This race has a reputation for being one of the hardest 70.3 races in the world and this year’s edition certainly lived up to the reputation. I arrived around midday on Saturday and it was great to catch up with the guys from Compressport, ZEROD and Firefly who were at the event. After the pro briefing I racked the bike and transition bags, then had a quick interview about my pre-race thoughts, the take away being that I was looking forward to it!
I had a decent night’s sleep, waking at 3:30am ready to start the pre-race breakfast routine, which consisted of two pots (380g) of rice pudding and a chocolate milkshake which I had in the car whilst driving to the lake. Set-up in transition was swift and I found myself with over an hour to the start, so I headed back to the car, sat down and closed my eyes, thinking about the day ahead. With 20 minutes to go I walked down to the lake and made my way to the pontoon to join the pros.
With 10 minutes until the start I jumped into the 14 degree lake and did my 5 minute warm-up, then jumped back onto the pontoon for a few minutes (a trick used at Les Stables to keep warm) before getting back in for the deep water start. We had a gap on the age-groupers starting behind us, so it was relatively quiet at the start line.
Having learned from Ironman South Africa, when the gun went off I tried to go out fast and stay on feet. After a hundred metres I eased back a little, but the pace still felt fast. The good news is that I was on feet; the bad news was that the front group had left most of the field for dead within a few hundred metres. Still, I was sitting on feet and happy with my position. The only disruptions to an otherwise clean swim were the two turn buoys, where things got a bit congested and people seemed to surge after rounding the buoys. Once on the final stretch of the triangular course, I was feeling good and upped the effort. After pacing the early part of the swim well, I had enough in the tank to go to the front of our group and led us out the water in 27:04 (the course looked to be long).
The hill coming out of the lake is infamous and makes T1 a key part of the race. Joe Skipper flew past me on the hill towards the change tent and by the time I was on the bike he was out of sight. The first few miles out of transition set the tone for the rest of the day – hills. Combined with the 10 degree air temperature, everyone knew we were in for a challenging day on the bike. The first half of the loop is relatively fast and at this point I was sticking to my target watts diligently. Once we hit the hills of the second loop ignored my power meter as I was doing everything I could just to get over the hills in the 39x27 gear ratio. Just before the end of the first lap Sam Baxter came past me and for the remainder of the ride we went back and forth, which I think helped both of us keep a good pace for the second loop. I felt really, really good on the bike and was enjoying being out there, even though the conditions were far from ideal.
I’d ridden about 15 watts harder than planned and took a massive 9 minutes off last year’s bike split with 2:43:29. Coming into transition Sam was just behind me and I remember thinking this was perfect. He’s a good runner and having someone to run with would be great, so I was excited about the possibility of improving on last year’s run split. This is where I was sloppy – my transition wasn’t as slick as it should have been. Sam left maybe 5 seconds ahead of me and raced out of T2, leaving me trailing behind. My legs felt fine, not great, but fine. The predominantly off road three lap course was wet and muddy in places, at times making it difficult to keep your footing. In hindsight I’d have gone with a lightweight trail shoe – something which I should have known for this year.
The first lap went by nicely and I was confident I could maintain or even increase the pace on the next two laps. Ahead of me Sam was extending his lead and there were a few guys who were gaining on me behind. Unfortunately I was never able to move up the gears and ended up surviving the run rather than really racing it. Having had coke at every aid station on the course the caffeine and competitive spirit was kicking in and despite slowing slightly on laps 2 and 3, I held on for 8th place overall in 4:41:28 with a 1:25:54 run.
Even though the run split was 50 seconds slower than last year, given the improvement in my swim and the amount of time I gained on the bike, the overall performance was definitely pleasing. Looking at the results in detail, it was my most evenly balanced race, with my swim being 9th overall, bike 7th overall and run 8th overall. Perhaps most pleasingly, things that went wrong in South Africa were identified, subsequently addressed in training and improved upon in this race. This year is a learning process, so if I can continue to learn from each race then I’ll be moving in the right direction.