The Shepparton triathlon has been around since the mid 80’s as an Olympic distance triathlon, and later at nearby Kialla Lakes as a 70.3 (Half Ironman) distance. Being early in the traditional summer triathlon season it’s a good scene setter for the season to come. This year under a new sponsor – the Challenge Family group it moved back into town utilising Lake Victoria again and an untried bike and run course.
It had always been a favourite race especially back in the 80’s in the serious competitive 30-34 & 35-39 age groups. I’d always managed a top 10 but had never focused enough with a winter training that supported an all out ‘balls to the wall’ November race. After ‘success’ in Abu Dhabi, and a new age category this year, this was the winter to ‘pull the finger out’! Enter the ‘ride every day to work plan’, from mid April the old Mongoose 7.3 MTB was ridden the 50k round trip to work. Then in July came the Boone 5 CX as the faithful Mongoose was slowly rattling to retirement.
So winter training comprised bike training rather than swim training, and from Sept onwards most afternoon rides were followed by a run off the bike. Swim training didn’t start until November having decided I only needed 3 weeks of 2 mornings and 2 evening sessions a week. The benefits of weekday riding quickly showed up in the longer w/e rides, and being lighter (weight) the run times were the fastest for years. Provided I didn’t get belted in the swim, no mechanicals and no cramps, I thought a podium at Shepp might be possible.
A few bonuses in my favour: swim wave start had only 50-60 competitors – so it was never going to be a fist fight, and my bike position was in the last row adjacent to the bike chute and at the end of the rack – so easy to find and ‘spacious’.
Race morning was blowing a strong southerly, pouring rain from 4:30 until the Pro’s started at 6:30, tents blown over or ripped apart and everybody sheltering from the conditions until their swim start. So it was a smart move to put run shoes/sox in a plastic bag in T2! (..pro’s commented post race of blisters because their shoes were so wet).
Swim start area didn’t allow for a good warm-up, best you could do was ~2 min between the wave starts. The water was murky but not brown and tasting like mud (Kialla Lakes) and given the air temp, it was relatively warm. Another advantage was the white string line on the bottom lining the start and first turn buoy, easy to see and follow for a straight 500m swim line. At the gun I jumped on the toes of John Hill – a gun age grouper (55-59 age group) figuring to keep with him and I’ll get a good swim time. Maybe because of the small warm-up area, nobody set a fast pace at the start, instead slowly built the pace which suited fine as I’m normally gasping for air 200m in. Like every tri swim, you eventually catch the stragglers from the previous wave and this only took 300-400m, but easily navigated. Similarly you get caught by the faster swimmers of the next wave and the momentary opportunity to follow toes for a few metres of legal drafting. The M shaped course was one of the simplest I’ve swum, because the line sighting and low swimmers per wave, so not surprised when I exited in 32 ½ minutes. About what I’d expected, not as fast as previous years (less pool time), but now for the better prepared bike and run legs.
T1 was pretty quick, only struggle was with velcro on the suit zip with cold fingers. Finally managed to undo the velcro and zip just as I got to my bike (annoyed it took so much effort –note to self: ‘&(*^&*– find a fix for next time’). Gels into back pocket, helmet on and straight into the exit chute. It’s always calamity at the end of the bike chute, the number of people who immediately stop at the end of the chute to get on their bikes, then knock bottle from cages, its worth running the bike another 10-20 m to find space before saddling up. Had feet into bike shoes within another 50 m then found everybody slowing because of numerous crashes at the first corner. The announcer was correct earlier in the morning when he said ’..these wet and windy conditions aren’t ideal for time trial bikes today, they don’t handle….’ . Spare me really, if you train on a TT bike then you should know how it handles and you ride it according to conditions, obviously some triathletes don’t ride their bikes enough…nor do they practice T1 to bike starts. Local TV later that night showed a series of falls and slides – quite funny when you’re not one of them!
The first section from Shepp to Mooroopna was already littered with lost bottles, tubes and was only to get worse – later on lap 2 there were bottle cages, pumps as well, so much for a smooth road. The leg south out of Mooroopna was straight into a strong gusty southerly, enough for the pros to complain and even blow pro female winner Annabel Luxford off the road. Two good things about a wet, rough road and headwind, it stops cheats who like to draft, and shows up those who haven’t done the tough training. I managed to hold a HR of around 135 for most of the bike, though not quick, averaging 34kph, fast enough to have some legs left for the run. It’s always a good feeling to continually pass other with lower category markings on their legs, says bike fitness isn’t too bad – fastest in the age group by 8 mins and 245th from 800+. Needless to say there are others faster, but today none with category “ I” stenciled on their calf went past me.
