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My Geelong 70.3 Race Report (2021)


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This is the 3rd time I have entered the Geelong 70.3 and my 5th attempt at the Half Iron distance over the past 10 years. I know the Geelong course well having raced the bike and run sections at Olympic Distance events twice too. I think it’s a wonderful event and I love the city of Geelong. Its one of the first places I got to know when I moved to Australia and I have often dreamed of moving to the surf coast for the opportunity to have an active lifestyle alongside a vibrant city…. but my family will need some convincing!!

So, because I cannot become a Geelong resident anytime soon I have instead made a commitment that I will keep trying to do this event every year. Keep trying to improve at the 70.3 distance and solve various new race challenges that I encounter each year.

While 2020 was an awful and frustrating year due to Melbourne’s lockdowns I was lucky enough to retain my full-time job and get an extra two hours a day in which I could train (as I was no longer commuting). I probably didn’t make good enough use of this bonus, but I was pleased with being able to lay down some good base fitness in Spring. By Christmas I felt I was in a great spot to get to Geelong’s event in February in great shape. I am now in the middle of the 40-44 age group category and I felt I could target getting to the sharp end of the finishers.

As with other years my training fell apart in January while we tried to juggle family holidays and then the inevitable increase in work stress as the year began. I still find it challenging when work is intense to maintain training. I begin to use all my spare time to catch up with tasks and training often gets missed for entire weeks at a time. When the weekend arrives I skip long rides and runs to enjoy a few hours without calls and meetings. It happens every year.

So, when Geelong 70.3 was postponed for 6 weeks due to a short lockdown in Victoria I was quite pleased and relieved. The extra time was going to allow me to build some consistency in my swim and focus on bike power. I was happy with my run fitness and simulated race pace training. Again, I probably didn’t make good enough use of the extra training opportunity or simulate some of the technical activities I wanted to complete: Longer simulations of bike race pace and BRIC training.

I know the Ironman organisation has taken a lot of flak during the pandemic, but I recognise their commercial intent and the fact they are a profit-driven business with obligations to their shareholders. I think we are very lucky to live in Australia because the pandemic has been controlled effectively and Ironman Oceania are a good bunch who execute great events despite local challenges. I know Geelong has won global acclaim as being one of (if not the) best 70.3 in the world. Again, I feel lucky to be on that start line each year and I applaud the Ironman Oceania team for delivering an outstanding athlete experience.  

I selected a late Saturday afternoon check-in time and bike racking slot. I was amazed with how quiet the whole compound was when during other years it would be buzzing with latecomers rushing to beat the check-in deadline. It sounds like the intention to keep athlete traffic to a minimum really worked.

I did a short 20km recce ride up along the Port Arlington road to remind myself of the bike route through the Park which I remembered was quite technical and bumpy. I was reminded that Geelong course has roads that are Jekyll and Hyde: some silky smooth and others rutted with holes, bumps and course texture. Recce ride went well, bike mechanicals perfect and I was happy.

I always stay at the Parkside Motel in North Geelong. It’s a great motel but felt expensive this year ($290 for 1 night!!). It’s convenient because it’s just out of town but opposite Coles for buying supplies and McDonalds (for no reason other than it is the only place you can get a barista made coffee at 5am on race day). I also normally head out for dinner on the night before the race to a restaurant in town that does a great plate of pasta. Formerly called Denny’s Kitchen they have relaunched to become The Black Sheep with a Tapas-style menu – not quite what I had planned. I had goulash and Mac ‘n’ Cheese – probably wouldn’t have been my first choice for a pre-race meal but it would have to do. To remind myself how much of a mid-pack age grouper I am I also had a glass of red wine. I appreciate most serious athletes would gasp at this but I am told a glass of red helps to thin the blood, induces sleep and helps me to relax! I am also told it was an evening staple of many Yellow Jersey wearers every night of the tour until quite recently!!

However; it didn’t work because I slept awfully the night before the race which really worried me. I checked the clock at midnight, 1am, 3am and final woke at 4.45am feeling not great.

I made the same breakfast I have almost every other day of the year: 3 weetbix + yoghurt, honey, raspberries together with a strong latte. I then sip a sports drink and eat a banana 30mins before swim start (the banana is intended to avoid cramping on the swim but as described below I still got some slight cramping in my right calf at around 1500m).

I got to transition about 6am and set about taping nutrition to the bike and getting my set up ready. I am always dazzled by the bikes that even mid-pack age groupers now race. In the 15 years I have been doing triathlon I have witnessed an explosion in the investment an athlete is now willing to make. TT bikes are now the 90% norm (I recall a day not long ago when clip-on Aerobars probably accounted for 70% of the field). I also now feel ancient in my use of duct tape to attach gels to my bike and a standard bottle cage mounted in top of my handlebars rather than the now normal Aero-bottle (or the integral frame hydration system which is increasingly common). I don’t use rear bottle cages as I was always catching my leg on them during mount/dismount but is a cage on the downtube instead.

My eating plan is to have a mouthful of something every 5km and a gel every 30kms. So I carry 1.5 Clif Bars (Peanut Butter Crunch flavour) and three SIS Gels (assorted flavours) together with 1.5 Litres of Gatorade and 1 Litre of water. In a hot race I would normally need more fluids from aid stations but I didn’t expect that today. I practise this same Gel vs Clif Bar routine on all my long rides and I know it works for my stomach. On the run I switch to water and a gel every 5kms.

I have a new wetsuit and goggles for this year and I cannot recommend them enough: Wetsuit is an Aquasphere Bionik and Goggles are the Huub Brownlee edition. The wetsuit suits me because of its great buoyancy (and I love the bottom to top unzip) and the goggles are just the right amount of tint for what I know is a race where sighting on the return part of the swim is hard if the sun is in your eyes.

