Although it is the administrative capital of Australia, Canberra is a very small place. This makes it a pretty good spot to hold a race - quick and easy to travel to the venue from wherever you are staying, full road closures are possible for the bike, and there is a good backdrop for each leg. The Australian Institute of Sport is based just outside of town - it is a pretty impressive place to visit if you get the chance to look around.
The transition area, race start and finish area are all based around Lake Burley Griffin (a man-made lake of somewhat dubious water quality!). Various government buildings provide the backdrop on one side of the lake for the swim and run. On the bike you head out of town for a 3-lap course through rolling countryside. It is a pretty honest course - you do not get the packs of riders seen at the draft-fests of Geelong and Shepperton. I raced this course in 2009 and visited 3 weeks earlier for a training weekend, so felt very at ease with what was to come. This year the event had been upgraded to an MDOT 70.3 with a sold-out field of around 1,300.
There are plenty of good places to stay close to the race start (whether right in the city or further out of town). We stayed 3 minutes away at the sponsoring hotel - very handy for race morning, and post-race admin. Manuka, a "suburb" 5 minutes drive from the city centre has some good restaurants and cafes, and is a pretty chilled place - we spent both evenings there before race day.
We did the 4 hour-hour drive down from Sydney on Friday afternoon and had a relaxed dinner.
For a number of reasons, this was my first race for 20 months and would be my only race for the year. By Saturday morning I definitely had the felling that "this is it", although I was not verbalising this to myself.
I ate and drank around 700g of carbohydrate, although ideally the majority of these would have been ingested earlier in the day.
I was pretty wired - fears & doubts were popping into my mind and I was mentally checking and re-checking everything. My main concern was whether a bug I picked up a few weeks ago had cleared from my system. I replaced these worries with memories of training over the last 11 months, as well as process-oriented thoughts - the swim start, my swim intensity, bike targets, run thoughts, etc. I lay down in bed for an hour during the afternoon although I could not really sleep. I reminded myself to chill out a bit - this is fun! I was determined to "Enjoy the day - come what may".
All of my bike and gear organisation had been done last weekend so I could just drop it off at transition. I did have an issue with my bike shoes after Friday's ride. This took a bit of time to sort out - and also involved a minor argument between my hands and some super-glue! In future, I will definitely have two pairs of race shoes at the ready!
I was up at 4.35, 5 minutes before the alarm. Breakfast immediately - 2 bagels with peanut butter, a small bowl of Carmen's muesli with yoghurt and 1.5 litres of endura. "Enjoy the day - come what may".
We went down to transition at 5.15 for an easy set-up which was done by 5.45. I felt good, and relaxed with Anna next to the foreshore. We watched the pro field start and then went down to the water.
I had 300 ml of endura at 6.50 & hopped in to the water. Our wave started at 7.00 and I positioned myself on the far left-hand side. After a good start I immediately got into a 3-stroke breathing pattern. There was no need to rush, and everything felt pretty easy. I found two pairs of good feet - "brilliant - here we go!". Then.........whack - I received a decent punch in my throat when I turned to breathe! This provided a good early lesson - don't get ahead of yourself!! I took in a nice mouthful of water, and it was the first time in my life I could ever remember being scared in water - I could not breathe for a few seconds, and definitely could not swim. I rolled over and did a few strokes of backstroke, and then went back to freestyle (although I had to use 2-stroke breathing for a while since my airways seemed to have tightened up a bit). After regaining some composure, I reminded myself that there was a long way to go, and that a little delay now was no real drama.
It probably took me around 10 minutes to mentally focus again. My mind shifted to "commentating" and "reviewing" what I was doing, rather than actually being 100% present and actually swimming. After rounding the far turn of the rectangular course, I got back to swimming properly again for the final 700 metres. I reminded myself to "Swim 'big', use a high arm recovery, and keep my intensity steady with 3-stroke breathing"
I swam alone for most of the time - although it was possible to use a few groups of people very briefly as I moved past them. I was drifting left of my target pretty consistently - I definitely need to sort this out for the future.
Swim time - Out of water in 32 mins. I was feeling pretty good. We had a 2 minute run to the start of transition, and then I had a 2 minute transition.
I started with 1.75 litres of water & 8 gels on the bike (28g of CHO each).
The weather had taken a bit of a turn and so I took it very easy out of transition. There was torrential rain and I was pretty cold. I reminded myself that there was no rush, I eased off mentally, and did not "push it". I focused on allowing my heart-rate to settle over the first 20 minutes or so - still conscious of my recent illness, I wondered whether my power and heart-rate would start to line up as normal.
After 5 minutes I had my first gel, along with plenty of water. There were a lot of people out on the bike course from earlier wave starts, and I tried to use them to good advantage where possible. I backed off the power when going fast, and continued to take it pretty steady. After about 20 minutes there is a fast descent (40 mph at times), followed immediately by a technical section. It was now very wet and I took it very easy (remembering a friend who exited this turn in an ambulance a couple of years ago).
