Tuesday, 9 March 2021

Tweed Coast Enduro 2021

Before I start, I'd like to acknowledge the tragic passing of one of the athletes from the race. The athlete experienced a personal health episode during the run and while the medical team did everything they could, the athlete sadly passed in the hospital later that afternoon. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.


This was my 6th time racing Tweed Coast Enduro and it has only been around for 7 years. I missed out of the first one, it was when I first moved to Brisbane and did not know of the event. Located in Pottsville, an easy 1.5 to 2 hours drive from home, depending on traffic. In a small laidback town but the local community really comes out in full force to support the event. I was bringing the club tent and family came along. My wife and son took the train to Robina, about half way there and then we all squeezed back into the car for the rest of the journey. There was not a cloud in the sky and it was hard to believe that it would be raining the next day. I had pizza from the Cabarita Bakehouse for my pre race dinner ritual and my son played at the beach until about sunset and then it was time to head back to the motel and call it a night.

Woke up to the sound of rain. It was an early race start this year at 6-ish am NSW time, so it was still dark. We stayed at the Pottsville Beach Motel, less than 10 minutes walk from transition. It showered a bit as I was walking. Got my bike set up and there was still time to queue up for the portaloos, thankfully they had lights in them. Then it was time to make our way to the swim start, about a 20 minute walk. It showered heavily again and it was quite chilly waiting for our start. Nick was there to keep me company. It was a rolling start and they were strict to make sure we kept to our allocated groups according to our nominated swim times. Nick and I wore pink caps and were told off for lining up with the orange caps who were starting before us. Pink and orange looked the same in the dark to me.

Swim 1.9km shortened to 1.6km

The race organizer had been sending us numerous emails about the potential cancellation of the swim due to poor water quality and sand build up. But I think it the end it was shortened to 1.6km because of the strong outgoing tide for fear that swimmers would be swept into the ocean if we didn't turn towards the beach earlier. We entered the water in about groups of 10+, carefully walking down the wooden steps even thought we have already crossed the timing mat and wade our way through the shallow water until it was deep enough to start swimming. There wasn't much body contact at all as the swim was only in one direction and we had the whole creek to ourselves. 

While I enjoyed the push from the tide, the water wasn't as clear as in previous years maybe due to the rain. Or could be just my dodgy 12 year old goggles. I didn't get to draft off anyone and was mostly overtaking those who started their swim earlier. As we came close to the bridge, the tide flow changed angles and it required a bit more effort to swim straight. For some silly reason, I chose this moment to empty the bladder, so I kicked less and noticed I was getting swept away. Quickly get the job done and made my way back towards the beach. Swim split was 21:28 and Garmin recorded a distance of 1,617m with a crazy pace of 1:18 per 100m. I wouldn't even be able to do that in a 100m sprint. I was 28th position in my age group at this stage. 

Transition 1

It was a bit of a run into transition. Swimskin off past the ankles, brief wipe of the feet, socks on. The paddings inside the helmet was a bit soaked from the rain. Unrack bike and make like a long a U turn around all the bike racks before getting to the mount line. All up, it was about 500m from the beach to the mount line. There were quite a few other cyclists around so I pushed my bike a bit further in front and carefully hopped on without causing too much of a scene. Total time taken 3:50.

Photo credit Rob

Bike 90km

Got a shout out from Philippe as I started the bike. I had the pleasure of racing with him on this course for the past few years but he sat out this year. The bike course is 4 laps in an L shape with two short climbs just before the first turnaround. Typically a headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back. There were light showers throughout but nothing too extreme. The roads are a bit patchy but it looks like there were some resurfacing done so they seem pretty smooth this year apart from a small section at the first climb. Nick flew past me about a few kms in and he was gaining about 2 minutes at the end of each lap. I stuck to my own pace and monitored the watts. I reached my typical target of 36kph average sooner than I expected and I was wondering whether I would blow up but the legs felt good and I continue to build up that average.

I dropped my second gel at about the 55km mark as I was fumbling to tear it open, I only packed three so I decided to take my third one anyway and hoped that it will last me to the end of the bike. There were a couple of big packs on the course, one in the opposite direction and one slower one which I managed to overtake but I had to cross over to the other side of the road as they were riding two abreast. There wasn't a lot of draft marshals covering the course, not that I saw anyway. I finished the bike in 2:27:12. Garmin recorded 89.4km, average speed of 36.5kph, average power 192 watts, average HR 151 bpm. It was a PB for 90km ride and I gained 9 places in my age group. I'm glad that my cycling has been improving progressively. Official bike split was 2:32:28 including both transitions.

Photo credit Rob

Transition 2

Got off the bike feeling a bit stiff but felt better after running for a few steps. Rack bike, shoes on and everything else on the go. Do the long loop around the bike racks again, also about 500m between the dismount line and the run timing mat outside of transition. Time taken 2:30

Run 21km

Waved to the South Bank crew as I started my run. The legs and form felt good. The rain has stopped and the sun peaked out of the clouds every now and then. Temperature rose to a maximum of 27 degrees that day. The run course is 3 laps shaped like a T. As the transition layout has changed a bit, so the southern turnaround was extended a bit further. Mostly on foot paths and there were a couple of flooded and muddy patches, which I avoided at first but couldn't be bothered and just ran through later.

Photo credit Rob

I went through the first km in 4:16 and thought perhaps that was too quick. But I managed to hold under 4:20s for most of the first lap. There was no twitching of the quad muscles this time round, just managing the energy reserves. Second lap was a bit slower averaging just under 4:30. Managed to catch Li-Ann and Sebastian before I started my third lap. I somehow gave in a bit after that and started creeping past the 4:40s. I knew that finishing under 4.5 hours was in the bag, which would be a course PB even after adding 10 minutes for a shortened and fast swim. So I didn't quite get into the hurt locker as much and steadily took it home. My run split was 1:33:39 for 20.9km according to Garmin, average pace 4:29 per km, average HR 168bpm. I gained another 9 spots, finishing 10th in my age group and 68th overall. The field this year was massive, it was a sold out event and my age group had 2-3 times more people than the previous years. My overall finish time was 4:27:37. A bittersweet feeling that I can't quite claim this as a PB with the shortened swim but I think the bike run combo may have come close to a PB.

