You quickly learn in Triathlon that no two races are the same. From the individual leg distance, to the weather and the competition who show on the day. And none of these are really known until the gun has gone and you’re in the thick of it.
Three weeks ago, I was in Robina (QLD) taking part in an Olympic Distance event (1500m swim, 40km bike and 10km run) with 800+ athletes. Most of us were there to pick up points towards qualification for the Australian team at this year’s World Age Group Championships. In Robina, we were all graced with a shorter ~1300m swim leg in 29˚C water, followed by a flat humid bike and run course. The past weekend, I and fellow Triathlon newcomer Pippa Featherston, along with 500+ athletes descended upon Canberra for the next qualifying race on the calendar (one of six remaining events before selection closes in late March). The course itself ended up including an ~1600m wetsuit swim (sub-22˚C), breezy and undulating bike course, but a flat/fast run to close out the event. Most of these factors we felt prepared for. But one we can't coming from Darwin, was the cool 12˚C morning, which had brought water temperature down to a fresh wetsuit friendly 22˚C. As long as feeling in the limbs could be maintained from the swim to the bike to the run, it would make for a fun day.
As was the case Robina, we had a deep-water start in age group waves. The men’s waves kicked off from 7am, and the women from 8am. Both Pippa and my waves were the last to be released. This made for a steady flow of swimmers around the first lap, but as you closed it out, the faster swimmers from the earlier waves made themselves known breezing around the 2 lap course. Personally I felt the cold in the race more than I had expected. I had thought, with the wetsuit on and the adrenalin pumping, that I would have been warm but it took a good 300m before I felt my lungs enough to settle into a rhythm. Then I had 600-700m of good pace, passing the other athletes in the wave as they began to fade, until around 1000m when I felt a cramp in my right calf and dropped a few places. Luckily I had the wetsuit to keep my legs buoyant, which allowed me to forget about them and effectively turn the final 500m into a "Pull session", occasionally throwing in a kick to see if the cramp had straightened out. Eventually the calf came good and allowed me to pick up a few spots I had lost earlier. I exited the water in 00:24:04. Three minutes slower then Robina, but overall quicker when you factor in the additional distance.
Getting out of the water wasn't easy. The exit was a ramp that extended 5m into the water to combat the built-up (brick wall) shoreline. Here, two officials stood either side of the ramp and pulled us up, two at a time. So if you were unlucky to hit the ramp in the pack you had to wait your turn. Then it was an anything but graceful reef. From there, it was a 250m run to transition, plenty of time to get the wetsuit to the hips and pass a few more competitors, but that was the easy part. Getting the wetsuit off completely required a bit more concentration. But thankfully the Roka wetsuit I had was made for triathlon and it slipped off the legs without much work and it was onto the bike leg.
On the bike course you appreciate the real benefits of starting in one of the earlier waves. Unless competing as a professional in the ITU Series, Olympic Distance events are non-drafting. If cycling is your strongest leg, that makes little impact to your race as you weave your way through the field. For me, and a lot of other triathletes who finish the 40km in approximately an hour, it can get messy. Over the course of a bike leg small groups tend to form. This can be dangerous, because if an official catches you sitting too close behind a competitor, or spending too much time on the right side of another rider (which can be viewed as blocking as it prevents people from behind you passing), you will be penalised and forced to spend three minutes in a penalty box. Although I had passed a lot people in the swim leg, I still saw that there would have been some 250+ triathletes on course. I tried to put my head down and roll out my own race, however I continually found myself being passed and passing the same 3-4 athletes. And by the end of the bike leg, there were about 6 of us who all finished the fourth and final lap together. Personally, I finished the bike leg about a minute slower than Robina in 01:02:54, but when you factor in the hilly course and constant stop-start of racing from the back of the field I was happy.
The transition from bike to run was much faster than swim to bike. The distance through transition was much shorter and there were no additional layers of clothing (like a wetsuit) to unload. And although I had lost the feeling in my toes during the bike leg (according to Garmin the temperature rose from 13˚C degrees to 16˚C by the end of the ride), I jumped ahead of the 6 guys I came off the bike with in the first 200m. From there, the run felt effortless. Completely the opposite to Robina, where I had felt heavy legs in the first couple of kilometres and had fought to hold a sub 4min/km pace. Although I ended up with one of the fastest run times on the day at Robina, this is where I wanted to see an improvement in my time. Since Robina a focus in my training had been hitting the high end of my pace straight off the bike. What I thought would equate to throwing in more pace work in my weekly runs, and reducing the workload in the swim/bike session, was seen differently by my coach. He had set an interim program (over the three weeks between the events) that kept the focus of developing more strength on the bike and added more runs straight off the bike. Would this strategy pay off?
The team at Blue Cycles keep this blog updated with current events in darwin, deals or sales at Blue Cycles Coconut Grove and Palmerston and interesting facts. We hope you enjoy and interact by commenting on the posts.