I have looked at the Triple Tri many times over the years and thought I wonder if I could do that? In all honesty, I thought the answer was very much no, or at best, maybe I could do a chunk of it – turns out I was wrong.
About me - I generally carry a semi ok base level of fitness, but really nothing outside of normal. To clarify, I ride to work a few days a week (16k round trip), a couple of shortish runs, some team sports and a couple of sprint tris over the summer. I write this, as I found it a little daunting reading past race reports and making my own assumptions about how much these crazy fast people must train, probably my own assumption but perhaps useful for people considering giving solo a go. Really, I’m just the guy that will give anything a go to see if I can do it
The plan was simply to see how far I could get. From a ‘pass’ mark perspective, I was aiming for 2 of the 3 triathlons and finish with KFC for dinner in Tuggeranong. Seems a lot less scary to break it down into chunks and then see how the day unfolds. Of course, the optimist in me thought perhaps I could do the whole thing and really this is that story. I have a long version of this, which is largely for me and my memories of the race and a shorter version which is hopefully useful for other people considering doing the race solo.
The Short version;
- People keep asking me things like was it hard, how did you do it, what was the toughest leg etc, things like that – in a way, it kind of wasn’t hard which probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. Don’t get me wrong it was super tough, body parts ached, hills were horribly steep both up and down and it was a very long day, I guess for me it was about training for a planned pace and sticking with it. In my case it was a lot slower than the winners but it was the pace that got me to the finish in one piece – so figure out your pace, train to that pace and just keep chipping away at the distance
- No matter how many hills or elevation metres you cover in training, cover more. If you aren’t sure whether to go left or right in a training session, take the one that goes up the steepest hill. The triple tri hills are mean, even when at the top of a mountain, there are little course deviations to make sure you go to the top of the trig point (just to prove the point I guess).
- Your helper is the most important person in your race, really they are working their butt off all day getting everything where it needs to be, dealing with all the stress, worrying about where you are and that they have done everything expected of them etc. Help your support crew understand what you need from them and make it as easy as possible for them to do their thing. For me this was separate swim, bike, run and nutrition tubs with numbered bags for each leg and a heap of notes but no doubt this is different for everyone.
- Any transition that involves a swim leg takes longer than you think. Putting a wetsuit on and off of a sweaty tired body isn’t a whole heap of fun and is a lot easier with a couple of people. Looking at my race plan I was pretty much bang on schedule with the exception of the last mtb leg and my transitions into and out of swims. Factor that into your race plan.
- It’s a long day and it can be lonely in sections. As a slower soloist, the majority of the field had passed me by the 2nd ride leg. Once the passing dies down, it is largely you, the course and the volunteers (who are great). I was fortunate enough to ride and run with another soloist for the 1st tri but was then largely very much a solo competitor.
- Nutrition is obviously important, I have a reasonably good idea of what I can and can’t tolerate. Transitions were pretty much a smorgasbord of different foods, gu’s and sports drinks for me to take on the go. This helped as there were times were the thought of a banana for example was not going to work but there were several other suitable options to choose from.
- The bits I found the hardest in no particular order were
- Push bike hill; it just stinks no matter how many times you practice on it
- the running climb out of Majura to Mt Ainslie which seems to take forever (but you do get to run down Mt Ainslie and then ‘coast’ to transition after that)
- Standing up out of the water at Acton Ferry and also climbing up the ladder at Lake Tuggeranong; everything just wants to cramp
- The stupid over the fence steps / ladder thing at the back end of the 2nd bike leg. I am so glad no one was around to see my struggle over this
- Running down Mt Taylor, its steep to get up and steeper to come down especially on tired legs
- The second half of the last bike leg, I don’t even know the name of the hills down South but they felt the toughest on the bike legs.
- Going up Red Hill was also tough but you know that the finish line is very much in sight and once you are onto the path on the other side that’s the last of the mountains.
