A World Championship Winning Report

People who know me would probably say that I’m quiet, unassuming and pretty low-key; someone who plays things down most of the time.  At times during this report I might step away from that persona, because winning a World Championship is something that I should be shouting about, as much as that’s not in my nature. 

We arrived at transition at 5am, which is when I started breakfast whilst preparing my bike – two large cookies and a protein shake.  Once the tyres were pumped (finding a pump probably took 15 minutes) and the shoes, drink and computer were on the bike, I left transition.   

We were the final wave to start at 8am, so with over two hours  to burn before our start, it was important to try and stay as calm as possible and stay off our feet.  We found a spot by the lake and sat down to watch the pros finish the swim.  Once they were on the bike, we watched the other age-group waves head off.  We found a great vantage point on the bridge where we could look down on the swimmers finishing the final few hundred metres of the swim.  Somehow over an hour had passed and it was time to get back in race mode and head towards the lake to wait for our 8am start.

Scott and I were sitting about a hundred metres from the start when we saw a large group of athletes in yellow swim caps.  We both looked at each other and at the same time said something along the lines of ‘that’s strange, there must be two waves with yellow caps’.  The announcer then said that all male 18-29 athletes were about to enter the water, at which stage we frantically ran down to the start and had a giggle about nearly missing the race!  This was indicative of my mood leading into and ahead of race day – I was very relaxed.  As we jumped in the water we had about 10 minutes until the start of our wave, so we swum to the side of the lake and did more sitting for another 5 minutes, saving ourselves from treading water for longer than necessary.  With 5 minutes to go we moved towards the start line in a central position, starting about three rows deep.  Treading water at the start line was carnage – there were arms and legs everywhere and the race hadn’t even begun.  Everyone was jockeying for position and nobody was afraid to get physical defending their spot.  With one minute to go I moved about 20 metres to the left to find some more space, this time moving forward to the second row.  We had a 30 second warning and the next sound we heard was the cannon signalling the start.

It was a physical start, getting kicked and punched every other stroke from all angles.  As always, I put in a harder effort for the first 5 minutes or so, trying to find some fast feet to follow.  I then settled into an effort level that I could maintain for the rest of the swim, although it still felt quite tough.  We hit the halfway point in what seemed like a quick time, and we then started to bump into some of the slower swimmers from earlier waves.  I tried to follow some yellow caps who were dodging the other swimmers, which meant that I didn’t have to do too much sighting.  As we went under the bridge I knew we were nearly there, and at this point everyone seemed to kick viciously for home.  I came out the water in 28:44, right around where I expected to be. 

As we started the climb out of transition, I saw Andy Tyack and Mark Luckin, who had both come out of the water 2 seconds ahead of me.  Scott them came past on the hill and you could throw a blanket over the four of us.  There were quite a few other athletes in our age-group ahead though, so I put my head down and started to try and make up ground. 

I’ll interrupt the report briefly to talk about the race plan for the bike that Brian and I had hatched up.  Prior to the race, I did a (very) thorough background check on the competition in my age-group.  I’m not talking just about just knowing who was racing – I delved deeper.  I looked into past results, looked at trends, looked at strengths and weaknesses.  I knew who had qualified where and what course and environmental conditions were like at each race.  I knew who would be out of the water ahead of me, who I’d expect to pass on the bike and who could outrun me.  I knew who had proved they could perform well in hot conditions and who hadn’t yet proved it.  I memorised bib numbers, race kit, bikes – I was sure I knew everything I needed to know.  This knowledge formed the basis of the race plan – we’d attack the bike.  I was confident I was one of the better riders out there, but was well aware that I’d be playing catch up out of the swim and there were at least half a dozen guys that could run faster than me.  If I was to have a chance of finishing on the podium, I’d have to play my hand, and anyway, we were in Vegas!  It wasn’t a kamikaze plan, but it was tough.  We targeted riding at an average of 4.1W/kg, estimating the ride would take 2h20’, hopefully a minute or two less. 

Starting the bike shortly after 8:30am, it was already hot.  The course was congested with riders from the earlier swim waves, but fortunately most were keeping to the right allowing the faster riders to pass safely.  I passed some bib numbers from guys in my age-group, and nobody was passing me, so I figured things were off to a good start.  My power numbers were in line with my perceived level of exertion – which was to say that it didn’t feel easy.  Around 30 minutes in I slowly came up to two guys in my age-group who (thanks to my stalking) I knew would be near the front of the race.  As the road flattened out I’d make up time, but as soon as we climbed they’d pull away.  The nature of the Vegas course is more than undulating, it’s hilly.  I kept them both in my sight, staying behind them and biding my time.  I wanted to pass, but I wanted to do so with conviction.  I wanted them to think that once I was past them, it was for good.  I waited for a long gradual downhill and made my move, upping the power for about 5 minutes and pulling away from them.  I put my head down for another 5 minutes and turned around on a hill, with neither of them in sight.  The plan had worked, but I was sure there were others ahead.

