I don’t want to become a triathlete.
These were the main words in my email to Richard the day after I signed up to the 2015 Busselton Ironman. I view myself as a cyclist and this was to be a one hit wonder. Get it done, tick it off and go back to cycling.
My wife, Kim, started training in February 2015 with T:Zero Multisport. A Busso IM entry was her 40th present to herself. The family was on board to support her and get her there. 4 months later, about an hour after doing a corporate triathlon, we decided to do something crazy and sign me up too.
Her training and goal was the priority, but we set about the task of get us both to the starting line as well as manage 3 kids and their school and sport commitments.
I love to ride. So I rode heaps, swam a little and due to injury, did very little running training. 6 months later, I finished in a respectable time of 11 hours 44. Kimmy did super well and smashed out an 11:30 and a top 10 result. Bucket list ticked……so we thought.
A few weeks later, an email from Coach Rich invited me to do the Australian Alpine Ascent with him. This looked awesome. 3km swim, 130 km ride with 3200m elevation and a 30km run finishing on top of Mt Kosciuszko. Cool. This screamed “Hell Yeah.” Kimmy hash tagged it #brokebackmountain.
Talking it through with Richard, he thought with all the elevation, it would be pretty close to an ironman duration. That was the first problem. The race had an 11 hour cut off to get to Kozzie. My IM time was 11:44. If you didn’t reach check points along the way by a certain time, you got redirected and didn’t get to finish at Kozzie. Simple maths would suggest I needed to pull a heap of time out to make the cut offs. Not making it to Kozzie would have felt like a failure.
I had a heap of doubt running through my head. Could I do it? Success for me had always been about finishing. Racing myself. But to make this a success, I needed to go harder than I had before. My strength is my ability to follow a proven formula/method. I had faith in the T:Zero formula. So I entered and started training.
By the end of the main training build, the Dayboro bakery was as sick of seeing me as I was of seeing it. The staple weekend ride was from home (inner west Brisbane) to Dayboro, Mt Mee, with different deviations via Samford Range, Mt Nebo, Mt Glorious, Camp Mountain or the Goat Track. I tried dragging around a crew with me but only Coach Steve proved a regular.
One of the unknowns was how my infamous calves were going to hold up on the run. Despite generous size, they have been a weakness. It was even to the point that I had to be careful running around with the kids that I didn’t strain them. The obstacle was the way and it seemed that running trails and hills was the magic trick.
I also knew that I needed to lose some weight. About 3 years ago I lost 16 kilos and have been sitting consistently around 75kg. As it was only a couple of weeks post Busso, I was still in good shape but knew I could be better. By the time race day came, I’d lost another 4 kilos of ballast and felt fitter and stronger than I’d ever felt before.
If I wasn’t going to finish this race, it wasn’t because I rocked up to the start line unprepared. I followed Rich’s plan pretty much to the letter and on the home front, Kimmy kept me fuelled up, leaving me plenty of time to train, work and hang with her and our little team.
The day before
We had a super early flight to Canberra the day before race day. We had a quick stop at the Bredbo Crepery (if the coach says to do it, you gotta do it right?), then onto Jindabyne. There we met up with Coach Steve and Natty (a two-time Ironman). Along with Kimmy, they were our support crew on race day.
Rich was very keen to have a quick swim. It was blowing around 40 knots and despite being a lake, this made the surface chop up like a surf beach. Back at Busso I got motion sickness in the swim due to the wind and waves and must admit, after the practice swim in Jindy, I was feeling much the same – this was not cool.
Thankfully, a quick review of the forecast said the wind was going to drop off but it was going to get super cold. At 4 in the afternoon, it was -1 degree at Thredbo with a feels like temp of -9!! WTF had I got myself into??
If you’ve read Richard’s race report, you’ll also know about the winds on the bike during our practice. I’ve done a lot of riding in bad conditions but they were BAD and I was getting nervous as hell.
The next morning was cloudless and more importantly, the wind had dropped back.
Just before the race start, they announced the swim would be cut short due to the cold air temp vs the warm water temp. As this was by far my least favourite leg I wasn’t going to argue TA regulations with the organisers. Plus, it gave me an extra 30 minutes to get to the finish line. So far, so good.
Once we started, I tried following feet (can anyone really do this??). If I had a GPS during the swim, it would be a zig zag all the way to the finish line. I think I’m going to start doing these swims with my eyes closed. I might go straighter. Every time in the swim leg, I tell myself this is the last triathlon…ever.
T1 – Man it was cold – I was almost tempted to jump back into the water which was weirdly much warmer! While I’m not convinced our transition was quite as smooth as Richard and Coach Steve managed….Kimmy and I practiced for T3 while they practiced T1 the night before …. ;)…… it was a relief having some help to get me dry and rugged up for the long ride ahead. All I could think was Get. Me. On. My. Bike.
This was my strongest leg. The race plan was simple - keep it easy until Dead Horse Gap, then tempo for the last 50km.
This would leave fuel in the tank for the run and we also weren’t sure how the altitude was going to play out for me.
To get to Dead Horse Gap, there were two climbs. The first was 16kms of undulating climbing before a short decent. I felt good and wanted to give it more but kept thinking “follow the plan and you’ll finish this thing.” This was still the goal.
The second climb was around 20km of undulating climbing and the wind was starting to pick up in the valley. Keep following the plan.
Once I got to the turnaround the descent was awesome. I was on my faithful Pinarello Dogma so I felt like I could keep the power on through the twists and turns and still feel safe and comfortable.
