At the start of the year, after a month break over Christmas, I decided that I would focus on making the Long Course World Championship my number 1 priority, which at the time was 7 months away. I knew that it would take that period of time to really peak properly for the race and hopefully pull off a great day. It is a lot of eggs to put in one basket, but that’s the way it is when your target is a World Championship and you need to do what it takes to really reach a peak. This is even more the case in triathlon, when you have 1 day to produce and often don’t get any second chances!
So after racing the Australian Ironman in May, which I used to build a nice base, I travelled over to Spain with the NSWIS and VIS tri teams, with whom I worked for the 2 months prior to the race. This gave me an excellent opportunity to do some great training, not only with the tri team, but also with Eneko Llanos, who lives in Vitoria. I was very fortunate to train with an athlete of his calibre on the actual race course each day.
Leading up to the race I felt very confident about my own preparation. I remain self coached and with the help of some great training partners, I was feeling far fitter than ever. That said, I knew there were some very strong athletes is my age group, 30-34, with plenty having gone under 9 hours in Ironman, which is at the very elite level in long course. On race day I only focused on exactly what I needed to do in order to have the best race possible. The swim was a one lap 4km course in the lake, which went quite smoothly and I exited the water just under an hour in 5th position in my age group. I knew an athlete, Haydn Armstrong from Australia, was going to be very tough to beat and we exited the water together. After about 10km on the bike Haydn attacked, but I opted to stay at the consistent power output I had decided on in order to ride as even as possible.I felt great during the ride, especially as it went on, with many others dropping off. These roads I had ridden dozens and dozens of times in training, giving me a very predictable race, but the speed was really on, averaging just over 39km/hr for the entire bike leg.
Transition two was in the old part of town which dates back over 400 years, giving the race a very unique atmosphere. I came into transition in what I thought was 3rd or 4th, but wasn’t entirely sure. During training I had pictured how packed the run course would be with spectators and how much atmosphere there would be, but nothing could have prepared me for it. The run course, especially at the start was about 5 people deep, with fans screaming, blowing hooters, waving flags, just going crazy, it was amazing. The Basque are a very passionate bunch but this exceeded any of my expectations. Consequently I needed to really concentrate, and not go too hard as a result of the hype which continued all around the 7.5km lap. After about 5km I got a split that I was in 3rd, 2min from 1st and 1min from 2nd. I almost fell over , 3rd in a World Championship! It took all of my mental control to not think about what ‘might be’, but rather to stay focused on exactly what I needed to do at each moment to have the best possible outcome. In the second lap I was feeling great and decided to take a small risk and have a crack at catching second and to put myself as far from fourth as possible. While I did make up some time, I paid for it a little in the third lap, when I really started to feel the ‘screws tightening’. From then I had to start to dig progressively deeper as the run went on. With 5km to go, I knew that 4th and 5th place were catching me and at the cross over I only had just under 1min. The two guys that were catching me, a German and a Portuguese , were looking great and while I tried to make myself look tall and strong when we crossed, I was feeling horrendous. So, with 5km to run, I was running for a podium…. In a World Championship….
Often in training when I am struggling, I imagine how much pain you would be in having a sprint finish at the end of a long race, as Macca did in the 2010 Hawaiian Ironman, or as Kerryn McCann did at the end of the 2006 Commonwealth Games marathon. Ah the irony! While I am definitely not comparing myself to those two, I was playing out what was the worst nightmare I had imagined over and over again in training. At every point where I could get a split, they were catching me. 1min, 45sec, 30sec. And I was absolutely on my limit, I was in more pain than I have ever been in before and I knew it was far from over. I was vomiting on myself, but couldn’t stop running. So when I entered town for the last time with 500m to go and looked over my shoulder to see them both about 15m back, I almost had a heart attack. Literally. From then on I don’t have much memory of it at all, except someone holding a small Australian flag out for me to grab and me sprinting to the line and collapsing face first as I crossed. It was over. After being lifted up and away to the med tent, I still wasn’t sure of the positon, I wanted to believe I came 3rd, but wouldn’t allow myself to believe it. I had to wait to get my phone to ring home of all places to confirm it.
What a feeling. At the risk of sounding soppy, I had just realised my triathlon dream. A World Championship podium. All the hard work, the long hours of training , juggling it around long work hours, the daily sacrifices of many other aspects of my life, had just paid off. Typically I am very self critical, but this and the day when I received my year 12 results, are the only two days when I have sat back and really been elated with what I have achieved. To get on the podium, as I am sure the pic’s show, is one of the happiest moments of my life and something that I will always treasure.
I really need to thank my fiancee Megan for the endless support and understanding, my parents, my work place Phytness Healthcare for being so supportive, Dextro for the great products and ongoing support, Champion Systems, who I appreciate more than ever after this race for their great quality, Cervelo, EKB Creative and AquaShop.
What an experience! A simple quote that I like and thought of while writing this:
– “Those who are reach their dreams are not gifted or talented, but are stubborn, resolute and willing to sacrifice”