A man’s dignity was at stake!

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10960023_10152793587363347_4656920350217895045_oIronman Busselton 70.3 - Travis Bentley Prologue In the last 18 months I have gone from being a person who likes doing triathlons to being a triathlete. It’s not something that I’m necessarily proud of, it kind of just crept up on me. I watch what I eat, I will opt for an early night over a night out with the boys and undoubtedly worst of all I am prone to write long, quite possibly boring and definitely self-indulgent race reports. If this hasn’t scared you off then grab a coffee and a couple of biscuits before you start (unless you are reading this on the toilet, because you shouldn’t eat where you...you know.) Triathlon – it’s really not a spectator sport… The Lead-In After Ironman WA in December and twelve months of solid, (mostly) consistent training I have to admit on reflection that I was perhaps starting to get a little burnt out. While a 74 minute PB had the mind brimming with confidence and enthusiasm for a couple of weeks it was definitely on the wane by the time my coach enforced three week layoff was over. When a month back into training it hadn’t returned I began questioning myself, my coach and every other possible reason I could find. In retrospect I now acknowledge that even though I had physically rested after the Ironman, this coincided with a lot of other life stressors which just happened to crop up so that I had never really received the break that my mind was craving. In all honesty it wasn’t until I returned from a week long holiday in Melbourne during which time I totally switched off and separated myself from work, training (sorry boss) and generally my life back home in Perth that I started to feel good again. By this time it was the start of March and there was only nine weeks until the next big event. With the usual work and family commitments my available training time was (and is) limited but in general I still managed to squeeze in eight to nine hours every week. Swim training was by far my most consistent, even in the bad months, as they were two sessions that I could guarantee I would be available for and the social aspects of the squad made them a joy to attend even when the last thing I felt like was jumping in the water. When I started with F4L Triathlon Coaching I could never have pictured myself enjoying swimming but it’s amazing what the right environment will do. My cycling had been showing further signs of improvement but with the majority (five out of six) sessions being done alone on the wind trainer it often seemed more like a chore than something I wanted to do. Leading into the race I had only done six rides over 60km since December and all bar one of those, in the second last week, had been done with the group and in hills so there was very limited time spent on the tri bars. As this had also been an issue for me in the Ironman I was somewhat upset with myself that I had let it happen again. Because of this, sixteen days before the race I went “off the plan” and took the morning off work to do a three hour ride on the flat at just below race pace. It gave me the confidence that I needed to know that I could maintain a reasonable position for the full 90km of the relentless Busselton course where position changes are almost completely unnecessary and always detrimental. My running has always been mediocre and I had felt that in the eighteen months since I had been with Paul and F4L Triathlon Coaching this was the area where I had achieved the least. Unfortunately I never really took the time to examine the reality of just how far I had come and this resulted in a minor outburst at one of our group run sessions, much to my shame. To his credit Paul knew just what to do to get me back on track (pardon the pun) with minimal damage to either of our (fairly substantial) egos. Two weeks out from the half, as I had done the year before, I raced the Coogee Olympic distance tri as a basic race readiness check. Unlike twelve months previous my aim was simply to swim and ride at my goal half-IM pace and run as well as I could with what I had left. The result was a 5 minute PB on the course, with a faster swim almost making up for a slower ride and stripping six minutes off the last year’s run time. I had very nearly decided not to race this and instead use the time for another long ride, missing out on the confidence this instilled into me going into the half. Race Week Now anyone that knows me knows that I am a fairly laid back character even at the worst times. If there is something to worry about you can guarantee that I will be sitting somewhere just knowing that it will all be okay. My ultra-competitive girlfriend, Peta, is pretty much my polar opposite in this respect and this was her first 70.3 in what is basically her first season of triathlon after an injury interrupted 2014. Whilst I know we both got on each other’s nerves at times over the course of the week I think the combination worked to perfection. While neither of our outward mannerisms changed greatly as the race drew near I certainly felt that internally there was a calm focus in Team Dolphin (so dubbed by my daughter Leila, complete with a proprietary high five sequence that is well worth the time it takes to master.) We headed down to Busselton on the Thursday afternoon at a leisurely pace (Peta says I drive like a grandpa but it’s not true, I’m much less gung-ho) arriving at around 6:30 after dropping my daughter off at the caravan park where her grandparents were eagerly waiting to mind her for the parts of the weekend where I was otherwise occupied. Arriving at the resort we were