The National Long Course Championships (2k/80k/20k) were held at Falls Creek on Saturday just passed. The journey itself began at 3:30am two days before that as I headed to the airport with Adz - never before has an airport coffee tasted so good! Onto a 2 hour flight to Melbourne, then we picked up the hire car (which was upgraded to an Audi A6 - BOOM!) and 6 hours later we rolled into Falls Creek. Granted Adz took me on the scenic route over Mt Hotham to show me one of the climbs he had done at a training week earlier in the year.
Absolute madness is all I can say! As I stepped out of the car it was quickly apparent that this is a special part of the world. 360 degree views all around with mountainous ranges that reminded me of the canyons and wrinkles of a brain. A very big brain.
We motivated ourselves to head out for a brief trot on the aquaduct trail to stretch out our legs. We quickly noticed a panting sound coming from both of us - odd, since we were moving at a very easy pace. Altitude anyone? Ha! Where's the oxygen? This was going to be fun.
On Friday we took the bikes out over the course (a 3-lap course) to suss it all out and to make sure the bikes were alright after the flight. I'm glad we did as it gave me an opportunity to think about what gearing would be best for the various climbs - the toughest of which was just after the turnaround point coming back in. About 1500m of 'up'. Not a killer gradient but enough to hurt. Again, it was absolutely stunning scenery all around, like being on top of the world.
|The elevation profile from my Garmin post-race|
Staying with 3 other guys who were all racing, the conversations almost always came back to this - geez it's going to be cold! The temp was sitting around 8-9 degrees with the same predicted for race day. 14C water. I ended up convincing myself that it was EXCITING to be racing in such conditions and that it would be my advantage to embrace it while others shuddered at the thought. It reminded me of something that Jonathan Brownlee had said...
"Thought I was cold cycling this evening...I then took a drink and realised my drink wasn't frozen...told myself to man up!"
Hats off to the Supersprint team that ran the event. With such quickly changing weather conditions they gave competitors regular updates and juggled the start time to fit the forecast (the race was pulled forward by 75 minutes to make the most of sunny conditions in the morning and to avoid the predicted afternoon storm).
Surprisingly I had a great sleep the night before and was up at 5am to get some food into my belly. Then (for the first time ever) as we were so close to transition I went back to bed for another 40 minutes shut-eye! I must have been relaxed because I dosed off quickly and was able to jump out of bed feeling fresh at 6am. On the bikes and we rode the 2k's to transition. A good warm-up on a cold morning (6C) and smiles on our faces to see clear skies and the dull orange glow of the sun about to rise.
|Photo courtesy of Joe Gambles|
A bit more care in transition than usual, given the plan to wear gloves, arm warmers and a vest on the bike. Then before I knew it the wetsuit was on and we were walking down to the lake. With no shoes on it didn't take long for our feet to go numb on the cold grass. Good thing I think as it meant the cold water had less impact! Having raced at Wivenhoe last year with water temps below 19C I had a bit of an idea of what to expect - a sudden shock to the system as my face met the water, gasps for air and panic. I decided to get this out of the way when the pros started (which gave me 3 minutes until my wave). After a forced few surges and an inconspicuous number one in the wetsuit, I figured there wasn't much more I could do to warm up.
The swim felt like a balancing act for 30-odd minutes - I tried to relax into my stroke and think about technique, which worked for the most part. BUT it didn't take much to throw me off and have the cold-water panic try to sneak back in. Water kicked into my mouth, even someone brushing up against me, seemed to be enough to break the rhythm. It was like my brain was looking for reasons to get out of the cold! You can't blame it really, it is its job to keep me alive. In the end I think my brain gave up and conceded that I am just mad, as I started to relax and successfully sighted my way around the course. Up onto the shore and the focus was then on getting some blood into the ol' legs as I pounded my way up the rise and into transition. (34:49 - 11th).
