It’s just after 4am and I’m sitting at my gate at DIA for a 5:30 departure. The dichotomy of where I am and where I’m going is pronounced: It snowed 4 inches last night and is currently 14 degrees outside. Daily temps in Havana for this tim…
Ironman 70.3 Auckland yesterday and I’ve got to admit that…
Firstly and huge thanks guys! There’s been an awesome response…
I’ve had a good break since Bahrain – I really…
Ironman 70.3 Auckland yesterday and I’ve got to admit that this is a tough report for me to write. Let’s just say… there was good news and there was bad news. I’ll start off with the good news:
The Good News
- It was a beautiful day for racing in Auckland – the Kiwis lined up some great weather for us. A cool 18˚C for the start of the swim up to a very pleasant 22˚C to finish the run in
- The swim felt good. Once again, I arrived into T1 with the main group, coming out alongside Crowie and Cam Brown. Definitely happy with the swim leg
- I was stoked to see two fellow Aussies storm home to take 1 & 2 on the podium. Reedy (Tim Reed) was absolutely flying on the run leg and Griffo (Leon Griffin) was only 30 seconds behind. Well done, fellas!
The Bad News
- Managed to lose the front group going up the Harbour Bridge
- Rode with TB (Terenzo Bozzone) for about 60km but then lost him
- Came in 17th and felt very disappointed with the result
Not much more to say, except to leave you with an important piece of advice… Try NOT to take a wrong turn on the bike leg. You’ll end up riding an extra 3km, it won’t help your time and it’s just really, really embarrassing…
It’s days like these that drive you to refocus on your core values- the stuff that drives you. For me, that’s – strength, persistence, dream. Bring on Challenge Melbourne!
Firstly and huge thanks guys! There’s been an awesome response to the #AskBerks segment. They cover a whole bunch of different topics and I’ve also grabbed Grant my coach to come in on a few questions as well.
I’ve just finished packing to head over the pond to NZ to race in Auckland and as I promised I wanted to get this first round of #AskBerks back to you by the end of the week. So here goes:
Simon Hatlee asked:
Q. How many interval sessions do you do on the bike to get your power and speed up?
A. I usually do 2-3 a week, which will include big gearing work on the flats as well as hill work.
Grant: Our programs revolve around “Strength / Endurance” and “Strength / Power”. The intervals themselves are important but they play a secondary role (ie) If there was a choice to made between Strength / Aerobic capacity and top end intervals the Strength would win out every time because it underpins everything. Also able to withstand higher wattages on climbs for a longer period of time without the same level of oxygen cost and I think that’s important.
Marty McDonald and Craig Guilfoyle asked about gym sessions:
Q. What’s an example of your common gym session? How many sessions a week do you do?
A. Marty, at present I do one gym session a week. I keep it pretty simple, so I’ll do a little bit of work on the legs with some squats and leg press. I’ll also do some strength work on the upper body, with exercises like lat pulldowns and chin-ups.
On top of that I do core work 2-3 times a week. I just do that at home and that’s stuff like push-ups, planks and sit-ups. I also do some very specific work for my dodgy hip, such as 1-leg bridges. Unfortunately, hip problems can be pretty common among triathletes, no matter whether you’re a pro or an age-grouper. For some more info and some great exercises to strengthen your hips, improve your hip drive and prevent injury, click here.
Custom race suits
Marty also had a question about race suits:
Q. Your race suit, the one with the sleeves. I got a quote to get one made for $900. Do you think it would be worth it?
A. My race suit is very specific to me – it’s a one-off custom-made kit from Scody which I really love racing in. Obviously, I’m a little biased here Marty. Scody are great sponsors and I love their gear, which is why I wear it. When I spoke to the guys at Scody they quoted somewhere between $400-$900 for a custom made race kit – really depends on the style you choose. You need to work out if the money is going to be worth it for you. One thing to keep in mind though – the price per suit drops significantly if you’re ordering more than 5. So you could get that cost down if you order as a team or even a bunch of friends. FYI – Scody have got a cool function on their website where you can design your own race suit here.
