Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Finally a Winner

Sunday was a day I've dreamed & dreamed about happening since I started this professional triathlon journey  14 months ago. To be the first guy that runs down the finishing chute, brake the tape, and find Fallon waiting there for me was an emotion even I could never have prepared myself for. It just felt so incredibly surreal and in many ways an outpouring of relief for both of us. It had been  pretty crazy for the both of us this past 8 weeks but finally we got to experience that moment that seemingly makes all the effort and sacrifice wurfit! Like always before I get to the details of what went down through my eyes in Tenby on Sunday I'll just run you through our last few weeks since I qualified for Kona in Sweden. Most would have thought common sense would have been to have a rest after Sweden and start to focus on Kona. Well I kind of thought the same but I'd also planned to race wales more as I had prepared myself to not qualify for Kona and wanted to get a head start on ranking points for 2018. Following a postmortem of sweden we decided I'd recovered so well after Zurich and bounced back so strong in Sweden that we may aswell go to wales as apart of my preparation for Kona. To be realistic I'm not a contender for Kona.the top guys have been preparing for Kona for the entire year to be at there very best on October 14. I've been going race to race, week to week and we haven't had the luxury of much forward planning until Sweden was out of the way.  The facts are simple, I didn't have time to work on my run without sacrificing my bike and my swim needed some attention as I'd been a little off the pace in the swim in Nice, Zurich and Sweden and was an obvious area to rectify. My cycling legs have been getting better and better the whole time and that of course is now the centerpiece of my racing strategy. So simply put we decided to work hard on my swim, keep smashing the bike, keep ticking over with the run, and go to wales to test the swim and get another good long run day in the legs ahead of Kona. The bike and run courses being so brutal is was a great opportunity for a solid training day. Also I was headed to LA for my final block of training so wales was basically on the way from Nice so the race just fitted in perfectly. With what we had to work with it was the best strategy we could come up with. Following Sweden Fallon and I returned to Nice for the 3 week block between the races. We chose Nice as there where plenty of pools to chose from so easier to get lane space and do some constructive swim sessions. I really had done an uninterrupted swim session since arriving in Europe and my performance in the water had been highlighting this! Also my fellow Tasmanian and perhaps the man I've ridden most km's with over the years Richie Porte was back on his bike following crashing out of le tour to train with. Richie and I rode together every day while over the course of the few weeks we'd have a gang between 2 and 10 with the likes of Calvin Watson, Geraint Thomas, Michael Valgren, Jacob Fugslang, Ian Boswell, and Michael Mathews joining us off and on, for those not super familiar all in there own right some of the best cyclists in the world, real cream of the crop. I'd obviously raced with all these guys in the good old days and was so nice of them to not mind me tagging along. Richie still liked to remind me on a daily basis that I must be the luckiest amature cyclist in the world getting to ride with him and all those guys in europe, I simply replied by saying I'm not a cyclist, I don't really know how to define myself yet, I seem to do lots of different things haha. Was a really great group of guys and ruchie is right, I did feel privileged being able to ride with the guys.  Richie off course deserves a special mention as him being there to meet me at La Turbie at 9:30am everyday gave me the structure I needed to keep working hard and not slip into a post ironman slump, really played a massive part in keeping me progressing toward wales and off course looking ahead to Kona. So with the cycling remaining the centre piece of my day I also hunkered into my swimming and strung together a couple of good weeks of work in the pool. My swimming coach Denis being the legend he is knew exactly where I was going wrong and had me feeling stronger and stronger with every stroke in the pool, he's such a magician that guy. It was a very constructive few weeks and I trained pretty hard right up until the Thursday before wales. With Kona on the horizon I didn't have the luxury of any type of taper. Friday, Fallon and I packed up European base for the final time this year and moved our little road show to wales for one last race, the 4th I'd started since arriving in Europe 8 weeks earlier. I have to admit I've never been so calm and relaxed before a race in my life. On race morning I woke at my usual time of 4am for a 6:55 start and tucked into my porridge. I was super hungry which is a great sign as when I'm nervous I don't feel like eating and that's not overly ideal before an ironman! It was particularly advantageous for this race as I would take around 9hrs to win the race due to the very demanding course. We stayed at a little bed & breakfast called the Albany hotel which was literally 50m from the swim start and with transition not far from there was also very comforting to be right in the middle of everything. I strolled to transition to set up my bike with my shoes and hydration. While I was doing that I ran into Harry Wiltshire whom was also racing Kona and using wales as a big training day. Was really comforting to speak with him as he put it best, "I can do 8 hours alone or come here and do it with 2500 people" couldn't have put it any better really so this added to my relaxed nature before that start. I strolled back to the hotel to get myself ready for the start. I put my wetsuit on 30minutes before the start like i always do but for the first time in my motel room. This was fallon's idea as A) we where right on the start line, and B) it was jolly freezing and raining outside!! 