My alarm went off at 3:30am. It was the first time either myself or my alarm had risen at this time. Even the screen of my phone seemed surprised and concerned that it was flashing at this ridiculous hour. The night before Challenge Melbourne, Jarrod and I worked backwards from the start time to figure out when we needed to wake up:
Jarrod: “Race starts at 6:15. And we’ll ride down there. How long does it take to ride?”
Me: “well, it’s about 20 mins to Elwood, plus another 10-15 mins, maybe if we leave at 4.30?”
Jarrod: “4:15, then we get there for 5am?”
Me: “OK, so then to leave at 4:15, we need to get up at… 3:30????”
Jarrod: “I guess so.”
Me: “And it’s 10:30pm now.”
Me: “Ok. Best get to sleep then.”
Classic Piper-Bosanko planning. And, like with anything where you have to set a really early alarm, I managed to sleep for a total of about 45 minutes, stretched out in intervals of: 1 min light sleep/5 mins wide-awake-omg-is-it-time-to-get-up-yet-have-I-missed-my-alarm.
When the alarm finally went off, I was almost relieved at not having to fake-sleep anymore.
So we rode from South Yarra down to the start of Challenge Melbourne in Brighton. (Spoiler alert: this decision would come back to bite us after we’d raced a half-ironman and the temperatures soared and we then had to ride all the way home again.)
We did all the necessary bike checking in etc, and got into our wetsuits and headed down to the swim start. It was still pretty much pitch black.
Swim (1.9km in theory, however a buoy apparently drifted out, and most people clocked 2.1km/2.3km…??)
All the age-group women started together. The water was divine. Calm and beautiful. You couldn’t ask for better conditions. I started in the middle, at the front. Overly confident. (Always over promising and under delivering in the swim!). The gun went off and we ran in. Fortunately, the beach dropped away rapidly, so there was no need for too many awkward porpoise dives this time. I just got stuck in and started swimming.
It was the standard washing machine. But I’m really starting to enjoy it; training with the JVW open water group on Wednesdays at Half Moon Bay, and then with Yarra Tri on Fridays at Elwood over the summer has taken away the uber-fear that I used to have. Now it’s a case of smashing my arms through the waves and fighting hard for a spot – in the words of Mufasa: eat or be eaten, son.
I managed to stay strong through the start of the swim, and keep in with the pack for the first time ever. We rounded the first buoy, and got the standard kicks to the eyeballs as people clamber over each other through the turn. Then it was the long, far stretch along the back of the swim. Now, I managed to stay in a pack for the entire stretch, but it seemed to go on forever. Saying that, the sun was rising directly into our line of sight, so it was a stunning sight to see arms splashing in silhouette as the sun came up behind them. We finally made it to the next turn. And then to the next one. I was swimming really well (by my own standards haha), staying on feet (as JVW has drilled into us), and generally thinking that life was pretty sweet.
But the swim went on. And on.
I exited the water in 40:27. WAIT. WHAT?? I was aiming for a 35 minute swim. I did everything I needed to do to ensure I hit that – I stayed in the draft, I pushed hard, I stayed on course – 40 minutes??? The fastest swim split in my age group however was 34:21. So that’s reassuring. After the race, lots of athletes were saying their swim was long and slow. And then there was news that the far buoy had drifted off course. So that’s ok. My swim WAS good, and I did work hard.
Swim rank: 11th in A/G
Transition 1 – (beach to transition run time 1:09, T1 time 3:12)
I had established the fact that transition was another limiter for me. In the past, I could have sat down and had a picnic. So I decided that I would work on this. And every time I have ridden my bike on my twice-daily commute, I’ve been practicing the whole ridiculous shoe-shenanigans.
I was feeling pretty confident about this, so decided on race day to go for the retro trick with the elastic bands to balance my shoes. I have to admit, I was nervous that this would backfire, having never tried it before. But it worked a treat. (Apart from the fact that transition was in a gravel/concrete car park with no grass, so I had to run barefoot across really shardy stones). I was heaps faster than when I did the cleat-waddle, and my rank in transition was 2nd in my AG instead of the usual LAST. HASHTAG PROGRESS.