Swimming in the front pack
Damien Collins asked:
Q. I know you were never a swimmer growing up, nor a front pack swimmer, correct me if I’m wrong. But you did a massive dedicated swim block to turn yourself into a swimmer doing 50k a week? How much of your bike/run had to suffer so you could focus on your swim? How long did you keep those massive swim blocks for before you returned to training as normal? For example, what would you swim in a typical week now?
A. Mate, that was a fairly epic question, but it’s a good one. You’re right, I’ve worked really hard on getting my swim happening. Gilesy and I agreed that there was no point even going to Kona last year if I couldn’t swim with the front pack. So, I was rapt when I came out of the water with them – the hard work paid off.
To strengthen my swim leg I was swimming around 20-25km per week. 50km would have just about killed me! But I was making sure it was really good quality and not taking any shortcuts. I really made an effort to ensure my technique was good.
I did back off my running, by about 30-40km per week, which actually really helped me in the swimming sessions. I’m working on getting my swim km’s back up to around 20km per week, but at present I’m doing 15-20km.
And you’re right, Damien, having a swimming background would have really helped a lot. One athlete that I know well, Clayton Fettell, swims really well and he’ll continue to dominate that leg of the race due to his background in swimming as a junior.
Long ride intensity
Matt Cannizzaro asked:
Q. Hey man! Congrats on a great 2014. I am doing 4 rides a week leading into IM Melbourne: 1x strength (hills), 1x easy, 1x WT tempo set and 1x long ride (approx 6hrs). What intensity do you think I should do my long rides at? I train to HR and power.
A. Matt, you’re right on the money with those rides. Towards the tail end of the long ride, you should add in some IM efforts (goal pace). Keep up the good work, Matt, and I’ll see you in Melbourne on March 22!
Grant: Agreed that is a pretty safe plan. On the long ones you want to make sure you are not sitting those in the grey zone somewhere between easy and hard as it can become junk. The key is just to ride nice even tempo on those rides –keep pedalling and keep it even. You do want to get a sense of your goal pace over the final 6 weeks but if you are pressed for time you could add a few of those to your long ride but keep them realistic. Also good to keep in mind that you build strength and speed from beneath not from above so you want your aerobic speed and strength to be as developed as you can get it so you build that presence and focus over time. Too much over speed won’t work, it simply teaches people how to blow up. So in simple terms build your speed from beneath don’t try to pull it from above pace.
Doing your first triathlon
Travis Hill asked:
Q. I’m about to do my first Triathlon on Sunday. What tips do you have for beginners who are starting out and do you remember your first Tri?
A. Travis, I’m guessing that by the time this blog comes out you will have completed your first triathlon. I hope it was an awesome day for you! I still remember my first tri, although it was a long time ago. I was an 18 year old competing with a bunch of my AFL mates.
My best advice to you and to anyone who’s doing their first triathlon is just – enjoy the day and don’t put any pressure on yourself.
Robyn Winn asked:
Q. Do you believe you should compete in a marathon race prior to your first IM?
A. No, not at the full distance. I’d suggest doing a double run day.
Grant: In my opinion, I think people vastly overestimate what they need to do in terms of run volume. If you think you are going to run 3.7 hours for the marathon I think it’s very counterproductive to train that long, you are essentially teaching your body how to operate with bad form. This also applies to slower athletes. You want to reach the start line health, strong and above all efficient. Strength and Efficiency are the 2 keys to IM racing and people do not need to circumnavigate the globe in training to race well. My advice is to only run to the volume where you feel you can maintain good form, keep that a focus.
In my experience whenever I’ve had someone mix a straight marathon even a training run into an IM prep it has been disastrous. Anything is possible if you reach the start line healthy and strong.
Staying focused in training and on race day
There are a couple of questions relating to this topic. Steve Copelin asked:
Q. I’d like to know with all the volume of training you do, how do you keep focused & energized on each session? Some days the body and the mind just won’t do what is required.
A. Steve, I’m just like anyone else. I suffer from purple patches and you just have to soldier through them. I’ve also got a good bunch of training mates at Aeromax and my coach, Gilesy, helps me keep my head in the game too.
