Ironman 70.3 Geelong 2015 Report

Having not raced over the 70.3 distance for almost 18 months, it was with nervous anticipation that I lined up in Geelong. It really did feel like I was going into the unknown, with the only certainty being that this would be a hard and fast race. As the gun fired 19 male pros ran into Corio Bay, all of us seemingly fighting for the exact same space in the water. Having focussed specifically on my swim towards the end of last year, I definitely felt more confident in my ability to have a decent swim leg. I quickly found a rhythm and was sitting within a large group quite nicely. After a few hundred metres the pack seemed to split slightly, with the stronger swimmers really pushing the pace. Fortunately I was still in the smaller chase group, although we were losing time to the front pack. After an all out 1.9km effort, I came out the water in 22:57, just over a minute behind the front pack.   

After making the error of coming out of the water at the back of the chase pack, I was behind the eight ball in transition. I left T1 with guys up the road, who were quickly working hard to bridge up towards the leaders. In hindsight I should have been more aggressive towards the end of the swim and/or through transition, which is a lesson I'll take away with me. I had a good idea of the power numbers I would be capable of holding for the bike, but with little recent experience over the distance and being conscious of the run, I was perhaps a little conservative. With a slightly different position to last season following my trip to the Drag2Zero wind tunnel, I settled into the task of holding my watts. The course climbed out of transition then was predominantly flat with a few rollers.

The first lap seemed to pass by quickly and conditions were proving to be ideal for fast racing. The race up ahead has split up into a couple of smaller groups, making it difficult to make up time alone and bridge up towards them. I focussed on holding my watts and taking in my nutrition, always conscious of the impending run. After pacing the first lap conservatively, I upped the power slightly on the 2nd lap for a 2:15:52 bike split, coming into T2 in 10th place.  

A relatively swift T2 and I was out on the run course. It's definitely fair to call this a rolling course, with numerous gradual inclines and declines, as well as some shorter, sharper climbs. I felt a touch laboured in the opening mile, clocking a 6:07. Fortunately things picked up from there and I held a pace that felt comfortably hard. I'd done relatively little training around this pace and wasn't sure how much room for error I had. After going through the halfway mark in just under 39 minutes, I moved into 9th place. With my gel flask in hand I kept taking in the calories and held a constant pace, moving into 8th place with a few miles to go. At the last turnaround I saw that 7th place was a few minutes ahead and making the catch was unlikely, which proved to be the case. A slight negative split got me over the line in 3:59:37 with a 1:17:16 run.

On the face of it an 8th place finish isn't all that impressive, however on this occasion I wasn't focussing solely on the result. The performance itself was filled with positives – I stayed in contention on the swim, executed my plan on the bike and came through with a well paced run. Equally important - and especially so with an Ironman coming up - with the help of High5 I really dialled in my nutrition strategy. Although I'm happy with the performance, I'm in the business of results. I'm realistic that my talents don't lie at the 70.3 distance – it's neither my focus nor what my training is specifically tailored towards. In less than three weeks I'll be wearing #4 at Ironman New Zealand – a race which I've been excited about for some time. The performance at Geelong has cemented what I've seen in training in recent months - everything is on track.   

Ironman Wales 2014 Report

The majority of long distance races I've done have been fast/moderate courses. Ironman Wales doesn't quite fit that description. It's an iconic race which - after experiencing it firsthand - really is one for the bucket list. With great weather forecasted, friends racing and a host of support coming to watch, I was looking forward to ending the season in style. Course familiarity was on my side as well, having made a few trips to Tenby in the lead up to the race, making sure I was confident for the bike course, in particular the climbs and descents. The only hiccup as race day approached was the wind, or rather the wind direction. An easterly meant the swim was going to be almost as hilly as the bike and run! No pictures I've found do the swim conditions justice – everyone was going to be in for a day to remember.   

Within the first thirty seconds it was obvious this would be tough. I kept in touch with the main group for the first few hundred metres, but as we approached the first turn buoy I started to lose touch with them. The chop was the hardest element to contend with, struggling to time my breathing correctly and find any sort of rhythm. From the moment I lost the group, I was in the unwanted position swimming solo. After rounding the first turn buoy we swam parallel to the shore to the next buoy, which fortunately was far easier relative to the first leg. The final leg to shore for the “Australian exit” seemed to pass quite quickly, but I was fairly sure that progress had been slow. The long run up the beach to the turnaround point seemed exactly that – long. The second loop wasn't any easier (times were slower across the board, as the incoming tide meant more swimming and less running). As much as I think of myself as a non-swimmer, I was actually quite enjoying the swim. It was by far the toughest swim conditions I've raced or trained in, but that somehow eased the pressure. With the beach in sight, I was expecting a deficit of close to 10 minutes to the leader(s). The split was 54:40. My on course spotter Richard Haydn Lewis told me the gap was 6 minutes to the leader and 3.5 minutes to a group. Game on.

