Leading into this race, everything just seemed to be clicking.. Consistently ticking off all my sessions and a great 2 week trip in Australia for a training camp – the body was feeling great. Not only the body but more importantly also the mind! After my disappointing DNS at Port Mac with food poisoning, I was super determined to kick off this new season with a bang.
Arriving in Penticton after a long travel day, my amazing homestay Kelly picked me up from the airport and helped me to settle in to the awesome little town, showing me the sights and setting me up with a great place to stay. The week before any race is such an important time and having this relaxed atmosphere was really helping me prepare the best I could. It was nice to be able to prepare all my own meals and to do exactly what I needed to be ready come race day! Another Pro athlete Elmar and his partner Jen were also staying with us, they were great to hang out with, had alot of experience racing here and were also super helpful leading into the race.
Arriving 8 days before the race allowed me to get over my jet lag and gave me enough time to have a good look over the course.. The 3.8km swim was in the crystal clear warm waters of Okanagan lake, the iconic one-loop 180km bike took you out through the scenic terrain including the vineyards, lakes and mountain passes before you ran the 42.2km one-loop marathon out and back along Skaha lake finishing straight down Main street packed with supporters.
My coach Allan Pitman had wanted me to have a really easy taper week and go in feeling ‘fresh’! Usually when you back the training right off, the body can start to feel lethargic – although this time was different. I think because my mindset was very positive going into this race I didn’t allow any negative thoughts in and just went with the flow. Allan had wanted me to be confident and focused, all his last email had said was ‘time to lay it on the line’ .
Race morning dawned and the glassy lake looked inviting.. 1hr prior to the starters gun an announcement was made that the Pro’s wouldn’t be allowed to wear wetsuits as the lake was over the 23deg cut-off. Alot of the field were freaking out as a non-wetsuit lake swim makes it alot tougher and exposes some of the weaker swimmers who gain the added buoyancy that a wetsuit provides. I wasn’t phased , but didn’t have a swimskin with me.. (in the 31 previous races here it had always been a wetsuit swim) so decided that I would tape up the rear pockets on my trisuit and that would be fine. 10 mins before the start an age-group lady overhead me talking to Elmar about the swim skin issue and offered me hers. Tried it on and felt great, and rushed down to the start for a quick warm up. The water felt surprisingly cold but that soon changed as the gun went off, and I was hanging onto the front pack of 4 guys, I had a great start and was tucked in behind a couple of ex-itu guys leading the way. At around the 1km mark I slightly lost touch with the group and couldn’t quite close the gap back down – so ended up swimming entirely solo back in to the beach – 2.5mins down on the top 4 but still 3mins ahead of the whole 2nd pack. Was a nice swim but could feel the extra energy used without the assistance of the wetsuit, I came out in 5th place in 56min. Happy with that as the swim was around 200m long, and I was well ahead of some guys who would usually be up with me.
For the first 40kms of the bike my legs just wouldn’t seem to fire, a few guys rode up and went past – I had to let them go and concentrate on my race. The course is fairly flat and fast for the first 65km and I was joined by my home-stay mate Elmar and he was riding well – we pushed on before we got into the first of many hills – Richter Pass. It was here that the group of 4 behind us bridged up , and the 6 of us would stay together until the special needs station at the 120km mark. Myself and another athlete Matt Lawrence had a small 15sec gap at this stage and this was the decisive point in the race.. I could ride with theses guys back to transition or I can ‘lay it on the line’ and aim to break away and limit the time that the top group of 6 were gaining before the run starts. Matt was keen and we paced it out for the next 10km and got out of sight. I was feeling much better and heading up Yellow lake climb Matt was dropping off. I was committed now and kept the power on for the charge back to T2. Such a fun, fast descent topping out at just over 90km/h and getting back to transition on the quest to improve on my 7th place position.
The first section of the run course is a 2km out and back along the lake side, the top 6 guys had already completed that section before I ran out of transition so I knew that I was at least 8mins down off the bike. This was confirmed as i ran by some spectators who said there was a group of 3 guys 9mins ahead and then the others were further up. Time to ‘lay it on the line’ and start chasing. The 18km of road out to the turn around had an awesome scenic view but today also had a nice strong head wind to contend with. It was a quiet empty road out there but I was getting heaps of encouragement from the spectators and a few time splits which were coming down consistently.. This kept the motivation high especially when I got to see the guys ahead and how they were looking – Jeff Symonds ran past looking strong way out in front then the other 5 guys were evenly spread, and each one behind was looking a little worse for wear, the heat and wind was taking its toll. I passed 2 guys at the turn around and moved into 5th place. More time splits came and 4th place was 6 minutes ahead, I was still feeling great and just kept the steady pace on and was easily closing the gap through the hilly section. At this stage I was already happy as a ‘top 5 ‘ finish would be my best result so far, and was content to just be careful and made sure I got to the finish.. That thought lasted for all of 20 seconds and my effort increased as I hunted down the man in 4th place.
The wind had shifted round and some how was a headwind again, in a strange way I was happy as I knew I was running stronger than the guys ahead and they would be hurting more than I was.. I moved up into 4th place at around 30kms and got another time check at 34km – still 4mins up to Andrew Russell – 8 kms and 4mins.. not very likely but still pressed on. The last long uphill section before you get back into town drags on a bit, although catching a glimpse of Andrew up in the distance helped the intense leg pain ease and I once again upped the pace. A podium finish was becoming more of a reality as I edged closer and closer and finally made the pass with under 1.5km to go. I didn’t look back and pushed hard right to the line just as it was ticking over 8hrs 50mins. A personal best and also 2nd quickest marathon of the day with a 2:57:00.
I was blown away by all the support from family and friends back home – during, and after the race. Larisa’s updates were much appreciated as the time difference in NZ wasn’t ideal ! It makes a huge difference and you can really draw on that when you approach tough times throughout the race.
The perfect trip away for me, great weather, awesome race course, got to meet so many cool people, my first podium result over the Iron-distance and received my biggest pay check so far! What a way to kick off the 2014 / 2015 Season. Exciting times ahead!
Thanks to my sponsors for all their support :
Orchard Gold Berries, Endura Sports Nutrition, Orca, Saucony, Forge Personal Training, Rocktape, Smith Optics, Timex, Compressport, Schwalbe and Ministry of Swimming