Racing at St Kilda and my back health

The decision to race St Kilda was obviously quite last minute, but was carefully considered after some consultation with the physio, sports doctor and my coach. After deciding that continuing on the Ironman trail this year wasn't a wise decision with my back health, I decided to make a last ditch effort to qualify for the Standard Distance World Champs on the Gold Coast for Great Britain. Hopefully this gives you a little bit more insight to what I've been up to and the ongoing issues with my back.

My Back

As a lot of you may already know I had to stop during Ironman New Zealand in March with back and sciatic pain. During the build up to the Ironman race I had been experiencing back pain quite regularly and the 15-18hrs of weekly training obviously wasn't the most conducive to me feeling 100% healthy at that point. Any flexing of the lower back was giving me issues and although I had been doing some decent volume on my TT bike not all of it was spent riding in the aerobars. I was aware fully aware of this going into the final weeks prep for the race and felt like I did everything I could to get to the start line in the best shape possible, but it wasn't to be.

Post Ironman NZ I've had 2 MRI's (lower back and proximal hamstring), consulted with my coach, my physio and the sports doctor to ascertain where I am at and my best course of action. **Note: I'm obviously not a doctor so I'm doing my best to relay the information I have received.**

The issues with my back presented in this way:

  • I have a couple of disc bulges, but the L5/S1 is the one that is presenting me with the main issue. There are also small bone spurs on the corners of each of these discs which also takes up space behind the disc.
  • I have sciatic pain from left glute down my left leg, I have a small loss of power in my left big toe and some numbing sensation - apparently classic signs of issue with the nerve from L5/S1.
  • While I may have issues here there are lots of people my age who may have similar disc signs but not everyone will have pain and/or issues I experience (toughen up Owain).
  • My situation wasn't helped by the fact that I put pressure on my lower back with the training load for triathlon and lots of forward lifting with kids.

Leading into the St Kilda race I had been taking prescribed anti-inflammatories to try and reduce the inflammation in the disc space and reduce the sciatic problems. I had also only been doing around 7 hours of training/ week (25-40 min runs, 1500-2000m swims, 25-35km rides, 30 min PT session - very little intensity).

The week before St Kilda my disc pain and muscle pain had reduced significantly. I could bend and twist more freely and I did two rides on my TT bike this week. I wasn't sure whether this was the reduced training load, reduction of disc inflammation, but most likely both! I was pretty optimistic about getting around the race without too much trouble, I just wasn't sure how fast or pain free! I was still experiencing some sciatic pain, but this was dependent on the activities I was doing.

The Race

I always forget how cold Melbourne is before I go there, it was set to be 30 degrees on Sunday but at 6am it was colder than a witches tit (12 or 13 degrees). After racking the bikes, Saxon Jack and I headed back to the hotel room to stay warm before the start.

The course was a 2 lap swim, 3 lap bike and 2 lap run. I was pretty excited as I thought the multiple lap course would give me a better chance of using other athletes as targets to pull me along, especially on the swim and bike where I felt I would be lacking race specific training. After speaking with my coach the goal was just to try and be as steady as I could all day, don't get too excited and go into the 'red' - put myself in a position to run. I wasn't too sure about the field and who was racing but I was ready to just get out there and do my own thing.

My wave start was in the middle of the schedule and it was a pretty easy rectangular course. The main obstacles were navigating through other age groups and swimming into the sun on the way back to the beach. It was a beach start and a beach run in between each lap so I was stoked with all the extra running. I tried to swim good lines, enter and exit the water well and I was pretty pleased with 5th in my age group for the swim and feeling comfoprtable.


On the bike I got about riding smooth and trying to be stable and controlled in the TT position. I was aiming for around 70.3 effort as I thought this was all I could probably handle at this stage and I didn't want to get onto the run feeling shit or with too much back pain. After the first 'U' turn I saw the big group of draft legal elites behind me and wanted to stay ahead and well clear of those guys. Luckily I think they were foxing a bit on the bike (prepping for the run) as I managed to stick ahead of them without too much hassle. I was using a couple of other age groupers as targets and not really focusing too much on my numbers which I felt worked better on this occasion. I felt pretty solid for 30km before I started to experience some hamstring and glute soreness and then some sciatic pain, it was only mild so I just kept controlled and got mentally ready for the run.


I hadn't really done any intensity on the run in the past 4 weeks but felt confident with my run background that I'd still be faster than most athletes. I was so pleased that when I jumped off the bike and stood up that my back felt ok and I was able to extend and straighten up. As I headed out of T2 and hit the beach path I knew I was moving quite well, and although I wasn't really watching my pace, I knew I was clipping off around 3.30/km. I felt like this pace would get me into a position to be near the top 3. As I headed towards transition at the end of the first lap I moved into 2nd (which I was unaware of at the time) but it was starting to pinch a little, showing my lack of preparation. By 7km I was done, I was still running fairly well but my fitness was showing and I started to slow - although it was tough at this point all I remember was being so happy to be out there running without too much trouble and racing again.


I ended up 2nd in my age group, I never really saw the winner or knew who he was but I was so glad to have put together a complete triathlon race with limited health issues.Hopefully putting New Zealand behind me.

Post race the back was ok, a bit tight, but the bus ride to the airport afterwards and the plane journey was the worst!  I think I was a bit sore from the race and the sciatic pain sitting down was pretty unbearable at times.


I'm going to take the rest of April easy and get on top of my back health. Speak to the sports doctor and physio again to make a plan of action. I'll get a cortisone injection in the next 7-10 days to hopefully reduce any residual inflammation, then get back into some light swim, bike and run.

A big thanks to North Sydney Sports MedicineSquare One Physiotherapy for helping me get back training and racing again, Vision PT Mosman for the guided strength training, my wise Coach for keeping me on track and things in perspective and everyone else for their kind messages and support. Hopefully I can get a spot on the GB team and be on the World Champs start line in September.