My final race before a 6 month hiatus from triathlon was Dublin 70.3, a race I’d lined up to keep me focused over the winter and suiting my travel plans with my wedding a week later.
Priority 1 – don’t crash and ruin the wedding photos!
I spoke to FTC captain Clint before about my pre race philosophy and it’s a good time to mention it given how this race turned out. My last time in Busselton 70.3 of 4:44 gave me optimism that as per usual without fully achieving the required workload of the training plans I’d still managed to improve my times.. I know you couldn’t transfer times between races but I did look up my age group from last year and saw that the Busso time would have landed me in about 4th..
It’s bad to let your imagination get carried away but then again if you don’t have goals and aspirations then where’s the fun!! What if I got the same time or even a little better? Could I go to Tennessee world champs? Would there be less uptake in Ireland given the travel involved giving me a chance at roll down?
And so, before the race I set my gold silver and bronze standards for myself.. to explain, unlike the usual approach of faster people who aim to win, I set these standards in my own mind to decide what I’ll be happy with. Gold was as always a PB. If I knocked even a second off that Busso time I’d consider it a win. My Silver standard was going to remain as a sub 5 for now. It’s still what I consider the turning point as to when I felt I was ‘good’ at tris. The goalposts will hopefully move with time to see this number change but given all the unknowns I locked it in for this race. Bronze medal would be as always to finish. Sometimes things go wrong and be getting across the line is all that you can do. Bintan this time last year was one of those. I added the platinum standard mentally for this race as the elusive world champs spot but just as an aside.
Training had been patchy again. The usual issues of shift work and winter conditions played their part. I’d developed a fairly tricky headcold which took 3 weeks to settle. I don’t even think it’s fully gone. Wedding plans, packing up house and finishing work projects were also fairly massive I’d managed some better running blocks than last race prep including at one point a 70km volume in a week and I knew this was the area I needed most improving. Swimming was static probably for the training months which would hopefully still go in my favour given the Irish don’t swim overly well. I went to the local tri club’s open water swim in kilkennys river Nore and felt pretty good. The bike had not been great.. I’d been out riding a fair bit but compared to the high volume I’d had 12 months previously when I rode to Midland return frequently and had the Thursday intervals to work on hard flat speed work I didn’t feel overly excited. That said I’d done some longish spins with Sjoerd to make sure my legs were ticking over and a couple of harder hill intervals with Ali so I was hoping it’d come good. The bike was probably where I thought Dublin would differ the most from Busselton. There was only 350m elevation but Darryl had told me there was a load of speedbumps to kill momentum and I’d absolutely no course familiarising done which matters quite a bit in my race psychology.. knowing when to go hard and ticking landmarks off helps break bike and run legs down for me into more manageable chunks.
Day before I was fairly stressed but more to do with finding matching shoes for groomsmen than race stuff. The transition was well setup but there were a few interesting differences. The swim start was away from transition, there was a second transition from bike to run at a different location. The transitions were run like ironman races with bike blue and run red bags which needed to be handed in the night before and couldn’t be touched the morning of. The run bag was dropped to T1 and was being brought to T2 by the organisers and unless you wanted to check T2 out independently there were no maps etc laid out. I reckoned it would lead to a slower transition but I’d done it in ironman for the last 3 years so wasn’t too worried. Plus everyone was in the same boat. Caught up with friends the night before, enjoyed carbo loading and got to bed at about 1130 once everything was sorted.
Woke up a little groggy but was quickly enough prepped and ready to go. My biggest priority was to check the bike this am to make sure all the requisite prep was done. I’d a little worry about the front Zipp tyre. It rode perfectly on my 30km ride after the bike was serviced I’ve always found the tubular on the Zipps deflate quickly if left alone. I’d noticed pre dropping the bike into transition that the front one had gone very flat. I gave it a pump and it held up fine on the way to registration. I popped some foam into it to try reinforce it overnight but the foam seemed to go mostly outside rather than into the wheel. Lo and behold on race morning she was flat as a pancake again. There was some residual foam still left so I popped that in (still mostly going elsewhere) inflated it, span it around and pumped it the rest go the way.. it seemed fine. I checked it again after 20.. rock solid. I reckoned it would hold for 90km though it might need a replacement soon!
I met a guy from Exceed called Ian who was back home for the race also. Missed the FTC gang for the pre race banter and excitement (as well as the awesome top-ups we get throughout the race). Some local clubs were out in force which was cool to see.
Feeling pretty zen I watched the pros take off.. there was a straight line for the first 60% of the race.. good to break the swimmers up according to strength I thought. I saw the first age group wave go then and released there was self seeding and also a big slippy ramp to go down after starting, a little beach section and a pretty quick shallow section to take on before most dived and started swimming. The entry was controlled tightly so a trickle of athletes filtered in following the siren and after the first few got through there was a major backlog of athletes leading to quite the moshpit. I made up my mind to get in early, try get out first and avoid the crowds.
