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January 24, 2012

70.3 Buffalo City

To state that it was a big day out there seems fairly obvious but here goes regardless…

IT WAS AN UNBELIEVABLY BIG DAY OUT THERE.

I have to start the report by saying the bike leg I put out on Sunday is directly related to the work I put in 4 weeks earlier, at Epic Unsupported Tour 2011. Every day, I put an hour of steady in there, making sure to ride the downhills and flats quite solidly. I have to add that since 1 Jan, I cut out almost all my loved wine, beer and have been very meticulous about my eating. I have to add that I included loads of specific intervals for specific parts of the bike and run routes. I have to start by saying that I covered all bases this year. I chose not to race at Totalsports Challenge to be at my best this weekend because let’s face it…

With 3200 people on the route, I needed to bring my absolute best. I psyched myself up quietly, searching for the quiet power out on the roads, in the pool, on the trails. I ate with care in race week, when the options to eat rubbish outnumbered the good food options 100 to 1.

I wanted this win.

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And so, on race morning, we descended upon Orient Beach. All 3200 of us who wanted to race. 1400 newbies. The emotion and intensity were chewable around transition area. I went through my pre-race routine and made a point to greet everyone I wanted to race on the day, to wish them luck and tell them I was excited to be out there with them.

I found a quiet spot after getting into the Orca Alpha and saying goodbye to my personal assistant (thanks Dale!) for the day and went through my warm-up routine, by now psyched up from the iPod music and fuelled by Rehidrat Sport for the swim which lay ahead. This involved a short 400m swim and then a stretch routine which leaves me rearing to go. I was sandwiched on the start-line by 2 mates, Collin Allin & Paul Cartmel, both who ended up with great races and I imagined myself cocooned from the other 1400 people in my start group by the 2 of them.

As the gun went, I slipped around the guys in front of me and calmly made my way to the water, running, but just keeping with the guys. I saw so many guys sprinting and from past experience, this sprint has ruined a few races for me. I ran as far as I could, then dove a few times, lifesaving style, until I was in clear water. My cocoon worked and I could see one guy to my left and one guy to my right and the three of us rounded the first buoy slightly behind the front guy, who sped off never to be seen again. I noticed a small gap to the rest of the group and made sure to work this gap on the long leg out to buoy 2, as this was an opportunity to not be missed out on.

When we rounded buoy 3 I estimated 60 seconds and so I eased off to the finish of the swim, kicking a little more and readying myself for a fast transition, something I have lacked in the last few races I have done. I flew up the T1 run and got all my gear in in record time, heading out towards the bike my number came loose and I lost concentration and for the next 60 seconds, time stood still as between myself and 2 other marshals, we couldn’t find my bike. The all black Ninja bike was nowhere to be found.

I literally ran into the handlebars to find it, could see the tent full of my competitors and tore off on the ride, knowing well I had blown the extra work on the swim by less than perfect with my concentration out of the tent. Now merely 30 seconds or so ahead of my rivals, I knew I would have to ride the first 10km hard to make sure they worked hard. I wanted to make sure they were riding honest and above what they would think they needed to catch me.

In the past, I was the guy who got caught on the bike. Every time. Last year, I wasn’t able to ditch someone who rode with me almost the entire way and put too much effort into having too little a lead off the bike and paid for it on the run. In the last year, I have worked at that. I wanted to let it show.

I used a few little tricks on the hills on the way out to frustrate the guys behind me, operating just within the limits of blowing up and at the same time making sure the gaps stayed or grew. I was watching the wind turn from side on, semi-tailwind on the way out to a full tail wind by 35km into the ride. This meant a steady headwind on the way back for us all and I knew I was good into those conditions, so I took the last 10km to the turn a little easier with the vision of staying low and flying on the way home.

At the turn I had 1min to Greg Goodall, who I considered my greatest rival. That was all the motivation I needed and I took off into the headwind like a man possessed, staying aero and riding as big a gear as possible (thank you ME intervals!) whilst remaining hydrated and lucid to the fact that there was a 21km run as well. I started passing one or two pro guys on the way back, which served as major encouragement. I passed a smiling James Cunnama en route, commentating on the day before he projects his awesomeness back onto the race course in the next few months.

