Karri Valley triathlon was on my list of races to do since last year, but for various reasons, mostly the cost of petrol, we decided not to make the trip (being a real tri newbie I didn’t worry about my fitness level then). Of all the races on the WA triathlon calendar this one appealed to me the most, as I loved the idea of the “away from it all” location, lake swim, hilly ride and a trail run. I did believe that this would be the race I would truly enjoy. The talk amongst my tri friends about it being a “festival of Pemberton.” “It being a great way to hang out together” was just adding to the excitement which was in the air around February time. A week before the race though it was clear that Sharnie, Piera and myself were taking part and whilst a lot of F4L athletes chose to race race the sprint tri in Freo instead, held on the same weekend. So it was the three of us again… less than two years since we were stressing about our first ever “pink” triathlon. Now a long course age group world championship qualifying race and the longest distance we have ever done, was something we thought we could handle. How the times have changed! Speaking for myself, I was definitely more excited than nervous about the event this time, which is not really typical for me. Two years with the F4L Triathlon Coaching Team and Coach Paul Jones, who never seems to get tired of slowly but surely ticking off each tiny aspect of turning a bunch of fitness addicts into tri”athletes”… Somehow and finally I feel that I actually know what I am doing when it comes to open water swimming, cycling, running, transitions, nutrition, pacing, tapering, motivation, recovery and … the dark art of bike maintenance. Staying at the event accommodation of beautiful Karri Valley resort has never really been an option for our family, so a spot at the Pemberton caravan park has been booked since January (unfortunately no dogs are allowed there). Camping is something we have been doing for the past twenty years and we are far off from roughing it in the bushes. We are well set up with our trailer tent and to be completely honest I do prefer it to any hotel I have ever stayed in. Camping, especially with friends, is ideal for the kids who are free to roam around leaving us adults in peace for quite a while each time. Both Sharnie and Piera’s families are very comfortable and happy campers with “racing out of a tent” well trialed and lessons learned over the past sixteen months. In the “morning before”, still at home, I was feeling really chilled out and happy about the race ahead and even had some surprising bursts of some sort weird “nesting” instinct which expressed itself in a strong need to bake something just before getting into the car to go (???!!!!). So five hours later than planned and as the sun was about to hit the horizon, we arrived at the Karri Valley resort just in time to pick up my race pack and the object of desire – a race T-shirt! Lake Beedelub with its mercury-like still dark water and surrounding ancient forest literally took my breath away. So beautiful … just as I thought it would be! I was especially interested to see the famous “killer” hill everyone has talked about. Contrary to my fears, “the hill” didn’t start in the transition area and there was good two hundred metres before the road started to roll gently up (nothing out of ordinary for us Perth Hills people). So all good for leaving my shoes clipped onto the bike. Too late for compulsory race prep, but at least I got to drive parts of the bike course. The race day morning came soon enough. We park the car in the field complete with kangaroos and make our way into the transition area. Everyone is welcome there and my family joins me as I search for a memorable spot to hang my bike. Men and women competitors are bunched together on two transition racks and no specific spaces are allocated for anyone. In other words, it’s a “no sticker” event. What’s more ... transition area doesn’t have closing time either. The thought of keeping my drink bottles in a cool box until just before the start of the race comes to mind. If only I had a cool box with me! We spotted Ben and Brenda whom we haven't seen for quite a while and also swim with the F4L Triathlon Coaching Squad. They are both looking well and fit and we chat about life and training and eventually five of us plus our families take a 600 m stroll to the lake where the race is due to start. This is definitely the longest transition from swim to bike I have ever done, with at least 300m being uphill. We watch the short course competitors racing off and gawk at Michelle Duffield, who is giving a pre-race interview. This is the first time I get to see a local triathlon legend that close! Compulsory pre-race team photo and before you know it’s time to line up for the start. I wave to the kids and get a wave back from my daughter who doesn’t raise her head from the book. Women competitors and teams will start together five minutes after the men’s wave. I make my way to the front of the line, feeling only a little bit self-conscious. The siren goes and the last thing I see as I dive under is a line of ladies just BEHIND me. Yippee!! Here we go... “Don’t burn off on the swim, Don’t burn off on the swim”, I keep saying to myself, but swimming feels really good at the moment so I keep going, settling into a tempo pace. Two laps are done and I am second out of the water in my age group (26.12). Running