The strategy worked relatively well in comfort terms. I had clear water for 95% of the swim.. downside.. minimal drafting. Conditions were good and other than needing to swerve around a large block of the wave ahead of me at one point I reckoned I had stayed pretty straight. My time on emerging was 31 minutes on the Garmin. Compared to Busso’s 28 minutes I immediately felt there was going to be a bit of a slower day in store especially with the different transition ahead. It would turn out I was 8th in AG.
I got through T1 and hopped on the bike without much issue other than thinking transition seemed like such a large amount of effort in this format. The bike conditions were good in the opening 15-20km with the course taking us right through the city centre on smooth roads. the wind took some edge off the push to move up the ranks but I found a good pace setter and set about overtaking and keeping aero.
Next we hit the rural part of the course and I encountered the first few of the aforementioned speedbumps and a couple of short steep hills.. Steeper than you’d expect but with fairly fast descents. The downside was as I saw some speed build that it became harder to anticipate the bumps and get the bunny hop exactly right. Probably two bumps in particular I felt a little worried about the front wheel’s impact having a nasty noise and feel. I seemed to have cleared the section scott free though and other than a UK and US athlete passing me had mostly been overtaking and making good progress. Soon the concerns of a possible loss of pressure started to rear their head as the front tyre started to have the slight drop in sensitivity. I slowed a couple of times to check how it looked side on but couldn’t be convinced and decided to push on. At 28km there was a definite change and we were rolling on carbon.
I turned to the foam and based on the flat starting point, saw relatively no inflation and lots of foam going elsewhere. The cannisters on sale had the long tube adaptors and i wondered whether the other type might have sealed better as I’ve used before. Rain had started and I was struggling to get a CO2 to engage either to follow the foam. Finally it sutured and I got some air in. I set off again and quickly was back on the side of the road again. There was some foam left so I started to get it out again and see if I could do things a little better. Everything was wet and cold fingers were not helping. I heard a hum and saw the course mechanic mini car come into view down the road. He pulled in a little ahead and started to walk down towards me. Hurry I remember thinking though part of me thought some 10 minutes had probably already passed.
Things weren’t going well however. When the pump inflated the wheel, some foam was diffusely leaking from quite a large section of tyre. What could be done? Give it a roll and hope the foam gets around he said. If not, you’re toast. I lasted 2 more minutes and was gone again. The mechanic stopped again and said there was nothing he or I could do. Change your valve extender he said next time too he said to help with the foam. I couldn’t really take it in. I stood there thinking of the DNF as he rang the van to come pick me up. Not even the bronze was gonna happen today. I was particularly sad my family waiting at T2 for the run leg weren’t going to get any joy for their early start. The mech estimated a 15-20 minute wait until the sweeper van caught up.
I sat down on the kerb and got a bit lost in my thoughts as other athletes sailed past with some kind Are you oks. I toyed with the last Co2 cannister, the last remaining repair item I had left. IT was still tricky to twist and pierce and I wondered was it burst. A big gush came and I realized id burst it.. Screw it I thought, may as well put it in the wheel and see whether there’s any bit I can get closer to the finish or some other people at least. I peddled off and got 5km before I need to stop. I think I was approximately at 38km at this point. It was a pretty slow 5km as I kept awaiting the inevitable and feared pushing it and breaking the wheel. Still a bit left in the CO2 cannister so I picked the bike up, Froomed it a bit to a gap and refilled it. Got another 10km done this time. Started to believe this might not be the lost cause after all but I’d need another CO2 soon at this rate and started to wonder how to get one… Shouldn’t have worried as the last top up got me to the finish. I started to pick up speed and even found some members of my age group to overtake!
Coming into T2 I was relieved no end. Bronze target was back in play and I’ve never not finished a run so I took my time, had a toilet break and set out to find the parents and brother and reassure them I wasn’t dead. I don’t think I got all the details out on round 1 but lap 2 of 3 saw we clarify what had happened. My heart wasn’t fully in the run given my other targets were gone. Not knowing the course didn’t help and though mostly flat or slight slope, there were several similar seeming areas that made it difficult to mentally assess how I was tracking. My pace slowed and I took another toilet break to deal with some cramps. I worked a little harder on the last lap realizing that I was sitting on a ton of unused energy and hadn’t even used half my gels nor caffeine tablets. I started on the Coke and planned to push the last 1km hard. Weirdly one of the timing guys actually interrupted that effort to ask me my number, get me to pose with it as it was lopsided and took a picture. So I ran the remaining 600m and headed for the promised finish line beer from the sponsors, choc milk from the family and some much needed grub.
I finished the race in a good head space. This had gone from a no medal, no time, no finisher t shirt event to YES to all of the above. It made all the difference to have gone from sitting on the kerb awaiting pickup to stop starting my way to the end but it was worth it for the finisher feeling.
Realistically I think there were a fair number of new gun athletes in attendance that would have derailed the platinum plans but the bronze goal felt like gold in the circumstances.
Thanks to all my FTC buddies for the well wishes and support in our training together. It’s time to go get married and I’ll see you all in February!