photo from ITU
Run 1st 35:18
Bike 2nd 2:39:46
Run 2nd 1:20:37
I arrived in France Tuesday, 4 days before the world champs. It was cold, a lot colder than I'm used to. But nothing some warm clothes and a wetsuit wouldn't fix (or so I thought). There was some talk that the water was cold and that the swim could possibly be reduced or cancelled. NO WAY! I thought to myself. I've been training hard for this. I flew all the way to France to compete in the World Long Course Triathlon Champs - 4km swim, 120km bike, 30km run. I want to do the full course, the accurate distance.
On Thursday I went to race start for a practice swim in the lake where I'll be racing on Saturday morning. Standing on the sand with my wetsuit on, neoprene cap plus silicone cap on, a jumper and jacket over top and still in socks and shoes, I was shivering uncontrollably. Jared said "you don't have to do this". How will I do it for 4 whole kilometers if I can't even jump in now. I stripped off and dived in and it felt like I'd face planted straight into a cold hard rock wall. I swam like a stiff robot trying to avoid any water getting into my wetsuit. After a few strokes my frozen face was so sore that I had to start doing polo. I gritted my teeth and told myself to just make it to the first buoy. I got a little over half way there before I started to panic... What if I can't get back? What if I freeze out here? I can't yell to anyone cos my mouth is too frozen to get words out. I turned around and tried to get back as fast as I could. When I reached the sand Jared was there to put my jackets back on me. I didn't remove my neoprene cap. I was shaking like crazy and couldn't move my fingers. Jared had to put my shoes on me before throwing me in the car with heaters blasting. I didn't get out of my wetsuit for over an hour. I lasted less than 5minutes in the water. Maybe I wouldn't mind if they cancelled the swim after all.
That night at race brief we were informed that "the swim is cancelled, it will now be a duathlon". I didn't know whether to be disappointed or relieved. I guess I was a little of both. Disappointed that I couldn't put the training I'd done to the real test. I'd increased my Sunday long runs, I'd worked on longer race pace runs off the bike. 30km is a big jump from 21km (IM 70.3 distance) and I was up for the challenge. I raced this same distance 6 weeks ago off my normal 70.3 training and I was really looking forward to seeing how much I'd improved. I'd also been doing swim sessions in my wetsuit in preparation for almost an hour in it. BUT... I was very relieved I didn't have to get back in that water. 1st run leg - 8k mark
Race day arrived. I was prepared. I'd ridden up the mountain pass earlier in the week and I'd ridden 3 out of the 14km down. I knew how many layers I'd need. I had long tights, arm warmers and three jackets on for warm up. I started the race in arm warmers and a vest on over my race kit.
The first leg was a 9.5km run. I'd planned to sit on around 3:30/km pace. Minus the two very steep hills where I'd naturally slow a little. I was wearing my new Garmin 910XT which came in handy because It's been some time since I've done a "running race". How fast should I run? How much should I save for the rest of the race? The first 10km felt very comfortable and I entered T1 with decent lead. I upended my bag in the change tent and all sorts of goodies fell out. Now, for the hard bit, remembering the order to layer them on. First I started putting my bike shoes on, then the full Specialized booties over my bike shoes so I had to sit down to zip them up. They took a while. I had practiced this over and over but when under pressure with cold fingers it always seems to take longer. Next I threw my Scody thermal jacket over my arm warmers and vest. It was then I saw my leg warmers. Damn! I needed those on for the descent but I couldn't take my booties off, they took too long to get on. I left them. Then I put my full fingered gloves on. I threw a muesli bar in my pocket, grabbed my helmet and awkwardly ran in my bike shoes through mud to my bike. I fiddled for a while with my helmet clip as I'd completely messed up my dressing order. Helmet before gloves cos I can't feel properly with gloves on. Then I fiddled around for even longer trying to zip up my jacket. By the time I got on my bike I was in second position. Camilla, who entered T1 about 1min 40 behind me was now in the lead by 30seconds. Part of climb. Was cloud-covered race day.
The 87km bike leg started with a slight climb out of town. I caught Camilla at 10km and took the lead. I worked hard on the bike for the first half but couldn't drop her. On a few of the corners I would peak over my shoulder to see if she was still there...she was. At the 45km mark we started the steep part of the mountain pass. From here, it was almost 10km up at an average gradient of 10%, topping out at an altitude of 1250m. And freezing! The last few k's to the top, we were in thick clouds and my Rudy Project sunnies started fogging up. I tried to take them off to see where I was going but they were wedged under my aero helmet. I grabbed a new bottle at the aid station on top of the mountain, refilled my fuelselage and prepared for the long, chilly, 14k descent down the sketchy switchbacks on the other side of the mountain. I couldn't see a thing. Not more than a metre in front of me. Camilla had come right up on my shoulder. I had try again to take off my sunnies for the descent. I pulled on them but they didn't budge. I tried again a little harder but this time my sunnies slipped through my fingers and I dropped them. Bugger! Bike leg - 85k mark
I was now chasing. Camilla was flying down the hill like a demon possessed. She'd approach the switchbacks like they were nothing. I followed her lead but by the bottom of the descent I could only just see her in the distance. We powered over some rolling hills and I tried to keep her in sight but my legs felt like they no longer wanted to co-operate. Was I toast from the climb? Or were my quads frozen and seized up from the descent? I still don't know. I tried to pick up the pace but it wasn't happening. Camilla was long gone. The last 20km was technical with slightly wet roads. I hoped I wasn't losing too much time as I saw how good Camilla was technically. 2nd run leg - 8k mark
As I approached the dismount line I had to think for a bit... I had booties on, I couldn't slip out of my shoes. I un-clipped and stepped off my bike then ran the long way to rack my bike (a lap and a half of the entire transition area...a long way). Boy was it hard running in bike shoes after jumping off a hard bike ride. I racked my bike then got confused as to which way to head to get my T2 bag. I back tracked a couple of times before spectators helped me out. As I began running still in my bike shoes I saw there was still quite a way to go so I ditched my bike shoes and helmet and threw them back to land under MY bike. I put my Adidas Adios runners back on and made my way to the change tent. One jacket off. Gloves off. Visor on and GU gels in my pockets. Damn! I had no pockets. I didn't think to check my new Aussie race kit before race day. I put my gels down my pants. photo by 'Flickr'
The final leg was a 20km run. Soon after I started the run Jared called out "3min down". photo from ITU
That's some work to do. I felt terrible. My legs were like heavy stumps. I could hardly move them and my splits were showing that. I plodded along almost convinced I could not catch Camilla. The run course was awesome. Nice dirt trails with beautiful green trees on either side. The first 10km went rather quick because of the tight trails and continual turns but it didn't help the fact I still felt terrible and I wasn't catching Camilla as fast as I'd hoped. The split Jared gave me at 8k was still about 1min 30 down. Jared popped up again at the 12km mark at the top of the 2nd last hill and told me I was still 1min down. I thought "It's all over, second place it's going to be". Then he yelled "you can still win this". It was then that something finally triggered in my head.