Looking rougher than rough!

Looking rougher than rough!

For all the challenges this race offers, one of the things I loved most about the day was T1. Zig-zagging your way from the beach up to the road (picking up your trainers along the way) starts what is over 1km to T1. That in itself is memorable, but what makes it more so is the phenomenal crowd support. Considering the time of day, the streets were lined deep with spectators cheering you on through the town, encouraging you to run too fast towards transition. As I reached the tent I saw the group starting the ride. I clocked who was there and there were no surprises.

The first 40 miles of the ride are reasonably fast, in the context of this being Ironman Wales. Conscious of making the most of this part of the course, I started aggressively. Around the 25 mile mark I saw the leader, the time gap being 6.5 minutes. After going out hard I expected to gain at least some time, but hadn't. I put my head down and continued to push until close to mile 70, which is where things began to unravel. I'd maintained the status quo, but that was all. I was still just over 6 minutes behind. One 16% climb followed immediately by another climb well over vo2 power pushed me over the proverbial edge.   

Power dropped by 20% and my ability to turn the pedals with any meaning had escaped me. As with every race, Brian and I had a target wattage and I'd exceeded it for the first 3 hours of the ride. Not by much, but by enough. This is perhaps the biggest difference when racing as a professional – there's very little room for error. With an already aggressive strategy, overcooking the power was only going to have one ending. I'm sensible enough and - with this being my fifteenth race over the distance – experienced enough to know better. I didn't give up, but the final 40 miles were dark, losing 10 minutes and ending with a 5:19:45 split. As it transpired, Matt and Fraser really did ride amazingly well, beating the previous course record. Even my best executed ride over the full 112 miles wouldn't have been close to them, so I can really appreciate how hard they took to the course.

Coming into T2 in 6th place, I was still hopeful of executing a good run. Despite my implosion on the bike, I felt well fuelled and hydrated, if a little tired after a particularly challenging swim-bike. I started conservatively and soon moved into 5th, but with the four ahead a long way up the road. Again, the crowd support was amazing. With family, friends and one of my sponsors on course supporting, I really couldn't have asked for better support. Like the bike course, the run in Tenby is anything but easy. With close to 500m of vertical ascent, the climbing and descending (all on tarmac) is hard to contend with.  

A conservative opening half had me through halfway in 1:33, but from mile 10 an recurring niggle had been bothering me. With the podium out of sight and 13 miles to go, I had a decision to make. I reached mile 14 and stopped, not walked, but stopped. A foot issue that has sporadically bothered me since 2011 had flared up, with every left footfall being uncomfortable. The question I asked myself was simple, Is it worth potentially worsening this injury for a 5th place finish? 5th place at an Ironman isn't anything to scoff at, but my ambitions were higher. After 3 minutes of consideration at a complete standstill, I decided to give it a few more miles.

From that point on a number of walk breaks ensued and I decided to finish the third of four laps and reassess. With one lap to go I heard that 4th place had pulled out. All I had to do was get through another 6.5 miles without slowing too much and a 4th place finish would be possible. When I eventually made the turn to the finish I was relived it was over. 3:17:58 of running, walking and standing had come to an end, with 9:41:04 on the clock.

The performance – more so than the result – was far from what I envisaged and worked towards, but disappointments are part of racing. You have to risk going over the edge to find out what you're truly capable of. It didn't work out in Tenby, but one day it will and when it does, the end result will be memorable. 

Ironman Sweden 2014 Report

Having not raced over the Ironman distance since my 3rd place finish in Port Macquarie in May, I was anxious to toe the start line again. Having set the benchmark in Australia, a podium finish was once again the goal for Ironman Sweden. For the first time I was invited to be part of the pre-race pro press conference, as well as give a few words of advice on stage at the pre-race pasta party, which along with interviews with local media, really made me feel like I "belonged".

