Pure excitement! That was the feeling I experienced when crossing the line at Western Sydney 70.3 last Sunday. I had a goal in my mind leading into the race. That was to come in the top 5. I managed to achieve this and come home in 4th. I stuck to the race plan from start to finish and put together a race I knew I was capable of. After a good lead up race in Canberra 2 weeks prior, I felt the body was in a good position to perform well and thankfully I managed to finish the half marathon, putting behind me the massive glute failure that occurred at Forster Ultimate 4 weeks earlier. Turns out it takes around 2 months to adapt to a new position on the bike after a bike fit! Anyway here is a quick run down on how my race played out.
With some serious swimming firepower in the form of ITU athletes in the field, I had accepted that I would not be at the front of the race coming out of the water. With some quality sessions in the pool over the past few months I did however feel very comfortable in my current swimming form and was confident I would be exiting in the chase pack. As expected several guys got away at the start leaving me with 4 other athletes in the second pack to limit our losses. The swim was fairly uneventful and we exited just over 2mins behind 4 other athletes. While running up to T1 I noticed another athlete in our group, Alex Polizzi, struggling to take his speed suit off. I offered some help but after 3 solid yanks on the zipper I had no choice but to leave him and get out of T1. Turns out he would ride with his swim skin on and end up getting it off after the ride!!
On to our machines and immediately a group of 3 formed including me, Lindsay Wall and David Mainwaring. This played out perfect for all of us as we were all committed to riding strong and catching the athletes up the road. Full credit to the other two guys. They rode hard. The course is a two lap very flat and fast around the base of the blue mountains on a fairly decent road surface. Our group swapped turns for the first of two laps and manged to catch two of the 4 athletes ahead at half way, however we did not put any time into Fisher or Wilson further up the road. Our group now had 5 athletes which started to make things interesting with the pace setting. As expected the mind set of the group changed. It became more of a case of why should I do the work and burn my legs while everyone else sits in and saves theirs. This scenario often occurs in courses that are flat and fast. It crossed my mind on several occasions during the second lap as to whether I should put in a 10-15minute effort and try to get off the front of the group and put some time into the lead 2. Would a one minute gap to the guys behind coming off the bike be worth the matches that I burn?? I decided to keep the power steady and not burn the legs and potentially compromise my run. Fortunately the time gap remained mostly unchanged after the second lap. My legs felt strong all ride and I stuck to the nutrition plan to a 't''.
A fast T2 (and no glute explosion) meant I exited first from our group. This lasted about 20m when Mainwaring and Davey took off like they had escaped jail. I had a huge decision to make here. One that could ultimately mean the difference between a top 5 finish or walking the last 5km. To follow these 2 or stick to my race plan and hold 3:35 pace. Mainwaring ran a 1:12 a this event last year and if I could stick to his feet, he might be able to pace me to a 1:12 this year. Big decision. I let them go and settled into my race plan of holding a conservative 3:35 pace. It was hard watching them slowly gain ground on me but a half marathon is not 1km but 21km, and more importantly races and positions are often decided in the last 5-10km of a half ironman. A new run course this year made things slightly more interesting then 60 laps around the regatta centre we did last year. Thank goodness they changed it. Since having a bike fit about 2months ago I have noticed significantly less fatigue in my calves when running off the bike. I gather that all this work previously done by my calves are now being performed by the rump, hence the Forster ordeal. Going through 5km on the run I felt good! A quick body check confirmed that most parts were still functioning at a good level, albeit with some expected fatigue. Gel and salt tabs down the gullet and push on. Up the road I could see Skipworth and Mainwaring starting to get larger in size and with a quick time check I confirmed I was slowly reeling them in. Still holding 3:35 I caught Skipworth at about 7km then Mainwaring at about 12km. This put me into 4th place. Then it clicked. I could make the podium. 3rd place was about 45secs ahead with 7km to go. In a slightly depleted glycogen state I tried to work out what pace I would need to hold to catch 3rd place. I somehow determined that I needed to gain about 10secs a kilometer therefore would have to run at a pace around 3:25-3:30 assuming he remained at the same pace. Great I thought, I can hold this pace in training so lets do this! Turns out the body had other ideas. A giant wall appeared in front of me and it turned into a battle of survival. In hindsight I should have consumed another gel halfway through the run as I believe that my blood sugar started to drop around the 15km mark. The straights along each side of the regatta center are around 2km long with signs marking every 250m. So I broke each 2km straight into 8th's (or 250m). I ticked off each 1/8, one at a time. Needless to say each consecutive 1/8 felt longer then previous! I hit the last 1km and knew I had 4th secured. I enjoyed the finish chute with a massive smile on my face.
I was ecstatic to achieve 4th place and believe this is a sign of bigger results to come.
From here I will build to Ballarat 70.3 on December 11th.