The next 500m these are just some of the thoughts that ran through my crazy brain - "Pull ya finger out Mel, you can do this. Your not going home with a silver medal. You didn't come here to come second. Your going to regret this if you don't get your act together, you're not buggered, you're being soft. If you think you're hurting, ask Camilla how she's feeling. Chrissie can win an IM from minutes down with a torn pec and gravel burns down half of her body. Pick yourself up and DO SOMETHING!". I took off. And my cyclist (the guy that leads the second place getter) knew it. Everyone knew it. People/other competitors started yelling at me "you can catch her, she's only just up ahead, you've got this". I went from shuffling along at over 4minutes/km to 3:45 pace. At 14km Camilla was just up ahead. I threw my vest off so that my Aussie uniform was showing. Camilla and I exchanged some friendly words before I took the lead. I passed by Jared for the last time at 1k to go, gave him a smile and thought to myself "I hope he can get to the finish line to see me win the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP!".
Swim 1:00:10 2nd
Bike 3:04:49 1st
Run 2:07:06 1st
Seconds before race start I give the dog that is standing right in front me on the start line a nudge in the backside to move over a little. I'm in Koh Samui, Thailand!
photo by Aimee Minahan
I dive into the beautiful, perfectly still, warm water and start swimming out following the 'lane rope' on my left. Yep, finally! A race where we have a lane rope. The swim is 4km, two by 2km loops with a 140m 'Australian beach run' in between. The entire 2km loop is marked out by a continuous rope with small buoys every few metres and larger buoys on each corner AND half way along the straights. That's what I'm talking about. These guys know how to make me feel comfortable in the water. As I'm swimming out for the first lap Michelle is next to me. Four more up ahead (Liz, Caroline, Carrie and Belinda). I'm a bit slow off the mark again but I soon catch up to Carrie and Belinda and the four of us exit the water together to complete the first lap. I dive in first out of our group for the second lap and now I'm feeling JUST like I'm in a pool. Nobody in front on me, nobody kicking me. I get into a good rhythm and start reeling in Caroline. I catch her by the final straight and we exit the water together with Belinda just on my feet. As we run up the beach I look to my right, I'm coming out of the water with Caroline Steffen, what the! Then Jared yells 1:30 to Liz. WHAT the...! Liz usually puts over three minutes into me in a 1.9km swim. In transition I take my time - I've never been in this position before - what do I do?
photo by Aimee Minahan
Caroline, Belinda and I jump on our bikes together. I sit up for a bit to see how the girls will attack this. Usually I jump on my bike and get straight into it....head down, powering up the road making up the time I've lost in the swim. They seem to be dawdling a bit here today though. They know what their doing I think, so I give it a bit longer. I start to get a little worried that we are dawdling a little too much and Liz is getting away so at 18km I take the lead and reel in Liz. Within 10km I'm right up on her. Ok, maybe they weren't dawdling. Maybe I was just getting a bit ansty riding with people. Now what? The four of us ride together. This was something different to what I'm used too. I sit up and take in the scenery, munch on my muesli bar, watch the spectators yelling out as we ride past, watch for the buffalo, dogs, and chickens that seem to pop out of nowhere.
We go through the first lap, Whits' deep voice blasting from the speakers and volunteers everywhere. I'm getting a little too comfy for racing so at 65km I take the lead and pick up the pace. I get down on my bars. My new, super low, custom-made Specialized aero bars. After a few minutes it's straight up a hill, probably the longest and steepest one on the course. Nice! As I get to the top I can't hear any gears changing behind me. Where have they gone? Instead of looking back I fly down the other side and then keep the pressure on when I hit the flat. I hit an aid station and they all start clapping. I pass and the clapping stops. I listen carefully but no more clapping. I keep pushing the pace. Three against one - keep on it.
As I rack my bike in transition I'm told I have a lead of 4:40. Whoa... Nice! I start to quickly put my socks on while standing then I realize... 30km run. Relax. In transition the adrenaline is pumping and my main thought is always to get out of there as quick as possible. But not today. If I do that I'll probably bolt out way too quick. It's as hot and humid as hell and this will be my longest ever run. I sit down!
I slowly put my socks on, then my shoes. I get up and grab my cup - yep, we were told in race brief that we have to carry 'our own cup' and the aid stations are 'do it yourself'. I load my GU gels into my pockets - four of them, just in case. I'm lucky to take one in an IM 70.3 race. I jog out as I continue to tell myself RELAX! I get to 6km before my Garmin loads up so I have no idea what pace I'm on. But after that I just start ticking of the kms. There's aid stations every km. And no I'm not still carrying my cup anymore. There is in fact water, coke and electrolytes in cups that the volunteers are handing out. I take a drink at EVERY aid station. Most aid stations water in the mouth then another over the head. At half way it's now water in the mouth, followed by coke in the mouth then water over the head. You couldn't pay me to drink coke on any other day but boy did it taste good today!
At 14km a feeling comes over me I always hope won't. I need to go to the toilet. I have the camera motorbike with me. There's not a toilet in sight. In fact no porter loo's for the entire 30km run course. Next thing, the camera bike finally scoots up ahead (to take footage of a buffalo beside the road). I look behind - no-one. Up in front - no-one. Thick bush either side. I use my pit stop as a quick recovery. Mentally and physically. I don't rush it. I jump back on course and feel like new. Well not quite. But mentally the run starts again which means - 16km! Not 30km.
photo by Rudi Nudi
What goes through your head when running for over 2hrs (after already having swum 4km and ridden 120km)? Is this ever going to end! I go through good periods and bad periods. My Garmin beeps every km and I'm right on goal pace - this isn't too bad. Then mentally I fall in a hole - this is hard! I can't do this! I want to stop! Then beep - 4:13! Still on pace- I'm feeling good. Only 10km to go. I've got at least a 5minute lead. Then I flip... Am I gonna make it, it's still a long way to go, why would anyone want to do this? I chuck a gel down - you're all good! I'm talking gibberish to myself the entire 30km. Finally I'm approaching the last aid station with 1km to go. All the other aid stations I'd slow down and get the fluids in. This one... I practically stop. I gulp the WHOLE cup of coke. Followed by a cup of water. I am soooo hot and thirsty! I continue on, burping for the next few hundred metres. Then what I've been waiting for ALL day - the finish chute. That awesome blue carpet. How GOOD is that blue carpet. The crowd cheering on either side. The local kids running in behind me. Then Whit screaming over the mic "...and here comes our winner... Melissa Hauschildt...". As I throw the banner up over my head I'm hanging out for someone to throw a cold bottle of water over me. 6hrs 14min and 49seconds. #didnotdie
Swim 41:17 5th
Bike 5:17:45 1st
Run 1:16:42 1st
As I sprint down to the water and dive in I find myself with the leaders. I'm swimming right next to Tenille Hoogland. She edges ahead a little and I jump on her feet. This pace feels ok so I put my head down and just concentrate on following the bubbles. I veer a little to the right and accidentally end up on someone else's feet. I keep following what is now a big pack. But as I look up to sight I see Tenille and another competitor far left. Damn! I drifted off her feet and onto a following pack. She gets away. I follow this pack for a while before I decide to pass them and catch up to the next. I soon get onto the next group of girls but the leaders are long gone. As I enter the beach and run around for my second lap I find myself diving in first from my pack. Sighting is hard. There is only two buoys, one on each corner of the triangle. Soon a couple girls pass me so I can now follow. As we turn the last buoy and head for shore I pick up the pace but again I find myself out in front and I cant see a thing. I have two other athletes swimming next to me and we are all trying madly to sight. At one point I think the three of us were all doing polo frantically searching for landmarks.