This is truly a top notch event put on by organizers with a heart, that always give back to the community. Next year's race dates have already been released and I'm pretty sure I'll be back again for race number 7!

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Hell of the West 2021

First race of 2021... well it was supposed to be Robina Olympic 4 weeks ago but that got cancelled no thanks to a 3 day lockdown in Brisbane. My last race here was 5 years ago, just before Sebastian was born. This is my 3rd time racing Hell of The West and I felt that I was in good form to break a PB, target was to go under 4 hours 20 minutes. And after some sub par performances in my last two races of 2020, I was almost desperate to do well this time.

Goondiwindi is a good 4 hours drive from home. I took the South Bank tri club tent with me, so there wasn't a lot of space for the family to come along. Plus, it isn't quite a tourist destination so it was decided that I would travel solo. Just have to make sure that I take plenty of breaks on the return drive after the race to stay awake. I left home on Saturday morning just after breakfast and arrived just in time for lunch. The motel was ready for check in and the reception was kind enough to extend my check out time the next day by another hour, so I could shower after the race. We had a bit of fun in the afternoon by recreating a shot from 2 years ago of jumping into the river. We managed to set up the tent just before heavy downpour, which is pretty uncharacteristic for this area at this time of the year. I had an early dinner and got into bed, ready for an early start the next day.

3am alarm went off, had a pretty decent night sleep surprisingly. Packed sandwiches and a banana from home. Short 700m ride to the race site in the dark, I didn't have my bike lights with me but thankfully the street lamps were bright enough. After racking my bike and setting up in transition, I still had some time to queue for the toilet for my 3rd sit down that morning (race nerves!). Met up with the other South Bank tri club members and made our way to the boat ramp for the swim start. 

2km swim

Deep water start in the Macintyre River. The river is actually the state border between New South Wales and Queensland. And because of daylight savings, you could be moving between time zones throughout the swim, if you found that interesting. Also, it was still dark when we started our swim at just after 5am. I had my Garmin 935xt on for the first time and I wasn't familiar with the light function but it seemed to stay lit on it's own. Maybe it's sensitive to water or the dark, I don't know. There were only two waves for male age groupers - under 45 years and 45+. So there was plenty of contact for the first few hundred meters before it started to clear out a bit. I did get a good pair of feet to draft off on a number of occasions but spent most of the swim on my own. 

The course was out and back, there was only one turnaround buoy, which caught me by surprise as I was expecting two so that we make a 3 point turn. Traditionally against the current at first and then current assisted on the return. But I honestly cannot say I felt I any assistance, the swim just felt heavy throughout. It was time for me to get new goggles, this pair is over 12 years old and the lenses are very worn. I couldn't see clearly on my watch, so I couldn't track my progress but it beeped every 500m, so that gave me an indication of how far into the swim I was. Came out of the water in 35:07, which is right on target for 35 minutes. Garmin measured 1,935m at 1:48 per 100m pace, which is slower than usual but it seemed to be the case for everyone. 10th in my age group at this stage.

Transition 1

Run up the boat ramp and fairly long trip to the bike racks, about 500m. Swimskin off all the way past my feet - didn't forget them this time! A bit of a wipe of the feet, socks on, helmet on, unrack the bike and off we go. Carefully mounted the bike at the mount line as there was one other cyclist next to me. And ready for the ride! Time taken 2:57.

80km bike

The organizers decided to switch to a new road this year. For the better. The road surface was smoother and there were gentle undulations which helps break up the constant, monotonous pedaling on a completely flat road. It was still a one lap, out and back course. So for the first half, once you've overtaken (or been overtaken) and settled into your position, it was a mental game to stay focused when there was no one else around you. It my the first time getting HR data on the screen during a race, I was averaging 160bpm, which surprised me as I normally only hit this high on my runs, not on the bike. But then again, I rarely get to hit this sort of intensity on my outdoor rides in training. The weather was exceptionally good this year, with overcast skies and low winds. I was holding around 38kph average and in sight for a sizable improvement for the bike split. 

Nick and then Alex overtook me around the 30km mark. I was able to pass Alex again but Nick continued to increase his distance. The turnaround point caught me by surprise, it was just a single cone in the middle of the road. I didn't brake early enough and went past it a bit. It felt like a bit of a headwind on the return trip, but only just slight. A large train of cyclists passed me somewhere around the 50km mark, I hung on trying my best to keep legal distance. This went on for about 10km or so and then it happened. The draft marshal came by on the motorbike and showed me a blue card. I accepted it as I was definitely pushing the limit but I was a bit annoyed that I was the only one in the group who got penalised. Anyway, nothing I could do. I lost a bit of rhythm and my last 10km or so was a bit slower. Checked into the penalty zone, which was conveniently just by the dismount line. And waited - the longest 5 minutes in my life! The Garmin stopped at 2:07:41 for a distance of 79.3km, average speed 37.3kph and average power 194 watts. Official bike split was 2:13:23 with the penalty, 22nd in age group at this stage.

Transition 2

 I've unstrapped my shoes before and kept them clipped in so I could just run my bike to the racks. Had a brain freeze moment after putting on my shoes as I was wearing my run visor. I could put the rest on while running, so I should get moving! Time taken 1:15.

