Monday, August 21, 2017

Long road to Kona

The Long Road to Kona I'll get to Saturday's race in a bit but first I need to explain a little the reason things worked put the way they did in IM Sweden. 3 weeks ago I announced to the world (that being the few followers I have on the social media sphere) that I was going off the grid for a while. I'd just dragged my pathetic self around the Zurich Ironman course for no other reason than the fact pulling out of Nice the week before stung so bad I hated the feeling of being a quitter. The sickness I suffered pre nice had certainly subsided but I was certainly far more weak and out of shape on the start line in Zurich than I had been the week earlier in Nice but I had demons to face and deal with and finishing the ironman that day was the only way I could see myself getting back on track. 8hrs 43minutes later I'd as expected done a very lackluster swim, an embarrassing bike leg, and something that would barely resemble a long slow trot in the woods to finish off. At no point did I feel like I was apart of the race, I was simply going through the motions and getting myself across so I could remind myself no matter how average or weak I feel I'm not a quitter. Added to that this Ironman was serving as the beginning of the most important training block I'd face to date as I'd already started plotting my path to IM Sweden 3 weeks later in a bid to earn that Kona slot as a professional I so desperately dreamed off. This 3 week plan was plotted a a week before I even pinned the number on in Zurich. On the Monday after Nice or the day after LeTour De France had wrapped up to be more descriptive, my phone buzzed & the name "Froomie" flashed up on the screen. I stared at my phone and thought this guy has just won le tour and had a billion people I'm sure he needs to be taking to, he must have butt dialed me!! I let the phone ring out and thought fuck it, I'll call him back and see if he answers, will know then if he really wanted to talk with me or not. Sure enough he answered and I must be clear we are very good friends and communicate regularly so we had a good catchup. Anyways he wanted to know what I was doing the following week as he had a training camp planned and had nobody to train with so needed a sparing partner, would i be available to meet him in the alps post Zurich. His coach Tim Kerrison and the man who's set up what he calls "team wurf" being a bunch of advisors to help me with this journey into ironman, followed up and made sure I was keen to do it and the plan was set. I was simply using Zurich as a good long days training and I'd be in chatel Monday morning following the race to get to work, coincidently chris started the vuelta the same day I would be racing sweden so we where on the same training cycle in Tim's eyes, all was shaping up perfectly. Arriving in Chatel was a bit surreal. Here's the guy who's just won le tour so at the absolute peak of endurance sports condition and me, an out of shape wanna be ironman triathlete with a wild idea that suffering like a dog for the next couple of weeks was the best way to prepare for the race of my life! Anyways I hadn't seen chris since our last training camp together in Tenerife back in April so we caught up then it was straight into business as usual, massage, eat, get to bed, it was straight into it the next morning. And straight into it indeed, we where on ourTT and Tim basically stopped us 90km from home and told us to ride as hard as possible back to the house. If I got tired I was told to sit on chris's wheel for this one as I could be a bit rusty considering the ironman and all. Well I was on his wheel pretty quickly and hanging on for dear life, I don't think I've ever suffered so much for 2 straight hours in my life. It was exactly what I needed, I was outa shape big time and body needed to be woken back up. The rest off the camp followed a similar trend however on the climbs tim was nice enough to give me a little head start so chris would fly past me usually 2/3's of the way through the interval giving me some more time to realize just how far off the pace I was but also to remind me how to dig deep again.  Camps with Tim are never as simple as riding a bike and eating and sleeping and massage and eating. No no no, Tim loves to spice things up so one day we stopped at a random lake mid ride so I could through the arms over for a little bit and Tim could get a look at froomie's freestyle technique and see how much work it will take to get him ready for Kona a few years down the line. At the monument i've still got his measure in the water. I celebrated my 34th birthday and as with everything else Team Sky does they make sure you feel really special that day. It started out perfectly as i woke up beside my gorgeous girlfriend Fallon, she'd obviously never been on a cycling camp before so guess if your going to come one this is a good one learn the ropes. The 3rd of august fell on our recovery day so Tim Chris and I started out with a little spin up some goat track Tim was curious about. Whenever Tim says he has a new road he wants to check out it's generally uphill and very