Getting the Winning Feeling Back at Nepean and Noosa
I’m thrilled to finish this year on a high after winning the Nepean and Noosa triathlons in the past few weeks. It’s always great for your confidence and belief in yourself to finish the year with some wins, so I’m feeling pretty good.
But! Like any race, there was a journey to get to that podium. These two races were as different from each other as two races could be: In Nepean, I felt fresh and strong. During Noosa, I was so fatigued I was scuffing my feet during the run. Here’s how these races played out.
Preparing for Nepean and Noosa
I’m always really excited about the time of year leading up to these two races. I’ve always done quite well in both, so I look forward to these events.
This time of year is also quite a challenge for me, as I often write my own training program for these events. But it’s a challenge I enjoy: Sometimes I get it right. Sometimes I get it wrong.
In 2015 I got it very wrong. I knew I was in great form and was preparing for Nepean, Noosa and Island House. But I was pushing too hard, and when I was out for a run one morning I took a stride and tore my calf.
This time I was managing a little niggle and at times pushing too hard. The body held up just enough to get through these two race and earned a well-deserved rest.
I wanted to perform at these races. I was going to Nepean with one aim – To win the race.
Leading up to Nepean, I was doing a fairly similar volume of training overall, but just with a different focus. I kept my swim training exactly the same though.
I knew I was in good form. I was in one of those headspaces where you are up for the challenge of racing anyone that may be in the race.
Nepean Race Day
I wanted to push the pace early. The Nepean swim course suits my strengths – Non wetsuit, fresh water swim. I lead with Max Stapley exiting on my feet
I felt fast, but it didn’t take too much effort. That’s a great spot to be in.
The chase group was about 40s behind me, but Max was right behind me. I went hard for the first 5km and got a little gap and settled into maintaining my lead over the chase guys.
Nepean’s course has quite a few U-turns where you can see the guys behind you, so I dosed my effort based on that. I was watching my numbers of course, but I kept focusing on the race. Numbers are great, but if you don’t focus on the race on the day, they don’t mean much. This approach helped me maintain a 40s gap.
I got off the bike and felt really good; It’s a good feeling when you come out of T2 feeling strong.
Nepean Triathlon is unique in that the women have a small handicap, just 8 minutes ahead. My first of the two laps on the run I was making sure I remained in good position to the other guys. In the 2nd lap I was focused on the women leaders. In the past four years, the men have never caught up with the women at Nepean.
I heard Ashleigh Gentle was winning, and she was 30 seconds ahead of me. I was confident I could close this 30s gap in 4kms, and caught Ash with 3 kms to go.
With just a few kilometers to go, I remembered Noosa was coming up, so I backed off a bit. I wanted to look after my body for the next race.
Nepean is important to me
Winning Nepean is important to me. I grew up racing in Nepean. As a junior that’s where all our NSW state and national all-school races where every year, and the youth Olympics in 2009. Even when I’m in Penrith, I get nervous, even if I’m not racing. I remember the feeling from when I was a kid, so to win that race was pretty special.
Training between Nepean and Noosa
Luckily for me, Penrith is an hour up the road so once Nepean is over, my mind turns straight to Noosa.
I got a recovery massage in Penrith, and did a good warm down before I headed back to Woolongong.
From there, my philosophy has always been recovery first. My body tells me if I’m ready to start training, and less is always better. Luckily for me, Noosa was my last race of the year so I could just focus on recovery before that.
On Monday, I got a massage, and did a 20 minute jog, an hour ride and 2 kilometre swim.
On Tuesday, my training was light like Monday.
On Wednesday, I added a bit of intensity. I did a hard run and hard swim.
On Thursday, I did race pace efforts on the bike.
Then, it was time to head to Noosa. When I got to Noosa, my focus was rest. I don’t usually train two days out of a race. There is so much going on at Noosa, so I spent time getting my things ready for race day. I got my gels ready, I planned my meals for the next two days, and I made sure my fluids were ready.
The day before the race, on Saturday, I did my pre-race training.
