the same time. It was a cool 17c/62f water temp, with a natural water composition as thick and colorful as a race morning movement down the colon. It's a 1.5 lap affair that sees the pros and some fast AGer's double up on slow athletes on the overlap, keeping things
interesting. Also, a long stretch of the swim is into retina burning sunlight. Like I said, dangerously fun...
While this bike course not my most favored spin, it's certainly more interesting than it looks. Reminding me somewhat of the Buffalo Springs course in the US, it's desolation and miles of tree lined arches are enchanting and inspiring. Rough chip seal makes it an honest course in the absence of any hills, and keeps the gooch yearning for those rare strips of asphalt.
The run course is the stand out of the three legs. Looping around the lake, the course follows a bitumen creek path through quintessential Australian eucalypt trees darting out of the ground like fields of asparagus. This is a hot steaming run, and like asparagus, its grinding length and heat will corrupt your urine (mine was brown after the race?).
Like I said earlier, my form was on the slide. Seldom is there a 70.3 on offer where there isn't at least a few 70.3 champions, or Continental/World Champions in the field. In this field I had the likes of Terenzo, James Hodge and Clayton Fettell to fend off, all with their own credentials but Terenzo standing out as the current 70.3 BOSS. Winning was always going to be a big ask, I'm running the worst I have in years but I still had the belief that if things went well I could pull it off. With Clayton in the race, it would seem like it was a perfect shot to get a good gap on Terenzo in the swim, and ride the hell outta' there to get a good buffer for the run. Though as the saying goes, nothing is ever as it seems. Always be ready to rely on no one but yourself to be where you want to be. This was one of those races where you could have had every belief that the race would unfold a certain way, only to have it dropped out the bottom like hemorrhoids.
I coughed up a lung at the start of the swim. Clayton went out hard, and I had to go with him. We gapped everyone instantly except for Hodge, who hung on for only another 5 minutes or so. Some sighting issues from Clayton mixed with course confusion from the lead paddler had us lose a lot of time, but we still exited with a minute on Terenzo. This was time we needed and hoped to build on.
I put socks on in transition and Clayton got a 15 second gap on me which took four or five minutes to bridge. I did it comfortably, but it still gassed me a little. Once I caught up, I sat on a for a few minutes before he started to slow a little. I thought maybe he was subtly telling me to roll through so I did, fearing Terenzo would ride up. I got to work and set a really good pace out front. I worked for fifteen minutes before I looked behind signalling for Clayton to take his turn. I slowed down a lot and waited for a pass. Another minute later I looked around and he was gone. I immediately refocused my effort contemplating a long solo ride, but it didn't bother me as I was feeling great.
40km down the road the power was still good, but the heart rate started dropping slightly. By the 45km turnaround I was pretty eager to see the gap on Terenzo and Hodge, and to my dismay it was roughly 90 seconds or so. I had put a lot of energy into that first lap and gained little. I knew the second lap was going to be a lot harder and mentally I crumbled in disbelief. I knew Terenzo was running like a champ, but he was also riding like a stud. Over the second lap my power
dropped and my heart rate followed. There was just nothing I could do about it, and I was getting out of the saddle every five minutes towards the end lacking comfort. Surprisingly I had only lost about 15 seconds on the second lap, I had every expectation that Terenzo would catch me considering how bad things got. If I was expecting to perform at a really high level I would be disappointed with my ride and my blowout, but considering the lack of conditioning my body had left and how late in the year it was I remain happy. Please see the file from my Quarq
The majority of the run was ugly. I have been running terribly since Wiesbaden, & after seeing Terenzo's display in Mandurah I knew that the win was out of scope with my narrow lead off the bike. I still had hopes for second, but I knew Hodge would catch me soon after Terenzo did. Once Hodge caught me, I was in a dogfight for about 5km before he dispatched me as easily as he caught me. I just had no hustle and no feeling. The weirdest thing happened at about 16km however, and with a flick of a switch the body turned on and I quickly caught up in an instant. Foot traffic on the course was now thick so it was quite easy to sneak up on James, but I waited for a good moment to pass with authority & slapped hands with Terenzo going back the other way, delighted that he hadn't totally embarrassed us with his foot speed. I enjoyed the last few km's running into the line having consolidated second place, but with a steep yearning for the pain to cease and the off season to start.
So this blog concludes my race reports for the foreseeable future, until I don the TYR suit sometime in March or April next year. I will still chime in on the Noosa Tri at some point, but it will be different from a race report. Thanks always for reading & those who had words of support for me before and after Shepparton, I love reading the comments and g-ups, I'm eternally thankful for all support!
More blogs coming soon, I swear. Cheers