"I'm not a quitter" I told my wife, during a conversation earlier in the week. It's easy to say, hard to do and even harder to hold consistently as a principle. "I'm not a quitter, so I'm going to need your help on this one".
This year was the 20th edition of the Sri Chinmoy Triple Triathlon, a scenic route around Canberra involving 6.2k of swimming, 96k of mountain biking and 43k of trail running. It is an event I have competed in during 2007, 2009 & 2011. This year, the push was on to field the largest solo field possible for the anniversary event. I knew it would attract the best. How could I turn down the opportunity to toe the start line with triple-tri greats like David Baldwin, Julie Quinn, Rowan Beggs-French, Trevor Fairhurst, Klayten Smith and Alina McMaster? So myself and a few mates agreed, it was April. Plenty of time to prepare...
In 2011 I trained upwards of 25hrs a week and achieved a 2nd place finish just 15 minutes behind Rowan. This year with a few exceptions, my training was limited to my daily commute. I was under no illusion that I was honing my competitive edge nor that I'd be rubbing shoulders on the podium. So then why? Why take on an event so physically and mentally taxing you know your whole self will be pushed to the limit? Why take on an event that will bring the hurt, perhaps like it has not been brought before? Why take on an event that has the capacity to chew you up, spit you out and leave you lying on the side of some trail, somewhere? Maybe by the end of this story you'll know. Maybe you'll just have to sign yourself up next year. to find out... I hear the 21st anniversary is going to be pretty special.
The Lead Up
Two young boys to juggle, full time work, a daily cycle commute, 5 pool sessions (total) and 3 short "swim/bike/run" days is the training summary. An ear and sinus infection 48hrs out and a visit to the GP for antibiotics on Saturday morning capped off my less than ideal preparation. The fact that my mates were unable to race solo as well was another hit to the psyche. As a result the last minute go decision, frantic packing and 3.5hrs drive left me somewhere other than the zen-like state which would help me through race day.
Thanks to the enduring support of my wife Julie, I got to the start line and donned the swimming wetsuit for the second time in 6 years. I then contemplated the day ahead with a group of like-minded people in the frigid waters of Lake Ginenderra. Where would I rather be? Nowhere.
Leg 1 – 1.5km Swim Time: 0:31:18
The start was called and off we went. A large lead group formed and wow, they could swim. I'd love to say I held on and cruised through 1.5k of easy swimming, though it is not the case. My limited swim training shone through from the get-go and I struggled through half and hour of mild discomfort. Not a good omen for the remaining 4.7 kilometers in the water.
Leg 2 – 36km Mountain Bike Time: 2:58:43
Most of my preparation for this event involved commuting to work and as such I was very glad to be out of the water and onto the bike. Julie executed a flawless transition and soon I was peddling lakeside knowing that my icy bones would warm up in the hills around Black Mountain. 'Push Bike Hill' lived up to it's name. A steep, stony ascent towards Telstra Tower. Switch off the mind, point the bike upwards and keep on trucking. I reached the summit and bombing down the other side was in order. I was warm, riding well and picking off solo competitors one by one… Them BAM! my pedals locked up with a horrible metal crunching sound. Not ideal.
A brief visual inspection clearly showed that my rear derailleur and chain were mangled with no hope of recovery. Bugga! Time to call the cavalry... Though I have no phone... Bugga! Luckily the next solo competitor, Josh, did. A call to Julie, a hike out to the road and the expectation that if I can find another bike before the next leg I race unranked.
Julie had other ideas. An early morning call to a mate Hov and next thing I know I'm back in the game, albeit an hour behind the rest of the solo field.
I coursed through the final 18 kms and into TA.
Leg 3 – 18k Run Time: 1:56:43
Stoked to be back in the race I swapped bike for trail shoes and headed off up Mt Majura, then up Hackett Hill, then up Mt Ainslie with a few more ups in between.
Finally a long down took me past the War Memorial and to Lake Burley Griffen and the run along the foreshore into TA. By this stage I'm feeling pretty good, 1 tri down, longest run done and as I enter TA another solo is leaving! It’s all about to change.
Leg 4 – 3.5km Swim Time: 1:29:56
The first swim leg hurt me a little and safe to say I was really looking forward to being on the other side of this expanse of water.
I could wax lyrical for hours about the discomfort I endured throughout this swim. About how my legs cramped from the start and how I was fairly certain I was going to drown at some stage during the last kilometre. Or, I could describe the lovey first aid officer who met me coming out of the water, saw my blue face and hands then stated "You'd better come with me mate. You dont look so good." To which I responded “Thanks mate, I don't feel so good, but Ive been here before and just need to get on my bike to warm up."
It was ugly, I'm glad it's done, we shall never speak of it again.