12 degrees in fact which didn't bother me, being from tasmania I knew it would effect my opposition way more than it would effect me. With the suit on and nice and toasty and warm we strolled down to the start. I did a little warmup, felt great in the water and lined up nice and early on the line, I couldn't wait for the race to start. Before the start they played the welsh national anthem which reverberated through your veins. It's really quite powerful and for a brief moment I pictured myself at Cardiff stadium wearing the Number 10 about to take on the Lions! Strange the things you think about in the moments before an ironman. I muscled myself in next to Harry on the startline who is also one of the fastest swimmers in ironman. My biggest priority for this race was to test my swim and get myself back toward the front and as I'd never been able to exit the water with Harry so my goal was to be as close to him as possible, hence starting right beside him! The gun went of and I took of like usain bolt as we charged into the water. I hit the water first and for a few hundred meters I actually led the field!!! I couldn't believe it!! I felt great in the water and finally had my swimming arms back. Finally Harry came around me and gave me a smooth set of feet to follow, I have to say he's the smoothest swimmer I've followed since Sun Yang back on the gold coast in Denis's squad. Following feet for those who don't know is swimmings form of slipstreaming. If you've ridden a bike behind someone you know what I'm talking  about. Obviously just like with a  bike the smother the person in in front of you the easier to follow, no crazy accelerations or zig zagging, just a nice smooth pace, Harry is a very smooth swimmer and is very enjoyable to follow. I couldn't believe how perfectly my swim was going and I kept looking up to make sure I really was at the front, every time all I saw was Harry and a clear ocean ahead, just oarsome!!  The honeymoon didn't last to long though as at the first turning boy someone else decided they wanted harry's feet and bashed me out of the way. I didn't need to waste energy fighting so I just settled back into the lead pack and was more than happy for them to tow me around the course. A little over 48minutes later, my PB for the swim!! Harry lead out a leading group of about 8 of us, again I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Harry just ahead of me running up the beach, the race couldn't have got off to a better start. With the cold temperature and rain fort cast I knew staying warm would be key to having energy in the later stages of the run. I took some extra time in transition for put on a couple of extra layers and I think this was the decision that won me the race. Now at the back of the lead pack I started picking them off one by one and after 30km I was all alone in the lead. What I noticed passing all the guys was they where only wearing tri suits, no extra layers, either I was terribly mis informed about the volatility of welsh weather or for the first time ever in my triathlete career I'd made an intelligent racing decision putting on extra layers! The course was everything I expected and more! Absolutely relentless whether going up or down hill, wind that could come from nowhere and blow you off the rd, never flat, and of course some of the most stunning scenery I've ever seen riding my bike.  Speaking of my bike I had a special new toy for Wales. Wednesday last week Fallon and I travelled to the pinarello factory in treviso Italy to collect my new TT bike. Tim Kerrison (the mastermind of my triathlon foray) had organized with fausto pinarello for me to use the brand new Bolide that the Team Sky boys use. If you know bikes you know these things are pretty special and I just couldn't wait to throw a leg over her on Sunday as they say. It certainly was living up to all my expectations, firstly it's about 2kg lighter than any TT bike I'd ridden previously and was just floating over the hills, was a cycling experience I'd never had before, this thing just want to go and although I was riding in perhaps the worst conditions I've ever ridden a tt bike it stuck to the road like glue, yeah thanks Fausto without this bike I would never have been able to manage the race the way I did, the bike was just spot on!! The welsh country side and castles we rode past where and extremely pleasant distraction from an otherwise rather unpleasant activity of racing your bike 180km! Sure enough about half way through the ride the rain started to fall. I'd continued to build my lead steadily and was already around 5 minutes ahead. With the wind also picking up and now beginning my second lap which meant having age groupers also on the course I needed to really have my whits about me. What I also knew was all the guys behind me without extra layers would soon be getting cold and rather miserable, not an ideal position to be when also trying to deal with such demanding conditions, takes lots of energy to stay warm and they where certainly going to notice it on the run.  