steep, this was no different but it was my birthday so we where all in good spirits. When we got back Froomie cleaned my bike for me, not many people can say the TDF champ has cleaned there bike for them but this guys a class act across the board so I wasn't overly shocked. That afternoon Nik the "team helper" and Anne Marie who ran the lodge took us zip lining which was pretty amazing literally flying over the alps around chatel. Then dinner that evening was actually Fallon and my turn to cook so my favorite Mexican was served up and Chris's wife Michelle made me a cake! We finished the night off by decorating Chinese lanterns and sending them into orbit so certainly won't forget that birthday anytime soon! With the birthday out of the way it was time for the final block of training. Chris was due to meet the rest of his Vuelta soldiers at Isola 2000 on the other end of the alps a couple of days later. Tim decided it would be a great idea for chris and I to ride there over a couple of days so that's exactly what we did. Day one we spent 8hrs 30minutes in the saddle until we reached the hotel at the top of the Galibiar. Tim had spotted the hotel on the recon rides up the climb and wanted to check it out, so that's where we rode to. It was pretty crazy at the top of the climbs as everybody recognized chris as they drove past so where waiting at the top with cameras in hand, the telegraph particularly was crazy! The next day was far more civilized around 6hrs to isola 2000. The trip certainly gave me a good opportunity to re familiarize myself with the French alps, who knows I might need to race on them again sometime in the future. With our arrival in Isola that was time for me to tap out and let Wout and Diego into the ring to spar with him for a few days. Tim felt I'd taken enough punishment on the bike and it was time for me to head back to monaco to work on my swim and run a little ahead of Sweden. We were not quite done just yet however as to complete the journey Tim felt I may aswell ride the 120km downhill back to Monaco for my recovery day! Also chris had a special guest fly in on helicopter to ride with him in Kevin Systrom and his mate Pete. Chris said he'd ride halfway back with them and then I'd take them the rest of the way, didn't they get short changed!!! No they really had a great day firstly riding with the boys and talking biking and then I had a million questions about my startup that's set to take the world by storm, very interesting and watch this space!! Fitting way to wrap up a camp that at no time felt like reality, oh apart from the lactate acid if course, but really was just an incredible 10days.  Back in Monaco and I was straight the pool. My swims in both Nice and Zurich where incredibly lackluster, probably due to the fact I hadn't actually been in a swimming pool since leaving the USA 4 weeks earlier. Yep it's official, I'm not Michael Phelps, I can't not swim for a month and come out and break a world record, I'm just a hack after all! I got into a great routine in Monaco very quickly with my swimming and running. Its absolutely stunning in that area and I really enjoyed a few more long days in the saddle, I even ran into a guy I knew Chris Spence who comes from jersey, I had no idea that jersey was it's own country. Anyways spence in an animal so was nice have him belt me up for a few hours. With the race now just 7 days out I did my final big brick session I do for race day confidence. I swim 4km in the pool, then ride for 6hrs then finish with a 1hr run. I actually rode 6hrs 10min and ran 59minutes, add the 1hr swim and you basically get the race time I did in sweden, amazing how things work out but it seems to be accurate anytime I'm prepared for a race. Have to make sure the pre Kona one is around 8:00 hahaha. The work wasn't entirely done as now the boys where back in town and on Tuesday we had one final key workout to do prior to the vuelta for them and Sweden for me. All I'll say is it was a really hard session, really hard session and then I went home and did a hard 4km session in the pool while the other guys had a massage!!!! Bit unfair hey. No jokes aside being able to follow the same training buildup as chris was and absolute gift from god, well in this case chris and Kerro but you get what I mean. Wednesday we finally went our separate ways to that sites of our respective races. Now to the race! Honestly the race was rather boring as it was so meticulously planned in the previous few weeks. We had a simple plan, finish no worse than 2nd and secure that Kona slot, nothing more and nothing less. Being so well prepared on all fronts meant I lined up on the start line brimming with confidence. At some point on one of our death marches through the alps chris had told me to simply race my race as if I execute my race I'm going to do very very well. He was so right, I knew I could swim,  knew I could ride and in cairns I'd run 3:02 so I can also do that ok, was important to just put it all together. The final couple of days leading in went perfectly and Fallon ensured my tank was full with the right rocket fuel come race morning. I had a great warmup and