Road Trip and Registration
As I loaded up the car on Friday 8 November for the long 9-hour drive north-west to the lovely Riverland region of South Australia, I was filled with some trepidation. I was heading up to Barmera for the Murray Man Triathlon, part of the Australian Long Course Triathlon Championships, and my experience with this race last year – a 40-deg-C epic with strong desert-fired northerly winds that took me an excruciating 6h 20min to complete – made me very nervous. Nevertheless, the forecast was for low-20s and I was hoping it would stay that way. After spending most of the trip up in typically Victorian freezing cold and driving rain, crossing the border into South Australia brought a warm cloudless evening. I was staying in Berri, about 10km east of the the race hub in the town of Barmera.
The next morning was an absolute pearler and I headed out with my mate Brett, who’d also driven up from Melbourne, for a spin on the bike course along the eastern shore of Lake Bonney. Sure enough, as soon as we left the outskirts of town, that wind hit us like a ton of bricks, although there was one difference from last year – it was a cool southerly. Not that it made any difference.
As I did last year, I lunched at the wonderful Banrock Station winery and wetland centre in Kingston-on-Murray. The wine isn’t spectacular but the food is great and they do maintain a restored section of the Murray River using a portion of the profits from wine sale, although the quiet riparian scene was unceremoniously interrupted by a bunch of very loud middle-aged women up from Adelaide.
Then it was straight back to Barmera to register and check in my bike. I don’t have a TT bike. As a poor grad student I can’t afford it for the moment. But I used my trusty SRAM 60/80 wheels – they’re quite heavy and not lightning fast, but then again neither am I. In fact I can rarely ride fast enough to get any aero advantage from them. The ceramic bearings make the ride a hell of a lot easier though. I also chose to use my ITU mini-aerobars instead of the full-length ones. I have not been able to find a good TT position on my road bike, and so using the full bars is actually a detriment. The mini-bars meant I could keep my road set-up at the expense of aero advantage. I really should see the boys at Cycle Works for a proper TT fit.
Murray Man is a small race – about 300 people max – in a small town so there’s none of the irritating overdone over-hyped commercialisation that anyone who’s done an Ironman-branded race is familiar with. Just smiling faces, lots of “g’days” and a great community vibe. There I ran into my Nunawading Triathlon clubmate Michael, and his partner Kym, where we caught up for some friendly banter and discussed race strategy. Michael did this race last year too, and he was back leaner and fitter, and chomping at the bit to beat his previous time. Finally, I headed back to Berri, picked up some fruit at a roadside stall and had a carb-loaded dinner at the local Chinese restaurant, with a menu and decor stuck in the 80s, then packed my race gear and hit the sack to catch some z’s.
I slept surprisingly well. Woke up on time at 5am, ate some toast, and prepped my drinks. I have recently discovered Hammer Nutrition’s Perpetuem. It is like some kind of magic rocket fuel with carbs, a full spectrum of electrolytes and a spot of protein. It is my primary bike nutrition and I made up one 4-hr bottle – as I am a woefully slow cyclist, and I mean slooooow, 3 hours in that wind would be what I would expect to do + 1 hour in case I’m really granny-gearing it. My second bottle is water with Nuun electrolyte tabs. I don’t drink plain water as I am a very salty sweater and need to replenish electrolytes more than most people, otherwise I cramp in glorious fashion, usually beginning with my hip adductors. I sip on the Perpetuem, but drink a bottle of Nuun-ified water per hour or so, replacing the water at the bottle exchanges and adding Nuun tabs from my bento or back pocket. For the run, I have gels and Endurolytes – full-spectrum electrolyte pills also made by Hammer. I don’t use them on the bike because I prefer the reassuring flavour of salty water hence the Nuun, but Endurolytes are effective and very convenient to carry on the run.
Having loaded up the car, I began the drive – really a procession of athletes – from Berri to Barmera. It was still dark. On the drive I consumed my regular pre-race “breakfast” – vanilla-flavoured Up’n’Go, the highly-processed sugar-laden liquid breakfast made by Sanitarium. Purists will admonish me, but I like it because it has very little fibre (despite being advertised as high-fibre – fibre is the endurance athlete’s worst enemy, trust me), has plenty of quick carbs and empties relatively fast so it doesn’t slosh around on the swim. No bananas this year!
