The ITU Grand Final headed to the Gold Coast, Australia and with the race being highly sought after by Australian triathletes, of course I opted to race for Great Britain instead!
Like a lot of Australian based athletes this race had been on the radar for a while. My wife had marked this as a return to her training and racing after kids, competing in the sprint event. Initially I hadn’t had this race in my plans, but the closer the event got the more enticing it seemed, especially as Dani was already going to be racing. After gaining qualification for Great Britain I went to work over winter to prepare for this event while still having an eye on a 70.3 race in late 2018. Winter training was quite different than a usual race prep for me. I trained a lot more indoors and at different times, as I shared training time with Dani as she prepared for her Sprint race, we had to be quite flexible most weeks to fit in with kids and work. Despite changes things had gone well and I had been consistent and felt strong, maybe not too fast, but very fit!
All through winter training I kept thinking, if I train well and have a good race a top 5 could be achievable, it wasn’t until the final 4 weeks that I started to think – COULD I WIN?
We headed up the coast as a family the week before the race, we had planned a nice holiday for us all with a stop at Sawtell on the way up and Coffs Harbour on the way back. The boys were loving the time away (despite the time in the car), seeing them hang out for a week straight away from the routine of day care was a real treat for us as they got time to bond even more. I was also looking forward to catching up with friends and athletes I coached at the event, Energy Link Coaching and Balmoral Triathlon Club had a huge turnout of athletes and supporters.
Our first two nights away in Sawtell were great, beaches, coffee shops, parks and a little bit of training to sharpen up – plus my second rolled ankle in two weeks! I couldn’t believe the amount of lower leg issues I’d had over the past two months, a calf strain and two rolled ankles, and it had been weighing on my mind a bit. I felt like the run training I had done had been really good quality and with a targeted strength program from Square One Physiotherapy I was back running strong in fairly good time before the Championships.
When we hit the Gold Coast things really started to kick in, it was such a great location for a race with everything you needed to put on a top class race for so many International athletes. Dani was up first in the Sprint and while we were busy getting her sorted for the race I quietly went about some more training to prep for Sunday’s event. By the time Dani completed her Sprint (putting in a very good performance along with many of our friends) I began to get focused for the race.
Pre race my thoughts had been focussed probably a bit too much on my swim. With the Standard Distance I was a little concerned that if I didn’t have a solid swim then those vital minutes over the shorter distance could be a factor in my chances of a podium. I had done almost all of my swimming in the build up to the race on my own at work (Macquarie Uni) thus allowing time for Dani and I to share time for training in the morning or evening. I was confident that I was swimming well, but I also knew that there were quite a few accomplished swimmers in my age group who could swim 18 minutes for 1500m! From there I just focused my attention to doing my best race and hoping that my bike and run would be good enough to put me in contention if I lost a bit of time.
Our age group was split into 2 waves (randomly - not by alphabet), I was in wave A so I knew that some of the good swimmers may be hunting me down on the bike. With a 5 minute difference between waves I figured if I saw too many from wave B on the bike then I was in trouble.
When the horn went off I got out well, the swim was tide assisted and point to point. Two guys were immediately way and off into the horizon so I worked hard to make the second pack. Once we turned the first boy I jumped on the back of the front line of the group and didn’t move the entire swim. If anyone crept up on my inside and altered my stroke I surged ahead and held position, if the group changed direction I was the first to move and stay second in the pack, I had worked hard to be there and I wasn’t going to let anyone take my spot or throw me off my game. The rest of the swim was quite uneventful, I felt strong and never really felt like I was going to lose the pack, I came out in 20.34 (which I didn’t know at the time), but I was stoked to be in the second group and figured I had swum well. The better news which I only learned later is that I only lost 2 minutes to the top swimmers and swam as fast as some of the big contenders which was win for me.
After racing through transition (6th fastest in age group) and getting out ahead of the swim pack I just went to work and put my head down. The bike course was flat and had two sections per lap in the neighbourhood, there were 2 U-turns and about 20x 90 degree turns each lap, although the time in those technical sections were short I still wanted to use them to make time if I could. I was really surprised by how relatively clear the course was – I ended up riding the whole bike leg solo – seriously, every second! I focused a bit on my power numbers and tried to keep a good rhythm going on the long flat sections, while I worked very hard in the technical sections to get past slower riders and hopefully hold/ make time on the other guys by surging in/out and cornering fast. I could see on the way back on the first loop that were guys from the second wave in close proximity to each other and my initial thought was - OH SHIT! At first I really did think that as small groups they may eat into the time gap and that the deficit would be too much to make up on the run. By the time I hit 20km and headed back out for the second loop it looked like the second wave hadn’t really made much time on me which got me focused and I started to think I could do it. The wind was up on the second lap so I stuck top my original plan and rode strong on the flats and aimed to make up time on the technical sections, coming into T2 I wasn’t sure how I was going for time but I knew I had ridden fast (although the course was a little short).
After a lightening T2 (fastest in age group) I shot out onto the Gold Coast highway and took the lead for Wave A. I wasn’t wearing a watch so just tried to hold a pace that I felt was challenging, but sustainable - usually somewhere around 3.15/km. There were a few twists and turns on the run course and the surging on the bike had left my legs a bit dead. When I turned on the first lap and headed back towards transition, part way I saw the leaders of the wave behind – this was the first time I thought I could win! I was hearing cheers from my mates and random supporters and it really helped to keep me honest and moving forward well. Coming through the finish to start my second lap it was going off, some people were finishing but I was excited for another lap and getting some great encouragement from friends. I was also working hard to try and muster some encouragement for fellow athletes and friends as I passed them on course. By the time I hit the final turn around and headed back for the final time I could see that I had put time into the other wave and was ahead in position of the previous lap, I knew I was in contention for a good result, but you never know, so I kept pushing and tried to finish strong. After coming across the line in 1:53 with a run time of 32.11 (again the course was short – I was sure I had run low 33’s) I knew it would take some beating. Greg Welsh announced my as the unofficial 35-39 World Champion then it was a case of waiting. After a little chat with a media guy, ASADA rushed me off to doping control. I luckily got to see my beautiful family and some friends before the drug test, who confirmed that I has indeed won! World Champion again!
I don’t think it had quite sunk in at that point, but I was ecstatic. Glad that I had won, but I was really proud of how I raced and that the training over winter had put me in a position to compete at that level over the shorter distance – Thanks to Coach Bruce Thomas!
A big thanks goes to all the passionate people who helped me get to this point - Energy Link Coaching, Balmoral Tri Club, Square One Physio, Vision PT Mosman, Giant Sydney, Science in Sport, Hoka One One Australia, Pace Athletic and most importantly my family.
Now a brief rest before heading to Busselton for 70.3 Western Australia.