was as calm as a kitten on the start-line, I couldn't wait to get the show on the road. The gun went off and I had a fast start as usual, I was at the head of the race as the faster swimmers emerged and converged onto each other.I quickly sort the feet of the pre race favorite Clemente Alonzo Mckernan and along with a couple of other we started to open up a gap. I was certainly feeling more like myself in the water but still not quite as sharp as I was earlier in the year. Sure enough as I feared Alonzo had another gear and when he kicked away I had to slip into my comfort pace and stick to the plan, race my race!! A couple more where dropped with me so we formed a small trio chase pack, this turned out to be perfect for me as I instantly started thinking about a strong bike and run as I was now able to swim well within myself and save plenty of energy. The swim wasn't a complete disaster and I exited the water 2min 45sec behind Alonzo, certainly a gap I felt I could wipe out early on the bike. Once on the bike my first goal was to get into 2nd place as quickly as possible. Another athlete had held alonzos feet and within the first 30km I was into my Kona qualifying position, now I simply had to stay here. It took me another 20km to roll up to Alonzo and once I was there instead of doing some vicious acceleration to hit the lead I just relaxed for 10km or so behind him to eat and drink a little as I knew he wanted me to pass him so he could pace off me. It was also a strong tail breeze so my experience from my road racing days told me it's dumb to attack in a tail breeze as everybody can ride fast with the wind up your bum! So I waited patiently for an opportunity to attack. As we rolled up to the aid station at 60km I noticed Alonzo fiddling around with his bottles so once had one hand fully occupied and sitting up so in no position to ride quickly for at least a few seconds I hit the hammer and was gone, I was now in the lead!! My plan on the bike was simply to start out stead and get settled then slowly build my power throughout the ride. Once in lead I set about doing just that. I pushed pretty hard where it was hard and was conservative where it was easy. The gap went out to 3minutes at 120km, 5minutes at 150km and was 8minutes by the time I reached transition after 180km. I felt amazing all day and with the previous two races haunting me I was afraid to push the numbers I was seeing and kept holding back, save it for the run, save it for the run I kept saying to myself. When it was all said and done I averaged 308 watts for the 4hr 14min bike leg, a record on that course by 10min. To put it in perspective I managed a measly 270 watts in Zurich, hence my reference before to an embarrassing bike effort, it was 15% off my best. Anyways most importantly the power was back, guess chasing froomie around the alps had worked out after all, it was now time to go for a run and I was dahn excited about that! The reason I rolled into transition with a huge smile on my face wasn't because of the handy lead I had or that the Kona dream was merely 42km of running away, oh no, the smile was because of the new shoes I had waiting for me!! I'd managed to get my hands on a pair of Nike's special "breaking2" shoes, the kicks developed for the attempt of Kipchoge who came up a mere 25seconds short of the elusive mark! These shoes are scarce as hens teeth so I was super lucky to get a hold of them but they didn't arrive till wednesday which meant my first run in them would be race day. Again the experienced minds would say that is suicide to run a marathon in shoes you've never run in before but I just had a feeling these things would be sensational and not let me down. From the very first step I had a grin on my face. Holly smokes, it felt like a couple of trampolines where strapped to my feet!! It was amazing. I don't look at my pace when I'm running simply my cadence. From all my training I know that 180 cadence with a comfortable stride length is around 3hr marathon pace. From there I simply try and keep it feeling as easy as possible for as long as possible. Well with these shoes I bounded out of transition like a rd runner and my cadence was 190!!! It was a nice feeling having to slow myself down as I honestly didn't feel like I was putting in any extra effort, it was amazing. I must make one other thing clear here. I paid $350 for these shoes so I ain't no Nike ambassador but these things are awesome!! Anyways onto the run and I quickly settled down and passed Fallon for the first time in the feed zone. Fallon was pretty excited about this race as she actually had something to do! Hand me my personalized hydration and nutrition at the start of each of the 3 laps of the run course. Lap one was a bottle of electrolytes, a couple of gells and an energy bar. She updated on my lead on reminded me to stay strong! Hey it's amazing how the simplest things mean a lot more when racing an ironman! The running course was an absolute doozy. When explaining it to Tim post race I always use cycling terms obviously so I said it was a combination of Strada Bianchi, tour of flanders, Paris roubaix, and Paris