Getting your nutrition right in conditions like we had on Sunday is crucial, and for the first half an hour I had one 700ml bottle of sports drink with 190 calories and a 700ml bottle of water.  At every aid station I’d poured water over myself to try and stay cool, which would be important as the temperature was already in the high 30’s C.  As we neared the turnaround point I was starting to falter, physically more than mentally.  For the first hour I’d averaged exactly 4.1W/kg - right on plan - but I was starting to feel the effects of the hard ride.  I was already aware that a 2h20’ ride wasn’t on the cards.  I’d severely underestimated the course and conditions, and both were proving far harder than I imagined. 

For the next hour I really had to knuckle down and stay in the game mentally, as my power was slowly starting to decline.  Despite that, I’d passed another two athletes in my age-group and I was sure that I was right up there, possibly in the top 2 or 3 places.  For the second hour I had another bottle of sports drink and a bottle of water, although by now it felt like we were riding in a furnace.  Coming into the last aid station I grabbed a sports drink, only to find that the lid had broken and I wasn’t able to drink it without unscrewing the lid completely.  That wasn’t really an option, so I rode the last 20 minutes without taking any nutrition.  I was also a few hundred calories down on my plan – I’d be coming off the bike behind the nutrition 8 ball.  As we hit the 50 mile mark I knew the rest of the ride was mainly uphill, and I put in one last effort to put more time into the guys behind me.  In the end I averaged exactly 4W/kg for a 2:25:18 bike split - slower than anticipated, but given the conditions it was a ride I was pleased with.

The bike dismount area was a mess with athletes everywhere.  I quickly decided not to do a flying dismount, opting for the safer but slower option of getting off the bike normally.  I ran through the transition area and picked up my bike-run bag, noticing that some bags from my age-group’s area were missing.  I quickly put on my socks and shoes and ran out of the tent, knowing that the next 13.1 miles would be some of the toughest I’d ever run.  The first mile was downhill and I saw Brian, cheering on and letting me know that I was ‘right up there’, although we weren’t sure exactly where.  My legs felt great, but my stomach felt terrible.  I was getting stomach cramps and I wasn’t even a mile into the run.  My first thought was this cannot possibly be happening, my second thought was not to panic, my third thought was wow it’s hot!  I walked quickly through the first aid station, taking time to get nutrition on board.  The next 2 miles were uphill and I was struggling.  I walked through the next two aid stations, and from mile 3-4 I tried to increase the pace to see if that helped.  It did.  I eased into a faster pace and tried to relax, and as I finished the first loop everything had come good. 

I saw Brian again and tried to give him a thumbs up, this time running past much quicker than the first time around.  It seemed to cloud over a little and suddenly I felt great, keen to push the pace.  I was re-passing the people who’d gone by me on the first lap and making back time.  In retrospect I probably pushed the second lap a little too hard, being a little over-enthusiastic.  I kept taking water, sports drink and coke from the aid stations, although the ice had seemed to run out, which was more than frustrating. 

As I started the third and final lap it dawned on me that 4 miles was a long way to go.  The next mile seemed to take forever, but I soon saw the 10 mile marker I was mentally ready for the final effort.  I saw Brian again who told me to push the last uphill from mile 11-12 and make it count, but I was slowing.  This was the toughest mile of the race, but as we turned around and started the final downhill mile, I went as hard as I could, not knowing where I was or who might be just ahead or behind me.  I wasn’t sure where I’d finished and had no energy for a finish line jump.  I’d given it all I had, finishing with a 1:29:11 run split for a 4:27:43 finish time.

It wasn’t until around 30 minutes later that I found out the result, checking the Ironmanlive results on an iPhone.  I almost couldn’t believe it!  All the work done this season and over the last 6 years had culminated in me becoming a World Champion!  I'd finished 35th overall and 9th amateur overall. 

Seeing as this is my platform, I’d be remiss not to mention the people behind the result.  My parents have always been hugely supportive, ever since day one.  After graduating from university, they must have nearly keeled over when I told them I wanted to be a professional triathlete!  The rest of my family have been equally supportive and without them it would be so much tougher to pursue the sport. 

I’m more than fortunate to have some incredible sponsors, many of whom have been with me for years, others who are new this year.  A huge thank you to Click Fragrance, Cable & Wireless, Eden Island Marina, Hunt Deltel, Vijay, Compressport, Drag2Zero, ENVE, Extreme Endurance and ZEROD.

I owe a final thank you to my coach Brian, who since the start of the year has given me the guidance that I needed to make this result possible.  I’ll be honest, at times this year he’s put me through the wringer in training, but clearly that’s what it takes. 

I’ve been very surprised by the amount of messages I’ve received from people, most of whom will probably be reading this.  Thank you all for taking the time to get in touch – I really appreciate it.