Friday, January 10, 2014

Albany Half Triathlon 2014

Well, it's not really a half triathlon. I mean, how do you halve three disciplines? It actually refers to the length of the triathlon, meaning it's a half ironman, or a 70.3 distance triathlon. Only the word ironman can't be used in the name of the triathlon unless it's run by the ironman corporation. Anyway, it involves a 1.9km swim, 90km on the bike and a 21.1km run to finish off.

So why did this event appeal to me? Well as I try to add a new experience to my life each year, I find an event that requires a little effort on my behalf. For 2013 the aim was to add a half ironman to the list of achievements. With my work schedule I aimed to compete in the Mandurah half in November. It seemed like a good idea as I hoped to have the marathon legs from the City to Surf even in August still useful. But I missed entering early enough to book a spot.  Well, without utilising a foreign address anyway. So the WA Country Builders Albany Half was the next event available that would be feasible to enter . That it would be in the first weekend of 2014 (January 4th) was close enough to 2013 to be my 2013 achievement. 

So after booking myself in back in June, the training really started to pick up in October. A little bit of knee pain (I think I'm getting old) and a visit to The Running Centre to help improve my running style (which has definantly helped, thanks Marc). Heck, I even went out and purchased a wetsuit. Expensive, but I hoped that I might even use it again. Then after being pretty happy with my cycling and running training, I finally hopped in the pool a month before the event.

Having not swum for 6 months, the "she'll be right" attitude kicked in. After 1500m I called it a day, had a reasonable pedal home and all was good. The morning after upon reaching for my towel, "ping", can't move my head and a good dose off neck and shoulder pain. I did manage to see a physio that day and was advised not to do any cycling running or swimming for a couple of days. Not what you need to hear four weeks out from a physical event.

So rather gently a week later I hopped on the bike for an hour without too much pain. Just the obligatory stiff neck. Excellent, I can deal with that. Let's add in some running again which was good. It's amazing how restricted life can feel when you're not allowed to exercise for a week. And then after two weeks I thought I should do another swim just to make sure nothing was going to fail again. Phew, 2100m and no extra pain. So I was confident I had a chance of doing this. 

Now let's bring in Christmas and New Years and almost some self control when it comes to the delicacies on offer and my four weeks prior to my first 70.3 triathlon was certainly not one from the book of good. But off we go anyway. 

Drive down to Albany on the Thursday to allow a day and a half of walking and stretching and carbing up. And Friday afternoon spent going over all the kit required for the following days activity. During the mid afternoon the bike was taken down to the triathlon registration area to be submitted into the transition zone for the night.

And there were certainly some beautiful bikes there. I was one of the minority without a time trial bike and an even smaller minority without time trial bars. But I knew my bike and was comfortable with it anyway, but a little bike envy never hurt anyone. Then back home and quadruple check and then some with the kit bag for Saturday. Shoes, check, cycling gear, check, food goodies, check, everything else, check.

So early Saturday morning and it was time to get dressed and do something new. Check all the gear again, have some brekky and in to the triathlon transition area to set up my gear and try and relax. Once that was done it was time to try and wrestle on the wetsuit, listen to the briefing, put on the swimming cap and goggles and wander down to the start line on the beach. Maybe even ponder what the rest of the morning was all about.

The elite athletes, male and female, are started at 0630 with the general "athletes" starting at 0634 and the teams at 0700. I'm not sure why the elites need the headstart (well aside from not having to mingle with the generics like myself), but they get one anyway. Not that I could make them look bad even if I tried. But the siren goes, the elites run, splash and swim into the distance and then "booooop", it's our turn. Splash splash splash and swim.

Out onto the triangular swim course on a beautiful flat oceaned day. The Middleton Beach leg was a lot easier than I expected. This may have been helped by doing two laps with a quick sand dash in the middle of it. And also by swimming in salt water and having a wetsuit so I didn't have to lug my normal weight around.

Then out of the water for the second time and into the transition zone. Having not done a triathlon transition before it took a few minutes for me to emerge minus the wetsuit, but with a bike and cleats and a few edibles instead. For anyone who's watched professionals doing this, it's a thirty second thing, not my three minute thirty second thing.

Bike in hand, run along some grass, around the base of one of the pines with exposed roots for a minor challenge, then to the transition exit line where you must now board your bike. Then it's straight up and over Mount Clarence before passing around the bottom of Albany and out of town. It's a lot easier to share a joke a kilometre into the ride than it is 88km later heading back past the same place.

The cycling route follows the Lower Denmark Road west before the turnaround at the 45km mark. The ride itself is reasonably flat, but the headwind keeps the speed a little slower than wished for on the way out. The upside to this is you get a good tailwind for the second half of the ride. Thank goodness for that. Back over the hill and into the transition area to swap the cleats for runners.

Excellent, on time so far and only a half marathon to go, being two laps out to Emu Point and back. Out to Emu Point is "flat", meaning small rolling hills of half to a metre or so in height. Not so bad for the first out leg, before some flat near the turn and a return almost half way back the same route. Then a left hand bend takes the runners over a sand dune (soft running) and down to the beach for some flat forgiving running.

Then up off the beach and up the boardwalk before turning, running back past the transition area and on for lap two. This was a struggle for me. A little bit of walking, then a decreasing jogged distance between walking and a lot of verbal self encouragement and name calling to myself. More name calling to be honest. But two hours later the last step was completed and across the line with a self clap of completion.

My aim for the event was to finish in 6 hours. I was hoping for about 45 minutes swimming, 3 hours cycling and 2 hours running. With a few minutes for transitions and error margin. But according to the timer on my ankle, I swam 39:26, cycled 3:04:58, and ran 2:00:38. So the running was the only one I was honestly a little disappointed with. But when the transitions were added in I still managed a 5:51:06, so no complaints there. It was nice to achieve a time I was happy with with my prior four weeks, but I was happier to have achieved something beyond my previous experiences.

For those who want something to do, this even is brilliant. It's well run, and only having to deal with 200 individuals and another 40 teams makes it free of the clutter of Busselton and Mandurah. The winner finished in 4:01:25 and the time cutoff is 7 hours 30. But believe me, there were some who finished beyond the time in order to accomplish something for themselves. I've already booked in for the (January 10th) 2015 event.

Now to do another couple before trying the full ironman.

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