I emerge from the water and run to the change tent. I'm in 5th. Tenille, Michelle and Caroline are 3 minutes ahead. I need to work hard on the bike and catch Caroline. So off I went, powering down the road. It might have slipped my mind I was riding 200km today and not 90km. The road headed out 40km into the desert to the YAS F1 circuit where we then ride 3 laps, each around 6km. I passed Tenille on lap 2 and this gave me a lot of confidence. I expected Tenille to be first out of the water (she was, just seconds ahead of Caroline). Riding around the Formula 1 circuit was awesome. The only problem was finding your way out. Lap 1 I looked for an exit (so I'd know where to go later on) but couldn't find one. Lap two I carefully scanned the perimeter for a way to get out and again failed to find it. Lap three I was gettig worried that I wouldn't be able to get out. When I thought I'd nearly completed my last lap I was yelling out to every photographer and official "where do I get out?". The ONLY point on all three laps that I thought could possibly lead out was a road off to the side saying 'pitstop'. I took it and luckily it was right. I had no-one in front of me to follow. I weaved my way back out and was soon up to 60km. Now the race begins.
photo by Paul Phillips
We start heading back in the direction of the finish and have a massive tail wind. This was nice after a head wind the entire way out. I thought I could make up some serious time here. Maybe my competitors won't know it's such a strong tail wind and won't keep pushing hard. I put the pedal down and cranked it up to 48km/hr and sat there. I kept watching my speed to make sure it didn't drop. When I was approaching the turn around - 75km in, I was shocked to see Caroline just up ahead. From here we have three laps of out, back. Each lap being 32km. I u-turn and head straight back into the headwind where the speed drops down to 34-35km/hr. I can see Caroline and I madly try to chase her down. I catch her just as we approach a slightly twisty point in the course before we u-turn again to head back. When I finally catch her at around 85km I roll right up to her through the twists and turns and go passed her to take the lead. I stay in front for the next 32km loop.
As we head back with the tail wind again to complete two laps, Caroline takes over. Not very often (only at Abu Dhabi last year) am I in a position to sit in (legal distance apart is 10m) so I'm still not confident of how far back to sit. Again, I play it safe and sit at least 15m back. We have the draft busters as well as camera crew with us almost the entire time. I'm still working hard and several times I get dropped but I manage to keep grinding my way back to within 15m of Caroline. We u-turn again and head out for our last lap into what is now a super strong head wind (the wind usually picks up throughout the morning/day). Caroline is too strong and drops me at an aid station. I frantically pedal to try and get back on. We still have 50km to go. I can't afford to get dropped. There is still so much further to go. I work my butt off but Caroline is pulling further and further away. I lose sight of her and now all the camera men leave me as well. I must be way behind now "they don't even wanna stay with me" I think. When I approach the final u-turn I see Caroline way ahead. Crap! What have I done.
The next 20km or so is now a tail wind so I use it. Caroline saw she had dropped me "hopefully she thinks I'm cooked". I crank up my speed again and hit 48km/hr. Our last lap with Caroline leading was around 44km/hr so I'm hoping she is only sitting on that pace again. Its not long before she is back in sight. We then climb up this small bridge. Caroline jumps out of her saddle and I stay seated on my bars and power up it. She is now so close. I keep working hard. The next small climb we do the same and this time I get right up on her. Finally I'm back on. I sit in for a whole 5 or so km before I get dropped again. Damn it Mel. Get back on. Sometimes I think I ride better chasing than I do 'trying' to sit in - maybe I panic that I'll accidentally enter the draft zone. Fat chance of that when I'm too afraid to even sit 10m behind.
I see Caroline pulling further and further away AGAIN. It's now 20km to go. Lots of time can still be lost so I work my hardest to get back on. At 185km I'm back again and Caroline seems to be tiring. Thank god! Cos I'm wrecked. THEN... Out of nowhere I get almost paralyzed in my right quad with cramping. I never cramp (only time I've ever cramped was at Vegas last year when I went into the race sick and obviously dehydrated). I jump out of my saddle to relieve the cramp but we are now heading back into a head wind so it seriously slows down my speed. I quickly sit back down but the cramp comes back. This time in my left quad as well. I jump up! Sit down! Jump up! I watch helplessly as Caroline pulls away from me. I sit back down, get back on my bars and start pushing hard determined to not let her get too far away. I feel the cramping coming but I decide to stay seated and try and push through it. It doesn't go away. Both quads are now seriously cramping as well as my right hip flexor so I jump back up. The last 15km was a nightmare. How much time will I lose? Will I even be able to run when I get off my bike? I pushed these thoughts out of my head and just kept focussing on that dismount line. 2km to go... This was the longest 2km of my life. Can't it just be short a couple of kms, c'mon I HAVE to get off this bike. Nope, dead accurate! 200km.
Finally, I jump off Shivy and land on my paralyzed stumps/aka legs. I awkwardly run my bike into transition. I hear the commentator say that I am 1:20 behind Caroline. As I start running I notice I'm not cramping at all but I hardly feel like I'm running. I can't feel my legs. They're completely seized up. But they're not cramping! I see Jared at 3km and he yells out 31seconds down. What! Either someone has a time wrong here, Caroline is hurting more than me, or I am actually running a decent pace. I had no idea what pace I was running, I couldn't judge it AT ALL cos I couldn't even feel my legs. I forgot to turn my Garmin watch on when finishing the bike so the satellites took a few k's to load up.
I could now see Caroline just up ahead so I backed off a little, hoping I'd feel my legs soon. We passed through 6km and Caroline was only seconds ahead. At 7km I was right on her heels sitting in for a bit. I don't think she knew I was there. I was tucked right in and I land really quiet on my feet. Jared was just up ahead and I wondered if he'd yell anything out. He didn't. I tried to hide a little longer but then... BEEP BEEP! My Garmin tells me a 1km split. Caroline looks back to see me sneaking up on her shoulder. Thanks Garmin... I have to pass now. As I take over, Caroline nicely says "good job". I felt guilty passing her so instead of putting on a small surge I kept it steady and gave her the chance to tack on to me. But I can hear her slowly dropping off. As we get to turn around with 10km to go I start to feel a little better. Maybe because I'm in the lead and my dream of winning such a prestigious race is now looking even better. Anything can still happen though... 10km on tired legs... Who knows...
photo by Paul Phillips
As I approach 13km Jared is there again... I yell out "how far do I have?". I could see at turn around I had some distance on Caroline but I wanted to know in time. That way I can judge what pace I need to run the remaining 7km. Jared knew exactly what I meant and yelled back "I can't see her". A little later "I still can't see her". A little later "1 minute, 1second". That's how precise he is. I quickly did the calculations and based off what I was running Caroline would have to be running at least 10sec/km faster than me to catch me.
5km to go and I was getting excited. I'd really extended my lead now and started to feel alright. I hadn't experienced any cramping on the run. To win here in Abu Dhabi would mean so much to me. This is one of my major goal races this year. I wanted to win it so bad that I turned myself inside out to do it. 2km to go and I think I had a smile on my face. I was hurting but I was happy. I wanted to cry, I wanted to laugh, I couldn't believe I was going to do it. It was such a long day and here I was... Now 1km from the finish. As much as I was hurting I actually didn't mind that last km dragging on and on and on. In a weird, twisted way I wanted it to last... As I hit the red carpet I didn't know what I was gonna do when I crossed the line. Hopefully stay on my feet. I started waving to the crowd and then I grabbed the banner and thrust it up over my head. I held it there for a bit then threw it down and put my head between my knees. My legs were shaking. I made my way to the ground where I sat to do the majority of my interviews. My bum was sore, my quads were dead. But I was over the moon!
photo by Delly Carr
1st - 4:11:20
swim - 26:23
bike - 2:21:43
run - 1:20:34
Standing on the start line next to Canadian athlete, Tenille Hoogland, who is staying with my husband and I for two months, I look across to see the mass of men also on the start line. In the US, men and women start separate. Here, no such luck. This isn’t good for me. I’m up against Olympic bronze medalist Emma Moffatt and super fish Anna Cleaver. Also up there in the swim will be Tenille. An alarm goes and we all bolt down into the water, I’m in a great position, right with the men so far. But then… we are called back. False start.
