Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Day in the Sun at Geelong

Finally race day is here. I wake to a fine and sunny Saturday morning at 8.30 after a nice sleep in. My race isn’t until 4.45 this afternoon so the key for me today is going to be staying relaxed for as long as possible. A tall order for a 19 year old fresh out of juniors who is about to step into his first pro race ever! Not to mention in a strong open elite field consisting of long time idol Brad Kahlefeldt. My team was staying in a very old hotel 500m from transition just after the first rise on the 4 lap bike course, a position that would prove advantageous later in the day for race viewing. Sometimes travelling on Triathlon Queensland’s budget isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, however if location was anything to go by we were on a winner. I start the morning off with a light 15 min jog on the race course and a few short 400m builds. My Garmin is on my side today, showing that I was having no trouble reaching 2min 50pace early on in my builds. Legs are feeling goodJ. I spot Kahlefledlt on his morning ride over the course, the first of many times before race start that I feel in over my head as I marvel at the standard of my competition. I return to my hotel and continue with my normal pre race routine. Im racing late in the day so I allow myself a bigger brekky; 1 bowl of light cereal, two pieces of peanut paste on toast and a banana... yum yum. Now to wait it out and hydrate!

By 10.30 rumours of poor water quality and a cancelled swim are circulating amongst the athletes. Please don’t let this be a duathlon!! I ignore this to the best of my ability and continue as if it’s a normal race day. Just relax and cross that bridge if it comes, we’ll hear more news after the coaches meeting at 12... Man it is getting windy outside, good day for a break away.. Around comes 12.30 and I’m starting to get excited and wouldn’t you know it... race cancelled!!! Wind conditions have elevated somewhat by now and wind gust up to 98km/h have been recorded. Water quality is an afterthought. Too bad I chose to bring my bonti 6.5’s instead of my zipp 303’s. My race has been rescheduled to 1.30pm the next day. Now to do it all over again. I finish my day with a half hour jog.

I wake well rested again the next morning, only not to the previous day’s sunny skies. I peek out the window to see the age groupers race is already under way. Unfortunately lycra is not the best insulator...they look cold! Its overcast and several degrees cooler outside, my iphones forecast for the day is a chilly minimum of 10 with a max of 20. Water temp is 20 degrees so wetsuits are not permitted in the elite race, cut off is 19 degrees. After 24 hours of trying to stay relaxed I am absolutely itching to race and I don’t care who it’s against. I proceed with my normal race day preparations and before I know it I’m packing my race bag to head to registration at the athletes lounge at 12 o’clock.

I get my first big fright of the day as I roll down the hill to transition. Narrowly avoiding a collision with none other than Laurent Vidal, a top class French athlete who was tipped to be a good show for the win today. Wouldn’t I have been popular?! I continue to registration and receive my race number. Number 43 of 43 athletes in the field, again I get the feeling I’m a bit outclassed by the competition. I’m currently putting about 16 hours a week training in against my competitor’s 30+ hours so I have to admit my expectation leading into this race weren’t all that high. However in true Queenslander fashion I thrive off being the underdog and for the first time of the day a fire rose in my belly. Now I’m ready to race!! After registering I begin my warm up. I go through my usual routine of a 2km warm up jog followed by a progression of running drills targeted at activating my body for the race. This is important for me because I do it before every race and even in the presence of my competition it helps me to relax and focus on what I have to do. After my warm up I head to transition and rack my bike. My preparation in transition is meticulous, making sure everything is laid out perfectly ready to race, and as I prepare I am stunned by how relaxed everybody seems. I feel honoured to be standing in the same transition as most of the people I am about to race, the experience alone I am already gaining is sure to make this trip worthwhile. I exit transition and head to the swim start, the water is a chilly 20 degrees and there is only 5 minutes to race briefing so I decide to leave my warm up swim until later and just do some dynamic stretching during briefing to avoid getting cold too early. After briefing there is only 5 minutes to race start so without stopping to feel the temperature I dive into the water and do a quick swim to warm the arms up. The swim is a deep water start so I position myself with the rest of the field on the start line and wait to race. The swim is a triangle shape which goes out around 2 buoys and back to the start line where we exit to transition.

The race starter calls for our attention and everything goes silent, nerves tingling I anticipate the siren to the biggest race of my career so far. The silence is broken by a loud air horn and I move into action. The initial 200 metres is nothing but white water as 43 athletes begin to battle for a good position around the first buoy. This is probably the roughest start I have ever been in but experience tell s me to just hold my ground and swim with fists. I find myself in the front section of the first swim pack and feeling strong... I could not have asked for a better start. Its 300 metres to the first buoy which I round with ease and head to the second. Although coping several big hits during the swim I feel very little pain as I suspect I’m racing mostly on adrenaline and excitement. I exit the swim 20 seconds down on the lead swimmers but in a good pack. I race into transition to the roar of the crowd which excites me further. With what I thought was a quick transition (apparently not so quick compared to the real pro’s) I was out onto the 4 lap bike course and into my comfort zone. After an aggressive first two laps on the bike I had worked myself into a good position in the second pack so decided to have a rest and let the others do some chasing. The lead pack of about 12 guys consisting of Vidal and Kahlefeldt had now extended their lead to almost a minute by now but with the way our pack was now moving I knew we would start taking some big chunks off that time. Ironman Luke Bell had now well and truly taken over the pace setting and was clocking some pretty serious speeds. As we rounded the U-turn on the third lap I could see we had decreased the lead of the front pack to a mere 10-15 seconds and had closed the gap just after the beginning of the fourth. Wow I can’t believe I’m going to exit the bike leg with Kahlefeldt!!! At the end of the bike leg I learn more valuable lessons... position is everything. I dismount the bike in the middle of the pack and overshoot my bike rack by a good ten metres and lose an expensive 10 seconds at the start of the run leg while a turn around to rack my bike. I exit transition with a good view of the field again running away from me, however to my surprise my legs are feeling great and I close the gap to the back end of the field within the first 500m. From this point I was playing pacman. I settle into a strong pace and run through a lot of the field, feeling better and better as I pass bigger and bigger names of which I usually have no right to pass. By the end of the 5 km run I finish in 14th position... so about 26 positions better than I had anticipated J
All in all this was the most enjoyable race of my life and I hope there are many more like this to come. The experiences I gained as an athlete are invaluable and I am honoured to have raced with some of the greats of this wonderful sport.