The deep water start was frantic as ever and I was working hard to try and keep with the leaders. After a couple of hundred metres I was at the back of a large front group, but only hanging on by a thread. Soon the inevitable happened and I lost touch with the feet I'd been following. Any thoughts of surging to try and catch back on were quickly squashed as I watched the group gain time exceedingly quickly. Fortunately Christophe Bastie soon joined me and set the pace, the two of us alone behind the front pack. Ever so often I'd move out of Christophe's wake to check the pace was honest, which it was. I wouldn't have gone any quicker had I been at the front, so I took the opportunity to sit behind him and try and conserve as much energy as possible. After nearly missing the swim exit, I came out in 55:31 with a big 6 minute deficit to the leaders.   

After a smooth transition the 112 mile ride loomed and we had close to ideal conditions. For close to 20 miles I had Christophe for company, who again was aggressive in doing most of the leading. The pace was solid and I made the decision to let him go, as I was pushing a little harder than I would have liked. With an hour on the bike Tom Lowe passed me, which wasn't a surprise at all. At this point I still had Christophe in sight and knew that if I could stay with Tom, there was the potential to ride with the two of them. After a few minutes of work I realised that trying to hold Tom's wheel wasn't feasible – at least not if I wanted to have a good run. From that point on, with less than 30 miles gone, I was solo through the Swedish countryside. The crowd support through some of the residential areas was great and people made a real effort to cheer everybody on.

I went through halfway in slightly under 2:15, which was the point that the wind picked up and slowed everyone down. What had been perfect conditions were now more challenging. Unfortunately this also coincided with the start of some stomach problems I experienced during the day, unable to keep my nutrition down. This is a rare occurrence for me, as in 13 prior races this had never happened. At first I wasn't too concerned, however, with 90 miles down I went through a rough patch, no doubt caused by the calories and fluids lost from bringing up my nutrition. Doubts about the run started to arise and I was adamant I wouldn't be able to run well on an empty stomach and tired legs. In my mind I told myself that if I could keep it together until T2 then I'd be able to pull out and be done with it. With only a couple of miles of the ride remaining, I caught up with the main group, although by now there were a few athletes off the front. Still convinced that I'd pull out in T2, I passed the group and pushed on. As I dismounted the bike with a ride time of 4:35:41, the inevitable happened – my competitive side kicked in. Any thoughts of pulling out had vanished and before I knew it I was on the run course.   

I was quickly passed by 4 of the group who set off at a frantic pace, but I remained conservative and bided my time. The first of three laps was spent focussing on getting in as many calories as I could, trying to make up for what I'd lost on the bike. Thankfully my system was cooperating again and I was keeping everything down. The run course was quite varied, taking in the busy streets on Kalmar as well as some more rural roads and residential areas. Wherever you were the crowds were always cheering and giving you positive energy.

After the first lap the skies clouded over suddenly and you could smell the storm in the air. It wasn't long until the light level dipped considerably and we were running through torrential rain, with the roads completely puddled.   At this point my mindset had shifted completely and there was nothing but positive thoughts.  I had my mental cues going through my head and was focussed on was reeling in those ahead.  

The rain didn't last too long and soon cleared, the humidity level picking up slightly. I'd gone through the halfway point in a touch under 1:25 and – now in 6th place - I upped the effort level and made up a couple of places, but it wasn't long before my pace started to slow. The last lap was a struggle, but then again, it always is. As any athlete will tell you, that's when it's crunch time. With 3rd place a long way up the road, my concern became holding those behind at bay. A 2:55:47 run split had moved me up to 4th in a time of 8:30:30.

The crowds at the finish were as fantastic as they had been all day, which will be one of the resounding memories I take from this race. One place shy of my pre-race goal, to feel slight disappointment would have been understandable, but the three athletes ahead of me were on another level. In many ways it was a day to be proud of, not necessarily from a performance perspective, but from a mental one. The urge to pull out after the bike was so strong, so to come through that and put in a solid run was a big positive.   

There's no doubt that Ironman Sweden – though a fairly new race on the circuit – has established itself as one of the premier European Ironman events. This is down to the fantastic team behind the event and of course the local community of Kalmar and the island of Öland. It really is a race that I'd recommend to anyone looking for great crowd support. Congratulations have to go to winners Horst Reichel and Leanda Cave for their dominating performances, and of course a big thank you to my homestay Thomas Höög who was a fantastic host and made my time much more enjoyable.