Thursday, November 14, 2019

Jumping in the Deep end

Jumping in the Deep end

I'd like to say i was dipping my toe in the water on Sunday but that's not really the case. Following Kona i made the bold statement that i was going to attempt to qualify for the olympics in Triathlon. So thanks to opening my big mouth so loud I wasn't dipping my toe.. Oh no.. I was diving head first into the deep end. Every single race i did between now & the qualification cutoff in the middle of May was a case of sink or swim, literally as it turned out. In my defence after finishing 5th at the "World Championships" you'd think that wouldn't be such a bolds statement would you? despite being a shorter distance, 1hr 45min as opposed to 8hrs, it's still swimming, riding, and running after all??

Well, i found out quite emphatically on Sunday that the "shorter distance" or Olympic Distance racing is basically an entirely different sport.. I was left so far behind after 5 minutes of the race on Sunday that the spectators could've been excused for assuming i was a local weekend enthusiast who'd gate crashed the local ITU World Cup event in Santo Domingo.. I promise to keep this pretty brief as the reality is those who watched TriathlonLive.TV got a much better view of hows things transpired than i did.

My day began with a huge amount of optimism. Let's face it I'm ever the optimist & despite everyone telling me i was insane for believing i could pull of Olympic qualification, i needed to find that out for myself. I've never been afraid of failing, & taking risks has always brought me the biggest rewards. I believe you've got to be prepared to lose big if you want to win big & pulling off qualifying for the Olympics in a second sport would certainly constitute attempting to win big in my book.

Back to the race. So the day got off to a great start. I was up early feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed, i couldn't wait to get the race underway. During a conversation with my Dad before the race i reminded him i was off to a far better start than my debut in IM as a pro in 2016. Well i ended up having 2 debuts, neither of which went very well at allfor vastly different reasons.

The first Debut was at the Chattanooga 70.3 where I was awoken to the sound of the starters cannon. I was staying nice and close to the start to be organised for race morning & in the end all that great logistics brought me was a frightening alarm clock. Basically what happened was I'd arrived from LA the day before and for whatever reason forgot to adjust my phone. Sure enough just as the cannon went off so did my alarms, perfectly 3hrs after i thought they where going to. Opps, so that wasn't even a DNF it was a FTWU, Failed To Wake Up.

My second debut came at the Cairns Ironman a few weeks later & while this time i made it to the start line on time the day didn't go overly well from there. Halfway into the run i was still in the top 5 when my arrogance around how much fuel & hydration you needed to take on caught up with me. The 2nd half of the marathon went really pear shaped to the point that in the last 5k i was actually running the wrong way. I was completely out of it & didn't even know where i was. I managed to finish in just under 10hrs from memory so hardly the debut you'd expect for someone dreaming of being a kona contender one day. Anyways fortunately things improved from there and the last few years have been a nice progression giving me the confidence to try my hand at the shorter version of our wonderful sport.

Once i got down the race venue i instantly realised i was in for a rough introduction. The energy & atmosphere surrounding the event was nothing like I've become accustomed to in IM racing. The Yawns & Scratching of sleep out of the eyes of the athletes was replaced with kids warming up full gas on the stationary trainers, running around doing sprints for activation, and some even looking like they where doing a CrossFit workout! It was just a hive off activity which i thought was simply youthful enthusiasm & the old bull being myself would be the one who was fresh when it mattered most when the gun went off. My optimism grew even more! I set up my transition which was far simpler than normal. The 3000 Calories you strategically pack to your high tech tri bike was replaced with a full drink bottle in a cage on your regular road bike. No transition bags in site & instead your shoes, sock less for my first time ever, sat lonely next to your simple bike. I had no idea what to do with all this spare time, perhaps I should've jumped in with the CrossFit kids after all!! Finally all the pre race formalities where complete & the moment had finally arrived.. I was lined up on the famous ITU Start Line Blue Carpet ready to through myself into a new challenge.

The gun went off and as usual i had a great start. A few sneaky elbows meant i was one of the first into the water & swimming. I actually felt bad as i noticed there where quite a few behind me whom i knew I'd be holding up but hey, first blood to the old bull. The first four hundred meters i thought where going fantastically as i had bodies all around me & was thinking this is nowhere near as bad as i expected, I'm crushing this!! Well that just goes to show how aware of my surrounds i really was as by the time we rounded the first can around 450m into the swim i was at the very back of the field. Yep, I'd managed to not notice that all 64 other competitors had swam straight around me, whoops!

And that's about where my evolvement in the race ended. Less than 5 minutes into the 1hr 40 second ish event i was dropped and all alone at sea. Definitely should've joined the pre race CrossFit group.. The swim was two 750m laps & to be fair I wasn't overly far behind after the first lap, around 20-30 seconds i was later told. The 2nd lap however where I was left to swim under my own steam i lost a further 90 seconds which ensured i entered Transition for the first time looking very similar to T2 in most IM's i race, absolutely empty expect for my bike!! That was very humbling. At this point i still held out hope that i could somehow ride my way back the front of the race. Once actually out on the bike however i quickly realised I hadn't ridden in a draft legal event for years. When your dropped from a peloton of 20-30 guys, the field split in 2 in the swim, well 3 if you count me, you've got zero chance of riding back to a pack that size with the advantage of momentum they have. Sure enough after the first 10km the gap had gone from 2-3 minutes & i simply wanted to get off my bike & hide behind a rock.