I remembered AC and Gordo's advice - maintain power right over the top of rollers, and "bleed speed" through the bottom of them. I had a gel every 20 minutes, and re-stocked with water at 30km. Then it was past the transition area at the end of lap 1 - 51 minutes, you ripper! It would not be hard to go a fair bit quicker without caning myself over the next 2 laps.
2nd & 3rd lap - Now I could start to get going, and I built into my ride. It was easy to raise the power up to target levels while keeping my heart rate under control. "Brilliant". There was now a lot of race traffic on the road, and I used them legally for speed when passing. I kept the gels going every 20 minutes - even the grim chocolate ones!! (they won't be coming out again). I refilled with water again at 60km and reminded myself to keep drinking.
During lap 3 I was on my own or passing people infrequently. I thought - "How good is this?!". The course was a constant challenge with uphill sections, descents, technical corners, and narrow road sections - there was not a lot of let-up. I was feeling stronger as the ride went on - my heart rate was lower than on previous SIM rides, but I did not push it. I reminded myself to "Stay patient and use your energy on the run". I decided to have a drink through the straw of my bar-mounted water bottle at 50 kph (31 mph) - a slight loss of control and I hit a cat's-eye in the middle of the road. "$@&!" that wasn't a great idea!! It was a close call - so I reminded myself to stay in the moment and keep concentrating. I continued to say "Thank you" to all volunteers and race marshals, and enjoyed the scenery out on the far-side of the course. Then it was back into town and towards the transition area.
Lap 1 - 51:03, NP 232, ave hr 146, max 159.
Lap 2 - 47:42, NP 255, ave hr 147, max 161.
Lap 3 - 48:21, NP 260, ave hr 150, max 160.
Bike time - 2:27:17, 726 metres (2,382 feet) gained according to my Joule. NP 249, ave hr 148.
I felt great at the end of bike - strong legs and full of energy. It was a good transition - socks, shoes, race belt, off! I carried 4 gels out on to the run (2 with caffeine). There is a long run through transition and around to the exit, and with a bit of excitement I was going too fast. A quick smile for a friend's camera and then out on to the run.
After a minute or so I looked at my watch - 3:30 pace - whoops, schoolboy error! I laughed and slowed my pace down to re-settle my heart rate. I had a gel at 5 mins, took on some water, and walked the aid station. I wanted to just settle in to it - although I was feeling great.
First 8 km (3:55 ave pace per km, 162 bpm) - I walked the aid stations, took on some water, had a gel at 25 mins, and then coke thereafter. I was feeling really good. If I had any thoughts they were - "High hands, chin down, use cadence up hills". I checked my heart rate - it was still in the low 160's. I kept thanking volunteers out on the course and was really enjoying how it felt to be fit. We were running along the lake foreshore, and passing transition I waved at Anna and our friends.
Next 8 km (4:00 per km, 165 bpm) - The plan was to ramp it up now between aid stations. I was moving at around 3:45 per km when running (6:00 per mile). I walked the aid stations, took on some water, had a bit of coke, and settled down. I felt really good - my breathing was getting harder now when running, although my HR was not elevating as much as expected.
I started to notice a slight "twitch" in my right hamstring, so decided to try running with less of a knee-bend. I also downed an electrolyte drink and coke at the next aid station and then had one of my caffeinated gels with water. I was thinking, "Come on, just hold together for about another 20 minutes". Just before the 5 km marker, my right hammy went into spasm with cramp. I had a quick stretch, walked, then tried running - "ouch!". Oh dear - I stopped, stretched again, smiled at a spectator, and then decided to try to run/hop/hobble through it. Then it was gone - "Brilliant! Run 'fast'".
Last 5 km (3:55 per km, 167 bpm. HR 176 bpm @ finish) - By now it felt like I had a drip of endorphins going straight into me. I was all done with aid stations and just told myself to keep going. "High hands. Maintain cadence". My breathing was getting out of control - "Relax". My "Lance-face" was also nowhere to be seen - "Relax".
People were detonating everywhere. I wondered whether I could go any faster - my HR was not going as high as expected. "Come on". I could see the finish area about 1km away, and just kept going, trying to run hard and stay relaxed (who am I kidding - I was tightening up everywhere now!). With a slight uphill to the finish area, there was now about 200m to go, woo-hoo! I spotted someone about 25m in front of me, and he looked a likely candidate for my age group. I passed him with about 30m to go and floated over the line. Brilliant - what a day! I was absolutely pumped at this point. The bowl of ice cream was great - "You beauty!".
Run - 1:21:53. Ave HR 164.
Overall - 4:27:18.