20km run

I was still feeling positive. I calculated that I had to run just under 4:30 per km pace to have a shot of hitting my target. Which I should be able to do as I usually hold this pace in my long run training. First km I went out in 4:10, probably a bit too quick! I settled into 4:20 something for the next couple of kms. And then, my quad muscles started to twitch. Reluctantly, I slowed down the pace to around 4:45 but tried to keep the efforts steady. 

The course was 3 laps on foot paths, partially shaded and shaped like a T. The sun started peeking out of the clouds later in the day and temperature started to rise. Whilst my target time was no longer within reach, I switched my focus to catching Alex and Nick in front. Nick wasn't feeling the best and I passed him about halfway into the 2nd lap. I had to dig deeper and it wasn't until the start of the 3rd lap that I managed to pass Alex. Mentally I gave up a bit after that, I started to creep past 5 minutes pace, looking over my shoulder every now and then to make sure Alex wasn't catching up. Finally, I got to the end with a 1:32:30 run split, Garmin recorded 19.7km with an average pace of 4:41. 

My overall finish time was 4:25:11, about two minutes slower than my last race here. Not that it meant anything, even deducting 5 minutes for the penalty, I would have still fell a bit short on my target. I placed 8th out of 25 in Male 35-39 and 59th out of 311 overall.

The Goondiwindi triathlon club put on a great event and this event really gives back to the local community. I am glad I am part of the 30th anniversary of this historic event and hope to be back again. If the drive wasn't so far, I would do it every year! Overall, despite not achieving my target, I'm pretty happy with how I executed the race. Looking forward to Tweed Coast Enduro in 4 weeks time!

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Hervey Bay 100

I've not done this event before mainly because it always clashes with some other event late in the year. But I've heard good things about it. With Ironman Busselton cancelled, I was looking forward to another long course event before the year ends. The event sold out on the same day entries were opened, I got myself onto the waitlist and fortunately scored a slot. I was probably among the last few, as soon as I registered, the race organizer started sending out emails on race packet pick ups etc.

Hervey Bay is about 4+ hours drive from home, it's a nice spot and I've been there a couple of times for work. So I thought it would be good to bring the family along this time. The traffic was pretty good on Saturday and Sebastian didn't make a fuss at all (thanks to pre downloaded Netflix videos)! We had an early lunch break in Gympie and arrived in Hervey Bay just after midday, to be greeted by strong winds and the scorching sun! I was bracing myself for some tough racing conditions the next day. I met up with the South Bank tri clubbies at the race pack pick up while Li-Ann and Sebastian played at the beach. We had takeaway pizza and Japanese for dinner and soon it was time for bed.

Race morning, 4.30am alarm goes off but I was already awake for over 30 minutes before. Our accommodation was conveniently close, about 200m from transition. I racked my bike and then went back to the room for breakfast and final toilet visit. The swim was a point to point swim and I was in the second last wave at 6.47am. I still had plenty of time and sat at the beach for about 15 minutes before going in for a quick warm up swim. Even then, I probably did it a bit too early and was shivering in the wind while waiting for my wave start. 

Swim 2km (supposedly)

The event prides itself with a unique whale tail shaped swim course. However, due to high waves, the swim was shortened and it was shaped more like a trapezium. The wind was coming from the north so the first outbound swim was tough. But once we turned right, though it was still very choppy, I felt that there was a bit of current assistance. There were only about 30 or so people in my wave start, so it was difficult to draft or to sight, made even more challenging by the choppy waters. But I didn't waste too much time finding my bearings. Overtaking different coloured caps from the earlier starts always gives a bit of a confident boost. The swim back after the final turn didn't seem much easier as I felt as I was being pushed away instead of doing a diagonal swim back to the beach. I hit the lap button as soon as I got onto the beach, to give me an accurate reading of the distance and pace. Garmin recorded 27 minutes on the dot for 1,543m. Average pace of 1:45 which is pretty much an aerobic pace in the pool for me. Given that the pros were swimming just over 20 minutes, I'm pretty happy with how I swam comparatively. The first timing mat was another couple of hundred meters away and official results had me clocking 27:53 and 7th in age group at this stage.

Photo credit Nicci

Transition 1

I was disappointed to see that there weren't many bikes left on the rack and then I realised that most of those who were on the same rack as I were from earlier wave starts. I spent the extra couple of seconds wiping the sand off my feet and put the socks on. Only to realise that I haven't taken off my swimskin, not going to make that mistake again! Mounting the bike at the mount line was a bit scary as we were very close to the actual bike course. I looked back to make sure no cyclist was zooming towards me before I got on my bike. Time taken 1:14.

Bike 80km

Pretty straightforward bike course. Four laps out and back. I was expecting a fast and flat course. The winds were not as bad as the day before but it was still strong. The outbound journey had some deceptive inclines and there were a few roundabouts and plenty of corners that I had to get off my aerobars so that I could steer better. There were a few speed bumps at the start and concaved surfaces at the other end to look out for as well. My Garmin Edge 500 cycle computer went totally flat despite having fully charged it before. Probably time for a change as it is about 7 years old. So I relied on looking at my wrist every now and then to get some data feedback. It didn't help that it was on auto scroll! But I kept to a pretty consistent effort for each lap. It just over 17 minutes on the way out and just over 16 minutes on the way back. And that included a the infamous short steep climb on Gatakers Hill on the way back. I initially planned on just cycling in the big chainring but the climb came so suddenly that switched into the small chainring each time, praying that the chain doesn't drop! Interestingly there was one other cyclist from Redcliffe tri club who would always pass me on the return lap but I would overtake him again towards the end of the outbound lap. We never rode near to each other but this went on for all four laps. 

