Friday, September 2, 2022

Summer of Suffering 22

Summer of Suffering 22

It's been a summer full of suffering. Following the backside kicking I received at the hands of my Ironman rivals in St George back in May, I had to turn my triathlon season around. This wasn't an overly complicated problem to solve. Following a busy spring racing on the road, I simply needed to dedicate myself to swimming & running to get my Ironman season back on track. It's always been a pretty simple equation for me, if I don't do the work i simply don't perform. Some athletes, I'd call them the "Natural's", seem to be able to get away with minimal preparation & still crush the opposition. Certainly i see this more in road cycling than I've noticed in triathlon where you can obviously hide in the bunch a bit, end up in the right spot at the right time. In Ironman there's not really anywhere to hide & in every single race these days there's a world class field to contend with who've put in the work. If you haven't done the work they make you, i had to spend the summer doing plenty of suffering & putting the work in.

Another obstacle i faced on my quest for kona was simply qualifying for the race. There where limited races left on the calendar to qualify & all seemed to clash with team obligations in the form of road races or sponsor commitments. The weekend after Unbound there was the North American Ironman Championship also in Kansas. Instead of staying for that i raced back to Europe to race the ZLM tour in Holland that week. Next was Ironman Nice. Once again i was unable to compete there as the team sent me to Copenhagen for a series of VIP events in the week leading up to the TDF start. Also with Covid again reaping havoc, I was there on deck in case a last minute substitute was required. Fortunately all the guys made it to the starting line healthy & I wasn't required. This finally left me the opportunity to race the Ironman in Vitoria Gastez the following weekend. With only Ironman Sweden to come in late August remaining as an alternative last chance qualifying opportunity, I didn't want to have risk everything on that, a misfire there would mean no Kona, that was something that frightened me big time. I was all in on Vitoria Gastez.

Fortunately during summer there's plenty of big races going on so all of our superstars are training the house down. I spent a lot time training with Pidcock in June which almost tipped me over the due. He was on a bit of a rampage after a disappointing spring campaign & i know he was gunning to bounce back at the Tour De Suiess in his build up to the Tour de France. I was definitely on the receiving end of some flogging so in training from him & tested my ability to manage the other 2 disciplines aswell. I decided if it doesn't break me it'll make me stronger so stuck with the regime on the bike & surviving the swimming & running sessions the best i could. I have to say i was a breaking point when he headed of for the Swiss build up race as i could now back the bike off again & give a little more focus on the other disciplines. No sooner had i got ontop of the fatigue & in a nice rhythm across all 3 sports, Tom tested positive for Covid & was back home within a few days. He didn't take long off as had very mild symptoms so you can guess what happened now. Yep, he'd missed a few vital race days of conditioning so stepped it up even more in training not only uphill but downhill aswell, I've never had any Strava achievements on descents until that 2 week training block. When Tom finally headed off for the TDF i was well & truly on the edge, I'd absolutely ridden, run & swam myself into the ground. I couldn't wait to get to Copenhagen & go my own speed for a week, in that respect the VIP commitments & time that took out of the days was a blessing in disguise.

The Family had accompanied me to Copenhagen for the week. We absolutely love that city, it'd obviously been very good to us the previous summer when i did the Ironman there. Knowing that there was the potential for me to Race the Ironman the following weekend I'd trained as well as possible during my time there. I took the opportunity to focus on my swimming & running as there have a beautiful 50m Pool in the city, the Baltic Sea, & an amazing trail network for running. If I'm going to neglect a discipline for a week then the bike is probably the best one to do it to, I've got some good miles stored in the legs to see me through an Ironman. I actually did some of best swimming I've done that week which gave me confidence that I'd be able to get off to a decent start in the Ironman. I feel like i made the most of the situation that i found myself in with the week in Copenhagen & was excited to get home & have a week to tune up for the all important qualifying race in Vitoria Gastez.

