This was the third year in a row Raija and I have made the 4.5 hour drive north to the town of Geraldton for the Endure Batavia Olympic distance triathlon.
This year there was $2500 up for grabs for the winner, with 2nd and 3rd collecting $1500 and $1000 respectively. Outside of the Ironman branded events, a prize purse of a few hundred dollars is usually on offer for the city events, so it was no surprise that a few of the better credentialed local athletes were enticed to make the drive north to compete.
The start list had a good mix of emerging U23 talent and consistent experienced performers and the scene was set for a ding dong battle of the generations.
In the blue corner, representing the young/inexperienced guns, were Jesse Thyer, Jonathan Sammut, Sam Lade and Allister Caird (not so young, but definitely a newcomer) and in the red corner representing the more experienced campaigners were Paul Mackay (and coach of the first three young guns), Guy Crawford (winner of this event in 2014) and, of course, myself.
It was rather odd lining up against some lads young enough to be my children, and while I was happy to shake their hands and wish them luck on the start line, I was still as determined as ever to cross the line in front of them.
A beach start was the order of the day, and while I like the fact that a line can be drawn in the sand to keep everyone honest, I don’t like the run to the water and the subsequent wade. I can’t remember a beach start in which I have started swimming anywhere near the front of the pack and this race was no exception. Maybe I have concrete in my tibias instead of bone marrow – I must get that checked out.
Due to my less than optimal start, I was in real danger of being dropped by the leading group of swimmers. However, just after making the first left hand turn on the first of two 750 metre rectangular loops that made up the swim course, I found the power to bridge to the last feet of the leading group of Guy, Jesse, Sam and Jonathan. This is something I haven’t been able to do consistently in the past, so I was pretty happy about it.
The next couple of hundred metres were quite intense, but then it settled down and I was able to sit last wheel of the group with relative comfort until the final turn buoy with 50 metres left to swim.
What I didn’t realise at the time, due to the glare from the sun, was that Guy and Jesse had surged with about 200 metres to swim and opened a small gap to Sam, Jonathan and myself. Then in the final 50 metres and the run to transition, Sam and Jonathan edged ahead of me.
I was most taken aback by the competitive zeal in the death throws of the swim leg!
As a result, I arrived at the entrance of T2 to see Guy already running out with his bike, and Jesse, Sam and Jonathan not too far behind. There was some good news though, I did manage to arrive at T2 some 20 seconds before Paul, the other “veteran” in the field.
The cycle leg was a double out and back over 44 kilometres.
I had what I thought was my main competition is sight for the first part of the cycle and was very slowly reducing the deficit as we got closer to the first turnaround point at 11 kilometres. Unfortunately, the group of four I had been chasing, Jonathan, Jesse, Sam and Guy wasn’t a group of four at all.
The Giraffe, aka Guy, had slipped off the front , right from the very first pedal stroke out of T1 I’d suggest, and had opened a handy lead on the chasing group of three already by the turn around at the 11 kilometre point – at least 30 seconds.
As I was some 10 – 15 seconds in arrears of the group of three, my deficit to Guy was already close to 45 seconds at this point. Judging from Guy’s cycling form at Karri Valley, I wasn’t expecting such a scenario, but after Guy handed me a thrashing on the bike the previous year in this very same race, I should not have really been surprised.
I was thinking at this very early stage that Guy was going to be a hard man to chase down. I was also thinking that if I didn’t catch the group of youngsters in front of me rather swiftly, I was in danger of driving home without a cheque.
Thankfully, the winner of the Telstra Tri Series event the previous weekend, Jesse, was finding the pace on the bike a little too hot, and dropped off the back of Jonathan and Sam not long after the first turnaround and I caught him at about the 13 kilometre point of the cycle leg. This lad can run, so I was pretty happy to see that there was quite a significant speed differential between the two of us, hoping it would translate into a good time gap between us at T2.
Over the next painful 8 kilometres, I slowly honed in on the back wheels of Sam and Jonathan and made the junction pretty much at the end of the first lap. I wasn’t quite sure what the tactics were going to be from that point, sit on for a bit, or keep going, knowing I was likely to end up towing the lads for the final 20 odd kilometres.
I decided I had both Sam and Jonathan covered on the running front, even with tired legs, so considering there were running threats from behind and there was a small chance Guy wasn’t running as well as I thought he was, I went to the front at about the 23 kilometre point and resumed time trialling at what was a super uncomfortable intensity.
