Note: It has taken me way too long to write this post, so much so that it feels almost ‘outdated’.
Continue at will…
….a few years ago I had a crazy idea. I had decided I wanted to represent Australia in triathlon as an ‘Age Grouper’ (age grouper = non professional). And now I can say that just over a month ago my crazy idea came true, except not in triathlon (swim-bike-run) but in duathlon (run-bike-run).
I had no idea this was a thing – representing your country as an ‘Age Grouper’, until I started getting back in the triathlon circle in Ipswich and Brisbane. To explain simply how you can represent your country in such events: do some races, get some points and apply to be on the team. Presto. There are a certain amount of spots for each age group and each event, and if you have enough points then qualify.
Now, I must make it clear that this opportunity to wear Green & Gold is entirely self-funded: race entry, flights, accommodation, uniforms etc. So, as you can image, not everyone that is racing in these events is racing to quality. Which allows for opportunities for people (like myself) to get the golden ticket by only competing in one qualifying race. I call it my Stephen Bradbury moment.
Qualifying was one thing, however, getting to the start line was more difficult. It wasn’t smooth sailing and I had to work through a rolled ankle, influenza/man flu, and a month before the race inflammation in the foot. A few weeks before the race I did consider withdrawing – what was the point if I wasn’t prepared properly for the world stage? But I decided that a DNF (did not finish) was better than a DNS (did not start). And it was non-refundable…
Without boring you all with all the other drama of broken bike parts and trips to the physiotherapist, I’ll skip straight to race day…
There’s a common thought process with racing: never try something new on race day. I’ve never been one to follow the rules, and so to throw into the mix the lack of training, I was going to be wearing new shoes for both the 10 km run and 5 km run off-the-bike, I would be wearing the Australian triathlon suit for the first time, and using completely foreign nutrition during the race.
I decided since this was the World Championships, I should put a little effort into warming up before the race. I was still nervous to not do too much, in case the pain starting in my foot before the horn even sounded. I used the knowledge I had from my Wednesday morning speed sessions with Pursue (thanks Andy) and put in a solid warm up. We were called into our waiting pens and the nerves were kicking in. Our wave was 18-39 year olds, so I was going to be taking off with some seriously fast kids. And as usually, once the horn sounds everyone takes off at lightning speed with false expectations of being able to hold the speed.
I looked at my watch and I was running 4:10 m/km. Clearly not an achievable pace for me to hold, as my previous best time for a 10 km was an average 4:40 m/km plus. I slowed my self down and tried to be smart. That was until a group of American girls came behind me. They were working in a group and encouraging another American girl to join them. I know the invitation wasn’t to me, but I decided my best chance to get through this run was to jump on the back of the group. They were pushing a solid pace, but it was comfortable. One girl was constantly encouraging the others, and I was soaking up those words like a sponge – even though they weren’t directed to me. After the first lap they had accepted I was there and was encouraging me too. The final lap of the 2.5 km course I knew I was heading towards a 10 km personal best time. It was my motivation to keep pushing, and I had no foot pain. As I entered transition knowing I had taken about 1.5 mins of my personal best time, I was ecstatic – Thanks Team USA!
The first transition was the calmest and most organised I’ve ever felt. I knew exactly where my bike was – always a good start. Then I saw a Brazillian girl who I knew had her bike racked opposite me. She was running around frantically with a volunteer – she was lost! I decided I should help her, and yelled out for her to follow me. It must have been the good vibes I was feeling from my new 10 km time, but then I had the realisation that she may be in my age group and could now beat me – doh!
As I left transition and mounted my bike I instantly knew something didn’t feel right, especially when I moved down onto my aero bars. I kept looking at my leg and realised I couldn’t get a full extension. I kept looking down at my seat and I knew it was too low. I couldn’t work out why, as I had tested my bike over the previous days. There was nothing I could do, as I didn’t have a tool in my spares kit to adjust it (lesson learnt). It was frustrating seeing girls blitz past me that I had beaten on the run. There was a lot of expletive language mixed with motivational pep talks. I alternated riding on and out of the saddle to give my legs a flush out and stretch. Not only was this going to affect my bike leg, but running after 40km in this position was going to hurt. The bike course was 2 x 20 km laps: head wind out, tail wind back – twice. I’ve never been so happy to part ways with my bike after finishing the 40 km course.
All that was left was two more laps of the 2.5 km loop. I just wanted to get it done and I was surprised at how well my legs were coping off the bike. I keep pushing hard and came away with a 5 km personal best time off-the-bike. The highlight of the whole event, was running towards the finish line and being handed an Australian flag by the team support crew. I waved that flag as hard as I could and crossed the finish line with the biggest smile on my face.
Regardless of what happened on the bike, I couldn’t have done anything more. Yes, the bike slowed down my overall time and affected my overall placing, but pulling off two running personal best times, when I didn’t even know if I could run the first 10 km was more than enough to walk away with. And there is always next year…
And after every hard race, one deserves a treat.