We arrived at the airport Monday morning a few hours before our flight to discover the baggage handlers where on strike. That basically meant the airport was chaotic & they didn't even bother checking us in. Basically told us we'd have to wait until Wednesday night for another flight to Barcelona. That wasn't really an option for us as I needed to be in Vitoria by Friday to register for the Ironman, attend the pro briefing ect. I needed time to fly back to Barcelona, drive up to Andorra, organise all my stuff, & then make the 6hr drive across to Vitoria Gastez. this option basically gave me 1 day to orchestrate all of that assuming no more travel delays occurred along the way. That's also without taking into account its hardly a pre race build up to optimise performance. All of a sudden qualifying in Vitoria became much more challenging. Instead we searched for nearby airports for direct flights back to Barcelona. It seemed strikes where happening all over Europe so having a stopover seemed risky. Germany offered an option for the following morning out of Berlin. We promptly booked the flights then rented a car to drive across. It was quite an adventure as the most direct route was via ferry to Rostock in Germany & drive to Berlin from there. Wyatt hadn't been on a big boat before & it was also Olive (the dogs) first time on such a form of transportation. We made the best of the situation we where faced with, I'm very fortunate to have a family that so easily goes with the flow. We arrived home safely in Andorra on Tuesday which now gave me a couple of days to sharpen the sword & pack the car for Vitoria Gastez.

My Tasmanian teammate Richie Porte was in town which was another blessing. Richie is always good for my mood & putting me in a positive frame of mind for races. We had a couple of days swimming & riding together & i was absolutely confident as i could be that I'd have no trouble finishing in th top 2 & qualifying for Kona that coming weekend. It's funny that two people can tell you the same thing yet you only believe it when one of those people say it to you. Richie is one of those guys I really respect & believe in what he says, we've spent so manny hours together suffering away. When he tells me I'm going to go well it really puts my tail up & gives me the confidence i can do just that. We loaded up the car & jetted across to the Basque Country on the Friday, basically left it as late as possible to maximise my time in Andorra training with Richie. We arrived in Vitoria just in time for me to make it to the pro briefing & register, i was all set to see if i could book my ticket to Kona.

The Race went largely as I'd envisioned it would. For some reason i had extreme confidence in my ability & felt I'd be able to put myself in a commanding position on the bike. My good feelings i had swimming in Copenhagen translated into a solid swim on race day. I exited the water around 1 minute behind the leaders which meant i could jump across to the front of the race relatively quickly on the bike. Once with the leading group i waited for an opportunity to break free from the pack & head of solo in an attempt to establish a race winning advantage. I felt really good on the bike & felt like I went pretty quick. 4hrs 1 minute is the fastest I've ever ridden on a course & this one was far from flat. I felt within myself as I'm all too familiar that you ride for show & run for the dough$. Still, the race went perfectly to plan & when i reached T2 i had a healthy 12 minute lead & was excited to see what my run legs could do. To be honest i had no idea how I'd run, i just hoped it'd be good enough to qualify.

Sure enough in the end i did run just, barely well enough to qualify! I felt great for the first 10km's & was able to maintain my lead. Then, all of a sudden I was absolutely dead on my feet, i had absolutely nothing. Was cramping like crazy in my calf muscles & felt completely out of fuel, this was going to take some crisis management. I was extremely disappointed with how i fell apart completely in Utah. It hadn't taken me that long to do the marathon since my first year in the sport. I knew writhing myself that even on my worst day i shouldn't be running that slow. Armed with the humiliation of that day & some time to reflect on what id do if I was faced with a similar situation again, i had one option, pull yourself together & drink as much coke or black magic in this case, as possible. For the next 28km i walked every aid station & drank as much coke as i could. That's around 15 aid stations, I probably walked a good 2km in total. The reason i had belief in this strategy is because that's how we do our track sessions. For example ill run 12 x 1200m with 2 min walk in between each rep. I'll run 24km in total with a very slow warmup & cooldown either end of the workload, & ill still average sub 3hr marathon pace. So that became my strategy. Run the 1500-2k between aid stations, walk the aid stations for 30seconds - 1minute, & run a good pace in between. I had a nice big lead so i could afford to do this as long as it took for anyone to catch me.