pleasantly surprised that we had one of the newer units and were soon joined by fellow F4L'er Kendall and her mother. Team Stack (Naomi Greenwood and Chris Evans) were taking the third bedroom upon their arrival on Friday afternoon. Friday morning had a leisurely start at 9am with a one hour bike ride with the F4L crew that were already in town followed by a fifteen minute run off the bike for me. Once this was finished Peta had to head to the start of her 1km swim event (seriously, why would you bother getting wet for a kilometre!) so down to the beach we went. After cruising her way around in a manner completely contrary to her usual competitive nature I threw on the wetsuit for the coach prescribed thirty minute dip which was more like fifteen (yes I know what I just said before) to practise sighting the finish chute and generally turn the arms over. From here it was over to the registration tent to pick up our race packs then back to the room to prepare the bikes and other bits and pieces for check in that afternoon. Now I know I said that I am rarely affected by pressure and changing my tyres and giving the once over to my bike was done with the usual slap-dash manner, but I have never been more nervous than I was doing the same for Peta’s steed. In her first race she had entrusted this task to me in a very uncharacteristic fashion, not that she has any idea about bike mechanics but it normally doesn’t stop her fretting and interfering anyway! As any man would know (and grudgingly accept) anything that went wrong tomorrow would be my fault anyway so I was determined to eliminate those things that could actually be my fault. Santa had nothing on me that afternoon when it comes to checking a list. By the time this was all completed it was mid-afternoon so Peta and the others headed back to relax while I got to spend a bit of quality time with my daughter. At around six thirty it was time to head to dinner freezing cold courtesy of a missing jacket and after a couple of failed attempts due to over-crowding we settled in for our last supper (and beer in my case) to be all home and cosy before eight(ish.) The ensuing six hours of broken sleep in a warm bed was just enough time to thaw me out after freezing because as you will recall, someone forgot to bring me my jacket. It’s Showtime! I love race day. There is nothing like standing in a cold, dark park surrounded by a thousand nervous bowels. Watching people staring at their transition layout trying desperately to figure out what they must have forgotten, knowing that it is futile as they will only realise as they stand on the beach a mere four seconds before the start gun goes off. The pained expressions as they hear a tyre go pop, followed by the joy at realising it was some other poor sucker four rows over. All for a little tin medal and the ability to tell anyone who they can corner for long enough that they are a triathlete. We’re a strange lot really. It’s probably lucky there are such things as triathlon clubs where such creatures can gather and act like this is normal and we aren’t all freaks of nature. As usual I basically dumped all my crap in an area somewhere near my bike, pumped up about six other people’s tyres (I thought of putting 230psi in them to make them go bang later but none of them were in my age group) then moved on to hand in my day bag and go down to the beach. With my usual forethought I had failed to recognise that the minus six temperature (slight exaggeration perhaps), frosty grass and bare feet were a bad combination so it was with a great sense of relief that wading in the shallow water revealed that it was quite warm and there may still be a chance to ward off frostbite. This was rapidly followed by a moment of panic as I looked around at the faces of my fellow triathletes and realised that they were perhaps the reason why it was so warm. Triathletes disgust me. Peta’s wave (super-hot young chicks) started five minutes before mine (old fart men, still reckon I should be 35-39 this year) so after a quick salty kiss and thoughts that I hoped she hadn’t been swimming where I was just standing I saw her off, hoping to see her early enough on the bike to build the massive lead I’d need going into T2 in order to avoid the shame of being chicked by my girlfriend. I know it will happen eventually, just trying to stave it off as long as possible. Walking over the timing matt and down to the water’s edge I had a feeling like I have never had before pre-race. It was a feeling of determination and confidence. Not hope. Not wondering when I would have to resort to plan B, C and D. I knew that this time, finally, I would do myself justice. I can’t remember if we started with a bang or a hoot, whatever it was it seemed to take forever to come. Beach starts are made for me. My long legs and bigger body normally allow me to get an extra few steps in before a big dive gaining me crucial(?) milliseconds. Unfortunately I had miscalculated my positioning on the start line and ended up in a melee just 50 metres off the beach. An elbow to the head resulted in the ingress of about 50mL of sea water, not enough to bother with doing anything about it but enough to be annoying for the next 1800m. I swam a fairly straight but conservative line, choosing to round the buoys a little wide to avoid the usual crush and maintained my rhythm. Passing dozens of members of the previous wave was a very unfamiliar feeling for me but one that I grew to enjoy more and more as I picked off their floundering carcasses on the way back to the beach. Standing up I looked at my time (sorry boss) to see 35 minutes flat. I had been wanting something around 32 so was a little disappointed