- The best bits
- People are so incredibly supportive of solo athletes. So many random people would offer encouragement throughout the day. The volunteers are constantly friendly, helpful and happy all day. I had a number of family and friends support and cheer me throughout the day. All of this was incredible. Despite finishing 4hours or so after the first finisher I received what felt like a hero’s welcome as I finished which was cool
- I had this weird feeling of just knowing I could do it pretty much all day. I didn’t expect this at all. Once I got going, I kind of just got on a roll and kept rolling all day. I’ve never really noticed this before in anything that I have done but it was definitely an ‘in the zone’ kind of feeling
- Coming into transition and seeing your support crew eager to see you, check you are alright and help you to the next one
- All of the little incidental moments that happen during the day, some are funny, some are weird, some are hard and in reality, the biggest majority of them you just forget but they are all a huge part of it.
So that’s the short version, now the longer version for anyone interested.
Training wise, I tend to get bored and lose focus on any training plans over 6 weeks. After deciding to enter, I pretty much had 12 weeks of focussed training with a 2 week overseas holiday in the middle. Training was set up with the simple goal of building volume and endurance initially with cycling and then adding in running volume and also making sure I could still swim. There were a couple of what I would call mega days which involved multiple legs and transitions, the longest being about 8hrs or so. No doubt I could have done a lot more training, longest training weeks looked like 35 – 40km run, 100 km ride, and 4kms of swimming. In reality, there were only a couple of these and the majority were a lot less. Really it was setting into a rhythm that worked with family life and squeezing in what I could around that.
Having not done a multi event like this before, I found it nuts how much gear I had to pack. I decided to change gear pretty much on every leg. Didn’t have to, but wanted to make sure I was comfortable. The intent was never to race for speed, was really just to see how far I could get and to do that I wanted to be as comfortable as possible.
I hadn’t seen the email advising the bike course change until late Saturday night, “3kms extra for free” or words to that affect – REALLY?. Lake section closures meant we were swimming on the other side of the lake and had to ride a bonus 3kms. Not something to stress over but was pretty sure I was ok without the extra 3km.
The swim was largely uneventful and settled into a good rhythm, had a little bit of trouble finding the last turning buoy but finished slightly quicker than planned time. Bike was set up pretty much on the beach so was out of the water and away nice and quickly.
The 3 bonus kilometres served as a good time to eat some pikelettes and get settled onto the bike. Being a north-sider, I was pretty familiar with this course and had a good idea of where it was hard and less hard. I had covered push bike hill a number of times in training; I have lots of non family friendly names for push bike hill, for me, its an 8 minute slog huffing and puffing, wondering if I will ever get to the top. But what goes up, has to come down and was at Bruce Ridge before I knew it. In my endeavours to maximise speed, I had pumped up my tyres way too much, which really was daft and made a lot of the off road sections harder than it should be. In reality, Im a pretty nervous nelly on a mountain bike and had gone over the handle bars the week before so probably was more self-preservation related rather than tyre pressure. After you get to the top of Lyneham Ridge it’s relatively cruisey into transition. I somehow managed to miss an arrow and rode a little extra picking up a puncture just as I got into T2 (which was magically fixed when I next rode).
A quick bit of food, a kiss for my wife and onto the run, and the profile looks tough (Mental note for next ride transition, if you are wearing knicks over tri shorts for the ride, take them off before you start running). The majority of the first 3kms are pretty steep up hill (Mt Majura) which involved a lot of walking. Legs were feeling ok, maybe a little bitey but still plenty in the tank. I was fortunate enough to have met up with another solo competitor and we ran this leg together. Goal was to average 7min km’s on this leg which pretty much went to plan. Walk up the big hills to save the legs and jog the rest. The summit to Mount Ainslie seemed to take forever and it was starting to warm up, but was good knowing that once we were there it was pretty much downhill to the swim. A ‘nice’ downhill run on the Mt Ainslie path and then the last 5kms or so to the Boathouse for completion of the first tri in 5h20.
Looking back, Im really happy with how this tri went. Tyre pressure and lack of mountain bike skills aside pretty much everything went to plan. Really it was about getting through Tri 1 with enough energy for Tri 2. I probably should have had a bit more electrolyte on the bike but was able to catch that up later in the race.
