The Journey to Race Day:
After failing to qualify and missing out on racing here last year due to injury, choosing to make my return to long course racing at this venue was no coincidence. It marks almost 12 months to the date from surgery, where I had a plantar plate in my left second toe repaired, and I had something to prove. Being told that I may never run again before surgery was the only motivation I needed to get back to the start line.
I made my official return to racing a few months prior at the Port Stephens Olympic Distance event. It felt great to be back competing and while I didn’t set the world on fire, it was enough to motivate me to kick things up a notch.
With running already my clear weakness before surgery, I was determined to not only do enough training to go the distance come race day, but make my run less of a weakness. Thanks to a few injury niggles along the way and the run focus in training, I wasn’t sure exactly how things would pan out but I was determined to give it a red hot go.
The build up:
Usually in the lead up to the start gun, I become a bit reclusive and get into race mode, narrowing my focus to the job that needs to be done. This time around it was quite the opposite. With my only goal to make it to the finish I felt very little pressure. I had no target times for the swim or specific watt targets on the bike. I had a few ideas on what I could be capable of in terms of numbers but the plan was to race more by feel and get to the run fresh. That concept, prior to this race, was very foreign as I am a real data nerd.
Rather than being my usual intense self approaching the start line, I was extremely relaxed by comparison and just ready to go hard at it. Standing on the start line I got some last minute encouragement from my family and even shared a few jokes as the countdown began.
As soon as the gun went off, race mode instinctively kicked in. After a short run down the beach there was a little swell to negotiate through before settling in to a rhythm. Not getting caught up in the frenzy that usually ensues at the start as everyone races to the first buoy, I hung out to the left and just did my own thing. It was also great to be able to see the swim buoys clearly for a change as I was racing with eye contacts for the first time.
After rounding the first buoy and charting a course south down the beach, it wasn’t long before we started catching the athletes who started in the prior wave. It was a real confidence boost swimming through the other coloured caps. I managed to sneak a look at my watch at around the half way point, a skill I developed in the pool, and was pleasantly surprised.
Turning the end buoy and heading north back to the swim finish and it certainly felt like we were getting some assistance from the ocean. I looked to lift my tempo over the last third of the swim and was hopeful for a solid time. I hit the beach and felt fresh. I looked down at my watch saw sub 30 which brought a smile to my face! After a quick spring up the beach and a pose for the camera on the way, it was time for the long run down through transition.
This was the leg I was most worried about. Usually a strength, I knew I hadn’t done the work I would have liked to going into a race of this distance. I spent a lot of time on the trainer indoors over Winter and had reservations over how it would play out come race day. Personally, while trainers can prove beneficial at times, you just can’t replicate riding outdoors.
Without a specific watt target to aim for, I had a rough idea of what I might be able to hold over the 90kms. After making my way over the little rollers heading out of Mooloolaba, I settled in quickly on the freeway and was sitting at the bottom end of the watt range I had in mind.
The pace felt comfortable and the little tailwind on the way out to the turnaround certainly helped keep the speed high. I managed to hold the same output on the return trip along the freeway before heading into the hinterland for the first of two hill loops.
I drove the hill loops the previous day so I had a bit of an idea what I was in for. After getting to the start of the first of two laps I was quite optimistic. Being in one of the last waves to start meant there was plenty of traffic on the loop with athletes 4 and 5 wide at times on some of the climbs.
Despite my best efforts to not overdo it, I pushed a little harder than I should have on the first hill loop. Heading in the second loop I was a little more contained, but by the time I was on the run back towards T2, the damage was done. Thankfully the damage wasn’t too bad with my watts only dropping by 5-6% but the legs were feeling very empty. The hamstrings and glutes were singing and I just wanted to get off the bike. I was just hoping that once I got my feet on the ground the legs would come good.
After fumbling my way through T2, I eventually made my way out on to the run course. The run leg was the one discipline that I had a specific plan for, given how much focus I had put into it as part of not only my rehab, but preparation for the race. Thankfully the legs came good early on and it was time to get to work.
While most people use 1km splits, I break my race down into 5x4km segments and a sprint for home. The first 4km went surprisingly well and I was right on my pacing schedule. The second 4km was slightly faster by the smallest of margins and the legs were felling good. In the third 4km block, which included the climb over Alexandra Headland from both sides, the pace improved ever so slightly again.
The fourth block is usually where I start to feel the pinch. Between 12-16km is when you are still a little far from home to let it all go and the fatigue really starts to set in. Despite feeling the heat and the legs starting to get heavy, the fourth split was my fastest yet. After rounding the turn at the far end of the course, the only thing to do was throw up the spinnaker and head for home.
I had been visualising this moment for over 12 months. Mentally I was ready to push on for home but the big question was if I body would respond. Over the remaining 5km I push and push. I willed my legs to go faster and faster but there was just no response. On the upside, I wasn’t slowing either… yet!
Hitting Alexandra Headland the second time was like hitting a wall. I had been here many times before, but this time I was better prepared. I stopped looking at my watch and just focused on my run cadence. Turning over the legs as fast as I could.
After cresting the hill I knew the job was done. Less than 1km to go and it was almost all down hill. I let the legs go and had enough in reserve to kick on to the finish line, beaming all the way.
Given my goal of finishing I had no expectations of what time I would do. With this in mind, to allow me to just focus on the job at hand, I didn’t use multi-sport on my watch. That said, I knew my swim time, I knew my bike time and running down the finish chute I knew my run time.
I hit the finish line, swung around to see my time and it was a bitter sweet feeling. I went within two minutes of my PB set at the same race 2 years earlier. What made me so happy was my run was a 7 min PB!
It felt amazing to be out there racing long course again and seeing all the familiar faces! The best part though was seeing my Fiancé Bec, Mum and Dad, who come to all my races, straight after the finish and celebrating together.
Training and racing takes a back seat now for the next few weeks as I head off overseas to get Married and enjoy my honeymoon!
Thanks for reading and I can’t wait to see you out there racing again soon.