ITU Long Distance Triathlon World Championships, Canberra, Australia. 19th November 2006 (Swim 4km, Bike 120km, Run 30km)
The best part of this was the adventure and seeing my bruv who lives in Sydney – the race – well, it was a sufferfest.
There were a few reasons going to race for Team GB in Australia was an attractive proposition. I’d get to see my brother who initially was going to race but had to withdraw because of injury, I’d never been to Australia before and since Iain lives in Sydney I’d get to see a few of the sights. Unfortunately, I’d been getting physio treatment for a dropped metatarsal in my left foot and I was nervous about the run – even though I would be able to tape my foot up to help alleviate the problem.
I went the loooong way down, travelling via San Francisco only for the air miles – I’d calculated that this trip would put me over the 50,000 flight miles for 2006 and earn me that lovely Gold card My bruv picked me up, early morning at the airport and dropped me at his flat, then headed into work. I was spaced. It was warm (for November!). This was another of my minimalist race excursions – arrive Thursday, race Sunday and depart Tuesday – as far away from home as I could be.
We paid a whistle stop visit to Bondi beach early on Friday morning to let me see what it was about and then we drove down to Canberra.
There is no mistaking you’re somewhere vastly different. Strange trees and fauna. Climbing temperatures. As others had said there wasn’t much to Canberra. Lake Burley Griffin seemed to be the best feature and that was where the race was centered.
It turned out that our hotel was the Team GB hotel and there were quite a few friendly Brits plus a number of ex pats. Dawn, our team manager was brilliant and deserves a mention. Finding the lake was easy, finding registration wasn’t. With minutes to spare, I registered, only to hear about some controversy over our race kit. It appears the ITU wasn’t pleased by triathletes racing with the fronts of their tops zipped down (presumably because it meant you couldn’t clearly see the ITU logo) and there was talk of us having to sew up the zippers, not a favourable outcome for me in the heat. The pros had already sorted this issue by having their zips on the back of the kit. Common sense prevailed and we were told we must keep our tops zipped up during the race…
Iain rode most of the bike course early on the Saturday morning, whilst yours truly did his usual lie-in deal and said it was fine, with only one tough climb, a fast and dangerous descent with a bridge at the bottom and then another couple of short sharp hills on each (of the 4) laps. We went to meet Ally and bumped into Greg (2 page peeps) which was much more entertaining than worrying about the race.
I already had my foot taped but wasn’t expecting it to stay like that during the swim…sure enough, after an hour the tape was flapping around my foot. I had visions of some interesting aquatic carnivore becoming attracted to the tape bait and after a few minutes of that, I somehow slowed to a halt (some would say they didn’t notice any change in my speed..) and detaped my foot. I knew I wasn’t swimming particularly well and there was no-one around. I was getting tired. I exited in 1:37:51 second last in my age group.
Onto the bike and off out into the antipodean countryside, I could feel the temperature start to climb. It also felt dry. After only a few miles my legs didn’t feel good but I didn’t panic as sometimes things improved…unfortunately this wasn’t one of those times…the climb was tough and the pain only alleviated by Bella Comerford flying past me and giving me the chance to cheer her on to catch the few girls ahead of her. A four lap (just under 20 miles per lap) bike is mentally draining when you’re having a bad day and even on a good day you experience the bad parts of the course too many times.
As the temperature soars into the low 30’s C, I start to feel nauseous but I manage to complete each of the first 2 laps in 1:05 and 1:01 respectively, which I’m happy with…then the heat starts to take its toll and for the last 2 laps I feel progressively more ill (exactly as I did in IMArizona earlier this year) and I can’t drink.
I know the wheels are already starting to come off – 2 long distance races in 30+ degree C heat in one year…considering the highest recorded temperature in Scotland is only 32.9 deg C. I hang tough on lap 3 and my pace continues steady with a 1:05 but on lap 4 I fall apart and I’m only just keeping the pedals turning…trying to get to the sanctity of transition which I do with a 1:11 giving me a bike split of 4:31:21 for 78.6 miles. I don’t know why I think the run will be any better – in fact I know it won’t. I guess it’s about at least finishing the bike before I fall off. I don’t have any saliva left in my mouth – I know I should drink but I can’t.
As I rack my bike and prepare for the run (which involves sitting down to tape up my foot – scrutinised by an over zealous ITU official) I head out of transition – thinking one thought – must hydrate or I can’t continue. Immediately there is an aid station with little plastic bags of water and to my surprise and delight they are ice cold. I stop and chug 2 down. Then I trot off..I only manage about 1.5 miles before my body gives the old retch alarm…it is brutally hot now – 31 deg C in the shade (and there’s none!). The run loops up and down the side of the lake with very little shade. I can only run a little before my body tries to empty my stomach for the umpteenth time – the 3 lap run is going to be a long long slog. I meet Iain and Coosin Ally as the run loops by the start/finish and I walk with Iain telling him I’m in trouble, in between violent retching and doubling over as is my usual system overload state. I apologise and tell him I’m going to have to walk the remaining 25 km. I manage a few short runs of only 4 or 5 minutes duration and then the hill causes me to be ill even whilst walking. On lap 2 one of the fellow Brits asks me if I’m ok – I know I’m surviving and will make it so I tell him “yeh, thanks”. Lucky with the water chilled I’m able to get some of it down. After 15km I am not able to run again until the finish chute where Dawn (who has been out in the sun all day looking after the Age Group Team) hands me my Union Flag – my key to exit this cauldron of heat and dehydration. A 4:39 run split is painfully slow and my finish time of 10:47:46 is brutal.
Even after some recovery time, as we take my bike and gear back to Iain’s car – I stop to double over and empty my stomach contents. Onlookers are not exactly buying triathlon as a sport to take up. I talk with some Americans at Sydney Airport and they confirm that it was one of the toughest races they have competed in – and like me they were veteran Ironmen.
As we drove back to Sydney, along past the dried out bed of Lake Victoria, I spot some Kangaroos The next day Iain took me into Sydney and we took a ferry to Manly, walked around a bit, had some well earned beers at the Opera Bar at Sydney Opera house and reflected on the most amazing backdrop I have ever experienced. How strange to be on the other side of the world. It was sad leaving my brother in his new home but I was very glad I had made the trip and very grateful for all his help and hospitality.