It is very difficult to put on a wetsuit after moving for 5+ hours. Fortunately my helper group had increased in size so had many hands helping. We somehow managed to get the wetsuit on without my legs locking up and after a quick chat, and drink it was time to swim. This was probably the leg I was least looking forward to, 3.5km of straight swimming – YUCK! My swimming training consisted of maybe 10 swims in total, one being 3kms straight. Theory being that if I could swim 3km without a wettie then 3.5kms would work. The time for this leg was about 10mins faster than I expected and I don’t really know how. Swimming out to the first buoy across the lake seemed to take an inordinate amount of time, and then the next one and the next. My brother was kayaking in front of me (he was the ‘incase I drowned’ guy) – really it was just good to have someone to look at and keep you company to help you finish the distance. I just tried to focus on ticking the arms over and not using my legs (cause they were ready to cramp). Was a good current behind and the wind was helping as well. Got out of the water and started to get changed and then got freezing, couldn’t stop shivering. My poor helpers took turns rubbing my back and arms to warm me up.
Once I was moving, I warmed up pretty quickly. The first 15kms or so are relatively fast across cycle path and fire trails with only the hill at the arboretum to contend with. Was met by my wife on Coppins Crossing Road to top up energy drinks and take some gear before I headed further towards Stromlo. This part is a little draining, it’s not super hard but it’s not easy either and it’s just hot. Once you cross the road into Stromlo it starts to get a bit hillier and then there’s the Stromlo climb itself. There were a number of times I found it made more sense to push the bike up the steep hills rather than burn the legs with so much more still to come. The last 10kms or so around the back of Weston Creek and Cooleman Ridge seemed to take forever but slowly the k’s ticked by and it was time to run again.
Mt Taylor – I honestly didn’t know it was so steep, seemed to go up forever. Coming down felt just as steep and could feel my knees starting to get a little unhappy. As the course levelled out, and it became path, my pace kept improving to pretty much the overall average I expected. Pretty quickly I was back in transition ready to start the last Tri – who would have thought!
Looking back on tri 2, I think I ‘raced’ this one quite conservatively ensuring that I had the energy to get through to the end. That was basically the race plan but suspect there was less time to be taken here (easy to say that now though). I think I felt better finishing the 2nd tri than I did the first which was a really good sign heading into the last tri
So it seems my flippers (arms), in particular my left elbow had had enough of swimming by now. Was doing my best to maintain an easy relaxed stroke but old leftie wasn’t quite pulling his weight leading to a bit of weaving across the lake. Fortunately I had my brother kayaking beside me to try and keep me on course. At the end of this leg you have to climb up a ladder to exit the lake – not fun, but made it out and was rewarded with some Chicken nuggets before the last ride.
Whilst it is the shortest, I think the 3rd bike leg is the hardest, the elevation gain isn’t that much less than the other two and it is ~13km shorter, plus you are knackered from everything else. It starts off pleasant enough with about 6km of bike path but then it’s pretty mean from there on in. A fair bit of hill walking on this one. There were even a couple of down hills I walked as they were pretty steep and didn’t think the extra speed outweighed the risk. This was the only leg outside of transitions that I missed my expected time range. The tunnels at the end under the parkway were super weird to ride / walk through – I’m 170cm and found it tight to go through (and that was walking) but it was cool in hindsight. So onto the last run
Being close to dark, I was allowed my helper / lovely wife to run with me. I probably talked her ear off as had been quiet for such long chunks of the day. Red Hill was steep but we chatted, walked and jogged our way over it. 9 or so km’s in she ditched me to be at the finish with the kids and I had my brother run the last bit with me. It was very much dark from the top of Lady Denman drive to the finish but that didn’t matter. Was able to pick up the pace a little over the last few km’s and was elated to get to the end in one piece
Tri 3 was definitely hard but at the same time you knew that it was the last swim, the last ride, the last 5km etc. I had more pace in my legs after Red Hill than expected and it was cool to know for sure that I would get to the end.
There are heaps of thanks to people when you do a race like this, really it is quite a selfish thing to do and you certainly can’t do it without the support and understanding of your family. I was very fortunate to have plenty of people giving up their time to help me and of course to have an amazing wife that put up with me in the lead up to and during the race. So to all those people, if you have read this far, thank you so so much – I could not have done this without the part you played in helping me (and woo-hoo I did it!).