Bang! This time we are off for real. I run down, dive in then start madly turning my arms over. I look up… where is everyone. I don’t panic, I’ve been in this position before, only almost EVERY race. It’s all good. I see splashes up ahead and I work on chasing. I turn the first bouy and pass a lone swimmer. I then work on the pack up ahead. About ¾ the way through the swim I catch the pack. It’s a big pack and I try to pass - left, right, through the middle. I find myself wasting energy trying to get around them to I sit in for a bit. As the shore line is getting closer I pick it up and run out of the water at the front of the pack.
photo by Delly Carr
I mount my bike in 5th. Emma and Anna a good 3:30 up the road. Tenille 2min ahead. Perfect! Well, far from perfect but that was what I expected. I had a clear race plan here and so far it was on track. I visualized just how I wanted it to go. Obviously I sometimes get side tracked and dream a little - seeing myself come out of the water next to Emma! But anyway, back to reality! My plan for the second transition was to get off the bike at least 1min in the lead. I really wanted some sort of a buffer going into the run.
photo by Amanda Wallis
Three weeks ago in Auckland I crashed out. I was unable to finish and spent the afternoon in hospital. The next week I could hardly run. My butt was broken. My hip was a mess. Luckily my husband is a physio and every night I was on the table getting treatment. 1 week out from Geelong my manager Phil mentions this race. By now I’m running ok but anything too fast sends stabbing pains into my glut. I’m keen to race, to get a good hit out before Abu Dhabi but I’m not so keen on backing off training. Abu Dhabi is a 3km swim, 200km bike and 20km run. I need to get some long rides in. So I decide to race but my taper will be two days (one day to fly and one day to check in and get ready to race). I continue to pump out some big rides - 200km from Brisbane to Sunshine Coast Friday then another 200km back on the Monday, less than a week out. I attempt a fast run session on Wednesday and my butt is not happy with it. Oh no! I’d just booked my flights that morning. More treatment and I’m back on my bike so I hit the hills on Thursday.
Back to Geelong - Out on the bike I move into third after not too long and work on chasing down Emma and Anna. I can see I’m gaining on them with some out and back sections but I’m not gaining fast enough. 1 of 2 laps down and I think to myself “I’m not gonna catch them” but then I tell myself “I HAVE too… DO SOMETHING MEL!”. It was like I flicked a switch… before I knew it, I was approaching a long hill and I could see both girls climbing up it. I passed Anna mid way up and came up on Emma towards the top. I didn’t want to just roll past incase they tried to latch on so I put on a surge and made a clear break. I had about 30km to go… now I have to
get that 1min buffer.
As I dismount and head out onto the run I find myself in the lead by well over a minute (I later find out 1:46). Now I just need to take it easy and build into it. Any faster than 3:45-3:50/km could trigger the stabbing pains in my butt so I’m on strict instructions to keep it under control.
The run is two laps of the gardens with a few out and backs so I can see my competitors and then a 3km loop out along the water then back to the finish at the end. I hit 4km and Emma is closing in. By 6km she is very close and I’m getting worried. But I’m clocking every km and I’m sticking to my plan. The conversation starts running through my head, “I’m running 3:45's, she’s gotta be running 3:35-3:40… she CAN’T hold that...can she?...she is.” I try convince myself that 3:35's is too quick. I so wanted to increase my pace just a little but I held back and for good reason. One. I could flare up my butt and not finish or Two. I might blow up. By 10km Emma is 9 seconds behind me. Ok, be prepared for the attack Mel. Instead of thinking about increasing my pace, I was now preparing myself to jump on when she passes. From here I’m not sure if I slightly picked up the pace or Emma started to fade but one thing I knew… my lead was slowly extending again. With 3km to go there is no more sighting your competitors so I put on a surge for home at that point. I took off and didn’t look back. I crossed the line for the win in 4:11:20, 1min 16ssec ahead. This was Emma Moffatt's (Olympic bronze medalist) first time racing over this distance. She is an amazing athlete and one to watch out for if she decides to step up to the 70.3 distance for good.
photo by Delly Carr
While I was in Geelong I stayed with my good friends Kristy and Brandon and
their little new bub Baxter. They put both Tenille and I up, ran us around, cooked us delicious meals and were at the finish line to cheer us on. My whole trip went as smooth as possible thanks to them. Also at Geelong were some of my sponsors, Scody, Specialized, Blue Seventy and Compressport. Thanks for the cheers and thanks to the whole Specialized crew who made sure my Shiv was in tip top shape. Also a big Thank You to USM and Ironman for putting on a fantastic race and in such a beautiful location. The race officials, sponsors and volunteers pulled off yet again another great event. And finally, a big thank you to my husband and physio Jared and my massage therapist Bruno for getting me to the start line after seriously hurting myself a few weeks prior.
I can't say there were too many positives to take away from my Auckland 70.3 race besides the x-rays being clear of any significant bone damage. That part was good news I guess. For this reason I didn't have much intention of writing a race report. That was until I came accross more and more 'interesting/creative' stories others had come up with for how my race unfolded. Some that I found were; she crashed out and didn't make it to the run leg, made it to 5k from the finish then pulled out, had cramps, strained a muscle, pulled out from head/neck pain, fell over on the run and hit her head. A popular one seemed to include a bike crash rounding a slippery corner. I even had one person confidently let me know how I'd blown up on the run leg from going out too fast.
Pre-crash. Start of bike leg
So what happened?? I came out of the swim about 3.30 down on the super-fish swimmers up front, jumped on my Shiv and headed out onto the roads. The bike course was technical, windy and wet with a few speed bumps thrown in for good measure. Heading out along the water I couldn’t stay on my bars, the wind was almost picking me right up and tossing me off the road. I survived the first 50k loop of the course, over the Auckland harbor bridge, through some roundabouts, over some hills and back over the birdge. The next section of the course was a straight, smooth (well, almost smooth) stretch of pitch-black bitumen. The mist was beeding on my clear-lense Rudy Project sunnies from the drizzling rain. "2 minutes down" Michelle Wu's mum yells out. I'm down on my aeros pushing hard above 40kph when it happened...in slow motion from my angle.
My front wheel dropped into the pothole, I instictively gripped harder onto my aero bars as my back wheel lifted into the air. As the front end dropped away, the right side of my handlebars smashed into the pavement and slid along the road. My elbows were first to make contact, just before my right hip and ankle smacked the ground. Finally my head flung back and hit (thank god for helmets) and then Shivy somehow flipped back over and landed on me giving me one massive cork in my left quad. I was in pain. Usually it doesn't really hurt when I crash while the adrenaline's pumping like in a race but this one hurt me in a few places. The cork in my quad made my leg collapse when I tried to stand. I felt like I’d broken my ankle. My forearm was dead and useless for a little while and I had a splitting headache. It seemed like I was down for a little while before I could get my senses and check over my body making sure everything was still attached. Once I could focus I climbed back on my bike. If the guys that helped me get back on are reading this - thank you so much. Before I was even ready my bike was back up standing, my bottles were back in and it was all ready to go.