but it’s still my best non-current assisted half iron swim and if rumours are correct that it was a couple of hundred metres long (my Garmin said 2200m) then pretty much bang on pace. My transition was a little slow as I took my time to ensure that I got everything right. Socks on wet feet is always an issue but for some reason my toes decided to form a weird shape making it next to impossible. I know how to mount the bike with the shoes clipped in but have never had confidence to do it in a race, this was no different but with the time lost both in putting the bike shoes on and running in cleats it is my aim for the first race of next season. Helmet and race belt on (because three stickers on the helmet and one on the bike isn’t enough for identification apparently) and I was away. The morning air was still chilly but there was never any regret at leaving the arm warmers in T1. In short order I was down on the bars into a rhythm, sipping water to replace the fluid that was draining rapidly from my nose (and continued to do so for all of the first lap.) As I turned left onto Layman road for the long, flat boring journey I expected to hit the light easterly as was typical for this race…nothing. Dead still. Could this day get any better for me? The ride was completely uneventful for most of the trip out to the far turn-around, other than passing Peta a couple of kilometres before. As I went past she looked comfortable and happy, we had a short chat and I put the pedal to the metal. I knew I only had 68 kilometres to build a lead… As I approached the turn I saw a friend, Bianca, heading the other way with perhaps a 500m lead on me. She had started five minutes ahead in the same wave as Peta and I knew she had been training hard looking for a sub-5:30 race with lots of solid work on the bike. It became my next goal to catch her as I made the turn and was pleasantly surprised by a mild head wind. Without wanting to push myself too hard and keeping in my goal upper limit of 190 watts I held back my enthusiasm and didn’t get her until two thirds of the way through the outward leg of the second lap. “I’ve been waiting for you to catch up!” was the greeting as I flew past. I don’t know whether I eased off or she picked up but she passed me a kilometre or so later, prompting the re-pass which I held this time. Coming into T2 I got my feet out of my shoes ready for the flying dismount, perhaps coming in a little hot as I think those first ten metres were my fastest running for the day by a long way! I’m normally pretty efficient at the bike to run transition and this was no different. Helmet off, shoes and visor on then away I went out on to the run course. Did I mention that running has never been my thing? When you are almost two metres tall the associated mass can’t help but slow you down, at least that’s my theory. Luckily (okay, perhaps not so much by luck) in the last twelve months I’d managed to reduce that mass by around 10kg so while the sensation is still unpleasant (and the view for the spectators even less pleasant) it’s now generally much more bearable. Added to this the motivation of knowing that I couldn’t afford to dawdle if I was to be at the finish line for Peta (read “I didn’t want to be chicked by her”) I had no excuses for being soft today. Then it struck me. A mild tweak in the right quad. The first signs of cramp. In the past my mindset was such that I’d have taken the easy option and walked to “prevent it coming on worse” and “make sure I got to the finish” but not this time. This time I steeled myself and just said “it’s nothing, just adjusting to the run. Get to the first aid station and take in some electrolyte and see how you go.” Well guess what, it did. A couple more twangs before the aid station then a quick swig of Endura at each subsequent opportunity and there was barely another sign of it all day. Busselton is a three lap course so plenty of opportunity to keep an eye on your faux opposition, so it was with a mixture of love and fear that I saw Peta on the outward leg of her first lap as I was only half way through the return leg. I had maybe 3 or 4 kilometres, fifteen or twenty minutes to hold her off. My arse was already beginning to prepare for the inevitable slap as she passed. No, this was not going to happen! I knew she would run around a 1:45 half marathon, all I had to do was run under 2hrs and I would be safe. With a PB of 1:56 fresh it may have been the most stupidly optimistic though I’ve ever had but there was no room for pessimism here. A man’s dignity was at stake! I sucked my gut back in, ran tall, smiled and blew a kiss. She couldn’t know I was in pain. One of the great joys of training with a group is the friendships and simultaneous rivalries you form. With every F4L Triathlon Coaching athlete  I passed there was an equal measure of encouragement and goading dished out (in both directions), noting relative positions, gaining a little at this turn, losing a little there. They seem to show up at the most opportune moment, as did young Cate (bet she’ll hate that!) and her mum Lee (what, no watermelon at the finish line?) and the coach’s wife Helen and daughter Rhiannon on the run course. It keeps your mind on the task at hand and off the wet sock now rubbing painfully on your right Achilles. Yeah, it hurts but walking won’t make it hurt less. While I would have gladly taken one of my daughter’s Disney princess Band-Aids had they been on offer it was time to man up and get this thing done. On the turn for the outward leg of my last lap I finally saw my mother, father and daughter where I could acknowledge their presence properly, every other time I had been well past before I heard or