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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Season's End in Shepparton

I'm stretching things a bit blogging two weeks after an event, but amid some pretty tardy (and some unintentionally omitted) entries this year it's just a good thing I'm getting it done. Shepparton was my last event for 2013, and while it came and went quite quickly in the moment, it feels like this season has stretched over an eternity and it took 50 phases of the moon for Shep to arrive.

It must be said that I've never raced this late into a season. To be racing from April to November is a big ask from a young body, but I wanted to make it happen for a number of reasons. Thinking I would have been racing from March onwards if I didn't have a stress fracture that month seems a little daunting, but with a well planned season incorporating intermittent rest & builds, it's entirely possible to race for that long a stretch, most international Southern Hemisphere athletes do it perennially. One thing I wanted to do this year was race more in front of an Australian crowd, and the end of year string of events gave me this opportunity. I had a weird & unexpected late season peak in Port Macquarie in October which kicked off the string of Australian events. After my win in Port it was quite obvious to myself that the body and mind were sliding out of shape & out of focus. Port was everything I wanted to do in a race this year, the feeling mid-race was impeccable. It was a huge relief to feel that way, so once it came and went the other races on the calendar (Noosa & Shep) seemed perfunctory. But with a daily metaphorical kick in the ball bag, I was able to keep things in a reasonable shape to compete at a respectable level in both races. I kept telling myself that I wanted one more win. While I can say things felt perfunctory after Port, the desire to win was/is always there, it's just training and getting out the door became that much harder. I wanted to win again for myself and my sponsors, all of which have shown unwavering support for me this year. But without a doubt I needed to stop and refresh, something that only an end of season break can service.

Shepparton & the Course

Shepparton is one of those races that everyone talks about. It's dubbed as 'the people's race', and come race day the moniker becomes intensely palpable. It's one of the most professional races I've done, with a really really cool vibe amongst a beautiful but harsh outback Australian setting.

The swim was dangerously fun but frustrating at the same time. It was a cool 17c/62f water temp, with a natural water composition as thick and colorful as a race morning movement down the colon. It's a 1.5 lap affair that sees the pros and some fast AGer's double up on slow athletes on the overlap, keeping things very interesting. Also, a long stretch of the swim is into retina burning sunlight. Like I said, dangerously fun...

While this bike course not my most favored spin, it's certainly more interesting than it looks. Reminding me somewhat of the Buffalo Springs course in the US, it's desolation and miles of tree lined arches are enchanting and inspiring. Rough chip seal makes it an honest course in the absence of any hills, and keeps the gooch yearning for those rare strips of asphalt.

The run course is the stand out of the three legs. Looping around the lake, the course follows a bitumen creek path through quintessential Australian eucalypt trees darting out of the ground like fields of asparagus. This is a hot steaming run, and like asparagus, its grinding length and heat will corrupt your urine (mine was brown after the race?).

The Race

Like I said earlier, my form was on the slide. Seldom is there a 70.3 on offer where there isn't at least a few 70.3 champions, or Continental/World Champions in the field. In this field I had the likes of Terenzo, James Hodge and Clayton Fettell to fend off, all with their own credentials but Terenzo standing out as the current 70.3 BOSS. Winning was always going to be a big ask, I'm running the worst I have in years but I still had the belief that if things went well I could pull it off. With Clayton in the race, it would seem like it was a perfect shot to get a good gap on Terenzo in the swim, and ride the hell outta' there to get a good buffer for the run. Though as the saying goes, nothing is ever as it seems. Always be ready to rely on no one but yourself to be where you want to be. This was one of those races where you could have had every belief that the race would unfold a certain way, only to have it dropped out the bottom like hemorrhoids.

I coughed up a lung at the start of the swim. Clayton went out hard, and I had to go with him. We gapped everyone instantly except for Hodge, who hung on for only another 5 minutes or so. Some sighting issues from Clayton mixed with course confusion from the lead paddler had us lose a lot of time, but we still exited with a minute on Terenzo. This was time we needed and hoped to build on.

I put socks on in transition and Clayton got a 15 second gap on me which took four or five minutes to bridge. I did it comfortably, but it still gassed me a little. Once I caught up, I sat on a for a few minutes before he started to slow a little. I thought maybe he was subtly telling me to roll through so I did, fearing Terenzo would ride up. I got to work and set a really good pace out front. I worked for fifteen minutes before I looked behind signalling for Clayton to take his turn. I slowed down a lot and waited for a pass. Another minute later I looked around and he was gone. I immediately refocused my effort contemplating a long solo ride, but it didn't bother me as I was feeling great.

40km down the road the power was still good, but the heart rate started dropping slightly. By the 45km turnaround I was pretty eager to see the gap on Terenzo and Hodge, and to my dismay it was roughly 90 seconds or so. I had put a lot of energy into that first lap and gained little. I knew the second lap was going to be a lot harder and mentally I crumbled in disbelief. I knew Terenzo was running like a champ, but he was also riding like a stud. Over the second lap my power really dropped and my heart rate followed. There was just nothing I could do about it, and I was getting out of the saddle every five minutes towards the end lacking comfort. Surprisingly I had only lost about 15 seconds on the second lap, I had every expectation that Terenzo would catch me considering how bad things got. If I was expecting to perform at a really high level I would be disappointed with my ride and my blowout, but considering the lack of conditioning my body had left and how late in the year it was I remain happy. Please see the file from my Quarq here.

The majority of the run was ugly. I have been running terribly since Wiesbaden, & after seeing Terenzo's display in Mandurah I knew that the win was out of scope with my narrow lead off the bike. I still had hopes for second, but I knew Hodge would catch me soon after Terenzo did. Once Hodge caught me, I was in a dogfight for about 5km before he dispatched me as easily as he caught me. I just had no hustle and no feeling. The weirdest thing happened at about 16km however, and with a flick of a switch the body turned on and I quickly caught up in an instant. Foot traffic on the course was now thick so it was quite easy to sneak up on James, but I waited for a good moment to pass with authority & slapped hands with Terenzo going back the other way, delighted that he hadn't totally embarrassed us with his foot speed. I enjoyed the last few km's running into the line having consolidated second place, but with a steep yearning for the pain to cease and the off season to start.

So this blog concludes my race reports for the foreseeable future, until I don the TYR suit sometime in March or April next year. I will still chime in on the Noosa Tri at some point, but it will be different from a race report. Thanks always for reading & those who had words of support for me before and after Shepparton, I love reading the comments and g-ups, I'm eternally thankful for all support!

More blogs coming soon, I swear. Cheers

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