Auckland 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship

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Had it been two months? Two months since I last toed a start line?

January 20 dawned a calm, fine morning in Auckland. Stars were still visible as competitors arrived at the Viaduct Basin to set up their transition area for the 2014 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship.

The bikes on display were modest in comparison to the various America’s Cup yachts moored along the waterfront of Auckland Harbour. If you think a $12,000 bike is expensive, it’s nothing compared to the $100,000 masts of these boats, not to mention the rest of the paraphernalia that goes along with such vessels.

I arrived in transition slightly early, and I certainly had time to reflect on the time that had passed since my last race. I didn’t let my mind wander from my tasks, but for the sake of this blog, I’ll reflect a little on what had transpired over the last two months.

A wedding celebration for a vertically-challenged friend in Colorado saw me take three weeks off in December. It may not have been the best-timed break, however, one has to rest at some point and this was the perfect excuse. Seeing one of my best friends marry her best friend, experiencing negative 25-degree Celsius weather and the stillness and beauty of snow covered mountains were highlights of my trip.

On returning home I headed down to Sydney and Cambewarra to spend my favourite time of year with family. Sydney is truly magical around the Christmas and New Year’s period. The weather is perfect and the city is alive with good cheer, a youthful exuberance and zest for life. To truly understand what Sydney is like during the festive period, you need to experience the Harbour, beaches, parks and eclectic inner city suburbs. Originally, I only planned to spend a week in this special part of the world, but at the last minute I decided to extend my stay and spend an additional two weeks in the Sutherland Shire (40 minutes south of Sydney). I’d done so much travel recently that I didn’t feel like driving back to Brisbane.

When the opportunity to spend two and half weeks staying with Steve and Cath McKay at Gray’s Point and training alongside Craig Alexander arose, I didn’t hesitate. It hadn’t been all that long since the end of what was an extensive 2013 season, and the change of scenery and training partners were just what I needed to refresh my mind and body. It also served as a great kickstart for the fast-approaching season.

So many of Australia’s great triathletes have trained in ‘The Shire’ at some point during their career. It is not hard to see why – the beaches, abundance of long course outdoor pools and endless trails for running and riding through the Royal National Park make it a triathlete’s playground. There are many things I took away from training with ‘Crowie’, but perhaps the thing that stood out most, was his quiet confidence in his own ability and his own way of doing things. He seemed resolute in knowing that there isn’t a magic formula, just a magic formula for him.

Back to race day in Auckland, I was a little more nervous than usual, as I’d only really had two-and-a-half weeks of consistent training. The body felt ok, and I knew that while I was underdone, it would have still retained some of the strength and endurance I had gained last year.

One of the more scenic courses around, Auckland 70.3 sees athletes complete a one-lap wetsuit swim in the harbour. The bike course takes the athletes over the Harbour Bridge to the north shore, before riding back into Auckland for two laps out along the waterfront to Mission Bay. And the run leg consists of two flat laps around the Viaduct and along the Auckland waterfront.

The sun had barely appeared when the horn sounded at 6:15am. I found myself with clear water immediately and settled in for the 1.9-kilometre course. Remarkably clean water for a busy working harbour; this swim is one of my favourites on the 70.3 circuit. The temperature is perfect (20-degrees Celsius) and the water barely registers a ripple. I exited the water with 70 seconds to the next competitor Sam Warriner. Coming into this race, I had little indication of my fitness level. As mentioned earlier, I really only had two-and-a-half-weeks of basic aerobic conditioning under my belt. I had completed no race-specific sessions and couldn’t take any confidence from the usual benchmark sessions most athletes put themselves through before an event.

Nonetheless, in my mind there was only one way to race – from the front. This motivation was fuelled by my excitement to be riding a new Scott Plasma. Signing with such a fantastic bike company fills me with anticipation for the season ahead. Although the Scott bike was doing a fantastic job, I could tell by glancing at my blinking power meter that the legs had certainly taken a recent holiday. In spite of this, I know my body well and it felt comfortable enough for me to extend my lead to about 2:30 by the 70-kilometre point.

Unfortunately on a left hand turn, I took an up ramp, parallel to the intended road and lost about a minute. Quite aware that it is the athlete’s responsibility to know the course, I do accept that this was not a mistake I should not have made. I can’t help but wonder however, whether the course could have been better marshalled. Especially in light of the fact that Cat Morrision and Sam Warriner, in second and third respectively, made the same error. It is interesting to note as well, that while the men had a lead motorbike, the women did not.

Heading out onto the run, I wasn’t entirely comfortable in the knowledge that I only had a little over two minutes to Morrision. This Scottish lass is a tremendous runner and I needed more breathing room.

My basic aerobic conditioning held my form and I felt surprisingly good running. I managed to hold off Morrison until the last six kilometers and finish about forty seconds adrift. Jo Lawn finished in third place. I had never met Lawn before this weekend and I can see why she is such a favourite in long course racing and New Zealand.

The Asia Pacific 70.3 Championships was certainly a very different race to last year, however I feel content that my performance in Auckland serves as a good starting point for the year ahead. See you at Challenge Melbourne!