As i started the final lap with 10km to go, i was almost caught by Muñoz, the local hero. He could smell blood & was hunting me down. He got so close that was waiting for the lead bicycle to pass me signalling my time in the lead coming to an end at which point id planned to try & race him. He never came past. 4km later on an out and back i had a good look at the field & where everyone was. Munoz had gotten so close to me i could feel his breathe on my back at which point he completely capitulated & came to a grinding halt. He literally run himself into the ground chasing me & had to be carried off the course on a stretcher. Instead another threat no loomed in fellow Aussie Nick Kastalein. He was still 1 minute back but moving very fast. The good news was 3rd was another 90 seconds behind him. Now I changed my strategy. I'd dodged a bullet with Munoz but i couldn't risk trying to fend of Nick & risking blowing up myself & finishing 3rd. I maintained my aid station walking strategy & finally with 3km to go Nick came roaring past. I knew there was an aid station coming up & I'd get a good look on where 3rd place was. I had one last walk at 2km to go, 2 more cups of coke, saw i had 1min 15 seconds on 3rd, & set sail for home. I figured if i went all in for 1 km to maintain the 1min lead, so long as I maintained a jog & didn't walk in the last km i couldn't lose the 1 minute & slip to 3rd. Sure enough my strategy worked & I actually closed on nick in the last km & pulled away from 3rd. I've never been so happy to finish 2nd!

Obviously being 38 seconds away from winning sucks, i love the feeling of winning & nothing replaces that. In this case however I knew I'd not done the work required to race the way id tried to race, basically thinking i could smash the world record that day. I was nowhere near the level in any of the disciplines to achieve that yet i stupidly raced that way for 3/4 of the race. What i was proud of was the way i rallied & found a way. I did through in the towel as much as i thought i had no other option when i was wobbling on my feet with still 30km to cover in the marathon. I'd been able to take the harsh lesson i learnt in St George & redeem myself in Vitoria Gastez. I ran a 2hr 57minute marathon that day. If you factor in all the walking it means i was actually moving not too badly when i was running. Just like in the track sessions the average was very similar, race the way the train they say. It was never more apparent to me than during the marathon that day. I was mighty relieved to finish 2nd.

I could now look ahead to Kona with quite alot of optimism. Firstly id actually earned my place on the starting line. Secondly with it being early July I actually had a good chunk if time to prepare. And thirdly, I was actually running pretty well when I'm actually running, I simply need to do the work so i can take out the walking parts, my swim & bike are already pretty descent. I left Vitoria Gastez with a happy family. We all love our trips to kona, it'll be Wyatt's first trip, he was in his momma's tummy back in 2019 the last time we where there. Having a race like this where you really need to find something you didn't know you had, keep a positive frame of mind when everything seems to be going wrong for you, i feel is a nice way to prepare for Kona as in the lava fields there's always going to be challenging moments. I simply had to get home now & keep working away.

I only took 1 day off after the race. Richie was still in Andorra for a week & so I didn't want to miss the opportunity to train with him. 10 days after the race the team shipped me off to the tour of wallonie in Belgium for a 5 day stage race. Ive gotta say I don't I've been so fatigued turning up to a race before. I still had the Ironman in the legs & id hardly recovered at all trying to be a hero riding around with Richie. I suffered through the first few days & then on stage 4 found myself in the race winning breakaway. I tried to drop my opponents on the final short 2km climb 4K from the finish but instead a few of them dropped me. They went onto finish 1 2 3 & i was caught by the peleton. I was a bit down after this as i realised id just blown a very unique opportunity in the space of 2 weeks. I'd been in the race winning position on both occasions & failed to capitalise. I don't race the bike to make up the numbers. I'm there to help my teammates win & if i get an opportunity i want to be able to take that opportunity. These opportunities are rare so when they come & you don't take it hurts that bit more. Anyways, its certainly given me the believe that next year should i find myself with a Ironman & bike race opportunity in close proximity that i can aim for the top steps in both.

For now its all eyes on kona. I'm on the plane to Los Angeles for the final training block before heading to kona. Ill spent the month of September training in LALA Land, I've always wanted to do a kona prep there so i finally get my wish. Ive had a good consistent block of training these past 6 weeks to build the fitness, now its time to really sharpen the sword! This had been a 3 year preparation thanks to the Covid pandemic. While my performances when I've raced have fluctuated over that time I've never taken my eyes of the target of Kona. That always been the thing that drives me to put the work in day in day out. That focus has certainly become single minded on kona these past few years with my cycling commitments. All other races basically become a means to an end, a hitout, a fitness check, or qualification. All the while the target has always been kona & i cannot wait to get to the starting line on October 8.

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