|Keith Hedgeland photo from Busso|
I’ve been putting off writing this blog. I’ll pretend it’s because I had a microbiology practical exam yesterday, and a major physiology test coming up on Friday. But really it’s because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say about Cairns. Nothing really stood out to me about the race – except the unbelievable amount of water that fell from the sky!
Then I read this article on Facebook this morning, which started me thinking, and putting things into perspective. If you are a triathlete and you haven’t read it, put your mouse on this hyperlink and click now http://www.trispecific.com/goals-beware/.
I’ll come back to that at the end. First, to the race, and the Cairns experience.
I flew up Thursday morning and was met at the airport by Kelsey, a sailing friend whom I had not seen for about 8 years but nonetheless generously offered to accommodate Polly Mosley and myself. He also drove us around, lent us a car and trusted us to look after his house and dogs alone for two days – crazy man! As I always say, it is the people you meet that make sport what it is.
Polly arrived later in the afternoon and we walked the whole two blocks from Kelsey’s house to the Tobruk pool. It was lovely to be in an outdoor 50 again; not so lovely to pull on the old wetsuit for the first time since Busselton! I love my Orca Alpha 1.5 but you do always forget the difference it makes to your shoulders when you haven’t had it on in a while. Far too cold for open water swimming in Adelaide this time of year!
Friday we headed into Cairns central to register, grabbed a coffee with the fabulous WA girls Kira and Renee, then drove up to Palm Cove where we met Tara Leonard, another of the Amax team from Lennox. Feeling more than a little apprehensive about the massive surf rolling into the beach, we decided to go for a short swim just to test the conditions. Satisfied that they were indeed horrendous, we exited the water – trying not to get blown off the beach – showered, and then discovered to our horror that the car wouldn’t start! Eventually we found a man with a jumpstarting thing who said the battery was fine. Mystified, we decided to drive the bike course in Tara’s car while we thought about what to do.
|Palm Cove: photos don't do the rough conditions justice|
The bike course was scenic and undulating, and from our cushy position of singing loudly to 80’s rock on the radio, didn’t seem overly difficult. Opinions would change come Sunday.
We got back to Palm Cove and called the RACQ, but I got sick of waiting for them and eventually discovered I could start the car in neutral. Temperamental bloody car would only start in park every once in a while, but would start in neutral every time! We drove off and passed the RACQ car on the way out of Palm Cove.
We had dinner in Cairns, then I took us on a scenic detour trying to find the way back to our places (just one of many idiotic things I was to do over the weekend, as I’d clearly left both my brain and my running legs at home in Adelaide).
Saturday brought a busy day of organising. Point to point triathlons = logistical nightmare. My usual fears of forgetting something were quadrupled by the addition of three separate gear bags and two separate transitions. I was certain it wouldn’t be until I ran into the tent and grabbed my gear bag that I would scream “where the #&@% is my…. ?” but thank goodness that didn't happen! In fact I needed less than what I’d packed thanks to the weather – my sunglasses spent the entire race in my pocket. The second stupid thing I did happened on this morning; I managed to lock Polly and myself out of the house and make Kelsey drive back from his sailing regatta to let us in!
|Before the rain came and washed it all away...|
After pro briefing it was time to head home and prepare an early dinner, and early to bed as the alarms were set for 3.20am the following morning.
About midnight Sunday morning it began to rain, and that rain had not stopped even for one minute by the time I left Cairns at 10.30am Monday. Thinking I was off to some tropical paradise (and constrained by the ridiculous cost of checked baggage) I had brought no warm or waterproof clothes, and so put a pair of shorts, thongs and a very light cycling rain cape over my suit on race morning, which quickly became wet and cold. Tara’s mum/number 1 supporter Janette picked us up at 4am as we wanted to head out of town ahead of the 50 busses that would be transporting most of the competitors to the race site. As Polly and I would be in the second wave, we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time and not be stressed.
|Forecast for race day: 90% chance of 20-40mm|
Transition was a wet, muddy quagmire which made several concerted attempts to steal my Chinese safety boots. There wasn’t too much to do at the bikes given all of our gear was in the bags in the tents, so we pumped up the tires, put our nutrition in place and then headed off to look for toilets and shelter. We found many others hiding around the hotel next door so we did the same, putting our wetsuits on early and leaving our muddy, soaked clothing in our street gear bags for transport back to T2.
