In November last year I completed my first triathlon, managed to win my age group and that was enough for me to call myself a triathlete! However I now don’t like using the ‘T’ word because that would imply I actually know what I am doing out there.
Then in March this year I took it up a notch, completing the Sprint distance at the Victor Harbor Triathlons – the standard was noticeably harder, the course significantly more challenging (especially the bike leg) and I realised I still had a lot to learn!
I’m not sure exactly when I decided I was going to do the Murray Man triathlon but the plan was to do the long course, which is a 70.3 (1900m swim/90k bike/21.1k run). I’m now very glad I didn’t do that, I was definitely not ready for something quite that big, but the fact I was not ready was actually not the main reason I opted for the Half distance.
I had booked the Friday and Monday off, the race being on the Sunday. My original plan was to go to the nearby Renmark parkrun on the Saturday (hence driving up on the Friday!) and to stay Sunday night rather than driving 3 hours home after a 7 hour triathlon!
But then, the greatest band in the world (well in my opinion anyway), Def Leppard, announced an Australian tour, which amazingly WAS coming to Adelaide, and the concert happened to be on that very Sunday! So that changed everything – I ‘downgraded’ to the half distance and planned to drive back to Adelaide on Sunday afternoon. That would make sure I had a bit of energy left for that night!
The half distance was 950m swim/45km ride/10.5km run. I didn’t really know what sort of time to aim for. Conservatively I thought 30 mins for the swim, 2 hours for the ride and 1 hour for the run, so altogether I SHOULD be able to do it under 3 and a half hours.
This was the first triathlon I’d stayed away from home for (Victor I drove down on the day) so it required a bit more preparation. I had a list and I double and triple checked it. It was a long way to drive back if I forgot anything!
I took a bit of a detour to visit the Woolshed Brewery for a tasting, a cider on the deck and a few takeaways (wish I’d bought more!)
Then I checked into the Barmera Country Club where I had a nice room overlooking the golf course and even a bed for my bike!
Given the lack of obvious vegan options for dining in Barmera (I checked my trusty HappyCow app and it said ‘there is nothing here’) I decided to go for a bit of a drive to find dinner. I ended up at the Golden Elephant Indian restaurant in nearby Berri. It laid claims to having the ‘world’s finest Indian cuisine’. How lucky was I, in little old Berri, stumbling across the best Indian food in the world? (FYI it was actually pretty good)
The rest of the evening was spent hanging out in the caravan park, which seemed to be the place to be for triathletes and their families – so many bikes! Perfect location too, within walking distance of the start/finish area and right on the edge of Lake Bonney. I must admit I am not a camper, so I would always go for a motel over a tent, but the Porteous clan (all 10 of them) had a pretty sweet setup and I did spend quite a bit of time there over the weekend!
Saturday morning I joined in a social ride on the Murray Man bike course, keen to get a look at the course and also try out my brand new Mekong bib knicks – I was yet to find a really comfortable pair of bike shorts!
The ride was mostly good – the course was pretty flat and nice bitumen road (although a bit bumpy in parts). I was at the back of the pack, but when I reached the T junction on the road the rest of them had stopped so I got off and promptly fell off the bike. It was a controlled fall though, I have done it many times before and I had my gloved hand ready to save myself. No damage done! I didn’t realise that they had only stopped to wait for me – if I’d realised that I would never have attempted a dismount! So then we got back on to head back to town, and I fell attempting to get ON the bike. I had been practising getting on and off the bike over and over during the week so I was pretty sure I had it under control. Evidently not. Ah well, isn’t there a saying, a crap rehearsal equals a great performance? I hoped so! (Shane later said he was thinking about getting his phone out after I fell off the first time, in case it happened again!)
We made it back without further incident, and then a few of us did a little run off the bike – also on the Murray Man course, which has a nasty little hill right at the start! Oh well, rather a hill at the start of a run than the start of a ride – or even worse, at the start of a swim!
Back at the caravan park I surveyed the damage, it was a bit ugly because it was on bitumen, but once I cleaned it up a bit it didn’t look too bad.
Ben, along with wife Dai, are the people behind the Mekong brand. I was also wearing a Mekong tri suit on Sunday. After this, I jokingly asked Ben “Are you sure you want Mekong associated with this?” pointing to myself.
There was a ‘Come and Try’ triathlon happening at midday on Saturday, not just for kids but also for anyone who was new to triathlon. Not long after that, registration and bike racking would open. We had to rack our bikes on Saturday and leave them there overnight. This was another first for me. At least I didn’t have to worry about anyone stealing my bike – I mean it’s a nice bike and all, but compared to the other ones in there…
The ‘Come and Try’ was great to watch, I noticed quite a lot of people (kids, mostly) opted not to do the swim, and instead run along the sand. I was pretty sure that was not going to be an option for me!
I stood near the dismount area as they were coming into T2 because I was interested in watching how people got off bikes and didn’t fall off. One kid had training wheels – I’m sure at least one person pointed that out and suggested that might be helpful for me! Some of the kids had some pretty fancy dismount techniques – but I wasn’t going to try a fancy dismount for the first time on race day, that could only end in disaster! No, I would just take my time and ideally stay upright.