Photo by Kym Hentschel
Transition was the usual buzz. Setting up in the morning is no longer the nerve-wracking task it used to be, although I almost forgot to pump up my tyres before I left. I always have my bike shoes clipped into my pedals but no rubber bands to keep them horizontal. One day I would like to give it shot, but I think I need to improve my riding first or risk looking like a try-hard. For the first time ever, I decided to try socks for the bike and run. For the run, I had two shoe options – both of them Inov-8 – neither of which I had ever used in a triathlon. As the run course loops around town and is 95% on bitumen, I chose to use my Road-X 233s (the alternative would have been Terrafly).
As the sun rose, it was clear that it would be another wonderful cloudless day. Put on the wetsuit, chugged down a whole bottle of Nuun and headed to the water with the throngs. Will only about 300 people, it was a mass start. As I jumped into the water I ran into both Brett and Michael who were also warming up and wished them well. The water in Lake Bonney is cool and turbid but clean, unlike that awful muddy gunk they have at Shepparton. Despite the wind, the water was relatively flat. Of course, I undertook that great triathlon tradition of peeing in my wetsuit.
The horn went off and the 2km swim was underway. As always I started out the back. It was a strange swim – I was completely relaxed and cruising in my own space. I don’t think I fought a single battle out there. Weird. The new swim course, designed to eliminate sun glare, did its job. Finished the swim mid-field and fully expected to cramp in my hip adductors as often happens when I begin the run into transition but there was none – proper hydration saved me. Transition was uneventful, although I forgot to dry my feet, which made pulling on my socks somewhat difficult.
The 80km bike leg would decide my race. Four 20km laps out and back along the eastern shore of Lake Bonney with rolling gentle hills. It’s a wonderfully unique landscape though. The water on one side, and the acre upon acre of red soil and low saltbush scrub on the other reminds you that you’re on the edge of the desert. Of course the scrub means there’s no protection from that crazy prevailing wind which exists here. I began well, riding north out of town along the Lake, the big tail wind made it all so cruisy – and I actually overtook people, very rare in my world. The Perpetuem/Nuun combination worked really well. The return leg was tough with the headwind but I was mentally well-prepared for it after last year’s experience.
There is one important rule I am constantly reminded of for races of this distance but have never followed: you must pee at least once on the bike. It’s an important indicator of hydration. And to my glee, for the first time ever, that point came during lap 3. Of course, I’d already passed the toilets at the town-end of the course so had to try the ones are the far end of the course. And of course they were fully occupied. After waiting a few minutes, I gave up so back to town it was – it’s desperately hard work riding into a headwind with an exploding bladder. That was the only real adventure on the bike. The main downside of being a slow rider is that you’re out there for longer. Which means the wind gets stronger, the sun gets hotter and you expend more energy. Otherwise it was relatively enjoyable. Saw both Brett and Michael woosh by several times. They were really flying.
Ruined 19th century hotel at the turnaround point
Eighty kilometers, 4 bottles of Nuun, 1 bottle of Perpetuem later, I rolled into transition. My routine is always to leave my shoes clipped in and run in my socks. Put on the road shoes, grabbed my visor, gels and bag of Endurolytes and jogged out with a large group of athletes who’d also just come in. I felt great. A bit tired, but great It was so strange. Never felt this way. One of the race marshals recognised me from last year and called out “Prazzle Dazzle, looking fresh!” and soon I found myself well in front of the group I started with. Woot!
The 20km run was 4 laps of 5km around town, each with a short section through the scrub. Not particularly exciting, but it’s great having the locals out supporting you, and providing the occasional spray from their garden hoses. My plan was to run at an even 5min/km. Unfortunately, during the ride leg, my watch inexplicably went beserk and rebooted itself, which meant I’d lost all my race data and couldn’t reconnect to GPS without stopping my ride. So I had no idea of pace and had to approximate by time elapsed alone. In the end I was slightly slower than 5min/km for the first lap. I didn’t see Brett at all. Turns out he’d finished well before any of us. What a freak.
As I started the second lap, I heard a voice behind me say “You’re a hard man to catch!”. It was Michael on his third lap and looking comfortable. We had a chat and it turned out he was aiming for 5min/km as well. So we ran together. It was great having the company. Kym was out there too running back and forth taking photos and shouting encouragement. Once we began my third lap (Michael’s fourth and final) he was feeling great so he upped his speed and disappeared into the distance, but I managed to keep my pace consistent. In the middle section of my last lap, fatigue caught up with me and I slowed down considerably, but recovered at the end. In hindsight, it was more mental than anything and I should have kept my speed up. Oh well. Next time.
