Wednesday, 17 April 2019

PB's And Injury Free - Challenge Melbourne 2019

St. Kilda, Victoria, the home of two of Australia’s most notable clowns; Luna Park and Shane Warne. A suburb where I almost certainly wouldn’t want to live, but a place that I love to race.

A half-distance PB in 2018 on this course had left me with pleasant memories of the location, however this was Melbourne and the chances of getting those sort of race conditions again were akin to spinning the barrel for a second round of Russian roulette. Somehow, I missed the bullet again and the weather turned out pretty good.

My main reason for selecting the race was to give myself the maximum opportunity to recover from injuries late last year and to be in some sort of shape conducive to racing.

The lead up was good, a performance at Geelong that had me feeling like we were moving the right way, combined with some more bike and run gains since augured well. Still, when you know that you have to race faster than you ever have just to show some progress from a year earlier, the task can appear daunting.

Race morning presented fairly good conditions. A grey, dull mist eerily enveloped the venue, it’s seems the norm in Melbourne. The temperature was how I like it; cool but not cold with only the hint of a breeze. The water was similar, you wouldn’t wanna be in there without a wetsuit, but you could still feel your face.

The pro waves left at 6:50 with the scene at the swim start then becoming organized chaos. Waves every 90-seconds created a cavalcade of colour, with more latex than a big Saturday night at the Hellfire Club, air horns ringing seemingly non-stop and more than a few athletes scrambling for the start wave they had already missed.

At 6:56 our wave became semi-submerged in Port Phillip Bay and began flailing our way along the 1900m course.

We quickly combined with the stragglers from the wave in front and the speedsters from behind, which made for a fairly physical swim, featuring more hits than the Beatles. Eventually I was under the pier and into shore.

My wife had achieved her race goal of making up three minutes on me in the swim and beating me into T1 by a few seconds. We exited together.

The plan on the bike was to work pretty hard on the first two of the three laps, making use of the hard work we had done in recent times, before setting up for the run on the final 30km lap.

It’s a reasonably flat course on the iconic Beach Road, with a good road surface, conducive to good riding and minimal risk.

I didn’t muck around on the first two laps, pedalling harder than a Colombian drug lord. My heart rate was about 10 beats higher than I’d normally produce but it seemed to be producing results based on the 10km lap times I set up on my bike head set.

The last lap was a little more relaxed with the reduced effort yielding an overall heart rate that was only equal to the highest I had ridden in the past. The outcome was my best to date, 2:31, three minutes faster than a year earlier. The big question was whether or not I could back it up with a solid run.

While the first 10km felt reasonably comfortable to hold a target pace, I was weary not to try and over-capitalise and go harder.

Half-marathons off the bike can be a bit like a dog turd in the sun, the longer it goes, the harder they get.

From around the 14km mark, I broke down each kilometre, only concentrating on what I needed to do to get to the end of that 1000m stretch. The main motivation I gave myself was that I had the choice of two pains, the pain of discipline for another 30-minutes or the pain of regret, taking the easy path and letting it fall apart.

By the time I’d reached the finish chute at Catani Gardens, I had managed to string together my fastest run off the bike from the seven half-distance races I’ve completed and a gallop four minutes faster than the year before. The most pleasing part was probably the fact that there was only 20-seconds between my fastest and slowest km’s, so there was some sort of consistency throughout the 21km.

My overall time of 4:58:35 was a PB, five minutes faster than the year prior and the first time I’d broken the coveted five-hour mark.

I’m not a fan of comparing courses so the biggest takeaways for me were the bike and run improvements from a year earlier in almost identical conditions and realising that it is possible to put a run together off the back of a harder bike.

The patience of my coach (Nathan Miller) has been something that is only understood when you are there to experience it. A couple of frustrating years with Achilles issues must have made it a real pain from his perspective, so to finally put something together that is in someway indicative of the work he puts in and faith he shows is as satisfying as anything else.

