I train to win, not to come second. I decided just a week or so out from this event that there was no way I could have trained any harder or smarter. I said that year ago too. But now I am faster and smarter than I was a year ago. I need to win – reason is pretty simple: so I can achieve my goal. I only wanted it once. To then stop and try something else out. But this sport is just so much fun, training isn’t a hassle anymore and racing with like minded others just makes me happy. I need get outside and do my sport. It is not a ‘need’, it is not a necessity, I WANT to train, I WANT to race. I thrive on the ability to do and see so much in one day using only the engine within me. I can’t see myself giving up this sport anytime soon whether I’m good at it or not.
When I began it in 2011 it took many months of tough self discipline to make myself change a 19 year old habit of what I did in my spare time. 3 years on now this new habit of training everyday and racing frequently is just the normal routine and a new habit that will be even harder to break.
I may not have won it this time but as far as I’m concerned I nearly had a perfect day on Saturday. So my 22 year old body is the only thing letting me down. It’s just not developed enough…yet. Time is of the essence. Patience is a virtue. But damn this is getting expensive!
The morning wasn’t very cold for the west coast but keeping moving was still key to stay warm and really disguise the nerves with blood flow around the body. A year since I first stood on the startline – this time was a lot friendlier as I now knew a lot of the people I stood on the beach with. Handshakes and smack talk all round.
3km run off the Kumara beach to our bikes was hard and fast as expected – total madness running at that speed with so far to go, but necessary to form a half decent lead group. Quickly we formed a 13-14 man bunch on the 55km cycle and shared the load much like last year with a similar intensity. Body had warmed up before daylight had arrived & feeling hot I stripped layers off. I felt strong and morale was high getting some cheeky words in with mates in the bunch. The media van follows on the right-hand side off road: sliding and rear door wide open and cameras sticking out in every direction – we were the centre of attention and loving it.
Transition to run went way smoother than last time. I had learnt from last year. Small tricks with shoes and gear just before arrival to prepare for a quick change, blink of an eye: slipping on running shoes and a pack on my back and I was out in 2nd place just a few seconds behind leader Braden Currie. First 2.5 km is farm land, I kept the gap close only 20 seconds back. Then we had to cross the river and run up the riverbed. This is the last time I saw Braden Currie till the finish. Next split was 9mins. Wow. I ran hard picking my own routes making small mistakes but still staying ahead, too technical to look back. Leg muscles on the brink of cramp with every leap but I didn’t want to slow down, I wanted to go faster, but I couldn’t. It was just too technical. Flavio Vianna caught up to me about 6 km in yelling out to me from across the river I’d just crossed. “Sam!, Is this your bottle!?” It was. It had fallen from my pack’s pocket. Bloody lucky it was my only means of carrying fluid – Flavio, you saved my day mate.
We’d formed a small group by Boulders (11km in). Me, Richard Ussher, Flavio Vianna, and Glen Currie (Bradens older brother) who was leading at the front setting the pace. I took another wrong turn and ended up 200m behind the three of them. I caught them again within 10mins comfortably showing I could clearly run faster. But I did it again this time losing about 2mins to them – my rule for racing is to always go my own way, never follow anyone… usually it works. Over Goat pass by myself I could see them in the distance. But then did not see them again for nearly 40mins. I had to take the steep downhill carefully. Two weeks prior I’d rolled my ankle badly, it was still delicate and today was not a good day to damage it more. Also meant last two weeks I couldn’t do much technical running any skills for jumping rocks naturally were down. But I was faster on the flats. Out down the bottom of the Minga River with about 5kms to go I took my own short cut and found myself back in the group.
But they we moving slowly compared to how I was feeling and pushed ahead. What a feeling, euphoric. 2nd place into Klondyke corner I was so happy. So was my support crew. I remember telling my sister that I was tired.
Quickly onto the bike for 15 km, fast but not too fast. Calf muscles were going berserk – cramping fiercely. Ussher passed me 10km in but didn’t get far ahead. The transition from this bike to kayak is long, all the way from the roadside to the river bank down a gravel road about 1km of running. Ryan ran with me, handing me food, water and crampstop.
72 km of paddling. A super smooth transition into the boat meant I was paddling away on the river before Ussher – I was back in 2nd place.
However about 25mins down on 1st place: Braden Currie. Ussher squeezed past me 5mins in. Now I was racing into the unknown. I knew I could race as fast as I had through the first stages, but here I was racing with 5 time winner in a discipline I had only recently become any good at. Any normal person I wouldn’t have let get away, I would have chased them until the end. But not Richard – I stayed at my comfortable pace, not fast, not slow. I don’t know why, maybe I was intimidated. I was also slightly concerned I needed to save something for the final cycle. While intensity was comfortable, the comfort in my seat however was far from nice. My bum bones were digging harder than ever into my hard seat causing discomfort so intense it disrupted the last 2.5hours needing to stop paddling, sit up and rest it for a bit every 10mins. On top of that my stomach was starting to say: ‘no more’ to the gels. Every time I ate, it came back up 5mins later.
Coming down the last section I felt the headwind. It didn’t affect the paddle but I knew what it meant for the cycle.
The transition to the final cycle was a relief. You hop into the kayak thinking: yes, finally I can sit down and rest the legs for a bit, only to get to the gorge bridge screaming for someone to rip me out of this torturous boat of death. I struggled up the hill to the road this time. Consuming food and slapping anti-chafe cream on the groin.
The final cycle: 70km down the Canterbury plains to the east coast through Christchurch city. All was good. I was sore but turning over the legs well. I waited for the legs to warm up properly before cranking up the intensity. I was patient. But I was getting slower…Must be the head wind I thought. I wasn’t happy at all with the velocity shown on my speedo, I then got a split that Glen Currie was only 2mins back and chasing hard. Right time to crank it up hard till the end… Nope. In fact I got slower, the burning sensation that the muscles in my legs get from working stopped, I wasn’t peddling hard enough, but I couldn’t, I had no energy at all left. It was as though I’d missed a few gels and not eaten enough. I began to get angry at myself and everything. Glen came flying past me. There was no way I could chase him. I began throwing up my food again, mostly my coke this time. Next time split was that Trevor Voyce was 6mins back and gaining. My mind gave up – I had no positive attitude at all and estimated that Trevor would catch me just as I reached town. I was still slowing down. Next split: Voyce is 4mins back. I came through town managing about 1 min pedalling at 34-36 kmph then falling to 24-26 kmph for the next 10mins. This continued all the way till about 4km to go. Trevor still hadn’t caught me. I knew this was it and pedalled through an insane amount of pain at the top speed of 29-31 kmph. Any cyclist will understand that these speeds, in a race, is fairly mild…
The finishing chute was amazing, man it is a good feeling running on the beach through the cheering crowd to the FINISH banner. I was incredibly sore. Trevor Voyce came in 1min 30seconds behind me. Top 5 was my realistic goal. So I am stoked. Getting passed at the end of a race sucks though and during the race my expectations changed often. Because of this I felt let down at the finish. Proud and confident, yet somewhat disappointed.
This is just more proof that time is really the biggest barrier to success in this industry. To build a successful business can also take time but it is possible to become the best in a very short period. Endurance sport is different. The body’s ability to adapt and develop to its commands is not negligible. Nobody is born an athlete or successful businessman. Persistence is key and again I’ve learnt a truckload about myself, my competitors, the sport and about racing smart.
I’ve had the last week completely off. But I’m heading back to China for all of April so time to get back on the horse and back into routine. No rush though :P. Let’s take it easy for a wee bit a least…