Grant: It’s about being present in the body at each session as much as it is about the mind. A cluttered mind space makes it near impossible to focus. Many people simply can’t turn their minds off. This is where some sensory work can come in handy, simple things like spending 10 mins before a session sensing density and aliveness in the feet and legs-that takes you out of the mind and into the body. The body has its own intelligence and it’s very hard to access changes in form if you are not occupying that space while predisposed with a story your mind is telling you.
Dave Picot asked:
Q. What goes through your mind on the 2+ hours on the run during a race? Surely you can’t be thinking about form that entire time?
A. You’d be surprised just how much there is to think about on the run. Basically, I try to stay in the present moment and focused on the job at hand. Having said that, sometimes there are some distractions to keep you amused. At Kona, I was having quite a battle with Jan Fodeno when he started farting like a champion. It certainly lightened the mood and gave me a good reason to break away from him!
Hot feet on the bike
Ben Bailey asked:
Q. I get hot feet when I ride, which is pretty intense. Kicks in after one to two hours plus. Any remedies?
A. ‘Hot foot’ is a pretty common problem for cyclists. Believe it or not, the issue is not caused by your foot over-heating. It’s actually the result of pressure on the nerves in your foot, just behind your toes (your metatarsal bones). Pressure is generated when your feet expand on a long ride and this gives you that burning sensation in the balls of your feet.
Ben, there are a few things you can do to fix this. You can re-direct the pressure by moving your cleat position back. Your shoes may be too tight – try different shoes with more room in them around your toes. Maybe even consider wider pedals, if they’re too narrow for your foot. For a great article on ‘hot foot’ and some ways to fix it, click here.
Oscar Mendez asked:
Q. Supplements: which ones do you trust and use? Thanks for this initiative and for the chance you gave to all age groupers, average Joe triathletes, and fans, to get in touch with you. I wish all pro triathletes could do this.
A. Thanks for the kind words, Oscar. Glad to be giving something back.
As far as supplements go, I’m a sponsored athlete with Endura, which enables me to also have access to Ethical Nutrients and Metagenics. I’ve found them to be very beneficial and I haven’t had any issues with them. I currently use:
- Fish Oil
- Vitamin C
- Immune boosters
- Iron (for when at Altitude)
- Probiotic (Inner Health Plus)
This topic is a big one, so it was no surprise to see a whole bunch of questions that related to diet and nutrition – before and during a race. So, here we go…
Andrew Garwood asked:
Q. Do you follow a special diet?
A. I try to eat clean and well, but will indulge sometimes. (hahaha… most of the time!) Which leads to this question from Garry Stevens:
Q. Is it true you drank an entire bottle of champagne in a 10 min drive on a bus at Great Keppel? And then threw up all night?
A. Maybe all night…. But I’m sure I was still out all night though. (Note to readers – This is not part of my regular training program, so don’t try this at home… save it for Great Keppel)
Nicole Smyth asked:
Q. Do you include wheat, dairy and processed sugar in your diet or are you pretty strict about what you eat?
A. I’m not too strict, but I certainly reduce my dairy intake during race week.
Thanks to James Berry, Mark Firth, Matthew Roberts and Valerie Koroneos for your questions about nutrition and hydration on race day. Here’s a quick rundown for you:
Before an event
A. The night before an event I’ll just have a standard meal. The morning of the event I have Endura Optimizer and some banana and I’m good to go.
During the race
A. As far as carbs intake during an IM race, I’ll take 2-3g per hour via gels and drinks. When it comes to hydration, it’s recommended that you have your body weight (in kgs) in mls per hour at least. I use the Endura ReHydration Bottle plus one extra in my special needs bag.
To all the triathletes out there, let me say it’s so important to get your nutrition and hydration right on race day. Plus it’s not simply about hydration, you need to manage your blood sodium levels as well so you avoid hyponatremia, which can seriously kick your butt. My advice is – don’t leave it to race day to sort this stuff out. Experiment with nutrition and hydration on your longer training sessions, so you’ve got a solid plan in place before you hit race day.