The next few km’s were slow. Once I started pedaling other places started hurting. My right gluteus medius in particular and I my elbow was too tender to put on the aero bar pad. I thought about it for a bit and convinced myself it's just like ripping a band aid off...you've gotta go all in and do it real quick, so I gritted my teeth and pushed my elbow down hard and got racing again. “6 minutes down” was the next call I heard. “Damn!” I thought. “All that hard work…down the drain”. 40km to go.
I racked my bike back in T2 in 4th place and the pains through my body didn't seem as bad as an hour ago. I just had a killer headache still. Soon after I started running, my head pain went away (maybe as other pains started to move their way up the priority list in my brain). I got some confidence and thought maybe I can get through this. I moved into 3rd after a few km’s and 2nd was only about 2minutes ahead. I got to about 6km when my body started playing up. It started with stabbing pains in my right glut med, then progressed to shooting pain across my sacrum. It didn't take long for the pain to started radiating down my right leg. At this point it was painful but I could still run. It was when the pain changed to weakness that things became very difficult, my ankle had gone weak, and it felt like it was going to give way with each step. I tried doing running drills, high knees, butt kicks, quick feet to try 'wake things up' again. It was kind of helping. I looked like an idot but I was moving forward. If I could just get back to transition I thought, maybe I can get one of the medical staff to manipulate my back, trigger point my glut med, something, anything.
By the time I got back to transition for the end of the first lap I could barely feel my right leg. At some stages it was completely numb, others it was tingling. I’m asking every official/volunteer I pass “where’s the medical?”. They all just told me to carry on. I kept looking and asking but was funnelled through the course turn-around and back out for lap 2, now about 11km down. I stopped at one of the barriers and hung my head over it in disappointment. The friendly spectators asked me what was wrong and I quickly told them and before I knew it one of them - Andrew Mackay - took off to find medical while his mate was helping me out with some stretches. At this point I was still in 3rd place. As much as Andrew tried, he had no luck with finding medical either so I tried to carry on … few more running drills, stop… stretch… run… stop… game over!
An hour later I was laying in the medical tent getting some treatment on my hip when I started to get really drowsy. I mentioned it and the sore head when asked and before I knew it I was in a neck brace staring at the cieling of the ambulance. I spent the next few hours at the Auckland hospital. I was released back out to the fresh air again at 3:30 in the afternoon, back to the hotel, got cleaned up, went to the awards ceremony, then had dinner because I was starving! So that’s how my race went down (so to speak)!
I’d really like to thank everyone who helped me out throughout my race. Unfortunatley I didn't make it to the finish, as much as I tried, the body was shutting-up-shop piece by piece. In a day like this it really shows as competitors, just how much we are all in this together. And how much others (while still competing themselves) are willing to lend a helping hand however they can to fellow competitor in distress. For this I'm so grateful to all those who helped along the way. Firstly the guys that helped me get back on my bike (and they eventually put out a cone at the pothole after a couple others crashed after me). Then there were all the friendly and generous participants who offered me salt tablets thinking I was cramping. The competitors that stopped to walk with me. Andrew and his mates for trying to get me some medical attention. And then the medical staff and the ambulance crew that helped me at the end. Tim from Compressport who picked me up from the hospital. And thank you Liz Blatchford for patching up the wounds all over my body the following day. Also, I’d like to send out a special thanks to the ‘Dream Team’, A youth tri squad in Georgia who made up this small 'get well Mel' clip (below) within minutes of hearing I was lying in hospital! These guys rock!
Swim 4th 29:50
Bike 1st 2:27:28
Run 1st 1:23:23
The siren goes. I run down the beach, start jumping over the waves then dive in and start swimming. Pro men and women start together. I'm now last. Yep, already. How? Geez I need swim lessons or something... I get smashed by a wave and dragged back then another hits me and almost stops me in my tracks. "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming" I sing to myself like Dory sings in Finding Nemo. I can see ONE cap up in the distance. Must be the second last swimmer. No-one behind me. Bugger! How embarrassing. I'm not just last. Im last by a long way. I have a nice paddle all by myself. After the 1300m triangle in the ocean I run out and up the beach, over the little hill where the commentator is yelling out each athletes name. "This athlete has no number" he says. Phew! That's why I forgot to get numbered. Then I run down into the lagoon for the final 600m straight across to transition. I'm not concerned I'm coming last, actually I'm pretty chilled out. Maybe because it's my last race of the season. Maybe because I know I'm in good shape (in the other two legs).
As I run out of the water I hear people yelling to me that I'm about 2:50 down. That's alright I think. I expected a lot more. Now my race begins. Now I become competitive, aggressive and know how to push my body. Less than 5km in I'm passing people. Alright, back in the race. By the time I reach the first real hill - a 21% incline at around 40km - I take the lead. By 50km I've picked up quite a few men as well as the lead media motorcycle. It's a bit like Forest Gump, the further I go the more 'followers' I seem to accumulate behind me. As they all jump on board I take them for a tour around beautiful Phuket. "...to your left you'll notice the stunning waters of the Adaman sea...and just up ahead on your right keep your eyes peeled for ever-enthusiastic primary school kids out cheering and jumping out of their skin...". Yes, things like this actually do run through my head. There's not a dull moment on this technical, hilly and soon to be drenched bike course. As I reach the last 20km the rain hits. And when it 'rains' here, it really rains! The final 15km is extremely hilly. Pretty much either up, down, windy or a combination of two. As you could imagine, I slow down considerably and play it safe. The up hill is steep but too wet to stand. I started out standing but soon my back wheel was spinning out so in the lowest gear I went, sat down and got into a nice high cadence rhythm. I actually really like hills. I guess my power to weight ratio helps a lot. It's not long before I drop my trailing 'tour group' and I pull into T2 alone.
I offload my bike to the bike catchers and run down to the change tent with my helmet still on my head. I never know the rules when it comes to helmet when bike catchers are involved... Can we take our helmet off and carry it to the tent or do we still have to keep it on? I'm not taking any chances, I keep it on. In the change tent I quickly up end my bag. Helmet off, socks on, shoes on then I run out with gel and visor in hand. The rain is easing but the course is well and truley soggy.
First we head out on the grass/sand track through the elephant park. Then we hit road for a couple of out and backs. Through our hotel where the friendly Banyan Tree staff are cheering us on. Past the wedding chapel, through the sand and out along the pot hole filled road, u-turn... Actually I'm not exactly sure of the order. This is the third year I've done this race (it was one of the first tri's I did) and I still couldn't tell you where exactly I went. It's good, you never know what's coming up next. At one point I passed Chris Lieto heading in the other direction. "Slow down" he yelled. "Your going to beat me". I gave him a laugh. Chris is an amazing athlete and great guy. He's had an achilles injury for I don't know how long and this is his longest run in a long time. He's out here to finish in one piece, not to break records. My second lap I'm definitely closing in on Chris. I can't see any other girls so I'm judging my pace off the guys ahead and behind. With just over a km to go I see Chris just up ahead. He stops to let me pass. "C'mon, run in with me" I say to him. He didn't wanna run in with Lucky, the baby elephant so politely declines.