One thing I would never have thought of, because I’d never needed to do it before, was letting some air out of the tyres when racking the bike. Because, it gets pretty hot in Barmera, and if you have high pressure in your tyres, and the air in the tyres heats up – well you can imagine what can happen! I took the caps off and unscrewed the valves but nothing – clearly I have never let air out of my tyres before, well not on purpose anyway! (Turns out you have to push down on it to make the air come out! I’m learning a lot here!)
For dinner, I was going to get pizza from a place in Glossop, between Barmera and Berri (partly because I like saying the name ‘Glossop’ – it rolls off the tongue nicely! ‘Cobdogla’ is another good one!) but Julie invited me to have (vegan) pasta back at the caravan park – an offer I gratefully accepted!
I got all my gear ready for the next day before heading over there. I remembered all my gear, but not a bag big enough to fit it all in. Turns out I need a triathlon bag now. Just when I thought I had everything I could possibly need!
Dinner was great, and I got a few last minute tips about nutrition from Ben, which kind of freaked me out a little bit because I hadn’t planned on having anything other than breakfast, and just Gatorade during the ride and run. I’ve never tried gels, and I have never been successfully able to get food out of the back pocket of my cycling jersey or trisuit while riding. I did put a couple of Clif bars into one of my bags, I might have half a one during transition and then shove it into my pocket in case I needed it on the run.
After dinner I went back to the motel and set 3 alarms for the morning as I always do on a race day! Transition closed at 7:15 (the long course race started at 7:30 and we started at 8) so I’d need to be there well before then. I slept with my timing strap firmly attached to my ankle so I couldn’t possibly forget it!
One of my pre-race traditions (running, triathlon, whatever!) is to listen to my ‘get psyched’ song, “Let’s Go” by Def Leppard. It took on extra meaning on this occasion because I knew that I’d be actually seeing them live that very night! A bit surreal!
I headed down as soon as I had everything ready, better to give myself more time than end up rushing!
Shane pumped my tyres back up for me, and Ben lent me a bike computer so I could get some extra data on the ride without needing to look at my watch. Anything that doesn’t require me to look anywhere but straight in front, will be helpful!
I had to time everything perfectly. Sunscreen needed to go on before transition closed, as I wanted to have it in there in case I needed to reapply it in transition. Ideally, I would go to the toilet BEFORE putting the wetsuit on.
Probably around the time transition closed, the MC announced that the water temperature was very warm, so it would be a non-wetsuit swim. He had me going for a second there, he quickly said he was joking, but I did see a few anxious looks about the place!
I watched the long course start, before starting the fun process of getting into the wetsuit!
The long course swim was 1.9km. They started half an hour before us. Some of them were out of the water BEFORE we started! Fast!
And before long it was our turn! I put myself near the back. I can swim OK but I’m not fast. And I prefer to have a bit of space around me if at all possible.
The swim started pretty badly because I couldn’t get my breathing right. Normally it takes me a minute or so to settle into the correct breathing pattern in an open water swim but this time it didn’t seem to be happening! Visibility wasn’t great because of my goggle sunglasses, but at least the cans were bright yellow so even I could see those.
I got to the first can, around the corner and then realised what was going wrong. I’d forgotten to put my head in the water and breathe normally like I would in a pool. I was so busy trying to keep the can in sight that I hardly put my head in the water! As soon as I put my head under, all was good!
I ended up doing the swim in just over 24 minutes. Because I like stats, I was in 63rd place out of 83 overall (so not last! Bonus!), 26th out of 37 females, and 11th out of 18 in my age group.
Now I know my transitions could use a bit of work but I figured as it was my first triathlon of this distance, I didn’t want to rush and forget something important. Wetsuit off, socks and bike shoes on, half a Clif bar eaten, helmet and sunnies on, and 3 and a half minutes later, I was ready to roll!
I had a bit of a wobble getting on the bike but it was all good – away I went!
Within the first km or so I went past the Porteous clan sitting on the grass by the side, they cheered me, I did have thoughts of waving but I thought it was a bit early in the ride to be falling off, so I just called out instead.
I LOVED the ride. It was a nice flat course, with only a couple of turns. Where we’d stopped halfway on Saturday, we made a left hand turn and rode another km or so before making a U-turn and heading back. U-turns are the worst for me but I was glad the first one was without an audience. Once I got that first one out of the way, I was all good!
And FAST! I had estimated ‘under 2 hours’ for the ride, based on a 2 hour training ride I’d done a few weeks earlier, which turned out to be exactly 45km. The difference was, that particular ride was on the very hilly Victor Harbor triathlon bike course, and I stopped once and fell off once. So of course I was going to be able to go faster here!
I thought maybe I’d gone out too fast, because I was going much faster than I was used to, but I think it’s just a fast course.
I even overtook a few people which I wasn’t expecting. I don’t fully understand the drafting rules, but there was a technical official on the back of a motorbike going back and forth along the course, presumably keeping an eye on this. All I knew was there was a set distance you had to leave between you and the rider in front – I wasn’t sure exactly how far that was, but I’m not a great judge of distance anyway so I’m not sure how useful it would have been for me to know that.