Thanks to everyone for your questions this month. Sorry to all those who missed out on an answer this time round. But, keep sending those questions in to #AskBerks.
I’ve had a good break since Bahrain – I really felt liked I’d earned it after a big 2014. Definitely time to slow down, chill out and rest, physically and mentally.
For those of you reading this in other parts of the world, Christmas in Oz is pretty unique. For me it was all about enjoying the warmer weather (no white Christmases here, that’s for sure), watching the cricket, spending time at home with my wife, Bel, and enjoying some great Aussie food on Christmas Day with my folks.
As far as my training load went, it was definitely lighter over Chrissie and the New Year. I deliberately kept it fairly unstructured and also fairly minimal, which was great. Of course, as a full-time athlete, competing across the world, my competition year doesn’t ever really stop. And so neither does the training.
At the start of the year, the first target in my sights is IM 70.3 Auckland. So, over the last few weeks I’ve put my head down and started to kick things along in the training department a lot more. With this first race, I’m trying not to over-complicate things and just use it as a guide to see how my body feels and where my focus needs to be for the first few months.
I’ve got to say, I love racing in Asia-Pacific and there are more and more quality races happening in this part of the world. IM 70.3 Auckland is a ripper event, for a whole bunch of reasons and I’m really looking forward to kicking off my year there.
Although Auckland’s only a short flight over the pond, weather conditions in New Zealand can be colder than I’m used to at this time of the year, especially coming from an Aussie summer in northern New South Wales.
The swim leg (1.9km) is fairly sheltered, so hopefully it’s going to be pretty smooth. It’s a great course, which begins with a deep-water start in the harbour and we finish up swimming under the Te Whero Foot Bridge (which should be packed with spectators) into Viaduct Harbour.
Bike leg is 90km and it’s fast and hilly (up to 70m) and travels through the centre of Auckland. If you’ve got time to lift your head up and look around there’s some beautiful scenery as it travels along the harbour front. There’s also the potential for thrills and spills, as riders have to negotiate ‘judderbars’ (Kiwi for speed bumps) and cross over tram tracks.
The 21.1km run leg is dead flat and it is going to be super fast. It’s winding and so it gives you plenty of opportunities to check out where everyone else is- who’s chasing you and who you need to catch. Which brings me to the field for Auckland. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on Reedy, Crowie and Terenzo (finished 3rd last year). Of course, Cameron Brown’s always a threat, especially on his home turf. It should be a great race!
Speaking of Cam, you can check out a cool course preview video (from 2013), which features Cam’s commentary. There are a few minor changes to this year’s course, but the vid is an awesome way of checking out the course and it gives you a really good feel for what it’s like.
I’m counting down to the 18th January, IM 70.3 Auckland. Good luck to everyone who’s competing. I’ll see you at the finish!
Oh, and thanks to everyone who’s sent in questions to #AskBerks. Great questions! Keep ‘em coming!
One thing I always enjoy is reading your comments and feedback, whether that’s on Facebook, Twitter or here on the blog. Since it’s the beginning of 2015, I thought it’s time to introduce a new feature to make things even more interactive.
Over the last year I’ve been interviewed by First Off The Bike and ATTV, I’ve bared my soul on Fat Black and been probed by The Real Starky. I even had the privilege of being the first guest on Cupcakes With Cal (still waiting to see the cupcakes, mate!).
Now, I’d like to give you an opportunity to satisfy your curiosity and be the one asking the questions. Just to be really creative, I’ve called this new segment – Ask Berks! The way it works is pretty simple. Come up with your question or questions and then post them on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #AskBerks. At the end of each month I’ll take a bunch of the most interesting questions and answer them in a special Ask Tim edition of the blog.
What kind of questions? Whatever you like! I probably don’t have the answers to Life, the Universe and everything (try @DalaiLama or @StephenHawking for those) but I’m happy to answer anything else. If I don’t know, I’ll run it past the experts who work for my sponsors and track down an answer for you.
So, whether it’s training tips you’re after, insights into race tactics, questions about diet or gear, or even Bel’s cupcake recipe (they’re bloody beautiful)… just Ask Tim. I’m looking forward to hearing from you, so send in those questions and keep ‘em coming.
