Take Mark's advice: grab a good drink, put your feet up and read Mark Smoothy's highly entertaining account of this epic race, his first time as a solo competitor.
1.5/35/20km - 3.5/40/12km - 1.2/24/13km
By Mark"Sharky" Smoothy
(This report first appeared in the Queensland Triathlon magazine "Ultimate Challenge"
Hi there Ultimate Challenge readers, because you have been faithful and thus far uncomplaining readers of my epic stories these past few years, I decided to reward you with an absence of any Sharky stories in the last two issues. Well guess what? I am back, so grab that favourite coffee cup of yours and get them tired old feet up on that couch and get excited. First, about reading this story, and second, about actually considering doing something about competing in the race this story describes. The triathlon I'm writing about happened back in November 2004, but it left such a lasting impression that the memories spilled out five months later as if I had just done it yesterday. The 2005 event is once again on in November and I urge you to check out their web site www.srichinmoyraces.org/au
for more information.
â€œAll individual entrants must include a detailed athletic history, highlighting endurance events completed and listing races and times."
That is the first thing that grabs your attention when first laying eyes on the entry form. Then in fine print in the declaration- â€œI have full knowledge of the risks involved in participating and that I have NO physical or MENTAL condition blah blah blah!"
November 21st 2004 just seventeen entrants fronted up to tackle this event as solo competitors. Trust me when I say you WOULD NOT start this event if you DID NOT have a mental condition! No offence meant to the other competitors, I speak only for myself here. It's true, I admit it, I am guilty, I have a mental condition! I like to think this condition of mine helps me to get through these events. Having completed this event last year let me say that I relied on this condition of mine many times throughout the day to get me to the finish.
This event attracts many teams and it is here the popularity and the sanity lies. In 2003, thanks to injuries sustained in a crash a week out from the event, I had to change from going solo to doing two legs for a team. 2004 same deal, another crash, only this time, five weeks out, which was enough time to recover, leaving me excited at making the start line.
The triple tri takes in three lakes in Canberra, it is an off road event that requires mountain bikes only and sure footing for the off road running legs. Throughout the day, the organisers in their infinite wisdom decided that competitors needed to see the beautiful panoramic view from the top of every mountain that surrounds Canberra. We're talking ten mountains here, ten very steep mountains in fact. They were right of course, the view was absolutely stunning, but six hours into the race and five mountains crested, this solo competitor just did not care to see another beautiful view ever again!
As a solo competitor it is compulsory to have a helper, with nine transition areas spread all over Canberra you need your helper more than you need a good head on your shoulders, and we all know by now that I didn't have that right from the start! My helper was my absolutely gorgeous, stunningly beautiful wife Jolie. Their job is to transport your disgusting wet clothes, your filthy mountain bike, your smelly shoes, your tasteless powerbars and energy foods from transition to transition, for hour after hour, as a matter of fact for anything from twelve to seventeen hours.
The responsibilities are enormous. Not only does your helper have to be supportive, engaging, witty and positive, trying to do it all with a smile on their face, but they have to be:
Ingenious- come up with ways of getting a wetsuit on quickly over a body covered in sweat? Plastic shopping bags did the trick.
Inventive- make unappetizing food like chocolate melted power bars seem like a delicacy! Weetbix and cans of creamed rice were nice alternatives- nice one beautiful wifey!
Encouraging- Even if you look like crap and you are two hours behind the leaders after just four hours,"you're looking good honey, not far to go, go get 'em my big muscle man!"
Super navigator - To actually arrive at the next transition prior to you. Heaven forbid if they don't, as the wrath of God descending on them with all His fury would be nothing compared to the child-like tantrum a tired triathlete could throw. Thankfully this maturity of mine was never tested as Jolie was there each and every time.
2004 was the tenth anniversary of the triple tri and the weather was near perfect with windless conditions and a maximum temperature of twenty-five degrees. Gone was the wind and pouring rain of last year, but Canberra being Canberra meant the brisk morning temperature of eight degrees was about twenty degrees too cold for this Queensland softy. Wetsuits were definitely the order of the day and as it turned out the water was the warmest place to be. The start you just have to love, we were all there ready for the 5:30am start and the race director informs us that we can't start yet as Billy Bob Thornton (not his real name) is running a little late! None of the competitors cared, what's another ten minutes added to a twelve hour plus day? The casualness of it all was just great and reminded me of some of the first triathlons I did in the early eighties where the start was actually held up because yours truly was sprinting down the beach yelling out,"Wait for me!"
