Race Report: Sunshine Coast 70.3 Half Ironman

Sunny Coast 70.3 was my second long distance triathlon of the year, and I was hoping for a much better performance than the last one, the disaster that was Tweed Coast Enduro 2017.

Coming into August, all my training had been going swimmingly. I had built up a good base of kilometres in both running and cycling and my swim times were gradually coming down thanks to some solid club sessions with Trent Grimsey. I had also begun to take some good steps forward in getting the diet sorted out.

But then about half way through August I got hit with a weird injury, where I would get very sore knees and hips after bike sessions. I had probably been pushing myself a bit too much in training and this was likely my body telling me “you know, I think it’s time you took a break.

This wasn’t good and I started to get really depressed about not being able to train at 100%. Thankfully Keiron from Body Leadership managed to get me shipshape by the time of the event, and despite TrainingPeaks showing that I had lost some fitness, it wasn’t the disaster I thought it might have been.

The conditions at Mooloolaba were ideal though. Generally low temps, calm ocean. Weirdly, I wasn’t have the usual panic attacks that I’d had in events like this before. The stomach remained calm. In the early light of transition, I worried that my rear wheel wasn’t inflated enough, but then I heard someone else overinflate a tube and it explode off the rim. Classic triathlete.

Randomly I ran into Matt Muller, a guy I used to study IT with like a decade ago. He was racking right next to me and it was slightly random, but in a welcoming sort of way. This was his first triathlon. He hadn’t really trained, nor ever rode his new Giant road bike, nor had much in the way of food with him. I was a bit concerned, but admired his cock-eyed optimism. On the way out of transition I said hey to fellow South Bank Tri Club athletes Nikita and Paul and also ran into Brad from PJ Express crew.

The swim conditions looked great. Limited waves, ocean as flat and bright as a marble dining table. The wetty was zipped up as I prepared for my later wave start at 6:41 am. I’m not a great swimmer so I was prepared to be one of the last ones out of the water, but I was OK. The aforementioned Matt didn’t have a wetsuit so was just swimming bare chested so he really was noticeable. I was basically side by side with him during the whole swim, but he did manage to pip me on to the beach. A 39 minute swim from me was fine by my standards, I expected a 45 minute swim so was pretty happy. On to the bike.

I’m terrible in transition and always take my time to make sure I have everything, but I lose valuable minutes here. It’s worth it to make sure you’ve got everything and it’s fortunate that I’m rarely competitive, though I do have one 1st place to my name!

On to the bike and up the hill past the screaming maniacs at the SBTC tent, I quickly settled into a familiar bike rhythm, maintaining a surprising 36kph on the motorway heading out of Mooloolaba. But when I turned at the 20 K mark, it was obvious I had the benefit of a tail wind, and my bike speed then began to drop to around the expected 34kph as I headed back into the headwind.

This was my first time racing with a power meter and I can thoroughly say now that it’s a worthwhile investment, I could keep an eye on my normalised power and made sure I wasn’t overcooking it on the bike. Though I had planned a NP around 220 and for most of the bike it sat around 250, which likely means I went slightly too hard, but I did feel comfortable enough.

At the half way mark, the ride route took us up into some rolling hills out the back of Mooloolaba, on a two-loop hilly course. I began to really hammer it here, probably to my later detriment on the run, attacking the hills and watching the power digits go mental. But I love this type of rolling terrain despite my weight putting me at a slight disadvantage when the gradient goes upward.

I was presently surprised when I rolled back into Mooloolaba in a respectable bike time of 2:40:18 for the 90k.

As I hit the run, I felt the familiar feeling of mental stress creeping up on me. Why the hell are you doing this? Why are you punishing me? It’s OK to stop. I’m sure many who choose these types of endeavours often battle the same demons. Thankfully, when you’ve done a few of these things, you know how to answer, “yeah, you can get f%^&ed mind!

But it is interesting to ponder why people do endurance sport. I like this passage from philosopher and runner Mark Rowland, who dedicated a book to trying to understand why:

“Running, I shall argue, is a way of understanding what is important or valuable in life. It is a way of putting oneself in contact with intrinsic value as it shows itself, or makes itself known, in a human life. Running is by no means the only way of doing this. But it is one way: and as such it is a way of answering the question of the meaning of life, in the only reasonable sense this question can have — however mundane and unambitious that may be.”

Body-smashing, phlegm-spitting, long-distance triathlon is clearly another way.

The run went well. To a point, that is. The nutrition plan had worked perfectly and I didn’t have the usual weird stomach churns. My splits were around the 5:20 per k mark and that was fine with me. My plan was to take the first lap relatively solidly and then go from there on the second. Perhaps one of the advantages of a later wave is that if you’re feeling good, you pass a good number of the field. This was working for me, at least mentally, as I started to catch people from earlier in the waves.

While some people hate looped courses, I don’t mind them all that much. I got to say hey to many of my fellow SBTC members plus waved out to Phil and Catherine and Annabelle (who was up taking photos) from PJ. Taryn was also out on course taking pictures and yelling encouragement. It was also a HUGE mental boost to run past the South Bank tent, with all the people cheering.

So everything was going great until I went through the feedzone at around 16 kilometres. Then I slipped on a discarded gel packet and my ankle went 90 degrees. Crack, crack. I thought I was done for and started swearing as the pain went through the ankle. But in a minute, things started to settle as adrenaline began to pump and I could run again albeit tentatively. I settled back into a rhythm and realised I could still run a sub 2-hour half.

Back over the hill and into the finish and it was done. I ran a 1:58:56. Official time was 5:29:12, fifty five minutes quicker than Tweed Coast and only 12 minutes slower than my PB (Sunny Coast 2015) despite an arguably harder bike course this time. Apart from the ankle sprain, I had an almost perfect race. Considering at my PB time I was about 10–12kg lighter than today, I was incredibly stoked to post such a time. My A goal had been 5:30 and I had beaten it.

Ranking wise, I went from 1129 in the swim to 427 post bike, but then lost 277 places in the run to 704. Clearly working on getting run fit would allow me to maintain rankings post bike and that’s going to be the main thing I work on going forward (once the sprain heals, of course).

Then it was time for R&R, a few beers and sausage and bread combos, a massage from Body Leadership and a chill in the pool.

Big thanks to a few people who helped me out. First the man, the legend, Jason Davis who kindly lent me his time trial bike AND carbon wheels. This made a MASSIVE difference on the day and surely contributed to good performance. Also to Taryn Richardson from Dietician Approved who planned my race day nutrition and gave me heaps of great dietary advice in the weeks leading up to the race. Life saver! To my fellow South Bank triathlon club members, such a privilege to be part of a great club. Everyone did themselves credit, particularly those who volunteered their time to support the racing athletes!! Also, finally my partner Kate for being there to help me during my crazy panic attacks and get me smiling again when I thought my injuries made me a goner.

Tentatively, I’ll be back next year with a vengeance! But the very next stop: Noosa in November.

Irish-Australian analytics guy working in international higher ed, former UN intern, radio for @4ZZZ, #cycling, #triathlon and #arsenalfc tragic