Practice makes perfect … time to get racing!

As the old adage goes, practice makes perfect.

So with Ironman WA coming around quicker every day, it was time to get in some serious race practice in the name of testing equipment, learning to calm race-day nerves, and spending some quality time in some of the most picturesque towns in Australia.

Race 1 – Forster Ultimate Triathlon

A journey back to where it all began …

Located in the Great Lakes Region of New South Wales, the pretty town of Forster was the first stop for our lead up races.

Widely renown by many as the birthplace of Ironman in Australia, Forster played host to the first ever Ironman Australia back in 1985.  When, in 2005, Forster lost the hosting duties for the IM event to the larger town of Port Macquarie, many believed that the glory days of fluro lycra, budgie smugglers and long-course racing were done and dusted in this small seaside town.

Fast forward 6 years, and in 2011 Elite Energy brought long course racing back to its birthplace with the introduction of the Forster Ultimate Triathlon.  Well received in its first year, this new 2km-120km-20km distance race proved a hit with the locals and travellers alike.

In 2012, I decided to go see what all of the fuss was about.

3 people, 2 bikes, 1 car

How many bikes can you fit in a car … hang on, where am I supposed to sit?!

Actually getting to Forster is easier said then done.  When travelling from Brisbane,

there are two options: one, jump in the car and take the 8hour+ drive down the street; or two, jump on a plane to Newcastle, grab a hire car, and take the 2hour drive north to the Great Lakes region.

Time poor, and not a huge fan of long road trips, I decided flying was the way to go.

Travelling with bikes is never easy.  An added challenge was this time around that I was travelling solo, with Andrew deciding to sit out this race and stay home in Brisbane to keep training.  I was however lucky to be joined in the journey by some great travelling buddies Paul and Leah, and after a quick game of life-size tetris trying to squeeze two bikes, three people, and three suitcases into one hire car, we were soon on the road from Newcastle to Forster.

Lucky number 266? Here’s hoping!

In a case of poor timing, we were thankfully alerted by a friendly local to the fact that daylight saving was to commence that evening, causing a panic to try and figure out how we could out-smart the “intelligent” iPhone automatic clock updates (which seem to fail abysmally every year!) to ensure that we didn’t arrive at the race start an hour late!

As we settled down for dinner that night I happened to catch the local news long enough to hear the weather girl happily advising the good people of the Great Lakes Region to batten down the hatches with winds in excess of 40km/hr expected the next day … awesome …

“This is perfect – it’s just like camp”

Unfortunately, the local weather girl got it right and race morning saw us wake to howling winds.

As we made the long, cold, dark ride from our accommodation to the race start, all I could hear was Head Coach Turner exclaim “This is perfect – it’s just like ironman camp!  Lucky we did all that riding in the wind last week”.  The man is nothing if not an optimist.

Team huddle!
Trying to keep warm ahead of the swim start

Standing on the banks of the lake (which was looking increasingly like the ocean, with the wind stirring up a respectful swell on the usually calm waters), I couldn’t help but regret my choice of a sleeveless wetsuit, and felt extremely jealous of Turner’s shiny new long-sleeve Rocket Science suit.  I began to wonder just how pathetic and cold I would have to look before one of the boys offered to swap and lend me a full length suit …

With no wave starts, before we knew it the race was underway with a few hundred athletes jostling for some clear water across the 2 x 1km laps swim course.  Despite copping a bit of a beating in the washing machine effect of the mass swim start, I managed to settle in to a decent rhythm on the second lap for an overall solid swim.

Before I knew it, the swim was over and it was time to head out on the bike.  As I ran out of T1, I was lucky to catch some words of wisdom from coach Suz (who had made the trip to Forster to be support crew for the weekend), reminding me to try and spin into the headwind.  It was going to be a long day, and trying to conserve as much energy as possible on the bike was a priority.

The bike course saw us head south from Forster through the Great Lakes Region over two x 60km out and back laps.  As if the roaring headwind on the way out each lap were not enough of a challenge, someone had clearly forgotten to word up the local council about the race plans, resulting in us having to negotiate road works (including about 500m of unsealed road) along the course.  Add to that the fact that the roads remained open to traffic during the race, and there were challenges a plenty over the 120km bike course.  Needless to say, I was relieved to make the turnaround for the final 30km pedal back to town.

A quick T2, and I was off for the final 20km run.  Having come off two weeks of illness

Sharing my proud moment with TAQ squad mate and fellow podium finisher Mark Pierce.

and a heavy training load at Ironman camp the weekend before, I was under strict instructions from coach Suz to take it easy on the run, with the aim being to keep the heart rate hovering around the 75% mark.

After the challenges of the bike course, Forster made amends on the run, with the seaside course presenting one of the prettiest runs in a triathlon that I have ever done.  With such beautiful views, it was a treat to be able to relax and cruise through the run absorbing the surrounds.  Before I knew it, I was heading down the headland towards the finish line on my final lap to the much appreciated cheers of our dedicated support crew, Beth and Elsie Pierce, and Coach Suz.

Early birthday cake (I didn’t manage to take a photo before we devoured it!)

