Following the IMWA, I had no plans to race again and similar interest in any structured training. I kept running and cycling to prevent substantial weight gains and to preserve any eligibility I might’ve had to be selected for the next series of The Bachelor. I swam once a week as somewhat of a contingency plan. In the real world, my workload was skyrocketing as corporate reorganisations required me to have immediate fluency in my new role, something my damaged brain was struggling to process. At this point, I would like to thank Panadol, without who’s constant support, none of this would have been possible. Eventually I was caught in the economic firing line and was offered a redundancy. This served as a defibrillation to bring the triathlete back to life. That same day I booked a trip to New Zealand and signed on for both the Challenge and Ironman full distance races as well as a Sufferfest race in Albany 1 week prior to my trip. One thing I felt I needed and wanted to do differently is race more. I have found it really frustrating to do great things in training and not produce the same efforts when it matters on that one day you pin a number on. I also believe nerves and anxiety leading into races were building and probably compounded by a difficult transition into the professional ranks. At the end of the day this was starting to demotivate me when it came to training. This was my solution.
Before beginning my preparations for Sufferfest Albany, I decided to make the most of my corporate health insurance while I still had it. This involved a trip to the dentist that I thought might entail a clean and scale but was lucky enough to need a bonus wisdom teeth extraction too. The extraction was to take place one week prior to the race. Losing all of my wisdom teeth in race week helped alleviate any pre-race nerves... I was now 60 grams better off . To those considering training or racing through a wisdom tooth extraction, I’d suggest you read up on a fairly unpleasant condition known as “dry socket”, it might make you reconsider. I was forced to choose my A-team for the weekend’s race. This meant I had to farewell my star player, codeine, and bring Panadol off the bench once again.
Race conditions were pretty rough but at least cool. I hadn’t the time to reccy the run course but figured it didn’t matter. With only 5 guys on the open start line, I quickly realised that this may be the first training session I could get paid for. Simon Billeau and I got off the front pretty quick….in the swim. He had a little gap on me going onto the bike which, I managed to close by the first turn-around. I let Simon do a fair share (all) the work for the next 40km before I became impatient and worked my way off the front. I had a 2 minute lead into T2 and onto an unknown run course. What I discovered after the first of four laps was that I would have probably been better off in crampons rather than the Brooks PureCadence I opted for. There was not one flat section on the entire run course and it was absolutely brutal. Nevertheless, I was able to extend my lead during the half marathon and not withdraw too much from the New Zealand account in the final laps. It felt good to hold the tape over my head at Sufferfest Albany.
Five days later I was on plane bound for Queenstown, New Zealand for my second go at Challenge Wanaka. This time, I knew what to expect, I had a strategy, I had better equipment. Conditions on race day were perfect, albeit a little fresh in the morning. I quickly managed to get dropped from both the male and female pro’s in the water. Although perplexed, I wasn’t too distressed with the situation as exiting the year before with the main group did me no favours. I exited the water in 12th (aka last male pro) with my slowest ever full distance swim. With over 11 minutes to the lead group I had a bit of work to do, but first, I needed to catch and dispatched the 3 pro women that had passed me in the swim (one of which was the pro who had out-biked me in the 2016 edition). I had worked pretty hard over the first 30 km and regained the lead female position. My power was higher than I had planned but I felt I needed to make amends for my poor swim. By the end of the first lap I could see that I wasn’t losing time to the front group and gaining significant time on everyone else. More importantly I was also putting time into the females. I wasn’t quite able to catch my Kiwi friend Simon Cochrane on the bike though I could see him entering T2 from afar. As I made haste toward the run exit, Simon peeled in on my right and once again we were running a marathon together. I was immediately concerned as Simon pulled away quickly and I was left to ponder whether I had indeed biked too hard. This time however I fully expected I had, I had biked 30 minutes quicker than the year before with my highest ever Ironman power. To put it into context for those power nerds out there, I rode the same power in Wanaka as I had ridden for the majority of the Sufferfest Albany bike which was obviously half the distance. Whilst I was in deep conversation with myself I couldn’t help but notice my average pace was plummeting and suddenly Simon (who had run a minute and change up the road) began to come back into sight at km 8. It almost felt effortless. As I pulled onto Simon’s shoulder, the course narrowed, so after a brief chat and a photo, I decided to lead.