When we got to the start area it was still pitch black dark and Lisa Marangon kindly came up and warned us that if a crocodile approached, its eyes would glow in the dark. We spent a long time on the beach trying to figure out the course as the buoys were barely visible. Luckily the rain trumped the wind and the surf had declined significantly from its level of the last few days, leaving only a slightly confused chop. The water was warm, too – above the usual wetsuit limit but due to the fear of jellyfish, the rules are altered for this course.
Before long we were away and, with 19 girls in the field, it was the first time in my professional career that I’ve actually been hit, dunked and swum over during a swim start – it was like being back in the age group! The first section into the waves was pretty horrendous. I swallowed a lot of water and did wonder if I’d make it! But by the time we had turned to swim parallel with the beach, things had settled down and I found myself swimming comfortably with a pack, which never happens. I think the chop helps people like me who are strong but have rubbish swim technique, as the pool swimmers don’t get such a big advantage in these conditions.
After we turned at the buoy to head back into shore I found I could swim with the waves a little faster than those around me and I lead the pack til we caught another pair of girls swimming on their own. We all exited the water together and ran into T1. Still raining and slippery underfoot. I grabbed my bag and ran past a bunch of girls who were changing in the bag tent. Luckily we had red carpet in our section of the transition; the rest of it resembled some kind of mud wrestling arena.
I did a really hubbard bike mount because I was so scared of slipping over. After being so damn careful at Karri Valley in similar conditions and still stacking it, I wanted to be safe. In hindsight I don’t know why, the last race of the season is no place for conservatism. I should have gone balls out and ended up either with a broken collarbone or a faster ride.
The first section or the course involved a dozen speed humps made of small rocks. The race organisers had covered them with rubber but it was still bumpy and dangerous. Every one I went over, my front drink bottle containing my nutrition nearly slipped out. After each one I pushed it back in. A couple of girls went past me while I was busy doing this. Then there were two consecutive speed bumps and you can guess what happened to my nutrition. A few choice words came out of my mouth, sorry Tammy that probably wasn’t very professional conduct. Lucky it was cold and I didn’t need those electrolytes.
For the first part of the bike course I played cat and mouse with one other girl, then I passed her going up Rex lookout and that was the last I saw of her for probably 30 k’s, at which point she passed me in the midst of a pack of male age groupers flying up the road. No more shall be said, except that I will never accept any form of assistance from people who are not in my race.
Out to the turnaround I felt I was doing pretty well. As I watched the girls come back I could see Caroline in the lead, Lisa not far behind and then a big pack with Kiyomi, Renee, BG, maybe one other girl and a few of the tail end pro men. I thought if I continued to ride hard I might catch them. But soon after the turnaround the headwind picked up, my concentration lapsed and possibly my motivation as well. Usually I have strategies in place for the times when you are completely alone and can’t see anyone ahead or behind, but today I was just not on my game. Bar that one girl and her male entourage, I saw no one until Tineke Stewart passed me with about 10km to go. I was still thinking: I’m in striking distance of the podium if I run well. The last 5-10km of the course were really unfamiliar to me and I was kind of soft pedalling wondering if I was going the right way, dealing with more speed humps, and keeping my eyes on the traffic. I had a close call with a bus but luckily nothing as scary as poor Kira who actually hit a car.
|over 3000 competitors, one of the biggest transitions I've seen|
Because I hadn’t bothered to do my recon on T2, I didn’t know where the dismount line was and it came up before I was expecting it. I did a hubbard dismount and ran my bike into T2, racked it and went into the tent. I could hardly get my shoes and socks on because I was so wet, muddy and shaking.
