With my final race of the season Busselton 70.3 now 2 weeks behind me I felt it was time to sit down and write a short review of the past 7 months of racing and training. Looking back retrospectively is an excellent opportunity to analyze your performances, and learn and develop strategies to further your growth as an athlete.
First up, I am very grateful that I was able to return to training and then racing at the top level after having a full 18 months away from the sport after experiencing a serious shoulder injury (Subclavian DVT - read more from my previous post on the injury) back in early 2014. During this time off I considered whether I would even be able to swim again full stop, let alone at the top level, given the potential complications of such an injury. I was very nervous for the first few weeks, even months, after returning to swimming in mid 2015 and there was several times that I experienced some fear that I had re-aggravated the shoulder. Fortunately there were no such incidences and the swimming fitness and form did slowly improve, however this is definitely a work in progress given the swim performances this season. To go from first pack to second and even third pack at some races shows the gains that still need to be made. More time following the black line to come next season!
Winding back the clock to July 2015, my fiancee and I decided that our ''comeback'' race would be Port Macquarie IM 70.3 in October. This would be her first half IM race ever and my first half IM for over 18 months. With both having the same race to target, it ensured the motivation would stay high throughout the cold and dark winter mornings. Having a partner who also competes and enjoys the multi-sport lifestyle makes for a very stable relationship especially when the alarm goes off at 4am on a weekend morning! As mentioned above, the return to swimming was by far the hardest both mentally and physically aspect of training leading up to Port. The initial sessions consisted of about 1500 metres total, mainly 50 and 100m repeats, about 3 times per week. Not exactly what you would expect from a professional triathlete! But it was a start. I raised my weekly total to about 8km before Port but always knew that my swim would be not quite up to scratch. My riding and running however showed consistent improvement over the winter and autumn months and it was great to do so many sessions with Aimee and see her improve so much over this time also. Nothing compares to riding around the Tweed Valley on a clear and crisp winters morning enjoying the amazing scenery and of course the coffee afterwards! With FTP testing on the bike done prior to commencing training and reassessment not long before Port I managed to raise it from around 290W to 305W, which gives you great confidence in knowing that the training is working.
Mt Warning in the Tweed Valley
As it turned out Port 70.3 would be my first triathlon back as I was unfortunately unwell for Woolgoolga triathlon, a short course race, several weeks before Port. I had planned to do this to remind myself of how to race! This made me a little more nervous for Port as I was competing as a Pro in a stacked field in my first triathlon in over 18 months. Nonetheless, I had prepared myself as well as I could in the 3 months leading up.
As expected, my swim at Port reflected the swim training I had performed in the lead up. I was 2 minutes behind the lead pack heading into T1, which at the time made me disappointed, but in hindsight I feel pleased as I swam alone the entire leg alone, and I believe that the fast and furious start was where I lost the majority of time as I forgot how frantic the start of a triathlon swim is! I caught a small group early on in the bike and decided rather then stick to my power numbers and ride alone I would work with the group and see how the race played out. I knew that we were losing big chunks of time on the ride and about 60km I pulled away from the group and tried to limit the damage. Then disaster struck. Heading back in from the second lap, my front wheel hit a small groove or stone on the road and my elbow slipped on my pads causing me to lose control of my bike and hit an unfortunate age grouper moving at a slower speed. We both hit the ground. I landed on my side and slid fortunately, managing to avoid bad injuries. My front wheel broke a spoke with eventually got replaced with a spare by the officials 10mins later. I peddled slowly back to T2 but decided to pull the pin after 5km on the run when my hip started to remind me of the fall. Not the way I had planned for my return race!! On a brighter note, Aimee ''smashed'' her first half, even managing a smile across the line, in a time just over 5hrs. A great effort!!
Grazes from the fall
After a DNF at Port 70.3 I looked ahead to the other races coming up at the end of 2015, Western Sydney 70.3 and Ballarat 70.3. With 6 weeks between Port and Sydney it gave me plenty of time to bank some more quality sessions and improve that swim.
With Western Sydney being a non-wetsuit swim, I knew I would have to swim out of my skin to be toward the front going into T1. Again in was on from the start and once again I managed to slip back to the tail of the group and found myself alone once again. This time however I was only 1 minute behind the main pack out of the water, which could potentially mean I could bridge up to them early in the ride. Seems the pack was not waiting around for anyone and took off at break neck speed. It was a lonely 90km TT for me, passing several other athletes on the way but losing time to the front runners. I averaged spot on 40km/h for the ride and was pleased to maintain a steady effort through out. Coming out of T2 is when the reality of what riding solo can do to your legs. This was the first run back after a hard ride in a race since having the time off. The goal was to hold 3:30-3:35 pace for as long as possible. This turned out to be 10km on the dot. Although I had been in this position many times in the past, mentally I believe I was not in the right space when the going got tough. This was a wake up call for me and reminded me of the true mental toughness you need to be competitive at the top of any sport. I battled to the end and finished 11th overall in a time of 4:03. To finish my first race back and know that I am still towards the front of the race gave me huge confidence moving forward.
Coming out of T1 at Western Sydney
Three weeks later I had my final race of 2015 at Ballarat 70.3. Once again most of the top Australian professionals chose to race at Ballarat including Pete Jacbos, Luke Bell and Clayton Fettell. Being the final race on the Australian racing calendar I wanted to put in a good performance. Race morning was a chilly 6 degrees!! It was a wetsuit swim and having made the first chase pack I was able to sit comfortably in the group for the swim and exit in a reasonable position. The bike is where things heated up. The large group split early and sensing that this is where the race would be decided I put in a solid 10-15 minute effort at around 330W to ensure I was in the right position coming into T2. Our group came in about 5mins behind the eventual leader and I was holding 9th position overall. Knowing that if I ran well I could potentially make it into the top 5, I went out at a conservative pace and planned to build into the run. I steadily picked off other athletes over the first 14km and pulled my way up to 6th position. Not knowing what was happening behind me, I battled the last 7km and managed to hold onto the 6th position. This was my best result to date racing in the professional field at a 70.3 race and the first time in the prize money!! My previous best was 8th in my very first race back in 2013 at Lake Stevens 70.3, which now feels like a lifetime ago! I was ecstatic to finally put together a race that what I think reflects my potential. As always you look back at a race and think what if I pushed a bit harder then or if only I could run that last 10km a little faster and maybe I could crack the top 3, but I was still very happy to place 6th and once again this gave me confidence for the upcoming races in 2016.
My results for 2015 were:
Port Macquaire 70.3 - DNF
Western Sydney 70.3 - 11th
Ballarat 70.3 - 6th
Moving forward into 2016, I sat down and planned out a few possible races and even threw around the possibility of trying to qualify for the 70.3 World Champs at Mooloolaba later in the year. This will be revealed in Part 2 soon.