Solo competitors had a half hour head start on the teams, so with just seventeen competitors, including one single solitary female entrant, the Lake Ginninderra swim start was awesome, no panic stricken dash for the first buoy, no trading punches with fellow competitors, there was actually no aggression at all. Everyone was respectful of each other and the lake was so serene and quiet that at times I felt like I wanted to stop during the swim and give my fellow competitors a big hug! I didn't though as I knew I had a big day ahead of me and hugs have been known to take up an awful amount of time! Instead I waited twenty-five minutes until the end of this first swim leg and satisfied my hug cravings on Jolie and then set out on my big thirty-five kilometre mountain bike adventure.
Two kilometres down the road I'm regretting setting out without any warm gear on, forgot about that old wind chill factor thingamabob. As another competitor passed me I said,"It's bloody cold mate, I can't feel my fingers or my toes." He replied,"You're not from around here are you?" He looked as warm as fresh muffins straight from the oven."Nah Queensland boy," I replied through chattering teeth. I think I was the only Queenslander in the field and so far I was doing my home state an embarrassing disservice. Not once throughout that entire thirty-five kilometres did I feel warm, not even the thirty minute climb to the top of Black Mountain at 812metres did anything about the ice running through my veins.
That mtb leg took me just over two hours. Starting out on the twenty kilometre run was the greatest pleasure of my life. Straight out of transition two was the 888metre climb up to Mount Majura, which takes about thirty to forty minutes of continuous running to crest the top. For the first time all morning I felt heat seeping into my muscles and I was warm and content. I was feeling so warm and enjoying it so much that I was in THE ZONE and didn't pay too much attention to what the marshal was saying to me as I jogged past. Ten minutes later I wake up to the fact that I haven't sighted another competitor and came across a man walking his dog."Excuse me sir, have any runners ran past you?" Knowing full well what the answer was going to be,"No sonny but if you are in the triple tri you have missed the turn where you have to climb a fence, don't worry it is just a couple of kilometres up the road!" I realised then what the marshal had said,"Don't miss the right hand turn over the fence and continue up the path." With forty-five kilometres in total to run for the day I wasn't that excited about doing a few more. Yep, still doing Queensland proud I was, next to the word softy we can now add dopey! Two long hours and twelve minutes later I finish the run and am more than happy to swap runners for swimmers. One triathlon down, two to go.
Transition four, the start of the three and a half kilometre Lake Burley Griffin swim leg was a welcome sight after twenty plus kilometres of running. My support crew of Jolie and a bunch of good Brisbane friends, who were at the same time doing the mixed teams event, were there full of encouragement, and once again I felt like giving them all a big group hug - but I didn't because I was a big tough endurance machine, not a soft-dopey-soppy-hugging-machine! That transition was memorable for two reasons, the first being how long it took (five minutes) for all five of my helpers (no worries about excessive outside assistance being allowed in this event) just to get my long sleeved wetsuit over my sweaty sticky body. And secondly, after shoving half a tin of rice cream down my throat my saliva became quite mucous like and as disgusting as it looked when spat into your goggles it made an excellent de-foggerer!
The course was point to point and very safe as you were never further than fifty metres from the bank for the majority of the swim. If you got a little hungry or thirsty an aid station was waiting for you about two kilometres from the start. You also went under two massive bridges which provided a good opportunity for any bored Canberra kids who felt like dropping gollies (spit bombs) on you as you went under. Anyway, I was surprised at how good I felt as I finished the swim in around fifty-three minutes, leaving a trail of rice cream saliva in my wake for the other competitors to swim through!
Transition five and I was surprised at how good I felt, surely this couldn't last? The next forty kilometre mountain bike course was an absolute ripper if you loved hills. This was the magnificent Stromlo Forest prior to the devastating bush fires a couple of years ago. Now it is just fire trails and miles and miles of nothing in-between. Twenty-five kilometres into this leg and the big one, Mt Stromlo at 782 metres, was there waiting to greet you. Not too many athletes around me were to be seen riding up this beast, at times it was actually faster to walk. I caught and passed a number of competitors who, sitting astride their trusty steeds, appeared to be stationary but if watched long enough, could be seen moving forward. Any time or placings that I gained going up climbs I generally lost on the descents. Memories of past falls still haunt me and I now accept that self preservation is smarter than fast descending. My time for this leg was 2:22:18 and I pulled into transition six weary and bloody happy to get off the bike.
As per usual my support crew was there waiting for me with warm encouraging smiles and my mate Lex planted a big sloppy welcome kiss right smack on my lips! Just kidding, it was actually my wife Jolie doing the kissing, bet I had you worried!