Almost as soon as I got out onto the course I got a raging stitch, then dropped the only gel I wanted to eat. Things were quickly going from bad to worse. My lower back was completely locked up and ridiculously painful (here is where I admit I knew it was a bad idea to fiddle with my bike position a few days from the race, but I reckon it was also to do with the seated climbing from the bike leg) I had to stop and try to stretch it out and when Dimity-Lee Duke ran past me she asked if I wanted some drugs! I must’ve looked taken aback because she qualified with ‘like, aspirin or something’ which I declined but was nonetheless a nice gesture that made far more sense when I discovered she’s a paramedic.
I managed to hold Polly off for just over a lap which would have been a bit over 10km, an improvement on Busselton which was about 7 or 8km, but I think by this point I had really given up on myself and my race. It was one day where I would let the pain beat me instead of beating it, and although I know this had to happen to me as a learning experience, it still makes me mad as I’ve always been the “never say die” kind of person. Actually it’s probably all that makes me a decent athlete as I don’t have any real natural sporting talent or ability. So I ended up dropping something stupid like 7 places on the run, and at the time I couldn’t care less, I just wanted so bad to get to the finish line and STOP. I just wanted it to be over. At least I made myself finish, I suppose, instead of pulling out, which was definitely on the agenda several times throughout the run! It truly was the longest 21.1km of my life.
|Pre race - applying my race number and showing off my lucky "loom band" that matches my race suit - made by Sailor Townsend - I lost it during the race, probably an omen!!|
To be honest, I was more excited about the opportunity to watch the Ironman than I was about doing the 70.3. It didn’t take long to become freezing cold after the race, and as all of our street gear was also sopping wet, we were so lucky to have Janette to drive us home for a hot shower.
When Twitter informed us of the epic battle taking place in the men’s race we quickly got back down to T2, where we stood in the rain for hours, cheering for mostly Tim and Robbo but anyone else I spotted like Jules, Craig and Kevin Fergusson.
It was an absolute honour to watch those boys race. They are so tough, but to see that they, like all of us, go through tough spots and can still manage to turn themselves and their races around, is totally inspiring. Tara and I were jumping around and hugging in excitement with tears in our eyes when Robbo somehow managed to pass Matt Burton in the last 5km (thanks to Juggz and Gilesey) and finish 3rd.
During my race I was thinking I will NEVER race a full Ironman; how the heck could you do this twice, once is painful enough! But I must admit I am pretty curious to see how it feels to finish one!
So back to Charlotte’s article from this morning.
If you had asked me 10 years ago would I become a professional triathlete, I would have asked you what triathlon was and told you don’t be stupid, I’m going to be a professional sailor. Triathlon was just something I kind of fell into years later when I was looking for something to do to keep fit while working nights and weekends at the paper.
I remember my very first triathlon. I was 19 or 20 and racing against little kids in the novice division in one of the last tri’s ever held at Blackstone Heights. I was cold, nervous and extremely scared that I’d fall off my bike trying to get up that first hill and become the laughing stock of the day. Well not only did I make it up that hill, I finished the race and even took home a medal - third I think. I was officially hooked on triathlon. But without knowing it, I had just made triathlon into a new sailing.
I started sailing when I was six or seven and won medals and trophies at almost every race, season pointscore or regatta I entered. With a coach like my dad, how could I not?! But it instilled into me a thought that I now realize I have been carrying around with me ever since: this is normal, and you should expect to win or at least place; if you don’t, you are no good. You are nothing. You have done a bad job.
Triathlon, even running with LAC, became like that. People seemed to expect me to win, so I expected myself to win. Sometimes when I won, I’d be happy with that achievement for a while, but soon it would be replaced with ‘next time I have to go faster, or longer, or beat someone I haven’t before’. It’s got to a point now where it doesn’t seem to matter how I do, it’s not as good as I could have or should have done.
I don’t think it’s healthy to get stuck in the past, but perhaps reflecting back on the fact that at one point I didn’t think I could make it up a hill, to now being able to race in the professional division, would remind me that I have come a long way, and even if progress has slowed substantially, I am still moving in the right direction.