Transition 2 was quick, with the bike rack at the end of the bike chute, helmet off, socks and shoes on and with cap and gels on hand off to the run exit, and still took 2:16 between the mats. Don’t know how the pros do it in 48 seconds? I had run rhythm by about 1.5 k and feeling good at 4:30 pace. Guaranteed that pace wouldn’t hold for the full 21km! About 3 k in was the first aid station which was timely for a drink and salt tablet where I lost seconds not being able to open my salt packet . Salt tablets had worked well in training with no sign of the usual leg cramps so I was desperately hoping I could run at my best pace without cramping. My pace at Abu Dhabi when not cramping was about 5 min ks, which isn’t too bad, but the cramps blew this out to a 7 min average. This course was flatter than the old course so no little hills where you had to change pace or boost effort, something that would usually initiate cramps. So far so good and feeling good as my heart rate settled in the mid 150’s which would be sustainable over 21k. Like the bike it’s good to pass others and note who or from what category others pass you. And there’s nothing like passing a training partner, Ivan (x years younger) specially when he says ‘he’s struggling’. On the second lap another salt tablet, it was warming up and cramps were holding off, so just make sure. Heart rate had dropped to high 140’s and pace around 4:50 to 5:00. I wasn’t capable of going much quicker, legs were tired given I’d only had one run over 15k, most were 10 to 12k.
One part of the 3 lap course is where you pass others coming back from the turn around. Somewhere here I spotted an old nemesis. Over our 30 years (including my time off) we were never separated by much at the end over Half and Ironman distances. Lately he had the wood on me, 2 min 20 last year and it seemed he had at least this on me now.
Sue was giving me the ‘hurry-up’ as she’d also spotted him ahead of me, but there’s only so much energy to expend. There was a very remote chance he’d drop off the pace as he was always a strong runner. Thoughts of ‘*&(^%’ all this bike training, runs off the bike, no injuries and still I’m getting beaten, maybe there’ll still be a spot on the podium but no idea who the others are and where they are. Not wanting to be run down, and feeling some pressure the last lap gets more focus on ‘keeping the pace up’, ‘rhythm’, and ‘not having any regrets tomorrow’. After crossing paths again on my third lap at ~3 k to go, it was time to ensure I could get at least one podium spot. Not thinking of being tired, and trying to run fluently (me?) I increased the pace with HR back in the 150’s, breathing was heavier but there was only a few k left to deal with it.
The last k, when the finish line is in sight, brings out that extra spring in your step. And then the carpet, it’s nearly over and hell nobody is getting past me now!
Didn’t notice the timing clock at the finish line, just wanted to stop and pee. Garmin said it was 1:43:54 run and 5:05: overall. Hell that was good(!) nearly 20 mins quicker than last year and on a windier day and a rough bike course. Sue came over with a huge smile on her face, my nemesis was a lap behind me! Wow that was a good feeling. Rach streamed live timing data and confirmed I did 5:05 and was first in the category. Yes! – finally, now just needed that pee, then maybe the traditional ‘pint of beer’ that all Challenge Race competitors earn.
Some other notables for the day:
The first place trophy was a miniature replica Furphy tank (the triathlon was part sponsored by Furphy of Shepparton, renowned for manufacturing their Furphy tanks to carry water to troops on the battlefront during WW1. Not quite a “Paris-Roubaix cobble”!
A downside: one who hadn’t secured their spare tube properly- a contributor to the debris littering the course!
Second place was another 25 min back and Nemesis “Gavin” 4th over 30 min back.
Bike/run training mate #2 Mick (many Categorys less…)was only 2 seconds slower on the bike, 42 seconds quicker on the run, but lost 9 min in the swim.
Bike/run training mate #3 Ivan (also many Categorys less…) 50 mins back.
Third place podium was filled, but was taken to hospital – yet to hear why.
Bike/run training mate #1 Pete, didn’t race! So it seems the target for my 3 (younger) training buddies will be me at Challenge Melbourne. Hopefully age won’t hinder my recovery time. Game on in 2015!