T1 was tough. I toweled myself off and spent what felt like 10 minutes getting my left arm warmer on - stupid numb fingers! "I want to get on the course - come on come on LETS GO!" 2:55 later and I was out the door and on the bike. It took me 500m to realise I had forgotten to put on my gloves. Duh! Lucky Di2 doesn't take much dexterity. The shoe toe covers from Chain Gang worked a treat and overall I'd have to say I was comfortable and not too cold on the bike (even when the clouds came over and blocked the sun after the first lap!).
|The bike turnaround point at transition|
I was ready to eat up the road (after I had stopped to put my right foot into my shoe - I couldn't feel my feet or fingers so had to really focus on the task!) and knocked out the first lap right on 46:30 (which would put me at 2hrs 20 mins for the bike - my goal). I was feeling good - the legs were burning but experience told me that I could sustain it for a while. On the second lap there was a nasty accident on the climb just after the turnaround coming back in. A cruel reminder to take it easy in parts as (most of us) aren't racing for sheep stations. I heard later on that Mitch Anderson (a pro) had stopped mid-race to offer his help (Mitch is a doctor). Such a kind-hearted gesture and he still managed 3rd (although the world is funny sometimes as that afternoon we saw he slam face-first into a glass window thinking it was a door - where is the good karma?).
Just past halfway and heading up a rise I started to think 'something doesn't feel right'. Hmmmm... I pulled up with a bit more force on my handlebars and realised that they were SUPER loose. I could move them up-and-down and side-to-side without moving the front wheel. A nervous 40khr decent later and I made it to the on-course bike mechanic. He told me to thank my lucky stars that I hadn't come off (understatement of the year after having seen the accident not 10 minutes prior) and he began trying to fix the problem. While the ZOOM's and WHIR's of the bike flying past was disheartening, there wasn't much I could do so I took the opportunity to use the portaloo, have a stretch and get an Endura gel into me. 12.5 minutes later (that's right) and I was thankful to be back out on the course.
Lesson # 897 - when traveling and having to unpack your bike, ensure you double check everything after you have ridden the bike. Tighten the parts you have had to take apart, such as the seat post and handlebars.
I put everything I could into the last lap, trying to balance the effort to regain some time with keeping something in the tank for the run. I never considered stopping and thought at the very least I was knocking out some serious training at altitude! Also, who knows what has happened for everyone else - maybe they have had a flat tyre or nutrition problems. In the end I finished with a 2:34:48 ride (13th) and headed onto the run course feeling pretty flogged!
I set off at a crazy pace and was obviously delirious because when I thought "this is 20k not 5k mate" it was as if I was having the realization for the first time! Up the 500m grassy hill for the first time (2 lap course) and I got the pre-cramp cramp feeling in my quads. You know, the one that says keep going like this and my big brother is coming to beat you up. I eased back slightly and kept my head down rather than look up to see how long until I could stop running up hill.
For almost 11k's I felt like I was trapped in the hurt locker and eventually through persistent efforts to break out of it (focus on technique, passing that next person, suck on a gel) I started to come good. Maybe it was the caffeine in the gel. Maybe it was knowing that I was over halfway. Maybe I was high on oxygen deprivation. Whatever happened, I found my form and managed to negative split the run. (1:26:51 4th fastest in my AG).
The sadistic team at Supersprint, however, decided to include an unexpected grassy climb that wound towards the finish line, and then away about 500m in the opposite direction! Talk about moving the goal posts! I almost squeezed out a little tear... Crossing the finish line was a great accomplishment on what was for me the toughest triathlon venue I have raced so far. 4:40:42 in the end, for 8th place. Without the bike issue I would have been 5th. Not that I'm dwelling on that ; )
|"What? Where did this hill come from?"|
I recommend Falls Creek to anyone up for a challenge and for something different. Be warned though, in our house alone (4 people) we had 2 people not finish for various reasons. There were also quite a few people I spoke to afterwards who pulled out. It's a difficult event that takes no prisoners!
A few days on from the race and I have recovered really well. Two swims, a ride and a run in the bank already. Four weeks now of some aerobic work before we reattach the jets for Mooloolaba.
Thanks to ChainGang Performance Bikes for their last minute help before I flew down there, to Reddog Triathlon Training for getting me to the start line ready to rumble and to Mizuno for giving me some good advice for the best shoes for that course.
A special thanks to Nick from Endura for helping me dial in the right nutrition plan. On a race where you need to keep the engine going for 4 - 6 hours, food is very important. I think we planned the build up perfectly and the day to a tee. Also thanks to Adz, Ken, Clint and Tonya for a fantastic weekend away.