Sometimes I ask myself, how much can a person with no background in triathlon, teach themselves about the sport? I love coaching myself, mainly because I enjoy the added challenge; I think it produces a more all-round athlete with more options for the future; and I find it hard to place enough faith in someone else to carry out their instructions without knowing all the WHYs behind it (well, I am doing a science degree - I like to understand the why's!). Mostly though, I haven’t gone down this path because I don’t have the time and money it demands. But in the interest of keeping things moving in the right direction at the right pace, there are major life changes on the horizon. I guess in a way we’ve been waiting for life to throw some kind of opportunity at us – it’s been pretty short on those lately.
Having lost my main job after Busselton, I’d been attempting to live on my Centrelink payment which, after rent, gave me $15 a week for food, healthcare, phone/internet/water/electricity bills, pool entries, bus fares, clothes and of course the all-important triathlon gear/race entries/travel. To say that is stressful is a bit like saying the GWS vs Richmond game was close. Luckily I picked up a couple of shifts running boot camp classes at a local gym, but for an extra $80 a week it comes at a pretty high physical cost during training. I’m going to say the added stress and fatigue from this situation – plus the fact that I travelled interstate 8 times within about four months, and the associated uni-catch-up-stress – put me into a deeper state of mental and physical fatigue than I realized. I knew I was ready for a break before I even headed up to Cairns and that being where my mind was didn’t help performance on race day.
Next season I will consider my race planning a bit more closely to ensure this doesn’t happen again. But for now I’m going to look back on my first professional season and think about what I HAVE achieved, rather than what I haven’t. I am still the youngest professional in the field, and one of the least experienced. Between mid October and mid January I wasn’t able to run a step thanks to my second stress fracture of the year. There’s still plenty of time for me to get where I want to be, to get my running back to how it used to be, and to learn to swim!
It’s been a really BIG first half of the year, and I’m kinda planning on the second half being not bigger, but BETTER.
But for now it’s all training off while I learn the entire semester’s material in about three weeks.
I plan to start season 2014-15 with my first major race in September.
Kelsey, thankyou for having Polly and I to stay in Cairns! It was fantastic. Maybe we'll be back next year - when you'll be racing as well! ;)
Kelsey, thankyou for having Polly and I to stay in Cairns! It was fantastic. Maybe we'll be back next year - when you'll be racing as well! ;)
Paul Zuromski and team from The Dive Shack http://www.thediveshack.com.au/ and Snorkel Safari Adelaide. Paul provided me with all my Orca gear for the season including two amazing wetsuits and the coolest transition bag I’ve ever seen. This is a massive, massive help to a struggling neo-pro in a pretty tight financial situation so a big thanks to them for sticking by me even through all the time out with injury. The Dive Shack has a great range of Orca wetties/gear as well as Head goggles – it’s a real undiscovered paradise for SA triathletes and open water swimmers.
Mum and Dad and my extended family – you’ve been a great support through some tough times this year. Thankyou for putting up with all my crazy sporting dreams and the convoluted plans to make them work, that have been a feature of my life for the last decade. I am lucky to have grown up in a supportive family that has given me the strength to believe in dreams at the stubbornness to pursue them until they come true.
Jason, well what can I say. “I couldn’t do it without you” is an understatement. Your patience in supporting me through my degree, through my injuries, through a hundred different jobs and recently no jobs; for putting up with my laziness, my tiredness, my ineptness; it’s beyond words. You turned down the pro lifestyle and never had to go through the student lifestyle – now you’re living both together on my behalf! You’re bloody crazy, man.
I could never name everybody that supports me, but you know who you are. If you’ve ever cheered for me, helped me out, read my blog, liked a photo or a status, retweeted a tweet or whatever it might be – it means more to me than I can say, and more than you might think. Thankyou x
Samoa Half Iron 4th
Ironman 70.3 Port Macquarie 3rd
Bike Society Tri Series Race 1 Moana 1st
Challenge Half Bateman’s Bay DNF
Karri Valley Triathlon WA 3rd
Ironman 70.3 Busselton 6th
Ironman 70.3 Cairns 15th