Photo credit https://www.dsaimages.com.au/

I finally got back to transition with a bike split of 2:14:50, averaging 35.5kph and 185 watts. Probably a bit conservative. Clocking closer to 36kph and shaving a couple of minutes off would be better. Distance was pretty spot on at 79.8km. Official results included transition time at 2:16:00 and I gained a spot to 6th in my age group.

Photo credit https://www.dsaimages.com.au/

Transition 2

After racking my bike and removing my helmet, for some reason I froze a bit. My helmet visor was broken before from getting knocked off my bike. So I took that extra care to place it gently on the tarmac and ensured that it wasn't in anyone's way. Then back into game mode, shoes on and grabbed everything else - sunglasses, race belt and run visor putting them on the go. Time taken 1:04

Run 18km

3 lap course on the foot paths, starting from transition in the middle. Mostly shaded and thankfully it had been overcast skies mostly throughout the day, except towards the final run lap or so where the sun started peeking out. But it was certainly warm and humid. I have been struggling a bit with my long runs lately, been breaking it into smaller distances as I haven't been able to execute them in one go. And it showed on race day. I started off at around 4:30 per km pace, which is usually what I do in training but couldn't sustain it and dropped it to just under the 5 minute mark. We were told to ensure that our cups made to the bin and there was one section in the middle of the first lap, I was so focused on looking out for the bin until I missed the intersection and almost ran back into the transition area, I even crossed that timing mat again! Quickly turn around and went back out on course, could have been disqualified if officials were being strict.

Photo credit https://www.dsaimages.com.au/

Seeing Li-Ann and Sebastian cheering from the playground did lift my spirits. And so were the cheers from the South Bank tri club tent and Greg and Cathy from my former Logan tri club at the run turnaround. But there is only so much my tired body could do. At one stage I dropped even further to 5:30 per km pace. I was surviving on the (warm) coke from each station. The final lap came and I found a bit of a second wind and started clawing back to the low 5 minutes pace.

Photo credit Nicci

Finally crossed the line a run split of 1:30:02, official split of 1:31:04 including transition. Garmin recorded 18.3km with an average pace of 4:55. Overall finish time was 4:14:58, falling short of my sub 4:10 target which I had plenty of time after the bike but it all came apart after that. Surprisingly, I gained another spot and placed 5th in my age group. Fourth place was a fair bit away and it was unlikely for me to beat even at my best.

While I am somewhat disappointed with the results, especially since I felt I under performed at Sunshine Coast 70.3 two months ago and was eager to redeem myself, I truly enjoyed the experience. The race organizers put on a good show and it's hard to believe that this is an event organized by the local tri club. The family enjoyed the trip and if the race calendar permits, would definitely have another go at this race again!

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Sunshine Coast 70.3 2020

Just like racing, it seemed like it's been a while since I've posted a race report. I can't reiterate enough how fortunate and privileged we are to be racing. Massive kudos and appreciation to everyone involved - race organizers, local council, health authorities, sanctioning bodies and volunteers to getting this event up and running whilst still keeping us safe. 

I came into this race with big expectations given the solid training I had leading up to it. Depending on the conditions, I was aiming for a PB, the time to beat was 4:36:38 also in the same event in 2018. The weather forecast was 50/50 with strong wind and showers meant to clear on race day. Following advice from the surf lifesavers, the swim course was revised to a more protected section of the open water, which added about a 900m run into transition. So, these little things add up and definitely makes it difficult when you are looking for marginal gains. But it is a level playing field and everyone goes through the same course in the end of the day.

There were some subtle changes to the athlete check in and bike racking process. We had to pre book our times and sanitize our hands upon entry. There were also many stop and wait at the different points to allow the previous person to go through the process. All done in the interest of keeping us COVID safe. This year's transition was held at the Wharf, which provided much more space. I chose to rack my bike in the final slot of 4pm at the skies were looking pretty dark. It was nice to be racked second row from the front, one of the perks of being an AWA athlete. Dinner was takeaway pizza and pasta from Cala Luna in Maroochydore but we ate them at Macca's as Sebastian had a McHappy Meal.

Race morning, alarm went off at 4am. But I was woken up by rain about 45 minutes earlier. Had breakfast and second toilet sit down and it was time to go, but not before kissing Li-Ann goodbye, who was also up already with all the noise I've been making. The motel was a short 5 minute walk from transition. I wiped down my bike from the rain, but it was a futile effort as it continued to showered intermittently. I probably didn't take into the account the walk to the swim start and was still waiting for the portaloos for one final go. Zipped up my wetsuit, dropped off my gear bag, bumped into Mark from South Bank tri club and walked together to the swim start. Only to notice that the pros were already starting while we were still a couple of hundred meters away from the starting area. Oh well, it's a rolling start for the age groupers anyway.

Swim 1.9km

I weave through the waiting crowd as close as I can to the starting queue. There was more stagger to the starts to give everyone more space and my watch showed 6.14am when it was my turn, about 9 minutes after the first few age groupers started. There was a bit of sweep from the waves into the beach but it wasn't extremely choppy. Definitely not calm waters but I've swam in much worse. Swim course was in anti-clockwise direction. Swim out, turn left three times and final right turn to finish somewhere midway at the beach. Throughout the swim, I didn't get to find any feet and was mostly overtaking other athletes. Guess I should have started earlier. Apart from a couple of moments where I had to stop to check my bearings as I couldn't sight properly with the waves, I kept mostly on course. The timing mat was placed immediately as we got onto the beach, which is handy. Clocked 31:48 for 1,876m according to my Garmin. An average pace of 1:41 per 100m. Only 21 seconds slower compared to last year when it was in calm waters. But I know I can do better and should be coming closer to the 30 minute mark. Just need to get more used to swimming in a wetsuit as these times are too similar to my non wetsuit times. 

