I glanced down at my wrist and noticed that my heartrate was 94 beats per minute. Normally, I'd be very happy with that in a race, but the problem was I was only walking down the beach to the start line.
I was surrounded by probably 30 or 40 other racers, all of whom looked lean and fit and were wearing profressional racing wetsuits, whilst I clomped down in my old arms-off kayaking wetsuit feeling rather out of place. Heck, many of these guys had just done a 750m or 1500m swim "warm up" whilst I was nervous about the 300m swim we had ahead of us.
It was therefore almost a relief when the starters gun went and all I had to think about was the race. Due to pretty rough seas it was a hard 300metres, and because of this I found myself in a big mid-race pack in the water, and there was a bit of bumping and chopping going on as swimmers lost bearings and swam into each other in the waves. One person who had been swimming on my left for about 30 metres suddenly cut off at right angles and just swam straight in front of me and everyone else which just goes to show how easy it was to get mixed up out there.
Memories from two seasons ago (the last time I raced) came back to me as I tried to pull myself up out of the water and get my body working to jog up the beach and into transition. If you've never done a triathlon, even just a super sprint like this one, it comes as a real shock just how hard it is to get legs moving again, and don't even begin to talk to me about getting out of a wetsuit, and putting on a helmet and shoes, especially the shoes. I personally think they should class the two transitions as legs as I can spend almost as long in transitions between legs as I do out doing the swimming, cycling and running.
I was confident as I motored out on the bike at the back of a pack of 4 or 5 people because cycling was my strongest leg, or at least I soon found it was my strongest leg. Whilst I overtook one guy in front of me, and caught a second, the other three rode away from me, and half way through the second lap the guy I passed came back past me, as did several other of the stronger riders as they lapped me or made up for poor swimming times. My grand plans of building up a buffer in the cycling leg crumbled around me, and somewhat guiltily I thanked god, and whoever else would listen but not tell, that there were at least two people on mountain bikes who I could get ahead of.
The 12km's flew by, and with butterflies in my stomach and all sorts of imagined pains and problems in my legs I racked the bike, changed shoes ... insert 10 minute break here ... and nervously headed out back down to the beach for the my first run in nearly 12 months. This was it.
The first lap was pretty much me gasping for air. My heart rate had locked into 160bpm, which is my lactic threshold, and that was it: I just did my best to hold on and not stop. It was a blessed relief to finish the first kilometre and set out on the second lap, only two more to go. The legs didn't feel good, heck they felt like I had diving weights tied to each of them and that I was running on ... well soft sand, but nor were they killing me as they had in 2009. There was no vice-like lock up in my calves, my feet didn't start feeling like they were detached from my body and outside my control. I kept running. I noticed the girl I had been talking to before the race who was training for the Cairns half-iron man in June behind me (or was she in front of me?) and this gave me some hope I wasn't doing too badly, but there was a lot of empty sand between me and the next person in front of me, and I knew that gap was getting bigger, not smaller. I wouldn't be chasing anyone down today.
I rounded the turning point for a second time, only one lap to go. I actually started to lift my pace, then realsied what I was doing and dropped it again as I felt the acid bite of the lactic juices building up in both my sides. I was at my limit. I noticed that the girl was now probably 150 metres behind me, and I became determined to hold on. At the 2.5km turning mark she was still about the same distance, but then half way down the last lap as I passed John Dalco going in the other direction he yelled out some words of encouragement which suddenly had me worried that today I was the one being chased down. I surged without even thinking about it, and looked behind me, I looked twice and was very relieved to see a nice healthy gap.
It wasn't much, but it was great to have a few spectators at the final 3km mark to clap a little and say a few encouraging words as I headed up off the beach, through the dunes and finally over the finish line.
I'd done the race in 54 mins 19 seconds, which I was pretty darn happy about, not because of the time, but because I had entered, I had competed and I had run. Most importantly I was happy because I had run for 3kms and I hadn't broken down. It's a small step, but I'm liking 2011 already.