Race 6 of the QLD Gatorade Series had triathletes and supporters heading out to Raby Bay. With a fair amount of rain over the two days prior I wasn't sure what to expect from the weather gods - turns out we had sunshine and comfortable racing conditions for the most part which added to the upbeat atmosphere of the day.
While my late wave start meant I had 2 hours to get through before jumping in the water it did give me an opportunity to watch the open guys and gals rip up the run course. Emma Jackson was there and she looked the goods; perfect timing for her with the Olympic selections coming up. On the male side guys like Jesse Featonby and Mitch Kealey were running the 4k's in around 12:20, which is about 3:05 min/k pace!
After a light jog warm up, some stretching to loosen up the shoulders and a gas-bag on the pontoon with some Reddoggies, it was time to jump in. 91 people in my wave made for a tight squeeze in the deep water start between the two buoys. I positioned myself at the front and saw the usual players bobbing around. When the horn went off the calm water around me turned into a white-wash filled with arms and legs and the first 50m or so was chaos. With Josh Santacaterina (Superfish), Christopher Mason and Shannon Johanson (Yo-Yo) blitzing us all I was left trying to minimize the impending time-deficit. The dreaded 'panic gremlin' crept in before the turnaround, which was frustrating because I was in a good rhythm. You'd think the time spent in the pool breathing out under water and in above water would have the whole process sorted! It left me taking some exaggerated strokes so I could turn my head further around to get some oxygen in. As I did it I could sense I was losing places as sky-blue caps cruised past me.
I realised I was spending too much time 'in my head' worrying about all of this so refocused on thinking about one thing - long stroke and catch feeling the pressure on my hand and forearm. This seemed to work and coming around the turnaround back towards transition I started moving back up through the pack. 13th out of the water. Playing catch up again. Not an uncommon place to be this season, and at least I've had less time to regain than previous years.
The bike course at Raby Bay keeps you pretty honest - heading out the the turnaround means making your way up a steady incline that is cheeky enough to burn into your legs (especially since you do it 3 times). Not feeling confident about my swim I set out to bridge the gap as quickly as possible. I know at Caloundra I set up my day with a strong bike leg so was hoping to do the same here. Easier said than done though, this time not picking up the top guys until the back half of lap 2. I had 'burnt a few matches' in the process and my legs were preparing their mutiny if I kept it up.
With 1 lap to go I decided the cost of trying to drop the guys was too high for the few seconds I was likely to gain. If we were going to get off the bike together I wanted my legs to be as fresh as possible. So I kept the pace consistent without trying to melt my wheels off on the asphalt. In the end I had about 9 seconds on Brad Dalrymple (BD) and Ricardo Barbosa (the Portuguese Maestro) heading out of T2 onto the run (fastest bike split for our category).
It's was a new feeling knowing that the boys were hot on my heels. In the other races in the series whoever has gotten off the bike first has had a good 30 or so seconds on the chase pack. This time we were all together. Fitting really considering how close it has been all season. Time for some 'on the fly race strategy'! A glance over my shoulder confirmed my dread - BD and Ricardo were about 20m back and working a good chase. I locked in a steady pace that I was what I thought solid but not at my limit. If this was going to turn into a running race then make them work to catch me while conserving my energy (as best you can while running a hard 4k!).
BD had sensed that my legs were about to fall off and had caught me by the first turnaround. He was looking strong so I just did my best caravan impersonation and locked on behind him. I remember thinking "This is awesome! Shoulder to shoulder with BD!" Don't get me wrong - it was hurting! But it felt like a real race and test of willpower. We stayed stride for stride for most of the run, swapping the lead but never really getting too far away from each other.
Heading out onto the second lap and BD took the lead and seemed to put the pedal down. I was getting further and further into the 'hurt locker' and wasn't even game to grab a cup of water from the aid station to throw over my head for fear of being dropped. Almost at the last turnaround and I was starting to get that horrible lactic acid feeling in my stomach from the pace, and I was thinking "Nnnnooooooo!!!! If I feel like this now how am I going to handle a sprint finish? I already want to throw up!". I tried to block out all of these thoughts and just focus on sticking with BD. If I could just not think about it for another 3 minutes then it would all be over.
I think at some point I envisaged a sprint finish over the last 20m and was so nervous about how that was going to feel that some strange logic in my head said "Get it over and done with - go now!". So with a few hundred meters to go I just went for it. I wasn't game to turnaround as BD had been running so strongly that I thought for sure he was ready to kick as well. I kept thinking that I had done 400m hard efforts at the track on Tuesday so surely I could do it here. As I turned the last corner with the finish in sight I snuck a peek around my shoulder and BD wasn't there - man what a great feeling! Over the finish line in first place, in what I think would be one of the most exciting races and battles I have been involved in (second fastest run split for our category).
Full credit to BD; he is a great competitor and without a doubt makes me push harder in these races than I think I would without him putting the pressure on. He is so consistent that I think he deserves the series leader jersey that he will most likely get after Race 7. Today's battle left us as the fastest two Age Group competitors on the day.
Top marks to USM Events again. The event was seamless from a competitors point of view. Also, thanks to Trent @ Reddog for getting the balance between Mooloolaba prep and 'taper' spot on; to ChainGang for a race-ready speed machine in the Argon E-114; to Nick from Endura for nutrition advice and Active Stride / Mizuno for their support this season.
Special thanks to Scott Brockman (and Pete Ledwidge) for taking the time to snap some photos of the day - a boring blog without some happy snaps ;-)
Also, shout-out to my mum and Craig for making the time to come and check it all out - you guys brought me home over the last 2k!
Next stop, maybe Bribie in a few weeks and then Mooloolaba.
Enjoy your training guys and gals and best of luck in your next race.