Transition 1

With the long run along the beach and into transition, it became a foot race. But it gave me time to unhinge the back of my wetsuit as the zipper can get tricky sometimes. Wetsuit came off without too much issues. Slipped on some very soggy socks. Helmet on and off we go. The bike mount area was very crowded and I pushed my bike a bit further in front for a bit of space before I mounted it. Official results had me clocking 3:03 but I had it over 5 minutes on my Garmin. I'm guessing the time must have been taken from a mat somewhere during our run into transition.

Bike 90km

Had to be really careful on the first few hundred meters of the bike. It goes along the esplanade, it was narrow and there were plenty of speed bumps. Plus the road surface was still wet from the rain. And then after there were a few climbs before we hit the Sunshine Motorway. So it wasn't until about 10 minutes into the ride where we could get some decent speed. And we sure did. A two lap course, traditionally tailwind on the way out and headwind on the return. This year was no different. Clocking close to 45kph but knowing it would slow down exponentially on the return, this was the time to patiently build up the speed and a buffer, if there is a targeted overall average speed you are after. It continued to shower intermittently but thankfully there were no huge puddles on the roads that we have to avoid. I reached an average of 37kph at the first turnaround but braced myself for the headwind to consume me on the way back. But surprisingly, I held it together, the average speed steadily decreased to 36kph and naturally with the few turns and climbs as we got back into town, it dropped a bit further to the low 35s. 

Okay, 2nd lap, time to put my foot down on the pedals if I want to achieve a sub 2:30 bike split. Knowing the descents and corners the second time round always helps and I could just put my head down and go full aero. The tailwind fun came and went. On the last return lap, one athlete passed me but I kept close. And we pretty much swapped turns for most of the way back. We did our best to keep to a legal distance but no doubt there were some moments where it was definitely questionable. In general, despite not much of a presence from the draft marshalls, I didn't see too any trains out there. I guess we were all experts in social distancing now! 

Bike split on the Garmin was 2:29:53 for 89.84km, average speed 36.0kph, average power 192 watts. Consumed three Endura gels and about three quarters of 750ml of Powerbar electrolyte, split between two bottles to keep them balanced. Official results had me doing 2:32:25, I guessed that's where the 2 minutes difference from T1 comes in.

Transition 2

Bike on, helmet off. Shoes were soaked despite covering them with a towel. Put on race belt, sunglasses and visor on the go. Time taken 1:52. Li-Ann and Sebastian were cheering me as I ran out of transition.

Run 21km

The run is usually where I look forward to making up most ground but my leg turnover felt slow. Plus I could feel some twitching in my quads and I thought I better not push it in case they turn into full blown cramps. We did the first climb and just after the 2km mark, knowing that I was no contention of breaking my PB, I decided to take a break at the portaloo. Those 45 seconds were well worth it and I felt much better after that. No doubt still keeping it steady at around the 4:30ish per km pace. It was motivating to get cheers from the South Bank tri club crew and friends from Reddog and Logan Tri Club as well. Also, getting shout outs from friends who are competing at the same time. Unfortunately, I could only respond with a smile or a thumbs up as I was hurting a bit. 

The run course changed slightly from last year and this year, another small climb was added just before the turnaround for the second lap/finish. Big kudos to the very enthusiastic volunteer directing us to that detour. The rain stopped during the run but this meant it felt a bit sticky. Volunteers were not allowed to hand out cups anymore, but the cups were well spaced and each table were labelled clearly. I did not stop at any of them and grabbed the cups as I ran. Had no issues apart from knocking off a couple of other cups at one of the stations. 

Final few kms become a survival, I was creeping close to 5 minutes per km pace. Eventually reached the finish line with a run split of 1:36:53, spot on 21km on the Garmin. Overall time was 4:46:01, surprisingly 10th place in M35-39 and 98th overall. State border closures for a Queenslander only race may have helped with that. A somewhat different experience after the finish line, where we pick up our finisher medal and towel in a bag, as opposed to having them put around us by a volunteer. 

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed with my race results but I can't count my blessings enough that we had this luxury of even racing at all. I was meant to do Ironman Western Australia later in the year but that has been cancelled, so I have deferred to next year. With no major races for the rest of the year, I'm a bit at a loss now but I'm sure I'll find my next goal soon enough!

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Tweed Coast Enduro 2020

This is my 5th year in a row doing this race. A half iron distance, about 90 minutes drive (in good traffic) from home, a couple of months into the year - just nice to have a good crack as a lead up race to bigger races at the end of the season. Always held on a Saturday, I took the Friday afternoon off work to drive down to Pottsville, just across the QLD NSW border. We picked our son from daycare after lunch, the journey was a bit of a crawl with the pre weekend traffic, took us nearly 2.5 hours. We stayed in the Pottsville Beach Hotel, which is only a few hundred meters from the race site. So I was able to rack my bike overnight. The past few years we stayed a bit further and I rode down on race morning. I volunteered to bring the South Bank tri club tent down and had Daz, a fellow club member help me set it up. Then it was time for dinner, we did the the usual - pizza from the Cabarita Bakehouse. It rained a bit that night and I was keeping my fingers crossed that it would be the end of the rain and it would stay dry the next day.

Alarm went off at 5.15am (NSW daylight savings time). Took my time having my breakfast and two visits to the toilet in the comfort of my hotel room. A short walk to transition but I just had enough time to get my bike and gear set up before the marshalls were shooing us out as the sprint wave was about to start. Had a bit of banter with the people from my former Logan tri club, whose tent was conveniently located next to South Bank's. And then a relaxing 15 minute stroll to the start, as it was a point-to-point swim.