I hit the final straight. About 100m of nice blue carpet. I'm handed the Aussie flag which I wave over my head and then Lucky jumps in the race with me. We slowly jog down to the finish line together. She gives me a congratulatory tap and I give her a thank you pat. THEN out of nowhere her trunk moves right up to my face. She plants it smack bang on my lips and gives me the biggest kiss, sucking my lips off. My eyes open wide as I look to the media in shock. She then releases her trunk and looks at me with a quirky smirk. Lucky you're cute Lucky!
Phuket 70.3 is one race that will stay in my mind forever. The location is beautiful. The race is unique. The race organizers are like family. And the volunteers and locals are ever so friendly and helpful. We've all said it before but I'll say it again. This is truly the best race in the world. And it's not just the race that keeps me coming back. The place and people are amazing. It was such a breath of fresh air being around such happy and positive people. Some of the local people don't seem to have much more than the shirt on their back but they are so grateful for it. The workers in our hotel are the friendliest staff in the world. They don't hate their job. They are grateful they have a job. They don't expect a tip like some countires but they still go out of their way to be nice and helpful. They are always in a good mood. You can't walk past a staff member without them giving you their full attention, saying hi and nodding their head. I wish more of the world could see how amazing these people are and how much healthier and happier they are by just putting a smile on their face.
7th - 2:02:57
swim 22:01 (13th)
bike 1:03:04 (1st)
run 37:51 (7th)
2 minutes before race start and one of my competitors tells me I'm not aloud to
wear my Blue Seventy speed suit. I had been through the rules before and it clearly states I'm aloud. But she continues to tell me that just this morning they declared ALL speed suits illegal. How did I miss this I think. Emma Snowsill is waiting to interview me before we start but instead of conducting the interview she is now also running around trying to find out. We soon find out my speed suit IS aloud and I quickly swim over to race start.
The frustration of my competitor trying to put me off works in my favour as I take off a little more aggressively than usual. But it isn't long before I'm spat out the back. The swim is tough. I'm all alone and instead of keeping my head down and swimming hard I'm constantly lifting it trying to sight. I come out a good few minutes behind with Sarah Crowly on my heels. There are three bikes left in transition. I get the sympathy clap as I mount my bike.
I'll show them! I think to myself as I motor up the road. I feel good but I'm a little disappointed there is no wind. The day before was very windy. I was hoping it'd be the same on race day. Being a stronger cyclist a tough head wind will exaggerate this and work in my favour. It will also reduce the chance of athletes being able to work together to get away. No wind today but RAIN - oh no! That wasn't here when we were swimming. Too late to deflate tyres.
Sarah has a speedy transition and is on her way well before me. But I pass her a few km up the road. I then pass another competitor about 7km in. I'm all alone for the next 5 or so km and the rain starts to pelt down. I climb up the 3km hill feeling strong and I start passing more competitors. At the turn around I can see a group of three riding together. Lisa Maragon leading Felicity Sheedy-Ryan and Ashleigh Gentle. All strong podium contenders. I want to be off the bike well before them.
Coming down the steep hill back into Tewantin I hit 81km/hr. Not quite the 100+ some of the boys can hit. With 10km to go the girls are well and truly in sight. 7km to go there is a tight roundabout. I get right up on the girls and plan to make the pass as soon as we leave the roundabout. The volunteers are waving frantically to slow us down. The road is really wet and super slippery. I slow down so much that I wonder why they are STILL waving. Then... Bang! I hit the deck. Shivy slides out from under me and I slide along the road following. I quickly get back up and on my bike. The next corner I take super slow. And the next... And the next. The roads are as smooth as silk and the water is puddled on them. I lose confidence and slow my pace down considerably. It takes me a few km now to pass the girls but even then I can't gap them. I'm too nervous to really put my foot down. And if I wasn't already nervous enough, I hit the home straight and a volunteer walks straight out onto the road crossing my path. White line, water, spectators... I swerve and slide. But I keep it up.
I hit T2 with four girls now right on my heels. I'm first to get the shoes on and run the loop around transition, up and over the bridge and then down onto the road to exit T2. Coming out onto the road I get bumped into the barriers as a competitor jumps accross in front of me. The 2 of us run together for a little bit while the 3 leaders are about 1min 30 up the road. It isn't long before the speedy Ashleigh Gentle (eventual winner) storms past us. I know straight away that I can't go that pace today. It's been a very choppy season running-wise with limited training between races and niggling injuries so I stay stuck in about 2nd gear for the majority of the run leg. Soon into the run leg another volunteer walks straight out in front of me as if I'm not even there... I take a thump to my shoulder and start to think that there must be a higher power trying to really test me today. Things just don't seem to be going my way and I start wondering if it's better if I pack it in for the day before something worse happens out here on the course.
While watching the mens race unfold as they run back past me in the other direction, my mind starts to wonder half way through the run...am I even racing? Or am I out for a jog while spectating? I'm running the pace I would in a half Ironman. I start working it out that I'm actually even running slower than I would in a half IM. I cross the line feeling like I've just been for a training run. Aside from some brusing and scrapes to the hip and elbow, I'm not really sore! I'm not physically hurting from racing! But mentally I was pretty spent. I'm not sure what happened out here today but it was far from my best. One positive I can take away from it was I did post the fastest bike split (including a crash along the way). I felt good on the bike, until I crashed. I think I took off in the swim fast (for me at least) so that's a positive. And the run, I got my legs straight away, but I just couldn't go any faster than the one pace I was stuck in.
From a birds eye view you would't think you could go too far wrong with this swim leg. Just follow the canal. Houses on either side. But once in the water you may as well be the size of an ant. The canal is still fairly wide. As we arrange ourself on the start line I'm searching for a sighting buoy. I see ONE in the distance. I'm swimming along next to Belinda Granger. Belinda has been doing this for years so I'm confident she'll keep me on track. We reach the first buoy and turn right around it. From there I don't see any more buoys. I lose Belinda as another athlete crosses my path. I assume the person I'm following now is on Belinda's feet so I remain calm. But before too long, it seems like I'm zig zagging all over the place to try stay on the feet. How can I be going so far off track? Jared ran down to a bridge where he could see us pass under. When I was telling him after the race "I just couldn't swim straight today", he informed me "it wasn't you... there were four in your pack. The leader was zig zagging and each of you just kept looking up when you lost the feet in front and zig zagged to get back on". Lesson learnt - if you think your zig zagging more than normal get off the feet you're following! The swim was tough in that we all had no idea where we were going. There were three buoys in total as we wound around the canal.
As I ran out of the water Jared yelled out that I was 2min 40sec down on the front pack - three former ITU triathletes, in other words, amazing swimmers and then a small gap to Lisa Marangon. I had to ask Jared to repeat it as I was expecting it to be more like 3:40. This gave me a lot of confidence as I ran into T1.
The bike was flat. The one hill that we rode up twice was not steep enough to get out of the aero position and off your bars. The only time I did was around the round-abouts and towards the end which was a tight little square back into transition. The wind was fairly kind the first lap but the second it had picked up. The way out was a head/cross wind and back a tail/cross. The road surface was nice and smooth for half the lap before you hit that dead bitumen that zapps your speed. I was getting blown around as I was searching for the smoothest line. Both laps had two turn arounds points plus the end of lap one so I could see my competitors up ahead. Radka was leading Liz in the front with Lisa chasing them down. The second lap saw Lisa had caught them and was on the front. I felt good on the bike but wasn't closing the gap as fast as I hoped.
