The rain crashes down around the car, streaming over the glass as the windows fog up. “I guess we’d better head over to transition…” says Mike. Neither of us are keen. It’s 10 degrees colder than yesterday and we don’t have any wet weather gear – not even an umbrella. The usually full Byron Bay carpark is half empty – clearly some sensible people checked the weather forecast before deciding to head down to the race. We banter half-heartedly about finding a warm cafe and sitting around a hot coffee for a few hours, but we both know we’re still going to race. Besides, the nearest toilets are down by the race precinct, and we are absolutely busting!
I guess I was overdue for some shitty race conditions, but living in South-East Queensland you rarely get more than a few showers, and it’s never cold. My only tempestuous race to date was Ironman NZ 2011 – in the cold and constant driving rain, I’d performed better than I’d ever imagined, including a really strong run. Cold? Wet? Me like!
Byron Bay Triathlon is one of my favourite races. I’ve done it 4 of the last 5 years, only missing one year when it sold out early. As well as a great location and atmosphere, they always deliver great goodies in the race bag, and this year was no exception with a running cap and a 2XU running singlet. That’s right, none of those skimpy, midriff-baring tri tops at this race!
We registered and racked our bikes, then found a leaky tent to huddle under. The rain was unrelenting and the running track in front of us was inches deep with water. Clearly it was going to be a soggy-shoe day so I made a last minute decision to wear socks on the run.
In fact, I’d already made some other late gear decisions. This was to be my last race for a while. Typically you need to enter the big Olympic-distance races 10 months out to guarantee a spot, but I wasn’t enjoying that workflow so I’d stopped entering. Triathlons had been slowly losing their lustre and I had no races on the horizon. Which meant it was time to pull out all of those dubious triathlon purchases and put them to use!
First up was the aero wheel covers. I got these when I bought my Powertap power meter, 3 years ago. I’d only ridden them once, in the DNFed Port of Tauranga Half Ironman. They are a thin sheet of plastic that cover your spokes, supposedly giving you free speed! My bike times have never been good enough that a minute mattered to me, but today I was committed to going full-tri-geek!
And of course, the sperm hat. Yes, this never-before worn gem has languished in my closet since 2009 when I picked it up from Torpedo7 for a song. In fact, it had been in the closet so long, that when I tried it on, I found that the earflaps had sagged in, turning it into a skull-crushing vice! I squeezed as many books as I could between the earflaps and left it overnight, but come race morning I had to abandon this baby, as it was still a guaranteed headache.
The Swim – 32:04
Byron Bay is an open-water 1500m swim. Conditions appeared reasonably flat with a decent shore-break to get through. I always think it looks flat when it isn’t, and this time was no exception. The 600m out to the first turn buoy was a right battle – swimming up the face of the swell and then plunging off the top with your arm flailing out in front of you, trying to grasp some water. I’d decided to go very easy, due to minimal swim training before the race (just 3 swims). This served me well as it meant I wasn’t short of breath, and had plenty of energy left to surge around the breast-strokers and lost souls, zig-zagging across the course.
I was wearing new goggles and was sighting the buoys well. The goggles were so clear, that for the first time since I’ve raced here, I could see the rocky ocean floor beneath us. I saw schools of fish and even a turtle. I felt like stopping and calling people over to see! Then I started to wonder what was scaring the fish. Then I decided to stop looking so closely!
When I rounded the second buoy and turned for home, the fast swimmers from the next wave start started coming through. Several times I upped my effort and tried to catch a draft, but they were just too quick. A 32 swim saw me in before Mike (he’s beaten me everywhere, except Byron) and right in the middle of my age group. Yet another average swim, but great to know I can do it off minimal training!
The Bike – 57:38 (1:01:32 including transitions)
Onto the bike and time to see how fast these aero disc wheels could go. Well, to be honest, this isn’t a quick bike ride. It’s a lumpy, undulating route, and the road surface varies from OK to terrible. When you add the surface water into the mix – it’s just plain slow. I rode 10 seconds quicker than last year, but I put out 15 more watts (a 6% increase). In fact, the 257W normalised power (249W average power) is the highest I’ve put out in any race since I’ve had my power meter, so that’s pretty cool. I don’t think the aero wheels gave me much of a physical advantage, but psychologically then made me try to go faster.
It was a funny old ride. I seemed to surge and settle. At times I felt strong and fresh, and would hold a steady 270W power for minutes at a time. Then I’d lose concentration, or tighten up, and notice the power had dropped down again. Rhythm was broken by the constant hills, and I used these to go out of the saddle to avoid my hammie/glute pain firing up. As I jumped out of the saddle, I couldn’t help thinking that the triathletes around me, locked on their aero bars, were frowning as I broke the “rules” of staying aero. But I knew it worked for me, and my tasty run split to come only proved my point.
At about 10km from home, when I was going through a strong period and sitting on about 42kph, Robbie McEwen came flying past me. It’s not often you see a Tour de France legend in a race – he was doing the cycle leg for a relay team. I decided to have a crack at staying with him. Before I know it I’m hitting close to 50kph and flying past other riders. I’m briefly able to maintain a steady 40m behind Robbie but my heart rate is anything but steady! Goodbye Robbie!
The Run – 37:54
This is my fourth race here and I know the run measures short – about 9.5km according to my Garmin files. Going sub 40mins in an Olympic triathlon run (10km) has been one of my goals for years. I’ve had a string of 41’s and 42’s with my quickest being the 40:58 I did at Byron Bay last year. Even though it’s short, I’ve never been able to crack the sub-40. Consistently I start my run too slow, with a 4:15 to 4:30 kilometre, leaving myself too much time to make up. This year my race plan was a little more aggressive:
- Go out hard first 1km. (3:55s). You'll come right! - Steady for next 6km (2-7k) (3:55s). - 7km+ see what’s left!
As soon as I got off the bike and started running, I was reminded why I always do the first km slowly: it takes an impossibly hard effort to run fast when you’re tight and tired from the bike! I quickly revised my plan. Instead, I would go as hard as I could without pushing to 100%; and I wouldn’t check my pace until my watch beeped the pace splits every kilometre. Even this revised effort felt hard, and unsustainable – but then it always does!
But I was pleased to see the first km tick over in 4:02, then 4:05, 3:56 and 3:56. I was on track. By the start of the third lap of four, a 4:11 revealed I was losing my focus. Then someone eased past me, so I sat in behind him. He tried to drop me, and then we put a few surges into each other. All good fun and that lap flew by with a 3:57 and 3:59.
Unfortunately he finished, but there’s no shortage of motivation to finish the final lap hard, and it was time to see what that 100% effort would yield. With a 3:58, a 3:59 and the last 500m at 3:45 pace, I was over the line with a 37:54 run split! Yowser!! Even if the run course had been a true 10km, I was on track for about 39:50. Happy days.
So another Byron Bay done, another steady performance, and no more triathlons on the horizon. I must admit this race has re-inspired me, but I realise that I need to do some serious swim training if I want to improve in my age group. I just can’t afford to be giving away 10 minutes in every swim. So for now it’s time for some off-road fun, with some trail-running and a bit of mountain-biking. I’ll let the swim-focus idea simmer away for a few months…