I went for a ride on the course with Ryan Baile and Jake Birtwhistle. They’re my competitors, but we get along as mates, so outside of racing we share some training.
I did 4,3,2 and 1 minute intervals at race pace effort. Then straight away, I did a 30 minute run including 3,2 and 1 minutes then 2 x 30 second intervals building from tempo pace to a bit faster than race pace.
After this training, I had breakfast and fulfilled some sponsor commitments. Then did a 20 minute swim at race pace effort.
The night before the race, I put my legs up , hydrated a lot, and double checked my race gear was ready. My bike had gone to transition at lunchtime.
Just before race time
I had an early dinner and tried to get to sleep as early as I could. I was in bed by 8:30, and asleep by 9:30. I’m not used to early races though, and checked my phone six times in the night to make sure I didn’t sleep through my alarm!
I got up about 3 hours before the race. I put all my stuff on the bike and set everything up at transition. Then I went for a little jog, then checked the conditions in the water like the current and the waves.
Noosa Race Day
It was a weird start with everyone bunched up on one side. I was going to move but I heard the ten second warning, so I had to stay in the bunch. Unfortunately, Baile and I shouldered each other by mistake as we tried to jump over a wave. It put us both off balance and when we got up after the fall, we were dead last. I was confident my swim was strong enough to get my to the front, and the guys at the front did a good job of forcing the pace.
It took me about 600 metros to get up the front after the fall. I was 3rd or 4th, in the group by the last straight.
The main guys I was looking out for weren’t there so it couldn’t have been a better scenario for me.
I didn’t get my helmet on as quickly as I’d like, so I was 4th or 5th out of the transition. When I got on the bike, I saw Max was accelerating quite quickly behind the lead motorbike. Ben Shaw was just behind him and couldn’t hold the 12 metre distance.
I noticed the motorbike was pretty close, and I worked super hard to get around. I was riding really hard, putting 400 watts in for the first 4 minutes, just trying to keep the 12 metre distance.
To be honest, after 5 minutes I really started paying for that effort. I got a bit upset about how close the motorbike was to the leader.
I spoke to an official and said I didn’t think the motorbike was keeping race distance, and he said he’d heard through his radio and was going to make sure the bike stayed clear.’
Fair play to Max, after that point, he still maintained a solid 25 seconds ahead of me. After the initial part of the bike I reminded myself that I was still in a very good position without Bailie, Birtwhistle, Fisher – the favourites for the race, so I settled into my pace and made sure I rode strong whilst still leaving enough to run well.
By T2, I had a 40 second lead on the chase pack made up of Ryan Baile, Ryan Fisher and Max Neauman all the other fierce contenders
When I was leaning down and putting on my shoes, I felt my quads twinge a bit. The twinge went away, but it was an obvious sign I was really tired.
I certainly didn’t have a spring in my step. I just focused on keeping my rhythm and cadence consistent. I didn’t dare look back.
At the turnaround, I could see where the chase pack was, which was a shame because I imagined they were further back than they were. Over the next three kilometres, I lost about 10 seconds to still hold a 25 second lead. 1500m later, I was told the chase pack was just 5 seconds behind me.
With 1 kilometre to go, I told myself to act as if these final few kilometres were the finish line. I could afford to allow Max or Baillie to run up to me as my momentum was going backwards and theirs forward I would’ve really struggled to stay with if they had.
As I was striding through, my shoes were scraping the ground; a classic sign of fatigue. There’s a bridge with 400 metres to go, and a tiny hill after it. I told myself to accelerate off the hill, and after that, I was just 200 metres from the finish line in front of the VIP section.
I was so exhausted when I reached the finish line, I couldn’t even lift the tape.
These two races were complete opposite experiences for me, but equally challenging in their own way. Nepean is an area with so many memories, and Noosa is such an infamous race it’s incredible to be a part of it.
Now I’ll be enjoying two weeks of downtime before building up for the next year’s first race in March, and ultimately first qualifying race for the Olympics in August.
Until then, I can’t wait to spend time with my family and enjoy the holidays.