tour. These four one da races was the best way I could describe the changes in surface, direction, wind, road furniture, you name it, it was a perfect mix of these bike races all be it a marathon course! Anyways the other amazing thing was the crowd, there was literally 10's of thousands of people out there and offense you couldn't hear yourself think. And educated to, they all knew I was Aussie and all knew my name, I've never ever heard so many Aussie Aussie aussie chants in a 3hr period! By the 2nd lap when they knew I was approaching aussie music would even be playing as I ran buy with men at works land down under the most common song I heard. Yeah the crowd where amazing absolutely amazing, they are certainly a big reason why I'd come back to this race. Back to the race and lap 1 was all about doing it as easy as possible and getting a feel for how fast the guys behind me where running. Not surprising Alonzo was closing fast and KJ in 3rd was running around the same pace as me. Perfect, I simply had to hold that for one more lap to keep 3rd far enough back incase I have a meltdown in the last lap. When I passed Fallon for the start of lap 2 she handed me my electrolytes, a couple of gels and a nice mushy mars bar!! Oh that went down so well!! Lap 2 went smoothly, my pace seemed to stay consistent and while I knew Alonzo was coming hard I was confident KJ would now be slipping back. Sure enough as I started lap 3 Fallon hand me the usual drink and gels but also a pink piece of paper, oh how sweet she'd written me a little love letter!! I shoved it in my pocket for motivation later in the race but then throughout perhaps it's not a love letter perhaps I should read it? After a few km's deliberating this I pulled it out and it simple said, 2nd on your ass, 3rd 10minutes, the rest 20+!! it certainly made me giggle and no sooner did I put the paper in my pocket and Alonzo finally blasted by me with 10km to go. Although disappointed to not be leading I was also excited to be in 2nd, just where I aimed to be and merely a controlled 40 odd minutes away from that spot in Kona. When thoughts of going after him crept in so did common sense, I'd come so far, from 3 weeks ago I'd work my ass off to be in this position, don't mess it up, your here for one thing! From there I really enjoyed the final 10km. It turns out I closed on Alonzo in the final 5km but I didn't realize that, I didn't care, I wanted to get my Kona slot using the least amount of energy as possible and then see what I can do in october, besides to run 3:00 for the first time, I'm absolutely wrapped. Even if I'd tried to I wouldn't have layer a glove on Alonzo, he's a class act with many wins to his name, he had me covered in reality from go to wow and hats off to him, he was a fantastic rival to compete against. Crossing the line was probably the most relieved I ever felt in my life. I'd built myself up so much for this that failure doesn't even bare thinking about. Yeah I've been in do or die situations many time before, you don't have my sporting background without such moments but this was different. This year I've trained along side chris froome, richie Porte on the bike, sun yang in the pool, had tim Kerrison, Denis cottrell and Shaun Stevens there to guide me and more recently Greg welch has been there to offer the ironman specific knowledge none of us had. I couldn't have dreamed up a better team to back me, it's all I've ever dreamed of having and all we set out to do was qualify for Kona and up until this point I was making it look extremely unlikely!! Added to that there is Fallon who follows me around the world and supports me every step of the way. Cares about me in ways I certainly show little regard for but so desperately need to make all this happen. And off course my parents who have had to endure a roller coaster ride across 3 different sports now, I promised them the 4th I choose will go much smoother!! Just kidding. So the relief I felt when I crossed that line was for me, it was for me to finally be able to look all these people in the eye knowing that it was wurfwhile backing me, we hit our mark that validated what we all put into it. At the start of the season qualifying for Kona was the primary goal, the rest as they say from here on in is simply a bonus. So that's that, I've qualified for Kona as a professional. Yep it's going to be the 3rd sport I'll represent my country in at the highest level, thats something that I'm pretty proud off. As a kid I dreamed of representing Australia in just about every sport, I didn't really care which one, I thought I was good at everything, I guess nothing has changed! The last 4 weeks has taught me a huge amount about myself and what I'm capable off. From the moment the phone rang and "froomie" pooped up on the screen until them moment I stuck my toe over that finish line in Kalmar on saturday I knew there was only one option for me, qualify for Kona and achieve what you set out to do. With my back to the wall I was able to figure it out, well with the help of the best team in the world that is!!! Hope you enjoyed the read, sorry its been so long but they always are. Cjw