1.9km swim

Prior to the race, there was talk about the swim being shortened or cancelled altogether, due to debris from fires and flooding. Which would have been real pity as this race prides itself with the downhill swim being tide assisted, flowing from the creek out into the ocean. The swim was shortened in the end but only by a fraction. We used to do a short u-turn before swimming down the creek. This year, we just head straight out without doing that turn. I had a pretty average start, I always get beaten up a bit with the crowd. It was a wave start and there were about 30 participants in the Males 35-39. But once I settled into a rhythm, I had started overtaking many in front. I passed Philippe, about halfway through and I swam harder to grow the gap a bit. I managed to latch on a good pair of feet and stuck all the way until the finish. Overtaking some of the earlier waves later on gave a further boost. As always, held my breath a bit as we went under the bridge, don't know why but it creeps me a little. And then it was the final couple of hundred meters to the beach. I hit the lap button the moment I pass the first set of flags, clocking 27:31 for 1,815m according to my Garmin, averaging 1:31 per 100m thanks to the tide. The first timing mat was about another 200m run further ahead and gave me swim split of 28:23, in 11th position in my age group at this stage.

Transition 1

Stripped off my swim skin - yes, I didn't forget! I probably took a bit longer than I should wiping my feet and putting socks on. Helmet on and had a second look as to which direction I should go. It's always a bit confusing, for me anyway, in these smaller races. There were a few others at the mount line, so I was a bit cautious getting on the bike but glad that I could pedal off without any dramas. Time taken 3:25.

90km bike

4 lap bike course in an L shape. A couple of short climbs just before the southern turnaround. Garmin recorded a total elevation of 250m for the whole ride, so mostly flat. Road conditions were average, with a few potholes and I noticed many dropped bottles and other stuff on the course. But I actually thought the roads were better this year, either I'm imagining things or I've just gotten used to it. It was forecasted to rain but it didn't. However, it did get very windy and at some sections, the cross winds were borderline dangerous in some sections. Generally, it was headwind on the way out, cross wind in the middle, then tailwind on the way back. Philippe passed me early on the bike, which was expected. But I did not expect to pass him again. This off and on overtaking with him was something very new to me and he clearly wasn't himself at the race. This occurred with some other cyclists as well and there were a few whom I was able to drop later in the ride. Hey, perhaps I'm a pretty decent cyclist after all! Philippe finally put the gap on me just before the last lap. But I was able to come into transition just a few seconds after him. My Garmin recorded bike split of 2:29:59 (yay sub 2:30!) at bang on 89.9km, average speed 36.0kph and power output of AP 188/NP 198. Official bike split was 2:34:07 which included both transitions. My 2nd best bike time here, pretty happy given the conditions. I was 8th place in my age group, after the bike. Gaining 3 positions, again who would have thought!

Transition 2

Li-Ann and Sebastian were cheering from the other side of the fence. Philippe and I gave each other encouragement as I ran through the bike racks. But I can't help myself rushing to get my shoes on so I can leave transition earlier. And I did! Time taken 1:47.

Run 21.1km

Run course is 3 laps, shaped like a T, about 2km out, short left detour and another longer detour just after 3km. A mix of road, grass but mostly on footpaths with a couple of short, sharp climbs as we go around the park. There was a section on the path where it was flooded from the overnight rain and people were running up the incline on the grass next to it to avoid getting submerged in the puddle. There was quite a bit of cloud cover but it did feel warm and humid. I started my run in the 4:20 to 4:30 per km pace and I knew it wasn't going to be a fast run that day. But I kept it steady and I was still overtaking those ahead, one by one so I must be running well in comparison. I was also growing my gap from Philippe and I guess it was the only time I could finish ahead was when he wasn't at his best. The 3 laps course has it's pros with more frequent crowd support from the tri club tents at the end of each lap. But it also has it's cons, I felt that I mentally surrendered more and more and slowed the pace by 15s per km after each lap. True enough I averaged 4:30 then 4:45 and finally 5:00. Giving my total run time of 1:39:44, an overall average pace of 4:42. Overall finish time 4:42:15, my best time on this course by a small margin, making it 3 out of 5 times of finishing in 4:42:xx. I ran myself to 5th position in my age group, an improvement from last year's 14th. Gave Philippe a man hug as he crossed the line shortly after, well done in toughing it out despite not being at his best, looking forward to the next battle!

Lunch with the family, can't thank Li-Ann and Sebastian enough for putting up with my obsession. Pack the tent up, thanks to Logan tri club crew for giving us a hand. And then the drive back home, thankfully traffic was good. Overall, I'm pretty happy with the race result. I'd like to go faster but given the conditions, I can't complain that I was able to maintain the same time and even a small improvement. On to the next race - Desaru Coast 70.3!

Monday, 13 January 2020

QTS Robina Olympic Triathlon 2020

First race of the 2020 year, held in Clear Island Waters in the Gold Coast and the 5th round of the Queensland Tri Series. Robina is the only one that has the Olympic distance with the other one held in September last year. With a busy racing schedule, this was the only event of the series that I have signed up for. It's a good community event with the kids, enticer and sprint distances happening on the same day.

An impromptu decision by the family to head down to beach on Saturday meant that I was able to pick up my race pack and rack my bike early. Usually I would do all of that on race morning. The bike racks are not specifically numbered to each athlete, so it was nice to rack close to the exit for a change - I was the 4th spot from the exit. However, the drive home wasn't so pleasant, the Pacific Motorway was closed off in both directions due to a major accident and it took us 2 hours to get back.

Race morning, having done my pre race check in the day before meant I got some extra sleep in. Still got up at 4am to make sure I had enough time to set up my gear and visit the portaloos. It rained a bit overnight but it wasn't too soggy at the race site. Met up with fellow Southbank Tri Club members and my former Logan Tri Club for a bit of a chat and soon it was time to head to the swim start.