That’s the end of the season for me, which in some ways feels like it was just beginning. There was definitely a couple of races post-Christmas that were satisfying after an extended period of frustrations.

Now it’s time to log some winter miles with an emphasis on running (including some exciting uncharted territory) before attacking a new triathlon season.

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Monday, 21 January 2019

Tri Nowra 2019 Race Report

Nowra, on the banks of the Shoalhaven River, originally inhabited by the Wodi-Wodi tribe, is possibly best known for producing the racehorse, Archer. For those that don’t know, Archer won the first two Melbourne Cups and historians will tell you that he was robbed of a third by the bureaucrats down south who said his entry didn’t arrive in time. They named a pub after him, so he’s clearly left his mark on the place.

Saturday was my third trip to the Nowra triathlon. Unlike Archer I had been far from tasting success on my first two sojourns to the town that also produced dual international (league and union), Michael O’Connor (aka Snoz).

After a underwhelming 2018, where I continually convinced myself that an Achilles tendon niggle would simply “come good”, I felt I had turned a small corner health-wise with fitness slowly returning via consistent training. This would be my first sprint race in over a year and a distance I have hardly raced at all for the better part of three years.

The instructions were simple; Send it. Anytime you’re not in severe discomfort, you’re being soft.

I like it.

Far removed from the world I am used to of monitoring power and heart rates and managing nutrition over a five-hour span, this would be over before I knew it.

The swim takes place in the Shoalhaven River, under the shadows of the dual bridges. The smooth waters once hosted the National Wakeboarding Championship. However, unlike those competitors, this race throws up a more unsavoury variable for triathletes; jellyfish. There was quite a smack (yes, that’s the collective noun for jellyfish) of these creatures lurking beneath the surface capable of producing a sting that rivals the one pulled off by Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the 1973 film of the same name.

The course was changed from its usual tide-assisted, point-to-point affair to a one-loop circuit. I spent most of the 14-minutes with feet to swim on, coming out of the water in sixth, almost three-minutes behind the leader and 40-seconds away from fifth. I only copped one small sting on the face, but the pain quickly dissipated. If Daniela Ryf can win Kona with one, there’s not really any cause to complain.

It was time to get busy.

A lot of gut-wrenching trainer sets over the past two months made the idea of a balls-to-the-wall 20km pedal seem well within the realm of possibility. So off I went.

The flat ride heads out towards the rich farmland of Terara. The road has more bumps than a maternity class and is lined with green paddocks filled with healthy looking bovine of various breeds. 

Sadly I was unable to marvel the agricultural delights, keeping my head down and eyes on the road, looking for the small white circles that were kindly painted around potholes and also navigating the different surfaces created by a myriad of patch up jobs over the years.

The first and last thirds of the ride were a battle against a crosswind with the middle portion being a headwind then a tailwind. I managed to carve out the fastest bike split in my age-group (11th overall), hopefully making my way a little bit closer to the pointy end of proceedings.

The run features some small undulations and crosses the aforementioned bridge in both directions.

The five kilometres went by reasonably fast, with plenty of teammates and friends out on course as well.

The last kilometre is a straight run to the finish and I could see a couple of guys who looked like they could be around my age a couple of hundred metres up the road. It gave me something to chase and I managed to overhaul them both with about 400m to go. Unfortunately that also meant I had to keep going so they didn’t pass me again.

That last kilometres ended up being my fastest by some stretch. Strava hawks will quickly point out that the run was 200m short so, while my official time is probably the third fastest 5km I have ran, realistically it was probably heading for my second fastest 5km off a bike; not something I was predicting at the start of the day. It was the second fastest split and moved me to second place, my first podium of any sort since April 2016 (no it’s not a misprint). My overall time was also my second-fastest sprint time. I’m happy with the day as I now prepare to go and play with the big boys again at Ironman 70.3 Geelong in a month.

Another feature of the day was seeing many other teammates enjoy success, spearheaded my Matt Lewis, with his domination of the Standard distance event.

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