PS. Don’t forget to check out my article in the first edition of 220 Triathlon magazine coming out soon.
Hey guys! Happy New Year and welcome back to the blog. Hope you’ve had a great break and, like me, done some serious eating over the holiday period. But, it’s time to put the beer and Xmas pudding away and get back on the bike for 2015!
The big news is that the crew at 220 Triathlon mag have asked me to put together a series of articles on a bunch of different topics. I’m excited to have this opportunity and the articles will be appearing in the mag over the next few issues. So, keep an eye out for them.
To give you a bit of a heads-up, the first topic I’ll be looking at is a big one for all athletes – the relationship that they have with their coach. The research, and my own experience, shows that a strong athlete/coach relationship can be one of the keys, if not THE key factor when it comes to getting great results and lifting your game. I’m going to explore five different aspects of this relationship to see just what makes it tick and how to make it strong and productive. So, as I said, look out for that in 220 Triathlon.
As a bonus for you guys, I’ll also be posting some additional material on the topic here on the blog. Because I’m not limited by the magazine format, I can give you a little more background and a few more personal insights into the topics. For example, the blog article on the athlete/coach relationship is going to include a great little question and answer session with Gilesy (my coach Grant Giles). I’m going to ask him some probing questions and he’s going to lift the lid on what, how and why he does what he does when he trains me. Fascinating stuff!
So, that’s what’s coming up. Of course, there will be the usual blogs covering races, training and other interesting things that come to mind. Thanks again for your support in 2014 and I look forward to sharing 2015 with you. It’s going to be an awesome year!
Highlights of the year:
- 3rd Challenge Half Melbourne - February 2014
2nd Busselton 70.3 - May 2014
2nd Philippines 70.3 - August 2014
2nd Korea 70.3 - October 2014
- Expanding race experiences within Asia. I've always loved travel and this sport has allowed me to travel to some amazing & unique environments and cultures within Asia Pacific.
- Developing my coaching profile within the sport of triathlon, health and fitness. I really enjoy coaching and helping others achieve personal goals. Its also given me personal inspiration and motivation in my own training and aspirations in the sport.
- My first group of Ironman athletes all raced exceptionally well in Busselton WA, achieving personal best performances.
- Expanding my horizons and participating in mountain bike and Xterra events.
- Ambassador for the 2014 Tour de Cure Ironman Melbourne Team.
Thank you to Grant Giles and the Aeromax crew for another great year. Its a privilege working with a coach whose philosophy and coaching style I believe in and continues to deliver so many highlights across the whole squad.
Thank you to my sponsors who make it possible for me to continue to train and compete as a Professional Triathlete: Specialized Australia, Scody, TriShave, Eyeline, Compressport, High 5 Sports Nutrition, SaltStick, Fuel Belt, Kinetic by Kurt, Ryders Eyewear, BlueSeventy/Aqua Shop, Scicon Bags, USANA, Asics.
A very big thank you to Sarah Anne & Warren of Karmea Fitness for welcoming me into the Karmea Community. Coaching indoor cycling on Tuesday and Thursday evenings is one of the highlights of my week! :-)
I'd also like to thank Annie and all the team behind Cantoo for giving myself and Mick Smith the opportunity to coach the Sydney Sprint Triathlon Program 2015.
Finally thank you to all the people including friends and family who cheer me on at races. Your support means so much and is a huge source of motivation to give the best of myself. Nige, your on-going support and encouragement in everything I do is amazing. I'm just so incredibly lucky to share this journey with you.
Wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and all the very best for 2015!
As 2014 draws to a close, it’s time to review the year. I don’t want to get too philosophical here, but I think it was the Greek philosopher Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Strong words. My version is – “If you never look back, you never see how far you’ve come.” And 2014 has certainly been a journey, both professionally and personally. There have been highs, lows and plenty of lessons learned along the way. So, here’s 2014 – the year that was.
