Triple-Triathlon Solo Male Finisher's Report 2021, by Joe Walshe
It’s not often you can say for sure that today is a day you’ll remember for the rest of your life – but this certainly was.
I remember reading about the Triple Tri after I moved to Canberra in 2015 and being captivated by the idea. The website puts it simply: “To attempt the entire course solo is one of the toughest single-day sporting challenges imaginable.”, and this is the sort of phrase that sticks in my head and stays there at the back of my mind for years.
Finally, at the start of this year I had dealt with some injuries and raced the sprint triathlon at Husky without issue – and so it seemed like this could be the year. But without any long course experience – my longest triathlon so far was Olympic distance – how do you even start training for something like this?
Fortunately for me, local pro triathlon legend and Triple Tri course record holder Penny Slater was available for coaching!
Six months later, with Ironman 70.3 Cairns under my belt and despite a few close calls falling off the mountain bike in training, I made it to the Triple Tri start line. It was time to put the training to use and enjoy a day touring Canberra on some of the most epic trails around. And when I say a day, I really mean it – because I was out there from dawn to dusk!
The forecast was for cold, wind, and some rain, so I was nervous about the first swim and trying to stay warm getting on the bike – but I needn’t have worried (about this bit at least). After the initial shock of the water and managing to get my breathing under control the lake almost felt warm. A stunning sunrise greeted me at the first transition and I got away onto the bike.
The first bike leg was really fun. The sun came out, the air was calm, and there were lots of people out there.
The plan was to stay calm, enjoy the spin, and under no circumstances push too hard this early on. A big crowd at transition 2 made for a great atmosphere, and seeing my support crew was a big encouragement.
Then I was onto the first run. I knew this would be the first real test, but made it through happily – though my legs were tired by the end and I was keen to get in the lake for a nice relaxing swim!
Swim 2 was where it started to get hard. Not because it was long, or because the wind had picked up and the water was choppy, but because of the cold. Mentally I was prepared to be cold coming out of the first swim, but this time before even reaching the first bridge I could feel my body temperature starting to drop. Fortunately, a friend of mine had offered to kayak with me in this swim and so I was able to take on some nutrition and have some help swimming in a straight line. Eventually I got out and as soon as I took off the wetsuit I started to freeze! I had lots of help from people wrapping me in towels and even their own jackets, but I couldn’t get warm again on the lakeside in the wind – so I headed off on the bike again.
Enter my second problem of the day – my knees. I have had issues before but not much in training for this race, but maybe the cold or just having been on the go for 7 hours by now was making them start to complain. I didn’t manage to warm up on the bike until 20km into the ride coming up the hill to Uriarra road. Then I stayed warm until the top of Mt Stromlo – and froze again when the rain and the wind set in coming down the other side.
When I made it to transition 5 I knew my knees would have issues on the run so I took some painkillers and crossed my fingers!
My knees were sore on the way up Mt Taylor, but they were even worse on the way down. My left knee in particular was quite painful at this point and I knew I still had almost 20km to run before the finish line. I had to take the steps left foot first on the way down the hill to avoid the worst of the pain but I was starting to get tired enough that I couldn’t coordinate my feet properly to manage it. I was cold, the path was exposed, and the rain had started to sting as if it were becoming hail. The course was getting lonely at this stage because most of the teams had passed me by now. This was the low point of the day. But, I knew there was going to be one, and so I made my way down the hill in the hope of some shelter and a chance to warm up. Sure enough, I got onto the bike paths towards lake Tuggeranong and either the painkillers kicked in or I warmed up enough but my knees felt better. I’d made it to swim three, and I knew at that point I could finish the race.
Fortunately swim three was short, and so while I was cold coming out of the water it wasn’t as bad as the second swim and my support crew were waiting with lots of towels and dry clothes. It felt good to be out of the water for the last time! The final mountain bike was muddy and slow – and for the first time in the day I had to walk the bike not because the trail was steep but because I was sinking into it.
At the final transition I finally allowed myself to think about the finish line. More dry clothes, another round of painkillers, and an unexpected but very welcome few sips of tea and I was ready for the last run. At this stage the course was so quiet that all the marshals knew me by name and once I got over Red Hill I knew it wasn’t far to the finish line. I had my only fall of the day when I stepped in some deep mud and my foot came away but my shoe didn’t – but at least it was a soft landing.
Finally, just before 8:30 in the evening, as the last of the light faded, I crossed the finish line.
I had been out there from dawn to dusk, making use of the entire day, and finished in just under 15 hours. But it didn’t feel like that long – I’m sure it felt longer for my support crew! While my body certainly struggled and there were moments when I thought I wouldn’t complete the race, there was no time all day when I wished I was somewhere else. What a privilege to be able to spend the day touring the stunning Canberra trails; to have such an incredible support crew give up their Sunday to follow me around, look after my gear, bring me food and supplies and everything I asked for; to be able to focus on nothing but moving forward.
I started this journey wanting to complete a bucket-list endurance challenge and an iconic Canberra race. I ended it with a new appreciation for the city we live in, the triathlon community, and a grin on my face that I expect won’t fade for a few weeks.