1.5km swim

Swim course is two lap triangles in fresh water with a comfortable temperature, no wetsuit. Visibility is decent and you can definitely find some feet in front of you to draft off. Which was what I did for most of the swim. There was one moment where I was forced the go on the left side, rather than the right side of the buoy. And it got a bit busy on the second lap when we converged with the later waves. But other than that, I had a pretty good swim. I hit the first timing mat in 22:14 which was shortly after we came up the boat ramp. Garmin recorded 1,341m and an average pace of 1:40 per 100m, which is close to what I my 100m intervals in the pool. I would have been around 24 minutes if it was 1,500m.

Transition 1

It was nice knowing that my bike is close to the exit so I just to run all the way to the front. I opted to wear my ITU racing suit sans the swimskin so chance of me forgetting to strip the swimskin off this time. I hesitated a bit more than what I would have liked putting on my gear, I guess I was just a bit rusty. It started pouring as I mounted the bike and I was a bit slow pushing off but better to be safe than sorry. Time taken 2:07.

40km bike

5 lap bike course shaped like a T, starting in the middle. For each lap, there were 3 u-turns, 2 left turns at 90 degrees and one roundabout at the start. Combine this with wet roads and my sub par bike handling skills, you bet I was cycling very cautiously. Thankfully the rain on the first lap didn't last long but there were plenty of puddles to watch out for. As expected, my mate Philippe passed me shortly after the first left turn. And another mate Ryan passed me somewhere on the 4th lap. If anything, I take consolation that I outswam them as we usually have similar swim times. I tried my best to bring up my speed but with a bit of wind, it was difficult. The course was mostly flat apart from some gentle inclines up and down a bridge. Strava had it as 250m elevation for the entire course. I had a bike split of  1:05:47, average speed of 34.9kph which was lower than last year but I had higher power output at 204 watts. Either it was windier this year or my bike is overdue for a service. The course is typically short and it's the same this year with Garmin clocking 38.3km. Official results had me doing 1:08:38 with both transitions.

Transition 2

Again, just run all the way to the front. Again, a bit of hesitation getting the helmet off and putting the shoes on. Grabbed everything else and put them on the go. I hit the button after I racked my bike and hit it again a bit early as I came out of the run exit. Time taken 20 seconds.

10km run

A 3 lap run just out and back, shaped like an L. The overcast conditions with light drizzle is a nice change from previous years when it was typically scorching hot. I was able to reel Ryan in shortly after I left transition but Philippe was too far ahead, and he was running well too. My legs felt alright, turnover was good but somehow I felt I didn't have that extra gear. Maybe it was still early in the season. I clocked just under 4:10 per km averages with the tailwind and closer to 4:15 with the headwind. Running past the tri club tents at the end of each lap was uplifting. Gave the final km an extra push to see if I can break 2:12 overall but alas, I crossed the line in 2:12:06. Still it was a minute PB on this course and I came in 4th in my Male 35-39 age group. Philippe was 3rd and he was 4 minutes ahead. My run split was 41:13 with an average pace of 4:10 per km, my fastest run here by a small margin. Garmin recorded 9.9km so was pretty close.

Post race, had nice chats at both South Bank and Logan tri club tents. Not a bad way to spend Sunday morning and to kick off the 2020 racing season. Looking forward to the season ahead!

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Xiamen 70.3

When it was announced that the 2020 Ironman 70.3 World Championships are to be held in Taupo, New Zealand, I thought I would give it a shot as it isn't too far or too expensive to get to. I chose Xiamen as my qualifying race as it offered 80 qualifying spots (30 for Kona and 50 for Taupo), a few more slots than average. Based on previous year's results, if I can come close to my PB, I should place somewhere between 10 to 15th place and there could be potentially 9 to 10 spots for my age group, so while it is still far from being guaranteed, I still stood a chance if the spots rolled down a few.

I haven't been to China before and my Chinese isn't that great. Usually I rely on my wife Li-Ann to translate but I am travelling alone this time. Ryan, whom I met through my former club Logan Tri Club made a last minute decision to tag along after closely missing out on a spot at Shanghai 3 weeks before. And it was good to have him as I made a few new friends through him. Xiamen is located in the Fujian province, which coincidentally is the same province where my ancestors came from. So you can kinda call it a trip to trace my roots.

I flew in via Singapore and had a reasonable overnight flight. There was a bit of delay getting our bikes off the plane in Xiamen but I made it just in time to attend the one and only briefing session for the day, as the airport was only 30 minutes away. I stayed at the International Seaside Hotel, it was the closest hotel and I was lucky to book early at a very good price. The room is very spacious and we had plenty of room to set both of our bikes up. The expo was a small affair and I was in and out within 15 minutes. That night I took a 10+ minute walk out for some dinner and came across JFC shopping mall with plenty of takeaway options. Ryan arrive later that night and we both were pretty tired from the travel, so it was an early night. 

I woke up early intending to do a practice swim but it seems there was no one swimming. The organizers fenced up transition area tightly so I had to do a long walk around it to get to and from the swim area. We then went for a short spin and along the way back, I noticed there were some people swimming. I guess I'm just too used to starting early. So I did a short swim and noticed the currents were pretty strong, hopefully it calms down a bit on race day. A local contact of Ryan's took us out for lunch and then a drive around the island, this gave us a bit of insight of the bike route. After that it was time to rack our bikes and we can't help noticing how long transition is, my Garmin recorded 500m to be exact. Apparently last year there were less rows, so it was even longer! We had to use bike and run gear bags, just like in an Ironman race. For dinner, we met up with a couple of guys Ryan met at breakfast and took a cab (save the legs!) to JFC mall for pizza before calling it another early night.

5.20am alarm went off. Our race only starts at 8.15am but transition closes at 7.30am. I actually brought a loaf of bread from Aldi with peanut butter and hazelnut spread, you would laugh but I'm glad I did as I did not have the chance to get any supermarkets. After setting up my bike in transition, I did my final toilet visit to the portaloos. They were squat types and unfortunately did not have any flush water. No wonder there wasn't a queue as not many wanted to use them. Then I had about 45 minutes of idle time sitting in the shade before my race start, while the opening ceremony was going on.