The next twelve kilometre run is memorable for two very different reasons; one reason is due to pain, the other due to severe embarrassment. Straight out of transition I began the long slow grind up Mt Taylor, which topped out at 855metres. I got off the bike thinking a sleep would be nice, instead I dragged my sorry arse up to the top of Mt Taylor and let me assure you I was definitely awake by the time I reached the top but still wishing I was asleep. Descending these monsters is by no means a whole lot of fun either, especially if you have been competing for 25 years and your knees prefer that you caught a cable car back down. The speed at which fellow competitors passed me on the descents was altogether impressive but frightening. This was one of those legs where no matter what I ate or drank I couldn't escape the lethargy I was feeling.
It was towards the end of this run, with five kilometres to go that my embarrassing moment made me forget for a few minutes how pathetic I was feeling. It was one of those moments when your body tells you â€˜it just has to go' and that is it, â€˜you just have to go.' At the time I thought I was by myself and made a quick dash into the bushes, dropped my dacks and, you know, just went. Not being prepared with any toilet paper I was looking for some leaves, an old paper, grass, anything, you know what I mean? I had my back to the trail and bum in the air when this lovely young girl, a fellow competitor, sticks her head into the bush to enquire if I was alright. She quickly realised that now was not a good time and continued on her way. After I retrieved my dignity and began running again I realised that as I was running faster than her and I was going to have to pass her. As I was catching her I was also trying to think of something appropriate to say. In the end (pardon the pun) I opted to put my head down and sprint at an inappropriate speed and say nothing. I completed that run in 1:19:00 and it would be a complete understatement to say I was so glad to finish.
With two triathlons down and one to go I was on the home straight but the body and mind by this stage was a tad on the tired side. Into my wetsuit for the short 1.2km swim across Lake Tuggeranong. The water was quite cool but something in the water refreshed me and twenty-five minutes later I started the last twenty-four kilometre mtb leg and felt fantastic. Please keep in mind that all quoted times generally included my leisurely transitions. This feeling stayed with me for two of the three climbs. For the Wanniassa Trig point at 809metres and Stanley Trig point at 814metres I was feeling awesome. The wheels came off going up Sheaffe at 793metres, where there was no other option but to push or carry your bike up and over the impossible-to-ride terrain. It was 300metres before the top that I cracked and just had to sit down, catch my breath, munch on some more disgusting energy bars and take in the awesome view for a few minutes.
The descents in-between these climbs are worth the effort of getting to the top. While some were hair raising, most were enjoyable and exhilarating as long as you descended within your limits. Though this leg was the shortest mtb leg it was in some ways the most difficult; three very steep climbs, technical descents, and rock strewn paths kept your times down, throw in a rest stop now and again and it is not unusual to go over two hours for this twenty-four kilometre leg. I came in at 2:07:23, which I was more than happy with. The name of the game for most doing the solo category is, regardless of anything else, to finish. With one run to go I was going to do just that.
Transition nine and a thirteen kilometre run to the finish, of course you don't get let off lightly with Mt Davidson at 749metres and Red Hill at 720metres to climb straight out of transition.
But, once you crest that last climb it is all downhill or flat from there for the remaining 8kms. I suffered immeasurably going over those last two climbs but once I hit the flat stuff I started to actually resemble a runner, rather than doing my Cliff Young shuffle impersonation. I felt like I flew around the course and was pleased with my split of 1:22:50. The feeling on crossing the line I could only liken to when I finished my first Ironman back in 1990. A very memorable and happy occasion that saw a bunch of wet stuff come out of my eyes. Yeh I know, nothing has changed, Smoothy is still a big bloody sook after all these years!
Look guys, you just have to take the jump and try one of these experiences. If you've proven that you can do an Ironman then you are more than capable of finishing this sucker. I promise it will be an experience that stays with you for a very long time, dare I say more so than an Ironman? If not for any other reason, do this race just so that you can scoff down the hot and awesomely delicious vegetarian food put on for you by the Sri Chinmoy team at the finish.
Just to give you an idea of how long the guys at the pointy end of the field take; Stuart Bardsley got around as the first solo finisher in 10:53:30. This race is not only for the guys with Alina McMaster proving that the girls can take on the Triple Tri and not only finish but finish well in 13:21:02. The teams are where you will find the fast times, with the team going by the title of No Names getting around in 8:14:00, with only four minutes separating them from the team of Puff Puff and Away. If you are not confident of taking on this race as a solo competitor then the team option is the fun and sensible way to go! Hope to see you there this November!