Over and Out
Coming into 2014, I was feeling highly motivated. 2013 was ultimately a disappointing and frustrating year for me, with five 2nd places and no wins. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride! My last win was the Ironman Australia 70.3 Championship in Mandurah, Western Australia in 2012, so I was pumped and ready to take on the inaugural Scody Challenge in Melbourne.
The setup in Melbourne was great. The swim leg in Port Phillip Bay was followed by three laps of nice riding along Beach Road. It’s a quick, safe course. We were running on trails through Brighton Beach and then onto Beach Road for the return journey.
When it came to the race, Clayton (Fettell) had six minutes getting off the bike and I knew Johnny Polson and I were going to have to run pretty quick to catch him. I had a great run and felt really strong. When Johnny tired, I knew it was go-time for me. That’s when the ironman legs kicked in.
Afterwards, I was over the moon. With Kona in my sights for 2014, this was a great way to start the new year and a real confidence booster. My plan was to do the ‘dirty double’, with Geelong 70.3 the next weekend and an opportunity to build some momentum. Things didn’t quite work the way I’d planned.
In the end, Craig Alexander and Tim Reed fought it out in conditions that Craig described as ‘brutal’. I DNFed, pulling out after the swim, deciding that with Ironman New Zealand just over three weeks away I really didn’t want to overcook myself. But after being on such a high, Geelong left me feeling really down and out.
Lesson Learned: It’s crucial to have a good support crew around you for times like this. I had a really rough few days, but Gilesy (coach-Grant Giles) and I got straight in and refocused for Ironman NZ. The reality is – that’s our sport, full of ups and downs. And how you mentally handle both of those states is critical for any athlete.
Flying the Flag and Flying to the Finish
In early March I headed over the pond for Ironman New Zealand. There were only two of us Aussies in Taupo waving the flag, the other being Johan Borg. In some ways, choosing Ironman NZ over Ironman Melbourne was a sentimental decision. It’s a race I’ve always wanted to do. Plus, it was the 30th birthday of Ironman NZ and given that I was turning 30 too, it just seemed right.
As far as training and preparation, I knew that I was lacking a few long rides and long runs, but still felt confident given my results at Cairns in 2013, on the back of training for a 70.3. In the end, the lack of kilometres in the legs showed and I posted 02:55:44 for the run, coming in 4th and missing a podium finish by just under a minute. The race was won by Estonian giant (6’2”, 78kg!) who stormed home, leaving 10-time race winner, Cameron Brown, in his wake.
At this point, I needed to step up and Ironman 70.3 Busselton turned out to be just what I needed. Although I nearly didn’t make the start line at all. My final preparation was thrown into total chaos when a bug went through the whole Aeromax squad, including me, two weeks before the race.
Busselton is a beautiful spot and conditions were perfect – Geographe Bay was glassy and it was still for the bike leg. I’ve been conscious that the swim has been my weakest leg, so I felt like the hard work had really paid off when I came out of the water right with the front bunch. This set me up for the rest of the race.
Coming out of T2 into the run there were nine of us in a bunch and that’s where the race really got going. By the end of the 2nd run lap I’d passed Courtney (Atkinson) and then just needed to hold on for the win.
As it turned out, I didn’t just take the podium, I also grabbed the course record by over two minutes.
Lesson Learned: I was the last of the squad to shake the bug, which meant I probably went into the race well-rested and mentally fresh after having a forced break. Not the ideal way to do things, this time it worked for me!
Clean Air and a Clear Head
After Busselton I headed off for a 4-week altitude-training block in stunning Boulder, Colorado. With Ironman Cairns the next target, this was a great chance to sharpen my training focus. A different geographical location can really create a different headspace, especially when it’s away from home and from your coach.
The big challenge is to maintain intensity as the training shifts from general prep into race mode. You feel tired and as the training volume drops the tendency is to let go a little. I think this is where having a little more maturity has been a real strength.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve gained a better understanding of what I need and what I need to do. I’m not looking to Gilesy so much for motivation – it’s about harnessing his support and expertise. Our relationship has become less about driving and much more about collaboration.