Overall I had a solid race, did a respectable time and managed to feel strong the whole day.  The icing on the cake came when I found out that I had actually managed to claim third place in my age group!  Having never received anything more than a participation medal before, I was simply shocked – a huge confidence boost for the Busso campaign.

That night I was treated to a surprise early birthday cake by my wonderful squad-mates.  A great end to a tough day!

Race 2 – Noosa Olympic Triathlon

It is a race that barely needs an introduction.  The Noosa Triathlon is ranked by many all over the world as a “must-do” event to conquer in your lifetime.  With the irresistible combination of perfect weather, picturesque beaches, and fast racing, it is easy to see why the Noosa Tri attracts thousands of athletes every year.

The 2012 Noosa Tri was to be extra special for Tri Alliance Queensland crew, being the

Getting ready to debut the new team colours at Noosa 2012

first major race that we would compete in under our new name.  With a large number of athletes from Tri Alliance Victoria also making the trek north for the race, Noosa 2012 was shaping up to be our biggest yet, with over 150 Tri Alliance athletes descending on the resort town to pound the famous pavement along Noosa Parade.

For me, Noosa was where it all began.  Having attending my first Noosa Tri as a spectator in 2009, I quickly caught the bug and before I knew it I had signed up to race in 2010.  3 years, 10kg, and numerous triathlons later, I was itching to once again test myself over the Noosa course.

The 2012 Noosa Tri also presented the perfect opportunity to test out our new Elite Rocket Science tri-suits.  As the suits had only arrived the day before, the conventional wisdom of “don’t try anything new on race day” was soon thrown out the window.  Lucky for me the suits fit like a glove (and look pretty awesome too!)

Decked out in the new kit and ready to race!

As I had forgotten to start my watch at the start of the swim, I exited the water after the 1.5km canal swim with no idea of my time.  I felt good though, and, figured that was a good enough start for me!

Off on the to the bike course, and within minutes of exiting transition the heavens opened and it started to rain.  Although not heavy, it was soon obvious that the wet conditions had already caused havoc on the technical bike course, with volunteers anxiously waving cyclists to slow down on every corner and roundabout on the way out of Noosa.  Having suffered a slight upset stomach the day before, I decided to use just liquid nutrition on the bike, with the plan being to use a combination of Infinit sports drink and Shotz electrolyte tablets.  The plan paid off, and I entered T2 having achieved a PB time on the bike course.

Before taking up triathlon, I spent most of my teenage years and early 20s racing bikes at various venues across Australia.  This cycling background has typically stood me in good stead for triathlons.

My run, however, is another story.  In both the 2010 and 2011 Noosa Triathlons, I

The TAQ tent is a hive of activity on race day, with squad masseuse Brett Harris working hard to get everyone ready to race.

suffered on the run, struggling to run/walk the 10km course.   Having endured both a lower back and foot injuries at the start of 2012, I have spent a lot of time in the past couple of months working on my run technique and building up my core stability through the squad weekly pilates sessions.  In the weeks leading up to Noosa I was also lucky to have spent some time with the Peter Charles at Shoes Feet Gear doing some run technique analysis, trying on dozens of shoes, and getting a tour of their impressive shop and podiatry clinic at Paddington.

Add to that the large amount of running miles that I now had under by belt thanks to ironman training (and my flashy new Mizuno Elixirs that arrived a couple of weeks earlier) and I was hopeful that in 2012 the Noosa Tri run leg would be a more enjoyable experience.

And enjoyable it was.  There is nothing quite like the buzz you feel when you run past the cheering Tri Alliance tent at Noosa for the final time and make the turn towards the finish line.  It is, in a word, awesome.

After crossing the line, I was stoked to learn that I had managed a 7 minute PB on the run course for a total race time of 2hrs 33 mins – a 9 minute improvement on my 2011 race.  The hard work is starting to pay off!

The final run home past the cheering Tri Alliance Tent – what an awesome experience!

With the race done and dusted it was time to join the team at the tent cheering the rest of the Tri Alliance crew home.  There were some amazing results at Noosa this year, with most of our squad finishing in personal best times.  The achievements of fellow squad mates like Brooke Shaw with her 28 minute PB, and Darrell Giles with an amazing 50 minute course PB, were truly inspiring.  However a special mention does have to go big Ray who, although not racing this year, managed a staggering PB of cooking 180 sausages in one morning to keep the Tri Alliance crew and their supporters well fed!

Of course, it would not be a Noosa Tri without the traditional post-race after party and all

Up to no good… past recipients of the Dave Doyle award begin the search for a new winner

the shenanigans that follow.  2012 was no exception, with 150+ Tri Alliance athletes and their supporters converging on the Hogs Breath at Hastings St for a few “quiet” celebratory drinks.  Many stories have already been told about the rest of the evening – there is no need to repeat them here.  Needless to say, although the Queensland crew may have lost the boat race (in dubious circumstances – don’t worry, I am already working on the official rule book for 2013!), it seems as though the Dave Doyle trophy will remain safely in the sunshine state for now …

Noosa 2012 – that’s a wrap!

5 weeks to go until Busso and it’s time to grit the teeth and just. keep. going.

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