Sunday, 20 March 2011

Tagaman middle distance triathlon 1st

The 3rd race in my Pacific tour was always going to be the hardest and the conditions we raced in weren't going to make it any easier. There was no question of not starting though. I was here to defend my title from last year, and also win the combined prize for the fastest combined time for Xterra Saipan and Tagaman, which is worth an extra $500US and 7 nights accommodation and Gold card treatment at the exclusive Pacific Islands Club resort. No storm was going to keep me from the buffet here in 2012!

I was awake most of the night before with a tropical storm blowing through the island, the noise of the rain and wind shaking our bedroom as we tried to sleep.

The main competition was likely to come from the Korean contingent who had brought 60 athletes and 12 professionals.

The swim started at 6am and immediately the ITU guys smashed it off the front of the pack like rockets. I was in all sorts of trouble in the strong current, and lost 3 minutes to the leaders in the 1st 1100m lap and a further 4 minutes on the 2nd lap.

Onto the bike and i'd gambled on using a disc wheel as the wind didn't seem too strong on the south side of the Island. After the first 10km start loop I had pulled back 1.5 minutes on the leaders but still lay 6 minutes down with 50km to go. I was frantically trying to do the math's in my head to work out if i'd hit the front before starting the run.

I'd had a really good running week in the week leading up to Tagaman, with 2 track sessions, a long run and a great 'Hash' run with the locals. This was making up for lost training with my recent injuries, but I was feeling stronger each session and my confidence was coming back.

Back on the bike ride I passed the point where i took the lead last year in 6th place and with no one even in sight on the straight road ahead. By this point the rain was pouring and the roads which are made of coral were getting very slippery. I didn't want to take any risks on the descents coming up at the North end of the Island and needed to make contact before then. On the 1km long climb at 35km I saw what i thought were the leaders with 4 riders tackling the slopes ahead of me, I worked hard and caught them all on the climb believing I was in the lead. The next descent i took at almost walking pace, so as not to crash. Approaching the furthest part of the course at 'bird island' I had a shock when i saw another rider coming towards me, possibly a minute ahead still. I work hard up the next climb from 'grotto' but still couldn't get him in my sights. With only a short super fast 35mph tail wind section back to the run start I did not have much time to reel him in.

The final dead turn was at 'Bansai cliffs' named after the Japanese soldiers and civilians who committed suicide here in the 2nd world war rather than being captured by the american troops. Coming down the hill towards the turn the wind was howling off the sea and with my disc wheel i was having trouble keeping the bike in a straight line. Rather than get the extra stability from holding the end of the handlebars, I kept in an aerodynamic tuck on the tri-bars, and then another gust hit me and i felt the whole back of the bike leave the ground and the next second I was sliding down the road on my head and back. Without the protection from my Limar aero helmet I wouldn't have got up again. I remember thinking how far I slid! Amazingly my bike was still pretty much in one piece, with a bent USE Tula bar extension and a few scratches. My skin suit was badly ripped on the left thigh and my brand new Bont shoes had lost a lot of Carbon. I got up and continued to the astonishment of the crowd watching, but i was pretty shaken and didn't feel safe riding on the aerobars all the way to Transition 2, so i lost even more time on the leader riding conservatively.

Starting the run I was 1.5 minutes down on the lead, with another 3 Korean pro's within 2 minutes of me. I had planned to put on socks if time permitted but in this case there certainly wasn't time, blisters would be a small problem compared to the mess of the rest of my body. Fuelled by adrenaline I threw on my Mizuno Wave Ronin 3 shoes, and rushed out of transition only to do 2 steps before a searing pain shot through my knee. I screamed in pain and hobbled into a walk as i reassessed the situation. I had almost an hours lead in the double competition as luck would have it as the other Xterra podium athletes had returned to Japan. How far were they behind me? How long would it take me to hobble 15km? How much did I want another year of PIC hospitality? As I worked out the math's yet again I realised that the pain had eased, so i started to try to jog again, I felt stiff and seizing up but not the searing pain when i took the first step.

Maybe i could run properly? 1/2 a mile into the run I passed Susan (my wife) and she shouted that i was 1 minute 50 back. however i was running light on my feet and actually feeling damn good. All i was thinking was technique and breathing.... Keep on your toes, fast leg cadence, relax the upper body..... At the 5km marker I was given another time check of 1 minute 2 seconds. He was now in my sights and at the turn around I used my watch and clocked the gap at 30 seconds. I smiled and did my 'I'm not hurting face' as he came past me in the other direction. I don't know if this psychological trick was going to work but it was worth a try. 2km later I took the lead and accelerated slightly so he couldn't get on my heels. As I approached the short finishing loop I was so relieved at the eventful day I was having, that i started celebrating a bit too early. Susan then told me that another of the Koreans was only 20 seconds behind. The job wasn't done yet but it was one of those rare running days when i always felt i had another gear if needed, so I got my focus back and finished the job off, winning by a minute or so at the end, taking my 3rd race in successive weeks and the PIC competition too.

Next week sees the final race in my Pacific tour with Xterra Guam, but for now I'm trying to grow my skin back and relax after a hectic day yesterday. Let's start worrying about Guam on Thursday....

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