The inaugural Sufferfest 2/80/20 long course triathlon had been billed as one of the toughest Half Ironman Distance triathlons around ‘Be Prepared for a day of Suffering’ was it’s catch cry and it certainly didn’t disappoint.
Held down in windy Warrnambool on the south coast of Victoria, I’d really been looking forward to this event.
We’d organised it to be a real family affair. Not only was I taking on the whole event, but we had teams running as well. My niece Kate was taking on the 2km swim, my nephew Paul was taking on the 80km bike and my Son (Daniel) was doing the 20km run as they were taking on their first Half Ironman as a team.
To top it off, we also had a second team in the Olympic distance event. Ross taking on the 1500m swim, Susan the 40km bike and Emily taking on the 10km run.
Of course there was some good natured banter in the long course event. Could the team of young upstarts take on the old experience campaigner and beat him?
From my perspective it was going to be close. I was expecting to finish the swim in about 40min and expected Kate to be somewhere near an hour. The bike course was extremely hilly and I expected to finish in about 3hours. Paul on the other hand is one of the top riders in the State and he would probably do it in about 2hours, if not a little less. If things went well, that would give Daniel approximately a 40min lead into the run. Though given Daniel had never run more than 10km before and his training had been interrupted by a whole bunch of outside issues, I was hoping that I could take a chunk of that time out of him.
Perhaps, if I ran fast enough, I had visions of us crossing the finish line together.
So come Sunday morning it was the usual early start down to transition. I was expecting the cars and the crowds normally associated with a long course event, but this time it wasn’t to eventuate. Normally these types of events have 1000-1500 competitors, but this race, being the first, just had about a hundred very tough looking individuals.
But don’t think that the organisation wasn’t superb. Everything you would expect to see at a much larger event was in place and nothing had been left out.
The first inkling that I would be having some issues on the day came in transition, when I noticed my nice Garneau race trisuit had ripped right up near the tender parts of my anatomy. Thankfully for everyone concerned things weren’t hanging out (see previous post on catastrophic failure in the pool) but if I wasn’t careful chafing was going to be an issue.
So after a whole heap of BodyGlide later and an emergency phonecall to Janette to arrange for alternate run gear later, I was ready for off.
The swim is in the Hopkins river which is a major river that leads out into the ocean, though at the moment the entrance is silted up so the current was negligible. I’d probably prefer an open ocean swim the same as say Yeppoon Half Ironman, but given how exposed the ocean is around Warnambool and the size of the waves over the days leading up to the event, the river swim was most definitely a better choice. Not that the water in the river was that fresh. Storms over the past few weeks had sent loads of sea water over the silted up entrance so the water was quite brackish and visibility was again (aka Shepparton) pretty much non existent.
Mass starts are always fun and this one was no different. 100+ racing bodies taking to that water with an effect that is something between a washing machine and an underwater kickboxing match. Arms, legs, bodies flailing everywhere.
I am getting better at it though. Historically I would usually start off the back, that was until I figured out that everyone is trying to do the same. Plus, I’m okay as a swimmer now, so whenever I started at the back I would usually end up having to try to swim around people with the ensuing battle with their feet.
These days I go off the front (or at least just behind the leaders) and to date every time I’ve done this I have a much better swim. I generally have the chance to pull away from the slow ones and the faster swimmers have to contend with my feet, not the other way round.
After the gun went it was a quick 200m dash across the river with a right turn and a swim up the river, under the Hopkins bridge until you reach the turnaround buoy. Sighting was pretty easy as you just had to follow the river bank and with the exception of seeing a pair of feet kicking about 1inch from my nose, it was pretty much uneventful. At turnaround buoy things became a little more difficult as the sun was right in my eyes and it was impossible to see the course. But once I figured out that 1) We were in a river, so it was a little difficult to go too far off course and 2) The bridge in the distance was the same one we’d swum under before, it was simply a matter of aiming for the bridge and we’d get their eventually. (Doh!)
I was rapped with my time, 35min01sec for the 2km, which is on a par with what I do in an HIM course and this was 100m further. All that training must be paying off!
Into transition and it was decision time. Change into my long skins and running gear (which thanks to the officials had miraculously appeared) or take the risk with a torn tri suit. As my wetsuit was coming off I mentioned my dilemma to a couple of fellow competitors. It was probably the comment. ‘If you ride like that I’ll buy you a beer at the end’ that made the decision for me and I chose the comfort of the chamois and air conditioning over the skins. (Note: He never did buy me that beer)
The ride has a tough start, straight into a bugger of a hill called Hopkins hill. I’m not sure of the gradient but you climb straight up and coming back down it later I set a new land speed record on my bike of 67.7kmh (and that was with the brakes on!). Once at the top though, things didn’t really improve as the whole course was extremely hilly, in fact there didn’t seem to be a single flat section of road on the whole course. At least on the first lap of the four lap course the wind didn’t really get up too much.
My aim for the first lap was to get around before Paul came blasting past me. I knew I was in front of Kate on the swim, but I was trying to limit the damage that Paul would put into my time. So despite the fact that caution would dictate I should take it a bit easier on the bike and save something for the run, I was determined this time to give the tree a pretty good shake and just see what I was capable of . And if I do say so myself, I did okay and got around in approx 42min. Which was okay since I had to stop to collect my tool box as it bounced out of it’s holder on the back of my bike and spread tubes, CO2 canisters, tyre levers etc across the road.