The trick on the way out in Buffalo City is to ride strong, but not kill yourself. The way back is way hillier than you think. It feels like 45km of hills on the way out, but it’s not true. 700m of vertical on the way out, 350m on the way back.

The gap had grown considerably to the point where I couldn’t see a soul behind me. Extra motivation and on the last 2 kickers back into town (they SUCK!) I put my head down and thought that if the other guys save here, I`m going to attack and put in another 30 seconds before the line. Honestly, I cannot tell you what I thought of during the ride. I was very much in the zone of being 100% aware of my body. I raced without a power meter, without a heart rate monitor and purely went on feel and applying the little tricks I have learned over the years. There is no magic trick, only years of hard work paying off.

Coming into T2 I heard Paul Kaye announce that I had over 4 and a half minutes to the next age grouper. More motivation to run a steady run and have something in reserve the whole way. I was out of T2 with no hassles, much better than T1 and out onto the run course, a route which ate me alive last year. The wind was gone in town, leaving a heat that I knew would be deceptive and could be a deciding factor on the day. I spoke to myself about staying cool whilst remaining just so slightly dehydrated and drinking only to thirst.

I slipped on the FAAS250’s and made my way out the tent.

I wanted to run 4min per km the whole way, but knew I would fade a little. I managed to hold just under 4min per km to the halfway split on Lap 1 of the run, including Bunkers Hill, which I ran at 5:30 per km. I slowed down on purpose up the hill to be able to run the drags out the back of the course with purpose, rather than have them as an element of survival.

It was time to check where the others were. I expected Greg Goodall first but was shocked to see Jason Spong, a world class duathlete (currently ranked 7th for Powerman in the world according to his sponsors), hauling towards me. I knew that I would have to run very well on the day to keep him at bay. I had him at 6 min down. Greg came by at 7:30 down and I knew it was a 2 man race between myself and Jason for the day.

I kept the pace I was running until 10.5km, one lap in, when I had a very low point in the race. I was hurting, dizzy and could see in my pace that I was slowing. Jason came by and I had him at 4 min. I poker faced through the crowds so that nobody would tell him I was hurting. 4min was JUST enough to hold him off. If I faltered even for 1km, I would gift him the win I wanted so badly. With an ex-pro chasing you, a guys who is currently a world class runner and biker, you don’t take these things lightly. There was work to be done, despite feeling like trash. Some choice words went on between myself and my legs at that point.

I knew that if I could hold him at 4 min in the next 5.5km, I could cruise home. I grit my teeth and hurt a little more, making sure to run all the way up Bunkers steadily. I was holding pace and grimacing like a champion internally, unaware of people and at times, of noise at all. I was 100% in the zone.

I made the turn at 5.5km and checked my time and had to wait to see Jason. A minute went by and no sign of him, so I knew I was potentially safe. I saw him and knew it was mine. 4 minutes was the gap. He was grimacing too and I knew that I could run smooth to the finish and be ok.

When I hit the esplanade, I slowed down to soak it all up. I didn’t want to hurt badly coming home and ran within myself, letting the energy return and the emotion settle in that it was mine. I didn’t look back once, letting trust get the better of me and giving high fives to friends on the way in.

I walked from before the red carpet. I stopped to greet Mike Finch. It was a proud moment and I knew that despite it not being the perfect race, I had raced immensely well. Near perfect, filled with control and being aware of the conditions and changes the whole way.

It’s a race I`m proud of. One I can look back on and claim I owned it from start to finish. I can honestly say it’s only the third race ever like that for me and it’s a privilege to have experienced what I did on Sunday.

A big thank you to the sponsors who made it possible, who allow me to dream and be all I can be whilst forging out a career that I love, non-related to the sport. BoE Private Clients, Rehidrat Sport, Velocity Sports Lab, Puma & Orca – your support is incredible. A great start to the year for Pure Planet Racing, Urban Ninja and yes, myself.

To the organisers – I salute you. Perfect race execution. To the volunteers – you rocked my world out there. To the countless supporters who shouted words of encouragement when I was unable to respond – thank you. To the other athletes – you inspire me endlessly and your stories are as important as mine, so please feel free to share in the comments section below.

To Jodie & Marino, who won the Pro races – outstanding work and well deserved victories as well.

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