His footsteps gradually became fainter and I managed to carve out a lead of around 2 minutes by 20km. The run now however was no longer feeling effortless. The effort needed to summit the 1km hill as well as the technical nature of the run course began to take their toll. By 30km I was cramping in both hamstrings but still figured I had enough time to stop, take salt and have a stretch. Two kilometres later I ran through an aid station, where an American woman squirted me with a hose and yelled “C’mon Allister, you got this”. I felt she was untrustworthy, especially considering just 10 seconds later I heard her call out “C’mon Simon, you got this!”. As I turned to head up Wanaka’s equivalent of Mt. Ventoux, I looked over my shoulder to see Simon was only 15m behind me. I fully conceded he was going to make the pass but as I crested the top, he was still 15m back. After a few minutes I turned again to see that the gap was now maybe 30m. With 9km to go, I no longer had the cushy gap back to Simon, nor did I have the relief of being passed and having a new cushy gap to the person behind him to think about. For those who haven’t experienced it, an Ironman marathon is pretty painful, an Ironman marathon chasing is a little more painful and an Ironman marathon being chased is the WORST. Luckily for me, I was able to eke out a little more breathing space and avoid a sprint finish. I was proud of my 4th place finish at Challenge Wanaka and really wanted to build on this result in Taupo for Ironman New Zealand 13 days later.
The body seemed to be recovering really well after Wanaka and I had next to no residual soreness 5 days post-race. I did however note that some of my dizziness had returned and there were few odd things going on with my body. General breathlessness and 4kg of weight gain being the most notable of these. I was woken at 2am race morning by the sound of wind gusting through my open windows. The curtains were near horizontal. My initial thoughts were “the bike…great!”, quickly followed by “the swim….oh no”. I was a little anxious about big groups working together on the bike but I was probably more concerned that I might swim slower than I did in Wanaka. Lake Taupo looked more like an ocean but despite this, I had a cruisy and even enjoyable swim and whilst the swim time was only a minute quicker than Wanaka my gap to the main group was 5 and half minutes as opposed to the 11 minutes it was in Wanaka. I was in a good spot. I came out of the swim with one another and whilst he stayed with me for a while on the hills out of town he was nowhere to be seen once we hit the flats. Solo again. We had a strong tailwind out of town and my average speed at the far turnaround was 48km/h and I was still below race power. Into the headwind coming back to town, my power came close to what I was able to hold in Wanaka and I was feeling pretty comfortable. Fast forward 20km and all of a sudden, the power started to dip and nothing I did seemed to remedy the situation. It was as if I was throwing punches underwater. I still had 100km to ride with a significant proportion of that either up hills or into a stiff Taupo headwind. The tailwind safely delivered my carcass back to the far turn-around one more time and I was left to find my own way back into town. Despite shovelling in most of my race nutrition prematurely and stopping a twice to pick up full, unpeeled bananas at aid stations (aid stations that don’t pre-peel or chop bananas should be outlawed) I had nothing left to give.
After what felt like a 15 hour journey back to town, I managed to get off my bike in T2. The plan (which I had plenty of time to think about during the latter stages of the bike) was to run for 4km to see if the legs would come good or until I dropped out of the top 10 (the money). As I ran out of T2 the commentator announced I was in 12th….”sh*t!”. I ran for 5 km where I found a red bull station as well as an assortment of back, hamstring and stomach cramps. After sampling some of their wares, I discovered that there were no wings to be had on this day and began to embark on my 5km cool-down walk back to transition. Before I could calculate just how long this was going to take me, a gentleman at the aid station asked if I would like a lift back to transition. There was to be some light in a dark hour.
It’s no fun not finishing a race, it’s also not fun going through agony without any learnings or positive takeaways. I have another race scheduled just 2 weeks on from Taupo that would be significantly compromised with an additional marathon especially considering my current state of fatigue even without it. Do I regret abandoning Ironman New Zealand…no, have I stopped agonising over it since…no. It’s something I don’t fully think most can appreciate until you’ve tried racing for keeps in this sport. Professionally speaking, this sport really isn’t as glamorous as some may think, particularly for the developing professional like myself.
I’m writing this blog at an altitude of 11,583m as I call curtains on my New Zealand trip. I’m looking forward to returning to Perth but more importantly, I’m looking forward to training and racing again. I have a renewed sense of passion for a sport I had all but given up on. I feel I’ve still only scratched the surface in this sport…and I’m itchy as hell.
Thanks for reading.
#Prolyf really isn’t as glamorous as some may think, especially for the developing professional like myself. For the developing pro, both prize money as well as the lucrative sponsorships are not so easy to come by. Personally, it’s the search for progress that I strive for in this sport. I think a perfect race does exist, but only for a moment in time. The following weeks, months and years will bring a different definition of perfection and so the journey continues. I’m sure by now, you’ve come to see that this journey has been somewhat of a rollercoaster thus far and for those of you in the sport, I’d like to share with you the one piece of wisdom that has helped me see beyond the roadblocks and setbacks I’ve experience during my limited time in triathlon. 5 years! 5 years is what this popular WA female professional told me it would take to iron (man) out the kinks and really start making professional progress in triathlon. This term is what I consider to be an apprenticeship and I now fully appreciate that this cannot be fast-tracked…at least in my case. This 5 years is probably the equivalent of the “thousand hours to perfect something”rule, though I’m still trying to figure out whether it’s a thousand hours for each discipline or for triathlon as whole. I hope the latter!
With that I’d like to leave you with a quote to live by:
“It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen!” – Pantene, 1993