Just before we hit T2 Liz must have put on a surge and dropped the three she was riding with or must've just had a lightening quick transition. I racked my bike and it wasn't long before I moved into second place with Liz a further 30sec ahead. At about 3km I came up on Liz. My initial plan was to 'catch and sit' but when I approached her I was running at a faster pace so didn't want to slow down in case I got comfortable and couldn't then build on it later. I went straight past and opened a gap. The course was two laps. Each lap had a long steady incline in the middle of the lap with the rest fairly flat. By 12km I was surprised to see Liz had caught back up and was on my heels again. Instead of trying to increase the pace I slowed for a bit, quickly recovered and then got ready to respond to Liz if she attacked.
The next 6km was something neither of us had ever experienced in a race this long. We ran side by side with both of us slightly testing the other putting on small surges then slowing it down. With 3km to go I made my move. I knew it had to be a clear decisive move so I put the accelerator down and didn't look back. After 1km we turned a sharp corner so I used this to quickly look over my shoulder. I could see I'd made a enough of a gap so I could relax a little but you never know what's coming and the race isn't won until you cross that line so I kept the pace on. With a couple of hundred meters to go we u-turn then head for the finish. Only then did I know I had it won. I could finally slow down, wave to the crowd, give some high fives before running through the Ironman arch
as Australian 70.3 Champion.
It was great to be back home, well back in Australia. I've been in the US for 5 months so after all the travel to get to Perth and then out to Mandurah all I was thinking about was how close to home I was. When we arrived Friday afternoon it was hard to get motivated to race again. I just wanted to go home. But after I went for a spin on the Saturday and felt great I was confident I could put on one last show before heading home. Looking back now, Mandurah is a beautiful place and a great location for the Australian 70.3 Pro champs. The swim was unique and the laps on both bike and run made it more spectator friendly which helps make the race more interesting for everone. USM & Ironman have teamed together now and they showed it is working really well.
“Like lambs to the slaughter” someone whispered as we were slowly funneled like cattle down the stairs toward the water. It was still the dim twilight of early morning. With the sun just beginning to peak over the imposing volcanic mountains in the backdrop, 2000 mentally twisted Kona qualifiers cautiously wade into the chilly waters of Kailua-Kona Bay. The ominous beat from the local Hawaiian drummers thump through the airwaves creating a cult-like scene as this years’ batch of sacrificial athletes are presented to the Kona gods. Thousands of on-lookers perched high on the rock walls watch the mass of swim caps maneuver themselves behind the start line. Moments before the cannon fires, an eerie calm hovers heavy over the bay. Like soldiers prepared to leap from the trenches into enemy fire, the floating challengers are twitchy to go, yet uncertain of the impending pain and suffering they will undoubtedly need to endure for the daylong battle that lay before them.
The cannon booms across the bay and it’s on for young and old, no rules, no witnesses, no holds barred! To describe the swim leg in one sentence… It was an hour-long, hypoxic breathing drill (just enough oxygen consumption to stay alive), using no more than half a stroke-length, laced with a surprisingly abundant quantity of blindside punching, kicking, elbowing, dunking, grabbing, pulling, and what would best be described as crowd surfing in water. Suffice to say the swim was nothing but chaos buried away somewhere in the middle of the man-made white-water rapids ride.
Out of the water, up the stairs and dumped into the circus tent that is transition. Akin to passing directly through the heart of an emergency room…with the power out. Stress levels and decibel levels seemed to be off the charts. Countless volunteers darting back and forth, doing seemingly anything for the athletes. The procedure seems pretty simple in here: peel off speed suit, cap, goggles, put on socks and bike shoes, throw swim gear in bag, go! But in that tent it would appear that many athletes are not their usual cognitive and coordinated selves immediately following the thorough open-water beating. Understandable.
Onto the bike and into natures own wily wind tunnel. The Queen K and its brutal hurricane-grade winds showed me who’s boss from the get-go. Up down up down, riding the relentless waves of evil black tarmac paved in one lonely never ending strip across Earths dried up lava fields. Soul-crushing all the way. The 8mile climb up to the turn-around point in the remote town of Hawi was one of the slowest and toughest piece of riding I’ve ever done. Not that I have much cycling experience for comparison. The brutal winds relentlessly attacked like a burley prizefighter bullying his unworthy opponent. They bashed from left, from right, an uppercut from the front, straight down from above somehow. The mood on the course changed dramatically from this point as athletes shifted their focus from racing each other to giving each other ample room for maximum safety. Making a pass from this point was a risk most weren’t willing to take. For a good hour plus we were all in this together…this part was survival only, and everyone knew it.
I’d convinced myself that making the turn at Hawi would be the relief I needed to regroup. After the turn, it became apparent that this misguided, simple logic does not apply out at Hawi. The demoralizing wind patterns never seemed to get any better on the way back. At times I was honestly concerned that I might not make it back to Kona…not on my own 2 wheels at least. Midday came and past, hallucinations of big thick burgers and greasy pizzas came and went in the distance through the heat haze. By early afternoon I was thoroughly cooked, both figuratively and literally. Hot, burnt, hungry, tired and aching I rolled back into Kona, unraveled my body from the ridiculous time-trial position and wobbled back through the transition circus.
Shoes and helmet off, run shoes and hat on. Simultaneously an overly helpful volunteer smothered sunscreen on every patch of bare skin I had. He was obviously well practiced in the art. Like a one-man pit crew changing wheels he was in and out, signifying the all clear with hands up in the air before I even wanted to get back up. The volunteers never failed to impress during the entire Kona experience. I don’t know where they find them all, but they were incredible. Out of the tent and back onto the melting tarmac…it was go time again.
As a whole, the run leg was relatively uneventful. By this point it was difficult to entice the body or mind to do anything more than ‘just get through’. The first 10mile was a reasonably pleasant, gently undulating trip out and back along the coast. Filled with a hype of spectator activity I can see how a lot of athletes would get carried away with the enthusiasm oozing through the streets and forget about the rest of the marathon ahead. After the first 10mile ‘warm-up’, the course turned up the infamous Palani climb. If you weren’t looking up paying attention at this point, Palani would whack you square in the nose. From here the course rolled onto the Queen K where things started to get a lot more interesting.
For years watching the Hawaiian Ironman on TV, the lasting images were always the agony of runners suffering along the never ending stretches of the Queen K. Black lava left and right, long gradual hills of pain in front and behind, and the intense Kona sun beating down from above. This was the part I was looking forward to the most. In reality it was a fair bit milder than the mythical creations on TV and in my mind. The hills made the course tough, but the heat didn’t seem to be a concern. The lonely lava fields turned out to be more a novelty than a grueling struggle. Out through the Energy Lab and back home into Kona for the last time, down the steep quad-shattering Palani, and fed through the final finish chute.
The finish chute was an effervescent cocktail of loud, colorful, uncontained excitement that was quite difficult to take in at the time. It was sensory overload after spending most of the day mentally locked away in the sensory-deadening confines of the mind's self-induced mental asylum. To be honest I was more looking forward to bypassing the ecstasy gauntlet and going straight out the back to a nice quiet patch of grass where I could peacefully lay down to die.