I was aware that Jonathan was cycling well, and it was going to be a big ask to get rid of him, and with Sam sitting third wheel, it was going to be very difficult to unhitch him as well.
There is a short gradual incline on the course about half way out to the turnaround and I put in a semi surge here to see if I was able to do some damage, but when I took a look behind, they were still there. No surprises though as it was also a block headwind on this section of the course, and in hindsight, not the best place to attempt a surge.
The remaining terrain out to the turnaround was flat with a cross headwind, and presented a better opportunity to drop someone from the back if fatigue was starting to set in, so I pushed a little harder in this section, and much to my surprise, managed to unhitch Sam.
As I approached the turnaround point for the second time, with only Jonathan in tow, and seeing Guy going back the other way, it was pretty obvious he wasn’t getting any slower, and had probably increased his lead further.
The thought that I was now racing for second, was starting to float into my consciousness. While it isn’t 100% desirable as an athlete to have such thoughts, it is also good to have a grasp on reality from time to time.
I stayed at the front for most of the 11k journey back to T2, and while I would’ve like Jonathan to take a turn at the front, I was pretty confident he wouldn’t oblige. Much to my dismay, the lad did surge by with about a kilometre to ride and try and drop me, then had the cheek to tell me after the race, it was a “turn” to help put more time on Sam before T2.
Ha ha ha – kids!
I don’t routinely practice transitions – actually I practice them on average about once every two or three months – on race day – so it’s no surprise that my T2 speed is a bit below par.
Since KVT, I’d been doing a couple of harder runs each week, but they didn’t seem to be of any benefit, as I started the run with a tight chest and dead legs and it was obvious very early into the 10+ kilometres, I wasn’t going to be running Guy down.
To make matters worse, I developed a stitch early on, but some much needed fluid from the aid station remedied the situation before it became a major issue.
At this early stage, my perceived “superior running ability” over my cycling partners was looking tenuous at best, as Jonathan bounded out to a 100 metre lead in no time, and at the 2.5 kilometre first turnaround point, Sam seemed to have closed down a significant portion of his deficit from the bike leg.
Luckily, Jesse, Paul and everyone else were well behind at this point, and unless I slipped off the boardwalk into the marina….. and got severely mauled by a shark, they were unlikely to close the deficit over the final 7.5 kilometres.
On the journey back to the finish line area, with a brisk tailwind pushing me along, I fleetingly found some rhythm and began to close in on Jonathan. When I realised how close Sam was at the end of the first 5 kilometre lap, however, it was more likely that Jonathan was just slowing down, rather than me increasing my running speed to any great degree.
This was confirmed when Sam ran by me just shy of the final turnaround, 7.5 kilometres into the run. At this point, the tank was empty and I was just going through the motions, hoping to get to the finish in front of Jonathan and collect the final podium spot and prize money cheque.
The final placings were as follows:
1. Guy “The Giraffe” Crawford (Red Corner)
2. Sam Lade (Blue Corner)
3. Mr Ogdog (Red Corner)
4. Jonathan Sammut (Blue Corner)
5. Jesse Thyer (Blue Corner)
6. Paul Mackay (Red Corner)
7. Allister Caird (Blue Corner)
I’d say that’s a points win to the Red Corner…….for now.
A quick perusal of my training diary when I got back to our accommodation revealed why I hadn’t felt so good on the run.
I had suffered through an average of 34 training kilometres per week for the previous 8 weeks since Challenge Wanaka, with the longest run being 15 kilometres. I thought I may have been a little slack over the last couple of months, but this is bordering on the ridiculous.
To celebrate this milestone of slackness, I have yet to train at all since the Geraldton event.
As my next race will be Ironman Cairns in June, it is about time I got serious again……….maybe Monday is a good time to start.
Together with prize money for the open competitors, the Geraldton event organisers made available a prize purse to the best performing age groupers – $500, $300, $100 – was up for grabs for the first three male and female competitors across the line. A local sponsor also kicked in $1000 for the first male and female local to cross the line.
The race was also acting as a fund raiser for a fire fighter, Ian Beard, who was recently rendered a paraplegic after a cycling accident in Perth. With the support of the community, the race, together with associated fund raising initiatives, raised over $6000 to facilitate Ian’s continued participation in triathlon.
The race will continue to be a fund raiser for Ian and his family in the coming years.
Such a fantastic example of what can be achieved by a relatively small but passionate group of concerned citizens.
Special mention to Phil Smith and Brad Renton, who took out first and third respectively in the age group ODT race, and Brent Roberts, who was overall male winner of the short course event.