It was at this point I started thinking about winning race. I decided firstly not to take any risks as I couldn't afford to crash and hurt myself pre Kona so was very careful where it was dangerous. When the road opened up I push nice and hard to keep extending my advantage and then when I traffic and in technical dangerous spots take the opportunity to recover, fuel up (I ate two mars bars on the bike this race, little treat ummmmmm) and save energy for the run. I finally reached transition in a little under 5hrs and to be honest at the didn't care about my lead, I knew I was big, I was just happy to have got of the course safely. Sure enough once in the transition tend I learnt I had a 9minute lead and knowing the state my rivals would be in I knew a good steady run should be more than enough to take my first IM win. I slipped on the trampoline Nike Vapor flys and off I went, it felt so good to have my feet on the ground. The other great part about our little bed & breakfast, the Albany, was that I ran past it 8 times! We had 4 laps of a 10.6km circuit and that's where Fallon was perched. She actually was on a corner across the rd as we did a little sub loop so she saw me 12 times in total! Obviously, as she always does she became my point of reference for the run. With the big lead I had a simple plan, run a solid 3hr pace for the first 2 laps and then see where I'm at. Due to it being such a hard run course I knew for them to close the gap running sub 3hr pace would take it's toll in the final laps so I just want to hold them at a comfortable distance and respond if need be. My first two laps where really enjoyable and I felt great, I went through halfway in around 1hr 32min, I wasn't micro managing my pace, and waited to see Fallon for the all important halfway time check, "6 minutes" she yelled with a big grin and I knew I had it. The next lap I really took it easy as i needed to look ahead to Kona and not waste anymore energy than absolutely necessary. I knew I could afford to lose another 3 minutes that lap and then just run a solid final lap. Although now in cruise control I got reminded you can never relax in an ironman, specially when trying to win! My stomach was all of a suddenly in knots, I felt light headed and dizzy, and I felt urge to go to the bathroom for a number two, "oh shit" I said to myself! I was afraid to stop as what if I sat down and cramped or passed out! Perhaps I could just manage it and hobbled to the finish so I decided to squeeze my cheeks together. I did a quick time check hallway through the lap and realized I'd only lost 1 minute so I decided bugger it, I'll stop for a nature brake and hopefully come out a new man. 2 minutes after entering the porter loo I emerged a new man with a big giant grin on my face, oh the relief and I felt so so so so good and only 15km to go. Onto the last lap Fallon said I still had 3 minutes which was music to m ears as with the toilet break I'd only lost a minute, only I knew that but that's all that mattered  as I was the one running!  The last lap was a blur, now I just wanted to get to the finish and get this over and done with. The emotion of what was happening hit me a few times and was a little difficult to control that at times cling to terms with it all. I knew Fallon would be waiting for me when I crossed the line and I just wanted to get to her, shed been through so much this year with this circus which is my triathlon career, I couldn't wait to be with her. The crowd that last lap was just unbelievable, like listening to the welsh anthem 9hrs earlier it really sent shivers through my veins, was just an atmosphere which I only seen a few time in all my sporting adventures so a big big massive thank you to the people of Tenby for letting us take over your town and make me feel so special. When I finally hit the ironman finish carpet with merely 50m to run I tried to think of the victory salute I'd rehearsed all those times in training. For the life of me I couldn't remember what earth I'd decided on so whatever happened when I crossed the line was pure emotion. I'd worn my Mack Cycles tri suit for the race to show support for Mary Jane Mack and her family whom support me to the moon and back always and also my friends in Miami battling the hurricane. Wanted to give them all something to smile about during an otherwise harrowing time and being able to win wearing that suit, with her helmet and her hat was the best thing I could do for them to show them support that day. Obviously the emotion of realizing I'd finally won was the other contributing factor to my reaction as I hit the tape, again the relief, the effort of all those people around me, to finally show that I was wurfit was just the greatest felling I could ever imagine. Once Across the line it took me all of 1 second to spot Fallon waiting for me with open arms, was so special to finally have this moment with her, one I'm pretty sure she craved as much as I did. She quickly whipped out my phone and my coach tim was fittingly first with the congrats  message, was obviously a special day for him with his star pupil Chris Froome doing the grand tour double of Le Tour De France & Vuelta Espana & me winning my first IM on the same day, pretty versatile coaching hey! No more than a couple of minutes later a video message from my training partner froomie came through whilst in the middle of the final stage of the vuelta! He dropped back to the car and Tim filmed him saluting me with a beer in his hand! You certainly don't see something like that everyday but as I've said before he's a class act and his belief in me has certainly been the biggest influence on the belief I now have in myself during the races. Have to admit racing ironman Sweden, doing the training I did leading into wales and racing wales, felt like I'd done a grand tour myself! No doubt about it, our little squad has had a pretty successful summer.  My European adventure brought me success and opportunities I never could have dreamed would come my way. And while it's certainly in my eyes my best ever sporting performances I still have one more big appointment on October 14 in Kona so I need to maintain my focus. I've now returned to California where I'll do my final training block at Big Bear Lake. I love big bear thanks to my affinity with the boxing and MMA world with big bear being a training hot bed for the sports biggest stars, I like doing things a little outside the norm! So that's that, couldn't have scripted my summer any better cannot wait for what lies ahead. Cjw