All in all, it was a very long day out there. It was one hell of an experience that had been fading away on my bucket list since the early 90’s. It was a drawn-out battle between mind, body and the Kona gods. Like lambs to the slaughter indeed, it baffles me how anyone could possibly be willing to offer up their soul as mincemeat to the Kona gods more than once! Memories fade I guess…
As Jared and I stepped off the plane in Kona we immediately felt the warm humid air. What a difference it was to what we had just experienced in Boulder a few days earlier - zero degrees and snow. The airport was all outdoors and all the air crew were in bright colourful shirts. Rudi, one of my sponsors from Compressport rocks up in a white jeep with the top down. Somehow we managed to fit two bikes, two luggage bags, a spare set of wheels and two backpacks as well as the three of us in there. First stop was Target where Rudi pulled up, chucked it into park and jumped out yelling back "grab the wheel, gotta get some ice". Jared climbed over before finding a park. This must be how it's done is Kona!
We head down Queen K. It's busy. Thousands of athletes are arriving. We get close to where the expo is, where Rudi is setting up stall. He asks Jared to turn into a servo and before we know it he's outa the car again... This time with a bag of ice in each hand, "take the car, I'll call you later" he says as he runs down Palani Drive.
Wednesday morning Jaz and I head out for a run. We jog 20min before Jaz leaves me at the base of a nice long hill. He heads home. I've got a hill session to complete. I stretch a little before I decide there is no point stretching anymore, I'm dripping with sweat. Let's get this done! Up and down the hill I go... First rep is a 3minute hill, followed by a 1minute hill. I repeat this 6 times. I then jog home. I scull a whole 26oz bottle of water as soon as I get in the door. Quickly shower. Have two pieces of toast with peanut butter and banana. Then we're on our bikes spinning down the road to the Specialized house (only a few km away). I was excited to have brunch with the Specialized crew. The majority of them I'd never met in person. We'd sent several emails back and forth, skyped and talked on phone but most I didn't have a face to put to the name. It started off well... First I got round to quickly meet them all before Jared and I digged into the french toast with macadamia nuts while we pulled up a piece of wall and chatted with Bobby and David. As Jared was talking I started seeing black dots. Oh no... Don't do this now Mel. I quickly put down my plate and tried to focus... Next thing I'm sliding down the wall. Luckily David saw me go and they managed to grab me before I hit the gorund. What a first impression! Obviously a little dehydrated after my run session.
Thursday morning started off with a nice ride out along Queen K through the lava fields. It was amazing. A long straight hyway with nothing but lava on either side. I was flying along the silky smooth rolling hills. It should have triggered I was riding with a tail wind but no, I just thought I was feeling fantastic. I turned around after about 50km and let's just say... I was no longer flying! Did I tell Jared what he was in for when I got back? I couldn't but I did change the advice I first gave him of "give it all on the bike, your running legs will be there". "Save a bit in the first half Jaz, it could be tough coming back", I said to him. Jared is a runner. He's done one IM/one triathlon. IM Cairns in June. He came 4th which secured him a spot for Kona. The bike is his weakest leg. He's a thin lanky runner with amazing endurance but he's still developing the strength needed for the bike. I knew it was gonna be a tough day for him if the wind picked up.
Friday was a busy day, making sure Jared's Specilaized Shiv was in tip top shape and getting it racked and all ready for the big day. I was getting excited.
Saturday 13th October 2012. It's 5:30am. Justin (Jared's best mate) and I ride our bikes down to the start in the dark while he gets a lift down. He gets everything sorted in transition, I kiss him good luck then we let him go. Justin and I run to the pier where we watch the swim start. I won't go into detail about our exciting day of chasing Jared around and watching him from wherever we could. He is going to post his own race report about his Kona experience.
I wanted to beat the heat Sunday morning so I headed out early'ish for my ride. As I'm heading down Queen K I hit a rock on the road. I immediately hear my front tyre go down. Damn! As I'm changing it, I think to myself - I better head back, pick up another tube then head out again. I only had one tube with me. As I chuck my gas canister on, it goes straight up then to my disappointment straight down. What! I rip the tube out. It was faulty. Before I can even think what to do a bike stops and offers me his only tube. I couldn't leave him stranded with no spare so I refuse to take it. The next bike stops and offers me a puncture repair kit. That'll do I think. It's brand new. I puncture the lid on the glue and squeeze it... And squeeze it... There is nothing in it but air. I look at the patches. Maybe one will stick without the glue, just to get me home. But they are no longer sticky. I guess the kit was too old. I remember Rudi saying he was setting up stall at Lava Java this morning. I must be less than 10km from there so I call him to see if he's close. He is. He's on his way so he offers to swing by and pick me up. I start walking back. It's the day after the World IM champs. I didn't think there would be many bikes out, especially not early. If I knew more than a dozen bikes were gonna ride past me I would have just waited for the next kind cyclist to stop. As I'd already rung Rudi and by now he must be almost here I turn down every other offer including a lady who stopped in her truck on the other side of the road willing to give me a lift. This really made me aware of how friendly and helpful our fellow cyclists are. Anyways... I'm still walking. And walking. I walk right back into town. Long story short - Rudi got lost. I walked over an hour in my cleats and Jared, the day after his second IM rode into town and brought me another tube. By now it's hot and I'm tired from walking so we grab a coffee then head to the pier for a swim. The water was beautiful. I think if I lived in Kona I could almost get to like this swimming thing. As I swam parallel to Ali'i drive I could see the massive volcano mountain one side, the never ending ocean to the other and down below the beautiful coral, fish and even turtles. Yes, I swam with a turtle. Amazing!
Monday was the day we tried our hand at Stand up paddle surfing. So much fun! And such a nice place to do it. We didn't mind falling off into the crystal clear blue water. We rode our boards like paddle boards, surfboards, kayaks, you name it. We tried to jump on each others board when they weren't looking. See who could stand the closest to the end of the board before it flipped us off. We rode waves. We raced. We had a ball.
Our last full day in Kona was Tuesday and we definitely made the most of it. At 7:15am I was out the door on my bike headed for Volcano National Park. It was about 160km away. I had a brick session to do this morning - 100km ride followed by a 30min run. As I was out cycling the boys took off to get a hire car. At 98km they pull up beside me as Jared yells out "how much more you got?". 2km I reply so they pull up a couple of km's up the road. I trade my bike shoes for my runners, my nicks for running shorts. Take a quick pit stop in the bush then head off for my run. Our transition couldn't have been in a better spot. Just down the road was 'black sand beach'. The boys drove down there to take a quick look while I opt to keep heading in the direction of the volcano. I run up and over the hills for 30min before jumping in the car for the last 50 or so km.
When we arrive in the national park the first thing we stop to see is the steam vents. Massive holes in the ground with really hot steam blowing up. Pretty cool. Next stop is a ginormous crater with steam pouring out. We couldn't get too close to this one - I'm guessing the surrounding areas could be dangerous and mighty hot. But we still got close enough to get some great photos. We then stopped at another massive crater where we had our packed lunch of, you guessed it - peanut butter and banana sandwiches. The bottom of this crater is hard smooth cracked lava. It looks just like the earth has dropped down leaving a huge hole in the middle of the forest. There are people walking over it way down below. They look like little ants. We then drove on to see more craters where we got out and walked over them. I even brought back some lava. There's two different types of lava. Smooth lava that looks like a wet wrinkled towel that's set then there is the honeycomb type that glitters in the sun to show rainbow colours through it. Oh, then there is the chunked up lava that looks like poo! Our last stop was pretty amazing - the lava tube. A long tunnel of lava that we were able to walk through.
On our return we headed straight for the snorkel beach where I got in a good swim while the boys watched the turtles nibbling on the rocks and getting washed up and flipped over constantly as the waves rushed in. What an awesome week! One I'll definitely remember.