Swim 1.9km

Rolling swim start, the closest I could get was 7 minutes after the first swimmers went in. Swim course is triangular shaped, in a clockwise direction, buoys always on our right. This changed from last year when it was a point to point swim with the currents, so this year's swim would definitely be slower. There was barely any visibility in the water but the buoys were placed quite close, maybe less than 200m apart. There was a bit of petroleum smell, probably coming from the boats. Currents were pretty strong and in some parts, there was a bit of wave chop as well. Apart from a brief moment where I swam too inside and had to correct myself, I kept pretty close to a straight line. I was holding around the 1:45 per 100m pace up until the final straight back to shore, where the currents were pushing us away. I struggled a bit here but I think I still swam to my ability in those conditions. The swim felt long as well and true enough my Garmin recorded just over 2km. I clocked 35:23 with an average pace of 1:47 per 100m, a bit slower than what I do in training. Coming out of the water in 17th position in my age group.

Transition 1

Still getting used to my new wetsuit so I struggled a bit getting the zipper down. Luckily the transition is long and I just managed to get it down and pull off the sleeves just before I got into the change tent. Wetsuit came off without too much hassle. Wipe the feet down and put on the socks, grabbed my helmet and off I went. Put on the helmet as I ran along the bike racks, it became a foot race just getting to my bike. My AWA bib number had my bike placed very close to the exit. A guy went down at the mount line just before me, so I cautiously hopped on the bike as not to cause any accidents. Time taken 4:19.

Bike 90km

The bike course is shaped like an inverted T with the transition in the middle. It goes along the coast, heading north towards Wu Yuan bridge and turn around just after the bridge. We then return in the opposite direction on the same route before making a short detour with some gradual inclines, turnaround and then head further south before turning around and going back to transition. The brief moment of going under the tunnel before the end of each lap was pretty cool. Two lap course with some gentle inclines and false flats, the longest climb being up the bridge. Overall elevation of just under 400m so moderately hilly. Roads were smooth as silk and totally closed off, we had all 3 lanes to ourselves in most parts in each side of the road, so much so cyclists were passing each other on the inside frequently.

My power meter battery decided to die as I arrived in Xiamen. I knew I should have changed it before the trip but there was no indication of being low prior to this. While I don't mind racing without power data, I do rely on cadence measurement to get the gearing right. And with the many false flats and rolling hills on this course, there were many moments I was second guessing my gearing choice. 

The wind did pick up that day and while it wasn't gusty, it was constantly blowing and it did slow us down especially when there was a headwind. While I averaged 36kph for the first lap, I slowed down a little on the second lap, finishing with a bike split of 2:31:39 and overall average of 35.66kph. Garmin recorded 89.8kms, so pretty much spot on. Cycling continues to be my weakest leg and I came off the bike in 24th position while many of the top guys were posting 2:20+ bike splits.

Transition 2

To my pleasant surprise, the bike racks seemed relatively empty as I got in. On to a foot race again to the change tent. On hindsight, I should have kept my helmet on for a while longer so I did not have to hold onto it as I was running. Into the change tent, helmet off, shoes on and grab everything else on the go. Time taken 2:51.

Run 21.1km

Two lap run course, out and back along the coast. Mostly flat but there were a couple of deceptive inclines as well. Minimal shade and it got pretty hot. If we had started just after sunrise at around 6am, it would have been a totally different story. There were sponges at the aid stations and I made full use of them, though I have not learnt to stuff them under my suit just yet. Crowd control was very strict and the entire course was fenced up. So apart from the music blaring from the DJ on the middle part, it was pretty quiet out there. But there was the occasional cheer from athletes running in the opposite direction. I gave Ryan a cheer as well who was about 10 minutes ahead of me as I first saw him on the course.

I probably started off a bit too quick, carrying the leg turnover from the bike, clocking the first km in 4:11. I then dropped to 4:20 for the next two kms but even then it was still a struggle in the heat and I settled into 4:30 for the remaining of the first lap. Fatigue then started to kick in and my pace gradually dropped again to 4:35 and again past 4:40 in the final return. As I came to the final split between going left for the finish instead of turning right for the next lap, the remaining few hundred meters seemed to go on forever. Finally I can hear the announcements from the finish line, I didn't have much left in the tank for a sprint finish. Crossed the finish line with run split of 1:36:29 and overall finish time of 4:50:41. Garmin recorded 21.35km. I ran myself to 18th position and while I was happy with my race, the chances of getting a World Championship spot seemed unlikely.

Post race

Ryan finished just before me and hung the finish medal around my neck, which was really cool. We then hung out at the recovery area for our massage before heading back to the hotel to rest a bit. We then picked up our bikes and packed them up and soon it was time for the awards banquet and World Championship slot ceremony. The banquet was pretty posh but our minds were just on the slots. This is actually only my 2nd time attending the ceremony and it was pretty exciting and nerve wrecking at the same time. Ryan took a well deserved slot in his age group and so did some of the ladies sitting at our table. When it got to my age group, there were 9 spots (2 Kona and 7 Taupo) but unfortunately 13th position took the last spot - I was 3 minutes behind! I waited until all slots went through the other age groups in case, there was a roll down but there were none. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed but nothing worth getting ever comes easy so I just have to keep on trying. 

Xiamen 70.3 is a really well organized race. Sure, there are some language barriers but these can be easily overcome and the organizers did an awesome job having bilingual volunteers in the key areas. Kudos to the organizing committee and volunteers! I don't have any more races planned for the rest of the year, will take a bit of a mental break and come back focused on my next qualifying race.