As a side note, this has become a real problem over the past couple of weeks and I should have sorted it sooner. Because of the distances involved in Ironman, the two bidon holders on the frame of your bike aren’t enough to hold all of the drinks you require. So to overcome this I’ve added two bottle holders behind my seat. However the carbon bidon cages I’ve been using don’t seem to be strong enough and I’ve had bidons fall out on a number of occasions. Note to self: Fix it this week!
On a positive note, the couple of minutes it took me to collect all my bits did allow my heart rate to drop a little. Given the hills and how hard I was pushing, I’d been struggling to keep my HR down under T3, which is a bit high for this type of racing. (Though significantly down on the T5 average in Singapore)
At the end of the first lap it was hair raising flight down Hopkins hill with signs everywhere saying beware of the crosswind, before a turnaround at the bottom and straight back up the hill again.
Just as I reached the top of Hopkins hill for the second time, Paul came cruising past. It is extremely annoying (I’d use stronger language but this is a family friendly blog) as he makes it look so easy. But at least I had the satisfaction of achieving my goal of holding him off for a full lap. He’d made up about 20min on me over the first lap. So from now on it was a matter of me trying to limit the damage and to give myself enough time to catch Daniel. Though 60min was going to be too big an ask at that rate.
So it was head down bum up, whilst trying not to scare anyone from behind, with renewed vigour. Again though, I lost a bottle of water from my bidon cage on the back of my bike. Then about half way around a female competitor pulled along side me and asked if I had any water as she had run out. She looked in much worse condition than I did so I gave her my spare bottle, leaving me with half a bidon for the next 10km or so. Not that this was too much of a worry. I know my consumption pretty well these days, so half a bidon was more than sufficient. She took the water with profuse thanks then sprinted off into the distance much to my chagrin. (I believe she later won her age group, so the water must have helped)
The third lap was pretty much uneventful, except for the bee sting. I’d been battling up Hopkins hill from the other direction (yes it has two sides to the bloody hill) when something smacked into my helmet buzzed past my ear (inside my helmet) then dropped onto my shoulder. I didn’t really worry about it at first until my shoulder exploded in pain. Now the Sufferfest was really living up to it’s name. Even after I brushed the bee off, the pain continued to grow. So without stopping I was scratching at the wound site. Thankfully I could feel the barb almost immediately and was able to scratch it out. The relief was almost instant.
The thing throbbed and it took my mind off the ride, but it didn’t seem to any worse.
By the fourth time up Hopkins hill, my legs were starting to feel it and the headwinds had really started to come into force. I’d timed Paul on one of the out and back sections and knew he had about 40min on me. In my dreams I’d hoped to finish with him having a lead under 45min. It would be close, but doable.
By the time I made it back into transition, my quads were complaining big time. Janette let me know that Daniel had about a 15min lead on me. Actually it turned out that the lead was 29min after you added in transition, but I thought I was in with a shot anyway.
So off I went.
I was expecting a flat run.
Not with the Sufferfest. The first 2-3km is over sand dunes. Yes it is a concrete path, but if any of you know the type of terrain, it is ‘undulating’ with sand over the concrete. Within seconds my body temperature soared, my HR went through the roof and my quads exploded and cramped. Not the sort of start I was hoping for.
My running has improved significantly over the past couple of weeks but this was going to be horrible.
But I did manage to get a shuffle going. I was determined to run the whole course and would give Daniel a bit of a shake. That was until the 2km mark when I saw Daniel coming back the other way. Not only was he running, he was looking great! Part of me was taken aback by how good he looked, but more than anything I was extremely proud of him.
Not only was he taking on one of the toughest half marathon runs around, but he was doing it with determination. What made me laugh more than anything though was his comment ‘Who’s bloody silly idea was this?’ Exactly the same thought as I was having.
Thankfully by around the 4km mark the run started to flatten out a little as we ran along the promenade. The promenade was open to people going about their daily walk, rides etc but their support was fantastic. There were people clapping and cheering everywhere.
Whilst the Sufferfest is a small race as Triathlons go, the support of the local Warnambool community was fantastic and to be honest I felt more crowd support here than at some of the much larger races.
On the return journey I past Daniel again and he still looked strong. For the first time, I didn’t have to worry about him finishing the run, he was going to do that with ease. And there was no chance I was going to catch him. I might take a couple of minutes out of him, but that would be all. He had blown away and far exceeded any conceptions of what he was capable of.
But it made me prouder still when he was waiting for me at the finish line, no longer the youth I knew, but a man who had been tested and succeeded.
The hug and the photo of us at the end will endure as one of the proudest moments of my life.
For the record, the team of Kate/Paul/Daniel beat me by 16minutes and you know what I couldn’t be happier! 🙂
And for the record part 2: The Sufferfest was a fantastic race. It might be small at the moment, but it has all the hallmarks of growing into a large and successful event. The organisation was great, the volunteers spectacular and the Warnambool tri club should be extremely proud of the event they put on. Well done guys (and girls)!