Leg 5 – 36km Mountain Bike Time: 2:24:02
I headed out for the second bike leg, suffering though knowing there would be plenty of hills just around the corner to warm me up. Soon the rhythm settled in. Pedal the flats, bomb the downs and get off and push anything over a few degrees off horizontal. It was so great to see Andrew Graham (Graz) out along this leg as the sun was baking, most of this leg is exposed, so when the breeze dropped away it was brutal. Soon enough though I wound my way down to TA.
Leg 6 – 12km Run Time: 1:26:49
Mt Taylor. A sufferfest. Every time.
Out of TA, up and up and up. A small respite down the backside then into the oven. Fire trail and bike paths through the backstreets of Canberra. Towards the end of this leg I was really coming unstuck. The body had had enough. I made it into TA and this is how it went.
Graz: "Mate, you dont look so good."
Me: "I feel like death. I just need to lie down for a few minutes."
Julie: "That's no good. Now get your wetsuit on and get in the water.”
Me: "Just two minutes."
Julie: "You've already been here two minutes. Get off the chair, get your wetsuit on and get in the water."
So I did.
While this may seem harsh, the primary role of a support person is to keep you moving. Often this involves making decisions that are in the best interest of the racer. Julie has seen me suffer plenty, she knows my limits and more importantly, my capabilities. I'm forever grateful to have her on my side.
Leg 7 – 1.2km Swim Time: 0:39:43
The water was blessedly cool and while it was not exactly pleasurable I was stoked to be on my way for the third triathlon. The leg finishes with a short climb up a ladder out of the water. You can imagine my limited appreciation for the ingenuity of such a device at this stage of the game.
Two to go.
Leg 8 – 24km Mountain Bike Time: 1:58:27
The final bike leg is the shortest of the three and Julie was right. I felt much better for my leisurely splash and I was elated to be still moving forward given the day so far.
Shortest doesn’t mean easiest and the ever present steepness plus the cumulative stress on my weary bones certainly made for a challenging ride. Luckily the day was cooling, the sun getting lower in the sky. The light that had been so harsh a couple of hours ago turned magic, filtering through the trees. Smashing down the final single-track and through the storm-water pipe I emerged into the final TA. Just one challenge left and this day would be done.
Leg 9 – 13km Run Time: 1:28:31
One leg to go and I could hardly believe it. 36 hrs earlier I was at the GP, questioning if I would even get to the start line. Now just one more mountain to climb.
Up I went. Near to the top Sean, Kim, Hugo and Oscar came out to see me. It was wonderful to see their smiling faces and hear their cheers. "This is the last mountain Andrew. Almost home!"
Down I went, then through the flatland towards Lake Burley Griffen and the finish line. The sun was going down and the sky turned a delicious shade of red. It was amazing. After 14 hours I was on the final stretch, there was no one around and I was truly grateful for my place in this very moment of time. There was nowhere I would rather be. My mind was a fire with wonder and awe. Strava tells me that at this point I was running between 6:30 and 7:00 minutes per kilometre. Not that flash, though truth be told while my head was clear my body certainly didn't feel that flash either.
2.5km out from the finish I see Sean's clan once again.
Sean: "Mate, there is another solo just 50 seconds in front of you!"
Me: "But I've got nothing left..."
Sean: "I know you've got something... "
My body wept as I forced it to move, doing the math in my head. "50 seconds over 2.5km...." I had no idea, nor the capacity to figure this out. Faster, that's all there is. Faster.
So that's what I did. Go faster. 4:30, 4:45 maybe. Whatever it was it hurt like hell. But I caught the guy and the team runner in front too. I didn't slow until the finish and Julie's waiting arms.
I crossed the finish line in 14:54:12, almost 3hrs longer than my 2nd place finish in 2011. I was ecstatic. The cards had been stacked against me, yet my strength and the support of Julie, Graz, my friends who came to cheer me on and the Sri Chinmoy community got me through another Triple Triathlon.
The end of a Journey
My day was only made possible through the support of my family and friends and I am so very grateful to the following people: My wife Julie, my support crew in life, I hope I give as good as I get. Graz, your support for both Julie and I across the day was phenomenal. Thank you for giving up your time to join me in Canberra. My Mum, Dad, brother and sister in law, thank you for looking after our boys all weekend. They had a great time hanging out. Prachar and the Sri Chinmoy team, thanks for another year of an awesome event. Josh, for stopping and lending my your phone. Dan Hovenden for dragging yourself out of bed and lending me your new steed. Lastly, thank you to all my fellow solo competitors. Events like this only exist when people are willing to take them on. Huge congratulations to Rowan Beggs-French, David Baldwin and Julie Quinn. Amazing athletes who each broke their category's respective course record. What an achievement!
So there you have it, another race, another story. Perseverance and pain. Elation and endurance. A story I write for myself to help me understand my journey of discovery. A story perhaps, that I’ll share with my children as I watch them overcome challenges of their own. Take from it what you will and perhaps one day we will toe a start-line together.