To be honest I was a bit apprehensive coming into this race. It has been a while since I've trained specifically for a half iron distance. Prior to this, it has always been a lead up race to the full Ironman. While I enjoyed the reduced training volume, I can't help feeling a bit underdone, especially with the bike. It wasn't until the last couple of weeks before the race where I felt I was close to my peak fitness. Being the first race since Ironman Cairns in June, this was always meant to be a test to see where I am at with the main focus for this second half of the year being Xiamen 70.3 in November. Having said that, given the right conditions I wouldn't mind giving a crack at last year's PB.
However, Mother Nature had other thoughts and it was pretty windy the whole weekend with some areas in South East Queensland getting hit with bush fires. The skies were pretty hazy when we drove up to Mooloolaba the day before. I would have loved to stay longer and spend the time with family and friends, but with work commitments, we could only stay for the night. The athlete check in was busy but it went through quickly. I rested after lunch and then it was time to rack the bike. Dinner was at a little Italian restaurant called Craft. With so many restaurants along the Esplanade, we were spoilt for choices but they were all pretty busy as well. Then an early night before the race.
Race morning, I was up at 4am for the race start in two hours time. Had my breakfast and with the motel being only 400m from transition, I was able to have my second sit down in comfort and not have to queue for the portaloos. Bikes were racked very closely and I had to place my gear underneath my front wheel as I had no space on either sides. Thankfully I am short, so my front wheel hangs a bit higher. Also, AWA athletes had their bike rack spots closer to the bike exit and mine was only 5 spots from the exit, which was really convenient. One last pee stop and then it was time to put the wetsuit on and get ready to swim. I only had a couple of minutes to do a warm up in the water and then it was go time.
The water conditions this year was much better. Some mild waves near the shore but other than that, near perfect. Crystal clear water and you could look down all the way to the beach floor even though you were hundreds of meters out. The course is rectangular shaped - rolling swim start from the beach, turn right for the length of the course, turn left further out and then left again for the remaining length of the course, before another left turn back to the beach. I had plenty of other swimmers around me throughout but I did not deliberately draft off anyone and just kept to my own line. I was on track for a sub 30 minute through to the halfway point. But there was a bit of current assisting us for the first length and then we swim against it on the way back. So my progress dwindled a bit and I think I wasted a bit of time in the final straight into the beach, where I wasn't swimming as straight as I should be. Finally crossed the first timing mat in 31:27, over 40 seconds quicker than last year. My Garmin recorded 1,906m vs 1,869m for last year. I averaged 1:39 per 100m, which was also 4s quicker per 100m compared to last year. Off to a good start!
Some minor changes to the transition set up this year which allowed more room to run to our bike racks. It took a couple of tries getting the wetsuit off my legs but I didn't lose too much time. Which was partly the reason I decided to wear my older and slightly torn wetsuit, as my new one seemed very sticky when I tried it on during the week. Bike mount line also had plenty of room this time so no need for nervous fly mounts. And compared to last year's puddles of water from the overnight rain, this was awesome! Time taken 2:45.
If one were to make savings in time, it is usually during the bike, being the longest portion of the race. Having clear skies compared to last year's intermittent showers was a relief but the winds were beginning to pick up. The course is two laps - some short climbs out of town and then we head up the Sunshine Motorway up until the 20km mark and turn around. Back into town, we make a slight detour into Alex Headland along the Esplanade and then come back down the infamous hill which we would go through on the run course as well, twice. Then repeat for the second lap. It was mostly a tailwind on the way out and headwind on the way back. That made it a bit chilly at the start as well. It always takes me a while to get used to cycling with a rear disc. It made me even more nervous with the occasional gusts of cross winds. But I soon got the hang of it and was confidently getting low on my aerobars in high speeds. Just had to be careful when the gusts came and I noticed there were a couple of falls, some more serious than others - hopefully they turned out okay.
I only managed to build my speed up to around 36kph before getting back into town. From memory, it was around 37kph the year before. Towards the end of the second lap, I knew I would unlikely beat last year's sub 2:30 bike split but I kept focused and maintained the effort. Only to be disrupted a bit by a draft marshal who rode next to me and gave me a warning to keep out of 12 meters. He then rode off and I wasn't sure whether I was given a penalty or not. I stopped briefly at the penalty tent when I got back to town and asked but there didn't seem to be a system of whether my number was assigned a penalty. The timekeeper just said if I didn't get a card, I should be alright so I took a gamble and pushed on, rather than serving a penalty if I didn't need to. Finally got back into transition with a bike split of 2:32:06, over 2 minutes slower than last year. I averaged 35.6kph and 175 watts, 0.7kph slower and 12 watts lower than last year. Close but I have more work to do for sure.
Despite struggling a bit with the bike, I was pleasantly surprised that there weren't many bikes on the racks. Bike on rack, helmets off, shoes on and the rest - visor, sunglasses and race bib on the go. Time taken 1:29
I felt a bit tight coming out and transition and it took my legs a while to get into their groove. My first km was 4:19 but I got into the rhythm soon after and comfortably holding around the 4:15 per km pace. The course is two laps along the Esplanade and then a couple of detours after the first turnaround before heading back for the long climb at the end of the lap. Repeat for second lap. Tri club tents were conveniently located near this hill to give that extra boost. I'd like to give a shout out to the awesome South Bank tri club, which I had the pleasure of training with these past few months and also kudos to Trent from Reddog, which I used to train with a few years back, for giving the cheers as well.
Run split was 1:30:37 and it was on the ball at 21km compared to last year's 20.7km, so despite being slower by 40 seconds, I had a faster pace at 4:19 vs 4:21 per km last year. Overall time was 4:38:24, just under 2 minutes slower than last year. But considering the different run distance, it could have ended up the same. I am happy with my performance and will build on this over the next couple of months before Xiamen in November.
After the race, I went to the tri club tents and had a brief chat with Trent from Reddog and then with the South Bank tri club crew. And when all of the Malaysian athletes got all together, we had plenty of laughter over burgers and beer at the Good Bar. Hope more Malaysians can make the trip to very friendly race and I look forward to my 4th year at this race in 2020!