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This Challenge Melbourne race report comes to us from Craig Toh. A flight attendant for a prominent airline in Asia, Craig is on a different continent every week but is still able to squeeze in his training between long-haul flights and meet-ups with MaccaX members in the cities he ends up in. Thanks to MaccaX, Craig is able to find training and racing support nearly anywhere in the world.
Challenge Melbourne - A New PB!
by Craig Toh
I completed Western Sydney 70.3 in November 2017 with a PB of 5:14, and was quite thrilled with the results. Most importantly it gave me a much-needed morale booster and the belief I can get closer to that elusive sub-5 goal. I thought that Challenge Melbourne in April might make a good race for that, as it would give me sufficient time to build up into the race.
Funny I should choose to race Melbourne again considering that for the past 2 years, that race has thrown me (quite literally) around when it comes to the weather on race day. However I was willing to take a gamble, because I know that conditions would be ideal for some fast splits should Melbourne decide to turn it on.
I also knew the course well and have friends who would be racing and spectating and those were enough reasons for me.
Coming out of Western Sydney 70.3 I knew I had to bring my swim and bike splits down and sort of maintain my run fitness in order for me to reach my goal. I found myself a swim coach (Bernard Kaizen Swim) and started swim stroke correction lessons every week from January. He identified some key issues right away and we started off working on my body position, then my stroke. It certainly brought my swim splits down and I felt more efficient in the water. I incorporated some of the drills he gave as part of my warm up before my own swim sets and also try to squeeze in some extra time just to do drills, eg before my track runs every Wednesday.
My triathlon coach Shem (Braves Coaching) increased my bike training hours with a focus on bike strength early on in the season. On average my training hours per week is about 10, excluding the extra swim stroke correction lessons and swim drills. I did a fair amount of running on the treadmill when I’m overseas, and as much as I can try to do my longer runs outside with race day nutrition.
Training for a sub-5 PB and flying like I do comes with a load of challenges. Leading up to the race month I had to travel much for work etc., and a bout of food poisoning definitely did not help. The 2 weeks leading up to race weekend was extremely hectic and I felt burnt out. This is a constant struggle between work and getting the training done, and is something that I am constantly trying to balance between.
It sometimes makes me wonder if I would be a faster athlete if I work regular 9-5 hours and be able to get constant training and recovery hours in.
Arriving in Melbourne on the Thursday of race week, all I wanted to do was stay in bed and sleep. I tried to go to bed early and wake up early, to get my body clock acclimatised to local time. I felt optimistic about the weather although it was still cold by my standards, especially when I did an initial swim in my wetsuit on Friday morning. I did a short ride from St Kilda to Brighton and back to test out the bike, and a little run after race briefing to turn over the legs. I hopped into bed really early after laying out my race stuff the night before race day, but due to nerves I did not manage to fall asleep until much later that evening.
The real pre race jitters came race morning as I packed up my transition bag and half put on my wetsuit.
Headed into transition, laid out my stuff, prepped the bike, and checked in my bag without realising I would forget one key item for the race.
Headed to swim start, took a gel in and did a short warm up. The water was calm but a frigid 16 deg celcius (ok its cold by my standards). Quick rinse of the mouth with some sips of water to get ready to start my race while the professional men started theirs. I positioned myself about 3-4 rows on the left at the swim start as I knew the australians were strong swimmers and I did not want to get swam over but still want to be in the front-mid pack to try to get some draft.
Gun off and it was game on. I ran towards and into the water till I was knee deep but couldn’t start dolphin diving as the guys in front of me were still wading waist deep. A little annoyed I started swimming and tried to squeeze between them. The first buoy was a left turn and it was a clusterfuck, but keeping my legs high at the back I stopped swimmers from swimming over me. The first few hundred meters were a struggle as the water temperature finally hit me. I felt constricted, short of breathlessness and started to get a panic attack. I lost a bit of time composing myself between freestyling and breastroking. Thankfully I eased into the swim and finished it albeit with numb feet from the cold water. I was a little bummed when I saw my time but was still optimistic that I can make time on the bike and run.
I half stripped my wetsuit while running into transition 1 and started to feel a little sting on my neck and I realised I probably got a bit of chafing from the swim. Rolling my eyes and sort of cursing a silent FML I proceeded to remove my wetsuit. My left ankle got stuck and I lost some time there trying to get my legs out while avoiding a back seizure. I decided to wear my socks for the bike as it was still cold out, and I’m glad I had my Fusion Speed top over my tri suit.
Rolling out on the bike course I felt a little flat but I decided to keep to my power levels and conserve till the 3rd loop. Finishing the first loop and checking my Garmin I was a little bummed that I wasn’t on track for at least a 2:40 which I did for Western Sydney and I needed to go faster this time. I was reaching out for my electrolytes bottle when I realised that I did not put it on the bike while prepping the bike, and it was still in my street bag. A bit of a face palm moment before I reached for a salt tablet in my pocket and try to assure myself that since it’s not that hot I should be fine.
The main reason I did not pick up nutrition on the course was because of my sensitive gut and I would rather risk having an electrolyte deficiency then have gut issues that has plagued me for many races.
The 2nd and 3rd loops were a struggle to keep up to my power levels, while battling the crosswinds that were starting to pick up from the shore. For the last loop I decided to do a higher cadence spin back into T2 and finished the bike feeling really flat at 2:43.
Racked my bike at T2 and removed my Fusion Speed Top and slipped on my shoes.
I knew it would take a crazy fast run for me to make up all the lost time but I didn’t give up the fight as I knew I would at least still get a PB if I were to run well.
I started the run at about a 4’40” pace, not feeling fantastic but not dying. 2Kms in I took my gel and salt tablets and kind of settled into a pace of about 4’45” which I thought I could hold. It wasn’t until the 16km mark when my legs started to fall apart and I was worried they were gonna cramp up. I guess that was the price to pay for not having my electrolytes on the bike. I slowed down to a 5’00”-5’15” pace and thought to myself as long as I keep running I would still get my PB. Thankfully after getting in some more electrolytes at the aid stations on top of my salt tablets my legs eased up around 18km and I could shuffle back to the finish at a 5’00” pace.
I wore a rainbow-colored wrist band during the bike and run to remind myself that I’m also racing for the LGBT community and Club Rainbow, and that gave me the nudge I needed to finish strong.
Running down the finish chute with twitching legs and a slightly bloated tummy (see what I mean when I said I have a sensitive gut) I felt relieved and a little bummed that I could’ve done a sub 5 as the conditions were pretty ideal (finally) but since it is a new PB I should be happy.
As I am writing this it’s been 1.5 weeks since the race and to be honest I’m not totally over not hitting my goal but also somewhat optimistic that I will nail it one day.
It may happen earlier for some athletes but I guess for me it just takes a little more time but I’m inching my way in.
I will take some time off now to focus on swimming and cycling to try turn my weakness into a strength, and lay off running abit while I attend to a little niggle in my right foot, and maybe ponder on what to do for the rest of 2018.
I would like to thank my swim coach Bernard, Tri coach Shem, and shoutout to MaccaX members Joanne and Linda for being awesome spectators!
With this race report I also donate my pledge of $1 per training hour towards Club Rainbow for months January to April 2018, and I hope you will join us in our initiative as well.