When I lined up for Ironman Cairns in June I felt like I was in great form. The final eight days of preparation had been all about tempo pieces – working at a good speed in a relaxed state. Mentally, I had been tapping into the power of visualisation. As Gilesy says, “You can’t do it if you can’t see it.” To put it bluntly, I felt ‘fast’.
After Busselton and Taupo I was going into the race as one of the favourites and the man standing in my way was Cameron Brown. Cam and I both love the Cairns course, especially the ride up to Port Douglas. And I love racing in tropical North Queensland.
On the day, conditions could only be described as ‘moist’. Sizeable waves, wet roads, high humidity, strong winds and waterlogged athletes. This was a war of attrition.
Heading out of T2 into the run I found myself in the lead, closely followed by Robbo (Peter Robertson) and Cam. After Robbo dropped off at the 12km mark I held onto the lead for the next 7km. At that point, Cam turned up the heat and put me into a world of pain. To his credit he pulled out a 2:44 marathon. In the hot, steamy conditions I came in second with a 2:48:15.
Bumpy Road to Kona
Kona has been my dream for a long time. Seeing Hawaiian ironmen on TV was what got me into triathlons when I was an 18-year-old kid in Albury, New South Wales. And now I was finally focusing my attention on getting there. As it turned out, the road to Kona was a little bumpier than I’d anticipated.
In mid-July I travelled to California for Ironman 70.3 Vineman, which winds through the Napa and Sonoma wine regions and always draws some of the top pros in the world. Going into the race, the media considered me the ‘dark horse’. Unfortunately, Vineman was short and painful for me. My hip played up again and this ‘horse’ retired early after the swim, leaving fellow Aussie Tim Reed to take the win.
It was a small bump in the road, but not enough to slow me down. Just before I headed off to Wiesbanden for the European 70.3 Championship, the news came through – it was official – I was locked in for Kona and the Ironman World Championship.
Germany is the land of autobahns, hilly climbs and fast, steep descents. I was there with Peter Robertson and I’ve got to say, the Europeans are great hosts. The course was demanding and there was plenty of excitement – when a rider crashed in front of me, I almost joined him on the asphalt. My swim was strong and I came into T2 in 6th.
There was a lot of competition as we left T2 and I thought, “Game on!” and kicked up a gear. In the end, Robbo finished second and I was really happy to finish 5th in a very tough field.
Next stop on the road to Kona was the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Canada. Talk about bumps in the road. Let’s just say Mont-Tremblant was not kind to me. It was one of those times when things just didn’t come together. It started with losing touch with the lead group in the swim and then not being able to re-establish contact for the rest of the race.
For most of the race, my numbers were good. Closing out on the bike, trying to reel in the leaders, I was well above my normal watts. I was in 19th place going into T2, but simply had nothing left in my legs. My finishing place rhymed with ‘hurty’ and looked suspiciously like my age… so disappointing.
September 13th and I was back home, back with the boys and although a little jet-lagged, back on the bike. I rode 190km through the hills behind Ballina with Kona in my sights.
Feeling the Love… and the Heat
I exited the plane in Hawaii with Belinda (my wife), new kicks from Newton in my bag (they’ve got my name on the back – how cool is that!), determination in my heart and butterflies in my stomach. This was a moment I had dreamt about for more than 10 years and now it was happening.
I was going into it with an open mind, knowing that this first time was part of my apprenticeship. I needed to learn about the race, get a result and then re-evaluate. And with 15+ Ironmans under my belt I believed I was physically and mentally ready. It was time for me to run my race.
I was spurred on by watching Aussies do so well at Kona in the past. Luke McKenzie’s 2nd last year was inspirational. I knew I was in the right place at the right time, having done the work to earn my spot.
Race week in Hawaii was crazy, but good. Instead of having abuse yelled at me from car windows while I’m training, I found myself being stopped in the street to sign autographs or have photos taken. I was reminded that it’s this grassroots support and enthusiasm that makes it possible for me to do what I love to do.
Race day dawned and for the first time the Ironman World Championships featured four separate starts. This eased the congestion a little, but the first 500m of the race were still survival of the fittest, in a churning sea of thrashing body parts. Once I found some clearer water I settled into my rhythm in a pack of almost 30 guys. I’d been working hard on my swimming – Gilesy and I had agreed that there was no point in even going to Kona if I couldn’t swim with the front pack. I exited the water in 51:21.