I’m not gonna lie about this, and before you get the chance to criticise, I’m putting it right up the front: I have become what I fondly like to call a ‘Beach Rd Specialist’. Since my little 6 day stint in the Alfred Hospital, I’ve been taking things easy, and have only been out to ride the hills on three occasions (that brutal 3 Peaks training ride to Kinglake via Mt Pleasant, a Lemonade Scones Loop which sounds much more friendly than the reality of the gradient, and a 3 x 1/20 rep session with Brooke, Jarrod and Joe a few weeks ago). Every other ride I have done has been on Beach Road to make sure my heart didn’t blow out like a Schwalbe on a hot day grinding up a hill.
Today’s race would entail three laps of this sucker.
Modelling the sexy set of race wheels borrowed from my extremely generous friend Frank, I commenced lap one.
And then lap two.
By this point I was starting to get warm, but not too warm. And nowhere near as dangerously warm as the weather was predicted to be.
The bike course was massively overcrowded at the start, but by lap three it had opened out. There was a significant amount of illegal drafting going on. At some points I would have to ride to the left of the access lane cones, closer to the gutter, to get out of the draft, as there was no other way to ride legally. For the age-groupers, there would have been a lot of very quick times… I can honestly say I did my best to maintain my integrity as an athlete and stick to the rules. But man, there were some guys riding like they were on the North Road Ride rolling turns! Haha classic Beach Rd bandits…
Bike split: 2:29:58, 5th in A/G (and a new bike PB!)
Transition 2 – 0:2:27, 4th
This could have been about 30 seconds faster, but I needed to pee. We don’t need to go into those details.
It was starting to warm up by this point. I had decided not to run to any particular pace, only to watch my heart rate. So I didn’t have any time or speed readings, just the beats per minute. If it got too high, I would slow down, and stop if necessary – it was all about monitoring the heart.
I had seen Emma Carney just before the swim start, who had been kind enough to share the details of her specialist with me when I first came out of hospital, and she advised me very frankly to make sure I kept my electrolytes up during the race in order to look after my heart. It was excellent advice and it stayed front of mind the entire time – especially during the run. I had salt tabs and gels, and made sure they were constantly being swallowed to top up my levels.
And I’ll say this now for anyone who’s currently training for a big race/their first marathon/a big PB: running is NEVER FUN when you’re racing. People have often asked me if I enjoy it, and I can honestly say – no, it absolutely kills. Especially after a long bike ride. Running hurts. It never, ever gets easier. You just (hopefully) get faster with practice.
But today wasn’t to be ‘fast’ fast, but it wasn’t slow either. I found a good rhythm, and managed the heat by pouring water on my head and chest at every km aid station (massive shout out to the organisers and volunteers, who did an incredible job – especially Lee Bethune whose sombrero and smile lifted me on every lap, and who is doing her first half ironman this weekend in Geelong – GO LEE!!). Oh and here’s a little tip I learnt: don’t put ice in your shorts if it can’t get out quickly. Have you ever tried to run with a frozen crotch? I didn’t think so. And I don’t recommend it. Lesson learned. Let’s move swiftly on.
The run was three laps with a couple of tricky undulations, steps, stretches of sand etc, and I LOVED it. There was lots of crowd support along the way, and it ran along the beautiful foreshore and through the trail beside beach road and then down to the yacht club. It was ace.
That’s not to say I wasn’t glad to reach the end. I was. Everything hurt. I sprinted to the finish to pretend like it was all no biggie. Just did a half-ironman, whatevs. I was in agony. Triathlon is hard.
Run time: 1:47:02, 3rd in A/G
Overall Finish time: 5:04:17, 4th in A/G (a new PB!!)
So I managed to not only get a new PB, but I did it with a longer swim, and without a PB in the run. I was SO CLOSE to my goal of sub 5 which is really exciting; I didn’t think I would come anywhere close to a PB in this race, and had only set the goal of beating my dismal performance in Las Vegas. So to race so well on a minimalist few months of consistent training has been such a boost.
And now, it’s two days after the race. I don’t know what’s next. But I’m excited.
Thanks to all at Challenge Australia and Super Sprint for putting on such a great event. And thanks again for the free finishers’ beer. What an inspired decision!