Hervey Bay 100 Race Report

It was great to finish, but…

Hervey Bay is a beautiful place. It’s a few days after the race and we are still here – relaxing by the pool, strolling along the beach, playing at the free water-park, coffees overlooking the bay. If the Sunshine Coast is like the Gold Coast before it boomed, then Hervey Bay is like the Sunshine Coast before it boomed. It’s a small town full of friendly, relaxed folk. They’ve got something special here – and now they can add the Hervey Bay 100 to it.

The two little ones enjoying the Hervey Bay mud flats at low tide
The two little ones enjoying the Hervey Bay mud flats at low tide

It’s a spectacularly scenic course: swim in the bay, bike along the waterfront and over the northern headland, and then run along the foreshore footpath under the dappled shade of enormous trees. But although it’s pretty, it’s not to be underestimated. The shallow bay chops up wickedly with a decent easterly. The bike course is hot and exposed to the coastal breezes, with a brain-rattling section near the turnaround and then a nasty little pitch back up onto the headland. And the run, in the heat of the midday sun, is stifling.

I came into this race under a cloud. An injury that had been merely a niggle months ago, had developed into a painful and unpredictable problem. As a consequence, training volume was lighter than I’d wanted and most of the key race-specific buildups sessions had been missed or reduced. But I had a great base of fitness – similar to the fitness I took into Ironman NZ – and I’d had a good hit out the week before at the Robina super-sprint tri where the injury didn’t affect me. This was a B race and I had no expectations. I was curious to see how I’d perform and what my body, and mind, would allow.

Although only a small race with less than 300 competitors, the turnout of spectators, in particular from the Redcliffe Tri Club, made for a carnival-like atmosphere on the day. Brother-in-law Mike and I were sent on our way with pompoms and coloured hair thanks to Charlotte (his better half) and their kids. But the party mood quickly sobered as we stood on the shore and tried to figure out the swim route. The wind was up and the water turbulent, and the first leg of the 1km triangle (to be repeated twice) was a long haul directly into the sun, wind, and chop. With only three waves (under 40, over 40, girls/teams) there was no time to waste. I squeezed into my stylish “Pea Brain” swim cap, had a quick splash and then we were off.

Screen Shot 2012-12-10 at 9.19.40 PM.png

Pea Brain – Gotta love a race that gives you a “Pea Brain” swim cap!

2km swim leg

I’m pretty sure everyone hated this swim. It was an absolute bitch! Within 100m, people were standing in the chest deep water, spitting out lungfuls of seawater and trying to get their bearings. I’d positioned too far back and was having to swim around a mixture of standing people and breast-strokers, whilst getting hammered by a sharp, choppy swell (which would be well familiar to anyone who’s swum to the far wall at Lake Hugh Muntz on a windy day). My swim fitness was OK and I avoided most of the brine by breathing to the opposite side. A hard effort was required to make good headway to the first buoy but I was content to go easy and not overcook myself at the start of a long day. I found myself wondering how many people would just give the whole race away right there. If the entree was this bad, how good would the main be?

Swimming - head down!

I had a comfortable, if unpleasant, first 1500m but then swallowed a couple of bewdy mouthfuls which I had to spew back out. I didn’t want any seawater in my stomach to cause problems with my gels later on. As I charged up the beach into transition I gave the crowd a happy wave – I thought I’d done pretty well in the conditions and I never check my watch. “You’d better hurry up! Mike’s got 3 minutes on you” comes Charlotte’s call. This only serves to slow me down and I do a few unnecessary stretches to entertain the kids. There’s a long day ahead and racing now would lead to a lot of suffering later. Transition is so compact that I’m still out on the bike in a couple of minutes. Time to execute part (ii) of the race plan – a steady bike!

Swim done in 44:08 – 41st in age group – A shocker as it turned out!

Swimming - sighting
Awesome, FREE in-water swim photos. Did I say how good this event was?

80km bike leg

The plan for the bike was simple: hold 210W for 80km. I’d tried 220W in training and it felt a bit tough. So 210W was untested but a reasonable guess. Keeping the heart rate around 80% (and below 83%) was my backup measure – I’d used that in the Gold Coast Half Ironman 3 years earlier. But in training, prolonged periods in the aerobars had really aggravated my glute/hammie/sciatic/mystery injury, so the whole thing was up in the air.

The course is four 20km loops – 10km out over the headland and down to Gatakers Bay, and then back again. I quickly lock onto 210W and have reeled Mike in before the top of the hill – much sooner than I expected so a pleasant surprise.