I saw them on the other side of the road. I had a split second to make a decision: do I act like the determined racer that I am (ha-ha) or do I be the devoted dad and stop to give them the appreciation they deserve? Without a second’s hesitation I called for a kiss (from my daughter, grandad hadn’t shaved) and smacked one on the lips barely breaking stride. I always tell her that her in-race kisses give me energy and now I know I’m not lying. I was off like a bullet from a gun – misdirected, dangerous and under the control of an idiot. By the final turn I could see that I still had a bit over five minutes lead on Peta and unless I fell off a cliff I was unlikely to be headed. Not a single step had been walked to this point and I now felt like I could have skipped the last 3 kilometres to the finish. I expect that had I tried to do so I would have looked more like a newborn giraffe so it’s perhaps fortuitous that I made the decision to continue run/shuffling instead. With a couple of hundred metres to go you head into what is known as tent city. This is where all of the tri clubs set up their marquees to yell encouragement/abuse to all of the competitors and is the most electric part of the course. It’s also a no walk zone. It didn’t matter, I was picking up the pace here anyway. With a left turn down the finish chute, a few high-fives and a smile on my face I did something I think I have never done before at the end of a race…I felt a sense of pride. Now this might not sound like a big deal but for me it was. For me humility has always been the mark of a good man and pride its antithesis. I am the first to down play any achievement and “put it in perspective” but today I felt that I had finally worked hard for something and given it my all. I deserved this. A quick trip into the tent for a cup of coke and a couple of bananas and I was back out behind the finish line to wait for Peta to cross for her first (but I very much doubt last) 70.3 finish. There was no way I was going to miss that! An amazing finish by her in a very impressive debut time too. The Analysis Post Ironman in December I set myself a goal for this race. I wanted to perform well enough to get a roll down spot to the 70.3 world championships in Austria in August. I wasn’t sure that I would take that spot if it was offered but I wanted to have the opportunity. Knowing that I was in one of the biggest age groups with at least two spots available and that they often roll down a very long way I thought I would need a 5:15 or thereabouts to make it likely. After the poor start to the training I simply set myself for my first sub-6 hour half, thinking that 5:45 would be very nice. Well, the final time was 5:26:03! Sub-5:30 was beyond my wildest dreams when I lined up earlier that morning. In a nice little kicker we went to the roll-down ceremony to support Naomi and Chris, fellow F4L Triathlon Coaching members who were in with a good chance and subsequently both qualified, and there was nobody else from the male 40-44 age group there that wanted to take the two spots available. So had I put my hand up I could have taken one of those spots and achieved my first goal. Mission accomplished I say. 11219350_10153257519248485_1055836823157262291_nFinally to the important part. Triathlon is often considered a very selfish sport and in many ways it is, but in other ways it is incredibly selfless. By that of course I mean the sacrifices that everyone else makes to allow us to do what we do (some of which involves simply putting up with us in general) and that should be acknowledged. Thanks of course to my family who probably have no idea how much they do because a lot of it is just the thought of not letting them down. I try as best I can to balance the family, work and sport (in that order) but sometimes I know I get it wrong and I thank you for not being too rough on me over it. A big thanks to Peta for putting up with my opinionated views on pretty much everything, my annoying habits (all 3,847 of them) and as much as anything else showing me that competitiveness, kindness and fun are not mutually exclusive. Thanks also to my team-mates at F4L Triathlon Coaching, whether here in Perth or elsewhere around the world. Seeing you guys achieve the results you are helps keep the faith that any bunch of hacks can do it (only joking!) There are plenty of occasions where it’s only the social aspects of the group sessions get me doing anything at all. Lastly I need to thank Paul Jones of F4L Triathlon Coaching. I know that I am a nightmare to coach. I question everything, I’m impatient, I don’t listen, I never take anything seriously (except when I take it too seriously), I think I know better than everybody else, I read and analyse way too much…well, you get the idea. In spite of going from strength to strength in the 18 months with you, I have had numerous doubts, thought about going it alone, and given you plenty of reasons to dump me as an athlete. What it boils down to though is that you have managed to get the best out of me for what I have been willing and able to put in. I look at friends being coached by others (or themselves) and the hours of work and dedication they put in compared to me and their results do not show nearly the reward for effort in comparison. I don’t believe that I have the physical or mental characteristics to be truly competitive but you have made me believe that my aspirations should be far greater than mere adequacy. You are the Jedi master and while you find my lack of faith disturbing (see what I did there?) I never fail to be amazed at yours. In future I will be a better pupil, I promise…
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