Half way back to Jindabyne before the second leg, there was a quick stop at Thedbo for some refuelling. This was the first aid stop for the day and was good to see my crew.
It was then back to Jindabyne and the plan was for me to pick up the power and start to reel in a few people. Only my power meter decided to stop working – dammit! So I had to change tact and work on HR and perceived effort for the rest of the ride.
Still, the plan still seemed to be working because on this section I worked my way through the pack. From Jindabyne to Charlottes Pass was 35km of mostly up hill. Kimmy kept up the support and every 5-10km she’d be on the side of the road with every nutrition option you could think of. The whole race was basically self-crewed so this was new to us as well.
I counted around only 12 riders on the return from Charlottes Pass to Perisher in front of me but didn’t see Rich, so I assumed I moved up to around 15th place overall (including teams). I was back at Perisher with a total ride time of around 5:10 – this was 10 minutes faster than my Busso ride time. That Richard may actually know something ;)
I calculated that I now had around 5 hours to do the run in order to make my goal of beating the Kozzi cutoff time. Barring injury, finishing now looked like a formality. But my mentality was starting to change…. for the first time in any triathlon ever, I felt like I was actually racing. Racing to compete. OK, I was never going win, but it felt awesome.
Out of T2 quickly and I was straight onto the trail run from hell up to Blue Cow. From my Strava recon, I knew this was going to be the steepest section of the run, with the gradient hitting 31% in parts. I walked the super steep sections to conserve energy.
Once back to Perisher, it was back on to bitumen for the 10km stretch to Charlottes pass. The scenery was amazing; words couldn’t do it justice. But it was also daunting. At one stage I was looking at the mountains and saying to myself, I hope it’s not that one (meaning the finish to Kozzy). Then I realised it doesn’t matter which one it is, it’s the biggest one, so hopefully it is only that one, cause if it’s not…….
I started just craving Coke at this point, so Kimmy was leapfrogging me in the car to give me a few sips every few km’s. You were either running straight up, or straight down through this section – it was unbelievable and to be honest, a bit of a blur.
From Charlottes Pass to Rawsons Pass was the start of the real trail, where no cars can follow. So Kim switched to the mountain bike, with all our warm gear plus nutrition in a back pack. There was about 12km to go now and it was nice to have some company and someone to remind me to keep checking out the magical views all around.
Despite definitely not having a running background, I weirdly started hitting my straps a bit through this section and caught a few more of my fellow competitors. The trail felt amazing and the epic nature of the event itself was really sinking in.
It seemed like no time at all and we could see and hear the announcers and crews up at Rawsons Pass. This signalled I was only, 1.5km from the summit so I had to ditch Kimmy and I was back to running Han Solo. I’d love to say I sprinted to the top and finished like Rocky Balboa on the steps of the Philadephia Museum of Art, but no. It was more just trying to tell my legs to keep running. It was a grind the rest of the way, only buoyed by the incredible view as you near the top and a few high fives from people already on their way down. The comraderie was amazing.
Once I reached the summit of Kozzie, I was just in awe. I don’t know how to describe it other than I remember thinking “That’s it, I did it”, so I whacked the cone on the top of the beacon at the summit symbolizing the highest point in Australia, turned and ran back down the final 1.5km back to Rawsons Pass and the finish line.
This last bit was the most rewarding 1500m I’ve ever run. I’d achieved what I set out to do - to finish the World’s Toughest Daylight Triathlon via the summit….and the best news was yet to come.
The Finish and Post Race
At the finish line, cheering me home, was Natty, Coach Steve, Coach Rich and Kimmy. I don’t think anyone else had as big a support crew at the top of the mountain. These guys were awesome support all day (and indeed all trip) and were just as excited as I was at the finish line. They even convinced the announcer to say “Here comes Morris” (what my kids call me) on the final stretch. It was high fives all round – and then, I just had to send Kimmy on a little jog to the summit so she could experience it for herself.
After a quick soup, some serious warm clothing and some more coke, we waited for Kimmy to make her way down before Richard and I jumped onto our support crew’s mountain bikes and cruised down the mountain. This was an awesome way to finish out the day and get a final look at the views.
We drove out to Lake Crackenback Resort the next day for the presentation and to thank the organisers for the most amazing of race experiences.
Richard picked up an epic trophy for his second place overall. It was a Paris Roubaix Style mounted rock. Bloody awesome. Then, I was totally blown away to get 1st place in my age group. It was the first time I’ve ever placed in an event like this.
After that, it was time to head to the airport, but en route, we celebrated the only we way could - back to the Bredbo Crepery!!!
There are lots of people to thank that helped along the way.
To the friends and family who helped Kim and I look after the kids while we have been training over the last 12 months. Your support has been awesome and we really appreciate it. Our kids have benefited from this experience too and seen firsthand that if you want something you have to work hard.
To all the friends who have lent me gear. This is an expensive sport. I’m more than happy to return favour. Let me know.
To Natty and Wehlow. Thanks for extending your trip to help us out for the couple of days. Not only that but your help on race day was first class. Best in-laws ever!!!
To Coach Rich. When you said you picked me for this race I thought it might have been because you recognised a hidden talent. Alas, no. But I was still thrilled when you said it was because I was the only one you knew crazy enough to do it. Thanks for selecting this race for me, for the perfect training program and the advice on/for race day. We enjoy the challenges you throw at us and look forward to continuing the adventure with you.
To Kimmy and the kids. You guys rock. You know it. I know it. Thanks a million.
And last but not least – check the final pic out!!!