I see the bold colours of Surfers Paradise Triathlon Club coming back down the hill towards me. It’s Joey. He and Katie are the only other SPTC members doing the race, and they’re both in club colours which I avoided because my club trisuit has no pockets. He’s had a good swim and is well ahead of me – about 15 mins by my dodgy calculations (it turns out it was only about 5 mins!). As the ride progresses, we continue to pass each other in roughly the same spots – riding very similarly paced rides. It’s all I can do not to unleash and try to chase him down like we do to each other in training!

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The SPTC crew at Hervey Bay

The drafting rule is 12m between bikes and I see no drafting all day, which is bloody fantastic! Before long I’m surrounded by three guys who are riding at a similar pace to me. I’m pushing past them on the flats and downhills but they are charging past me up the hills as I ease off to my 210W target. I find this both mildly amusing and annoying because uphills are my strength and normally I’d be dropping bigger guys like these on hills – not the other way around. Stupid triathlon with it’s flat time-trialling!

Halfway through the third lap the injury flares – and the game changes. It hurts to push 210W and subconsciously my power drops to reduce the pain levels. Then there are a couple of spasms and pain spikes. Is a cramp coming? Am I sawing through the sciatic nerve? Luckily the hill arrives and I can do an out of saddle effort. The pain goes away and I can lock 210W back in. But before long it returns and I have to ease off. This is how the rest of the ride continues. On the last pinch up Gatakers I finally unleash and hammer it – out of sheer frustration – my biggest power spike of the day. But my ride buddies are well up the road by now and only the spectators can reward me with a “You did it easy #27!” as I go by. I push hard all of the way back to transition – not the ideal race strategy when I should be saving my legs, but one that seems to stop the pain. For some reason it hurts less when I go hard!?!

I pull into transition disappointed. Unsure what’s in store, I grab two panadol along with a gel. Will it be a run or a walk?

Bike done in 2:28:20 (2:24:38 excluding transitions) – 30th in age group – 211W, HR 80% and 92 cadence. Average speed 33.6 kph. 148 TSS. Decoupled 6% (ok-ish) – C’est la vie!

Biking

18km run leg

Onto the run and I have no pain from the get go, but my legs are pretty heavy. The first km of the run feels lovely with a fresh breeze blowing off the beach under the trees. I see Joey coming my way, making him about 3km ahead of me by my still dodgy calculations. I quickly realise that taking my expected 30sec per km out of him means I won’t catch him today. He’s having a great race and I’m happy for him.

Within a kilometre my legs start to lighten up and my pace increases to the 4:30-4:45 min/km target I’d set for the first 6km loop. There’s a bit of confusion at the aid stations with coke, ice, water and electrolyte all being offered at once by many helpful volunteers, but I slow down to ensure I get what I need because the heat is really starting to build. Ice down the front and back of the trisuit was awesome, but under the hat was a bad idea – BRAIN FREEZE!

Just before the end of the first lap, the lead male (Brian Mcleod) comes past me – not moving much quicker – but on his final lap and on his way to a new race record. A little demoralising knowing I’ve still got an hour left to run! Then the first lap is over and it’s time to up the pace to 4:20-4:30min/km. It feels good, and right on queue I hook up with another runner on his first lap who’s running 4:20s. For 2km we stride along together, weaving our way through the field. I’m a little surprised I haven’t seen Joey coming the other way yet and then I spot him up ahead, still going in my direction, hobbling and stretching. “Cramp” he cries. I yell out an offer of salt as I pass, and then wonder if that’d be considered “outside assistance” and mean disqualification. I better get that rule clarified!

I stop for fluids at the 8km turnaround and am busy stuffing ice down my shirt and electrolytes in my mouth, when I hear one of the volunteers say “Someone’s missed the turnaround and run off the course!”. I look up to see my 4:20min/km companion disappearing down the path as the volunteers shrug their shoulders and resume their ice shovelling and cup passing. The poor bugger. I see him again much later in the run and yell my condolences – he’s still several km behind me even after I’ve blown to smithereens.

run-gel.png

Suddenly, with Joey no longer in front of me, and my 4:20min/km leadout man gone, I find it hard to hold my pace. I manage a 4:25, then a 4:45. Oddly, my head is starting to feel cold and tingle and my right hammie is threatening to cramp. I’m thinking dehydration so I take a very long aid station, hitting water, ice and electrolytes. Then I realise, 11.5km into the race, that I haven’t taken the gel I planned to take at 6km. Whoops! I stuff it down but I’m nowhere near an aid station so can’t wash it down for a few minutes.

But it’s all coming unravelled. My shoes are suddenly heavy and sloshing with water at every step. I’m fighting to get my pace close to 5 min/km and slowly people I’ve passed start to pass me back. The HORROR! I’m in new territory.