Coming out of T1, I was conscious of the hot, humid, salty air and I was thankful for Gilesy getting me to train in jumpers and coats to acclimatise to the heat. The bike leg up the hill into Hawi is renowned for sorting out the men from the boys. Three solid efforts took me past Tim Reed and Tim O’Donnell, before taking another group, which included Andreas Raelert. By this stage, the temperature was hovering around 33 degrees, the wind speed was increasing and the tiny figures ahead were shimmering in the heat haze.
Heading up to Hawi I averaged 27km/h at just under 300 watts. On the back half of the ride it was 40km/h at 229 watts. And the tantalizing question was – should I put the power down and bridge the gap or stay strong and ride my own race? The decision was taken away from me, as the group behind caught me Together we stayed in touch with the front group as we headed into T2.
A Tough Day In the Lab
I was just settling into my stride when O’Donnell, Potts and Raelert flew past. Once again, the million dollar question was, “Do I follow them?”
Lesson learned: On race day the temptation is to let your emotions rule, lose your nerve and ditch your race plan. Know your strengths and your limits and then work within those – run your own race and have confidence in your ability and your judgement.
I let them go and eased into the pace, sticking with Jan Frodeno who was also making his World Championship debut at Kona. Jan went on to finish 3rd. I settled down and just kept chipping away at the gap ahead.
At about the 26km mark runners hit an area nicknamed the Energy Lab. It’s a barren area of lava fields, renowned for destroying triathletes. Road temperature here was 46 degrees and air temperature was 33 degrees plus. I was in 4th place, reeling in the competition and my pace peaked at 3:43/km. At the turnaround I was on 75 seconds behind. It seemed that the Energy Lab was working for me.
But, coming out of the Energy Lab I was passed by Frodeno, which put me back in 5th position. And things were starting to unravel. My body was starting to slow and tire, with cramps hitting my quads constantly. Van Lierde passed me and the last 6km were a world of pain. My pace slowed to 4-4:44/km and all I could do was grit my teeth and hang on. I crossed the finish line in 8:23:26, less than three minutes after Fredeno who came in 3rd. It was a tight finish to an epic race.
Kona 2014. Did it hurt? Hell, yeah! Was it awesome? Absolutely! Just running out on the Queen K Highway was surreal and the support from the spectators was amazing. And running into 4th place was a huge confidence boost. I left Hawaii believing that I could actually win that race one day.
Bringing It Home
I was excited to support the Challenge Shepparton race in November. It was my first race post-Kona and I knew I was in trouble before I even started. Hip problems were an issue earlier in the year and when I felt a twinge, just days before the race, I went straight to the physio. To try and get it sorted.
On race day I had a strong swim leg and entered T1 in the front pack, feeling really good. But, it didn’t take long out on the bike to change that and so I made the tough call and finished up after the first lap.
My year ended with the Challenge Bahrain – it was worth it just to race on a track that was built for Formula One cars and to enjoy the spectacular hospitality of Bahrain. Who wouldn’t want to stay in a 5-star hotel and have your own personal driver?
Race-wise though, I came out of the water in the second bunch and then struggled to shift into top gear. I was feeling sluggish, despite trying all the mental tricks in the book. Even the giant inspirational billboards they had erected along the course didn’t help. It seemed that my brain was writing cheques that my body couldn’t cash! By the end of the run I’d upped the pace to around 3:38/km and picked up a few places. I crossed the line in 3:47:01 in 10th position, bringing the race and my year to a close.
I’m finishing the year with a thankful heart. As I said earlier, it’s crucial to have a solid support crew around you. To my support crew – my coach, manager, sponsors, training partners, family and especially my beautiful wife, Bel – you make it possible for me to do what I love to do and for that I am very, very grateful. And to everyone who has supported and encouraged me this year – thanks!
2014 has been an amazing year. Hopefully I’ve learned some lessons and grown and matured as an athlete and as a person. I’m excited about 2015 – I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.