The final 100m was the best. A small but vocal crowd cheering you on as you cross the line. Another Murray Man done. And done well. I’d taken a whole hour off last year’s time. Bloody marvellous.
Although I finished where I expected – well down the back end as always – I had some significant wins this year. Which made this the best long course race I’ve done in years. And Murray Man is a wonderful race full stop, for all reasons – the course, the people, the region, etc.
For the first time ever, my hydration and nutrition went to plan. No cramps – not one. And never felt hungry or light-headed. Peed wonderful glorious clear pee. Got off the bike and ran with fresh-ish legs. Perpetuem, Endurolytes, Nuun and gels did their jobs. Long course triathlon is as much about nutrition as it is about training, and when you get it right for the first time after years of failure, the feeling is indescribable.
Photo by Kym Hentschel
However, I do want to end my reliance on gels in the run leg – they don’t always go down well, taste awful and if anything, it’s one less thing I need to buy. Given how good Perpetuem is on the bike and after watching Michael’s consistent and uninterrupted run with his Fuel Belt, I have now procured one and am testing how the Perpetuem sits in my belly while running. Unfortunately, I can’t get away from using Endurolytes, but they’re easy to carry.
My other great win was on the bike. I am a terrible cyclist, mostly because I don’t do enough cycling. Although my split time wasn’t great compared to most of the competitors, it was a huge improvement on my previous long course results. I spent much my training period specifically working on bike fitness – not so much to go faster, but to ride easier and to get off the bike fresher. Saturdays were spent at Yarra Boulevard in Burnley with long brick sessions, Sunday tri club rides were done at tempo where possible. But what helped most was the wind trainer. Like many I used to abhor it, lasting no more than 20min, even if I had a programme. Then I invested in Troy Jacobson’s Spinervals. I got the Endurance Builder 5-Pack. And they are bloody marvellous – intense, focussed, really hard. I really look forward to wind trainer sessions now. I don’t have a TV in my garage, so I ripped the DVDs to MP3 and listen to them on my phone. It’s like having Coach Troy standing next to you yelling instructions in your ear.
The unexpected reboot of my watch is still a mystery but I’m not surprised. I use a Timex Ironman Run Trainer 2.0. I have to admit, it’s a pretty frustrating watch to use. It has all the great features and programmability of Timex Ironman watches, but the GPS connectivity is poor and very temperamental. Internet reviews report the same issues as I have experienced. If it continues, I may have to abandon Timex and move to Garmin or Suunto.
Photo by Kym Hentschel
My Road-X 233s did their job well but they are not made for triathlon. They are a more minimal shoe and I love them for road running, but after several hours on the bike, with the associated fatigue, they felt quite harsh underfoot. Inov-8 don’t make a triathlon-specific shoe, and I would love for them to do so – their road and trail shoes are really that good. A month later I did an impromptu long-course race and used my Terraflys on that occasion. Although they have the same midsole as the Road-X 233, they are more forgiving and feel wonderful even after sitting on the bike for hours, and I think will be my shoes of choice going forward. I know I should consider brands which make triathlon-specific running shoes (Newton, etc), but I love Inov-8 so much, I can’t give them up!
And finally there’s nothing like taking a massive chunk off your previous time – a WHOLE HOUR in my case. Admittedly, it was half the temperature this year – but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the only reason. Hard work, careful planning and attention to detail really paid off.
Plans for 2014
As I expect to join my wife who works in the South Pacific for the first quarter of the year, I won’t be doing much triathlon in this period. Instead I’ll be building up my trail-running and open-water swimming credentials. I have signed up for my first ultramarathon – the North Face 100 in the Blue Mountains in May, which I am very excited about. I’ll be pulling out the bike again once we’re settled back in Melbourne, hopefully doing one more Murray Man in November. I will work hard on my cycling and hopefully I will have a TT bike by then. If possible, I’d love to try and crack the elusive sub-90 minute half marathon, maybe the GCCC Half Mara in Geelong or RunMelbourne. After many years of long course racing, I’m finally hoping to do my first full iron-distance race in 2015.
What are your goals for 2014?