It’s a bit different from running, where you can quite happily sit on someone’s tail for a whole race if you want to!
Anyway, every time I got closer to someone (ie they were riding slower than me) I had to decide whether to drop back or pass them. Initially I’d pass them every time, and then I decided I really needed to save some legs for the run, so I started dropping back more. But if I had to drop back twice in a short space of time, the next time I got too close, I’d pass them.
Other than getting on and off the bike, U-turns were my biggest concern, and there was one right near the start/finish area, with a lot of spectators around – needless to say I took this one VERY cautiously!
As I approached the end of the bike leg I got a bit bold and decided to give the Porteouses a bit of a wave as I went past. There was a bit of a wobble so I decided not to persist with that! I had one very important job left to do before I could say “I got this” – get off the bike!
Luckily there wasn’t anyone coming up behind me as I approached the dismount line so I was able to take it very carefully. It wasn’t the most elegant of dismounts but importantly I DID NOT FALL!
My time for the bike leg was 1:37:25, an average speed of 27.7km/h, much faster than I had anticipated! Again looking to the stats, it was a slightly better picture than my swim. 55th/83 overall, 17th/37 females (top 50%!) and 9th/18 in my age category. Importantly I still felt relatively fresh by the end of it (some might say I didn’t go hard enough!)
T2 was naturally a bit quicker than T1 – swap shoes, swap hats, grab race number belt, grab drink bottle off bike (I hadn’t had anything to drink or eat during the ride) and away to do the bit I actually know how to do!
It wasn’t the most enjoyable run I’ve ever done – although I did enjoy the feeling of overtaking people. It was getting hot, and the course had a few little hills in it.
The run course was 2 laps. There wasn’t a heck of a lot of shade. The hardest bit for me was the bit where you run along a dirt road. There was zero shade there and it felt kind of like running through the desert.
I started a bit too quick, looking at a sub 50 minute finish (my conservative estimate was under an hour but I was seriously hoping I’d go well below that) and after a few kilometres I wasn’t able to keep up that pace.
There’s not much more to say about the run – I just put my head down and got it done. Compared to my ride when I didn’t eat or drink anything, I had an entire 500mL bottle of Gatorade on the run!
The run was just over 53 minutes, with an average pace of 5:01 minutes per kilometre. Now you can see why I call myself a runner rather than a triathlete. 20th/83 overall, 5th/37 females, 2nd/18 in my age category. So while it didn’t feel like a particularly great run, as part of a triathlon it was actually not that bad!
The finish line! I was very happy to see it and ring the bell to signify a PB (which was always going to happen, given that it was my first tri of that distance!) I was pleasantly surprised to be given a medal – I wasn’t expecting one for the short course! I later realised I didn’t have my timing chip on anymore and was worried I might have lost it – apparently it was taken off by someone else while I was getting my medal! Very sneaky, I didn’t even notice!
Oh and the time! My watch showed 2 hours 59 and seconds, but I knew I’d stuffed up my Garmin when exiting the swim, I’d pressed stop instead of lap, and I wasn’t sure exactly how long it was before I’d started it again. It wasn’t until quite a while later when I got my bag with my phone in it, that I looked up the official results and my official time was 2:59:45 – that was beyond my expectations!
The recovery area was great. They had everything – massages, food, drinks… you name it!
I went out to watch the rest of the competitors (mostly long course but some short) still out on the course and was glad I’d opted for the short – it was really heating up by now, the forecast max was in the mid 30s.
Then I heard they had booze in the recovery area so I headed back for some more hydration!
Once the bike course was closed I was able to get back into the transition area and collect my bike and assorted crap – then I could hang out in the recovery area some more until I needed to leave to get back home.
I got to see Ben and Shane finish, they both found it pretty tough going, and Shane said he hated it from the first stroke of the swim, BUT he did keep going to finish his first (and evidently last) 70.3!
I left just after 2pm to make the long journey home. Often it’s a bit of a letdown at the end of an event you’ve been training for, it’s a bit like “what do I do now?” Except on this occasion I knew EXACTLY what I was going to do.
I was going to get rocked.
When the question “Do you wanna get rocked?” is asked, there is only one acceptable answer.
I got home, quickly showered and changed, and headed into the Entertainment Centre to finish the day in style!
Anyway, back to Murray Man (sorry for the little detour but it was important to the story!)
Thanks to all of the organisers and amazing volunteers for making this event happen. It was very well organised, it caters to all levels and although I am still a bit of a noob, I didn’t feel out of place at all there. Special thanks personally to the Porteous family for their amazing hospitality and to Shane and Ben for their help and encouragement to this newbie!
Well done to everyone who competed, particularly those doing their first triathlon, and/or first 70.3! And big kudos to ALL the long course competitors in particular because you guys copped the worst of the conditions!
I’m actually a little disappointed I won’t be able to come back next year but I will have to console myself with the fact that I will be in New York preparing to run the New York Freaking Marathon! 2020 I will return!