up the hill, I get stuck in the arm of my wet suit and then get stuck in the legs too. Finally on the bike and after pre-meditated roll over the first of the three road bumps and watching a few drink bottles go flying (luckily not mine), I put my shoes on and focus on the 4,5 km worth of climbing, as promised in the race guide. The rest of the bike is a blur of going up and down hills, stuffing my face with gels and cereal bars, overtaking people going uphill, being overtaken on my way down, friendly banter between competitors, sticky hands and bento box full of paper wrappers. Working on my “race face” and trying to get one good photo this season is amongst my goals, so I force a smile at each camera I see at this point. Having taken my shoes off too early as I roll down the final straight of the bike course, I attempt to smile and wave at Piera’s husband Tom and the kids. This really backfires and I lose control of the pedals and send my shoes flying around in circles threatening to trip me and my bike over just before the transition to the run. I finish 5th in my age (2:03:52) group. As usual I lose a few places on the bike, but all the training in the hills has paid back and I haven’t dropped too far down. Leaving T2, I see Mark, who anxiously offers me his baseball cap... “No thanks! Do I really look that bad? And how did he get in front of me, surely I have just gone passed him on the bike?” The run begins with yet another hill, but due to an old hip injury that has flared up again recently, I allow myself to shuffle for the first two km. Unfortunately the third kilometre begins with a hill too and for some reason I am not feeling the joy or energy to run fast up it… even the gorgeous primeval landscape of trees above isn’t working its magic on my performance or motivation at this stage. “Why is it so hard???? “ Two 4km laps of the run are really just about survival. Taking good photos doesn’t matter anymore and I just try to avoid any eye contact and wish my face was covered so nobody knew who I was. Shuffle, shuffle along. I see Sharnie on the run and give a feeble cheer. She is looking really strong. “Why is it so hard? “ They are giving Gatorade at aid stations, but I only take water as I haven’t tried Gatorade before and don’t want to end up having to hide in the bushes along the running course. Up and up the hills I go, past the lake and across the bridge, up a broken path and around a corner, down a bit and up some more. “Stuff it! What’s the worst that can happen?” I can’t go any slower anyway. Gatorade it is. The effect is almost immediate. The dark cloud is lifting from my brain and I begin to pick up my pace (or so it seems). The last lap. I pass Piera who has comfortably made the bike cut off time (she was a worried about it before the race… unnecessarily for sure). We cheer each other up, discussing which one of us is doing great and how many laps we have got left. Piera’s goal is to finish in under five hours and she is looking strong and determined. Go girl! Last corner for me... two ladies, the race officials, are really excited to see me back so soon. I think they were truly worried. I smile and wave even though they are not taking any photos. The last hill. I am putting on a bit of a “sprint” down the meadow to the finish line to the general excitement from the support team. “Who am I kidding? These people were watching me suffer for the past one hour and eight minutes and heard me begging them to avoid any photographic evidence of it”. Piera’s husband Tom is obviously immune to my whining and does the right thing of taking that “over the finish line” photo. (3:42:49 and 4th in my age group) Someone takes my timing chip off and kids are there with recovery shakes, water, chocolate brownies, sausage rolls, watermelon, bananas, hugs and kisses. Ben has already finished and recovered, Brenda strolls in shortly after fresh and smiling, saying how much she has enjoyed the race. I see Tom Gater running away with his camera and as I glance across the field, sure enough I see his wife, Sharnie. The support crew, a member of which I have now become are screaming like crazy as Sharnie crosses the finish line, smiling (4:19:23 and 8th in her age group). She has absolutely smashed it! We see Piera running up the “end of the lap” hill and having checked the time, I sprint over to tell her that she has got at least 35 min to finish the last lap to achieve her target time. “It is three o’clock and this is our last competitor”, we hear the race commentator. “Surely not!!!” 3:30 cut off time is stated in all the race documentation. This decision would mean a DNF for Piera and would rob her (and a few others) of their race finish time! We descend onto the organisers, shaking race guide papers. It does turn out to be a genuine mistake and the apologies are given, message sent to the marshals and the race is back on. Kids disappear somewhere. Tom Otness is the most stressed man on course! “Come on Piera!!!!” And finally we see her, rolling down the green meadow with all six kids running with her, stretched out in a long line. The hills are truly alive with the sound of music! Piera is over the finish line in 4:58.53. Her goal achieved and the race well done! The day is over and we celebrate in a local pub. The T-shirts look awesome and I think it is decided that we are definitely coming back next year. By Svetlana Elliott.
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