I had a token warm up swim – I probably did 150metres (its more about getting water in the wetsuit and water on my face rather than warming up!!). Despite so many races under my belt I am still super-nervous. Constantly trying to account for the pain that is coming and the confrontation of a race. It all fuels the adrenalin but the finish line feels a very long way away right now.

I must admit I don’t like rolling swim starts. I prefer the mass-start because of the adrenalin rush and the way it naturally separates swimmers of the right pace. Yes, the first 200 metres are hectic in a mass-start but I prefer them over rolling starts. I have only ever done 1 race where the whole field starts together (a la Kona); this was at the Alpe D’Huez Triathlon and I chose the race specifically because I wanted to experience starting a race alongside a thousand other athletes under a hovering helicopter just above our heads – amazing. Anyway, back to Geelong.

I do appreciate rolling starts make the whole event safer and more attractive for first timers.

Swim start uneventful for me. A coach once told me that in the first 200 metres of the swim you should just focus on breathing and let everything else run on instinct. I think this is great advice. When we hit 300 metres I have the same feeling of total exhaustion in my arms that I always get. It’s a horrible feeling but it does pass and today was no different. The challenge here is not to tempt yourself to slow or (even worse) breaststroke.

I will swim further to stay out of trouble but as we hit the far turnaround buoy I managed to get in to a wrestle with a female athlete wearing a mauve cap. Swimming very close together I think she was unhappy with my right arm impeding her and I must have connected with her left torso/back on two successive strokes.  She yelled out and tried to grab on to my foot and timing strap as I swam past. I felt it was an over reaction to what is a fairly normal part of the swim leg but if that athlete is reading this post I am sorry. I am not an aggressive swimmer and I would never impede anybody’s stroke or race deliberately. Seek me out and I am happy to discuss it and apologise.

Anyway, the rest of the swim was uneventful. I try to focus on staying long, keeping my hips up and bubbling underwater. I was feeling good and was confident I had probably done a strong swim. I am always relieved to hit that beach and know the swim is done. Turns out I had done 33mins something which I am happy about.

I had set myself the target of keeping both transitions to 2mins30secs or less. T1 has a long jog to the mounting line which cost me but mounting went well and into the bike.

Bike felt good and I soon discovered where the head and tail winds were going to bite. I had targeted 35km/h average for lap one but the headwind coming back into town brought my average down to 33.8km/h at the halfway point. I knew on lap 2 I had to “make hay” while we had a tailwind and managed to keep my heartrate around 155-160 and push average speed back up to 34.4km/h.  The bike really started to hurt in the final 20kms as I aimed to get up the hills, keep my heart rate down and reserve enough to push against the headwind back to town. The final 20km were hard work and I was not surprised to see my average speed drop back below 34km/h and to end the bike with a time of 2hrs 40mins – I had wanted to do that leg at least 5mins faster.

T2 went well and I was out on to the run course; it felt warm (although I know it was only 20 degrees) and my heartrate shot up towards Zone 5.

The first kilometre of the felt super-awkward but my pace was where I wanted it to be: 4mins 45secs per km. However, it hurt a lot more than I expected to sustain that pace. I stopped for a pee but was able to get back to target pace. The biggest problem for me now was that holding pace was hard and my heart rate was locked in Zone 5. I knew that this was not sustainable. I slowed at the second aid station and then couldn’t get going again. My pace slowed to 5mins 30secs and I really struggled all the way to 10km; those hills really knocking me out at either end of the course. I took my first gel late at 11km which was a mistake but it gave me a boost and I was able to improve my pace back to 5mins per km but exhaustion kicked in at 16km and I slowed again. I had checked my watch quite early in the run and I knew that the only was I was going to complete the race in sub 5 hours was to stay on target pace so I knew quite early on I was going to miss my goal. I was frustrated but kept going and tried to compartmentalise the pain.

I crossed the line at 5hrs 11mins. I had enjoyed a fantastic day and I really do love racing. I probably did the best I could but I can now reflect on how and where I lost my chance to go sub-5.

I was happy with my swim. I had put together a decent block of swim training (but still nowhere near enough) and this helped. My stroke has improved and I am more comfortable with the distance. I need more consistency in my swim training, regular OWS and more speedwork. I feel if I can do this I could find another couple of minutes and get closer to 30mins.

For the bike my regret is that I didn’t train enough TT work of 60-100kms. I felt my bike goals were beyond me because I hadn’t embedded sustaining power and pace across rides of 2hrs +.

Crucially; I have not done enough (if any) BRIC training to condition my body to find run race pace after a longer bike effort.

I was happy with my nutrition (although I need to force a gel earlier on the run) and I was happy with my transitions.

My own personal sixth discipline is sun protection. I am very fair skinned and I finished the race with a sunburnt neck. I believe this is because I lather the back of my neck in bodyglide after sunscreen to prevent chafing of my wetsuit in the swim. I think this cancels out the sun protection, so I need to find a way of preventing sunburn on the back of my neck if I am using bodyglide. Maybe next race I will wear one of those caps with the cotton sheet over your neck. The older I get the less I care about looks over comfort!!

This race has made me make one radical change as I prepare for a winter of training before racing again at Sunshine Coast 70.3 – I have hired a coach and hopefully next year I will be proud to race at Geelong in Beckworth Racing Team uniform….

Thanks to all the volunteers, marshals and spectators that make the Geelong 70.3 event so special. I will be back but thank you for all the safety, support and encouragement you guys bring every year. I love it.

 

 

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Thanks for the report.
I too love Geelong and would love to retire down the surf coast.
This year was the second event I have missed in the last nine(I think).
For all reports, I missed a good day for it.

Good work out there, and now you have that little extra info on what to train for for next time.

Hopefully see you there next time.

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