It feels like a mental game now. What can I do to coax some pace out of my body? I pick a lady who’s passed me and try to keep her in my sights. No good. I try my first ever on-course coke. Too bloody fizzy – and still no good! I try to concentrate on form – fast turnover, light feet. No good. Any pace increases are quickly lost and I’m resigned to struggling home and just finishing this damned race!

I put on a brave face for my wife and kids as I head through transition for the last time with just one km to go. Another runner approaches from behind breathing hard. He’s no doubt also on his final lap and picking off a few places. I’m determined not to make it easy for him and push myself up to 4:30min/km pace. He sits in behind and follows me. I imagine he’s waiting for the final 100m where he’ll surge past my slumbering form, and I’m annoyed at my inability to pickup the pace and drop him. Running away from someone is so much harder than chasing someone! I’m in a pretty negative headspace.

I pass Mike coming the other way – just before the 500m to go turnaround – and wonder if I’ll be able to lap him before I finish. Then I hear the guy behind me urge on a mate who’s going the other way “You’ve done the hard work, now claim your prize!” or something equally absurd. For some reason, the combination of that comment, and the fact that he seems to have dropped a few metres behind me, transform me from the mouse into the cat. I fly around the turnaround and close the race in a ridiculous 4:10min/km. Past the mate. And another place. And another. But I don’t quite manage to catch Mike as I fly down the finish chute – it turns out he’d put on a surge himself in a bid to stop me lapping him 🙂

Finished and fried. And relieved. And alive. And happy. And then, much later, frustrated.

Run done in 1:26:07 – 13th in age group – Average pace 4:44 min/km. HR 88% and 86 cadence (low due to walking aid stations). 111 TSS. Decoupled 10% (ouch!!) – My first run #fail

Overall: 4:38:36 – 22nd in age group – 65th overall

finishing.png

Post-race analysis/Navel-gazing

I’m still not sure why I’m disappointed in this result. I broke 5 hours, which was a goal. I beat the people I expected to beat. I’d survived a race where I’d started falling apart. Maybe I’d hoped to place higher in my age group in such a small field? But that’s entirely dependent on who turns up. My age group was big: 76 of the 263 competitors who raced were in my age group. I was 22nd. To get a top 10 I needed to do 4:23 – 15 mins faster. Doable, but not with the fitness I took into the race. I’m probably disappointed because I’d restrained myself on the bike and yet I still suffered in the run – which is usually my strong suit.

My initial reaction was to blame the injury for my less than satisfying performance. But having thought about it some more, the injury played a part, but this race was actually a true reflection of my current fitness.

The hard swim exposed my weak swim – the injury played no part in this performance. Last weekend I lost 2 mins to the leaders with a 7 min swim. This week I lost 13 mins with a 44 min swim. If I want to be in the race, I need to start taking swim training seriously! I need to get my pool times of 1:45/100m down to 1:25/100m or below.

The injury certainly affected my performance in the last half of the bike, but I think lack of fitness – race specific fitness – was as least as much to blame. I just wasn’t well prepared for a 2hr+ effort at a constant hard pace on the bike. My injury gave my tired legs an excuse, which they took too readily. This is backed up by the power file which shows my power and heart rate only decoupled 1% in the first 60km, but had decoupled 6% by the end of the 80km ride. I wasn’t fit enough for that last 20km. In my buildup I should have done a hard 80km session (and even more) so my body would know what to expect, and my mind would know how to deal with my body when it started to falter. Admittedly the injury stymied my attempts to do any long TT sessions in the month leading into the race, so my ride preparation was underdone because of the injury.

The poor run was a result of an overly ambitious race plan – I wasn’t prepared for a fast 18km run in the heat, off a hard bike. My run form had tanked after the Gold Coast Half Marathon in July – partly due to me putting running on hold while I rebuilt my bike, and partly because of the month completely off running due to Plantar Fasciitis. I’d put together a reasonable 6 weeks prior to the race (with my CTL peaking at 26 compared to 36 for the GCHM) but it wasn’t enough for the raceplan I tried to execute. It needed another month of running. I had ignored my failed final hit-out run to my peril!

I started listing my lessons learned for this result – a lot of the usual stuff…

  • Set realistic goals based on current form, not past form!
  • My swim is crap.
  • Do some long, hard race-length rides in the buildup.
  • Prepare for the heat with some long runs during the day.
  • Keep my head in the game.

But after leaving this writeup to stew for a week, I think the key point I’m going to takeaway from this race is: if you want to take your result seriously, then you have to train seriously! As they say: “Failing to plan is planning to fail”.

Time to let it go!

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