Quitting however for me is never an option especially when you want to do it because your getting your backside kicked in! That's simply pathetic so off course I removed those thoughts from my mind & instead looked for some new objectives. Justin Drew, our High Performance director at triathlon Australia had told me before the event that just finishing the event by avoiding time cuts & being pulled off the course would be a good start. At the time I laughed that off and thought how hard can that be but sure enough i was now faced with the harsh reality of being pulled off the course by the officials for being so far behind. I calculated that to avoid being lapped on the run i needed to be no more than 6 minutes behind when i started the run so that i could be starting my 2nd lap before the leaders started there 3rd lap! They where 3.3km laps meaning to achieve this i had around 10 minutes up my sleeve to play with. I figured if I lost 6minutes on the swim/bike, then I'd have 4 minutes up my sleeve to hold them off for the first 6.6km on the run. It was definitely touch and go..

I kept my head down & hammered away as best i could on the bike. After 20k or so i caught a few guys who'd been tailed off the chase group & they thankfully had a similar goal to me & did everything they could to keep our train rolling. In the last 10k we actually stopped the bleeding and started to hold the front pack around 5 minutes & claw some time back on the 2nd big pack with them only 2 minutes ahead. The day was slightly improving! As we made our way towards T2 on the final lap i was keeping my eye out for how far into the run course the leaders where. We ran on the same course as the bike course so you always have a great idea of where you are. When I saw the lead moto coming towards us on on that final lap it was moving so fast i figured we must've had anther lap to go on the bike?? Nope it was just Team USA galloping along like a pack of gazelles which left me with my jaw dragging along the road, they where absolutely flying & I couldn't help but admire it!!

Into T2 & it was easy to find my rack as there was only a couple of spaces free. I slipped on the fancy fast Nike shoes & off I went. I was actually pretty impressed with my Transition time as it was only 5 seconds slower than the fastest guys on my first attempt, I'm sure i can improve quickly in that area. Onto the run & Jan Frodeno had given me some great advice. He said go to the point where your feeling like suffocating & then back it off a little. It took around 100m to get to that point & the highest heart rate I'd recorded all year so I figured i was performing at my optimum. I didn't have time to pat myself on the back for executing Jan's advise that carried had him to Olympic gold though. No.. While Matt McElroy was figuring out when and where he'd drop his 2:45km to show his teammates a clean pair off heals, i was calculating how not to get caught by him & pulled of the course. By my maths i had 4 minutes up my sleeve which meant 2 minutes per lap. I decided my best strategy was go as hard as possible early while had some freshness & hope to have a buffer should i blow up on the 2nd lap. 7km basically became my finish line!!

My plan worked out perfectly as after the first lap I'd only lost 1 minute 30 sec. halfway through lap 2 I actually felt good about myself for the first time that day as I'd only lost another 30 seconds in that half a lap!! I was now only 2km away from being allowed to complete the course safety.. I gritted the teeth and sure enough started my 3rd and final lap with still 90 seconds to spare which is probably the best feeling I've had in any race all season to be honest. I was able to witness Matt drop his grenade on his fellow countryman & as he flashed past i paused briefly to marvel at how amazing he looked.. I said to the guys after the race that to be on the same course as them at the same time & realise how massive the gap between our abilities was, was one of the most humbling experiences of my sporting life. I was absolutely powerless to do anything but give it my all to finish 10 minutes behind them. That just really impressed me no end to witness first hand just how dam good these guys are at there version of Swimming riding & Running.

This experience reminded me of the last time I'd felt like this. My very close mate Sunny Garcia had taken me to surf the famous Trestles break in North County San Diego a few years ago. Sunny for those who don't know was a multiple world champion, the first surfer to earn 1 million dollars in prize money & basically the pioneer for the success of the surf league today. A true sporting legend. Sunny had learnt me one of his boards & we both had the same Xterra wetsuits on.. I remember taking off on the famous A frame wave with Sunny, he want right, i went left. As i cruised along with the wind in my hair i could picture the amazing carves & Ariel's & god knows whatever other mind boggling tricks Sunny was doing on his side off the wave. At the time I thought too myself Wow, here i am with all the same stuff, I'm even on the same wave & i cannot comprehend how on earth Sunny & his pro surfing buddies can do what they do. It was simply an incredible experience. This was the same feeling i felt watching Matt & his band of merry men wearing the Stars and Stripes this past Sunday.

So obviously everyone is wondering where to from here? Well like i said at the start this wasn't about me dipping my toe in the water & seeing what its all about. No. This was jump in the deep end & see if i sink or swim. Obviously we found out that i sank rather quickly but managed to get my head above water just enough not to drown. So with that being said nothing changes & we move on with the project. I'll take a break now for the rest of the month of November before getting myself fit again in time to start serious training January 1. In the meantime Triathlon Australia & I will come up with where we go from here & which races they will allow me to represent the green and gold in next. Whether that's South Africa, Australia, USA, Mexico, Spain, or France, I'll definitely be on another start line early in the new year too see if i can compete with these guys. I said from the start I'm under no illusions of how much of a long shot it is for me to pull this off, however as I've said all along the improvements that I'll be forced to make in my swimming & Running & Riding will only help add a few more strings to my bow for Kona in 2020. For now thank you for following my journey in 2019. It's definitely been a nice improvement on 12 months ago & I'm excited to now freshen up & come back & start working on making more positive steps forward in 2020.


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