Laying the Foundation

Most of you reading this will know that the early stages of this year didn't go how I had wanted. I didn't have a great race at Xterra New Zealand, and had terrible luck when I travelled overseas for Xterra Cebu in the Philippines and the Xterra Asia Pacific Champs in Langkawi, Malaysia, where I picked up a pretty aggressive stomach bug which left me unable to compete.

I took a bit of time off after this trip and decided that for the rest of 2017 my focus would be on getting my strength and fitness to a higher level than I have ever had. That meant one thing for me: no overseas campaign racing. My goal would be to have on training and focusing on the important New Zealand races on the calendar.

So over the winter season I focused on training, throwing in a few local races for a bit of fun and different stimulus. They went ok, winning a local duathlon, finishing 2nd in two, and 5th in the first Nduro Winter Series race. The results didn't worry me, all I was focusing on was the performance, and making sure I was progressing from race to race. Over the past few months I have seen a huge progression and decided that I would test myself at the Coromandel Classic to see exactly where I am at.

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I raced the Coromandel Classic last year and it's fair to say it smashed me. It's a tough two day race, and with close to 50km of running, it requires a lot of strength to get through. Going into this years race I felt I was much fitter than last time, and in the days leading up to the race I was excited about how I would perform after feeling pretty good in sessions. 

Despite being thrown a curve ball at race briefing where we were told TT bikes wouldn't be allowed in the bunch (and we were starting with a bunch ride for the first stage), I had a great first day. In the short 30km first stage I rode at the front as to not be in the bunch and headed into the 21km off road run with about 10 others, closely separated. The run started with a big 6km climb, rising just over 500m in elevation. I felt really good at the start and decided to run a steady tempo to the top and see what happened. Halfway up the slippery and rocky climb and I was on my own in front with a few chasers a couple of hundred metres back. I was feeling good so kept the rhythm going over the top and was first into the descent. Coming out at the bottom we had about another five or six kilometres of flat gravel road to run, and at the end of every straight I couldn't see anyone close behind. I was pretty excited about how I was feeling and keen to get back on the bike for the final stage of day one - a 35km road ride from Whangamata to Tairua. I rode a steady tempo, not pushing too hard, knowing that day two was the harder day, but also not waiting around for anyone. I crossed the line in just under three and a half hours for day one, taking the win in the Duathlon and also beating all the teams and multisporters (before they got in their kayak at the end). 

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The rest of the day was spent recovering in the motel and getting ready for Day Two. Day Two was going to be the longer day, starting with a 50km road bike, 15km up hill mountain bike stage and finishing with a 23km run which sounded pretty tough. I was looking forward to this day though as it had a bit more climbing (especially the MTB) and knew that would suit me pretty well. The first ride was pretty steady, although I put a few surges in their to keep the pace higher.

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The multisporters had started 30 minutes before us, meaning that we would get onto the MTB stage at roughly the same time (as they had to paddle before the MTB). I was excited by this as hopefully it might give me a few targets to chase. This is exactly how it worked out. I was 5th overall onto the MTB stage, chasing the top multisporters who started a couple of minutes ahead of me. I rode this stage pretty hard and at around the 25 minute mark I managed to take the overall lead. Over the next 20 minutes of the stage I kept pushing, opening the gap to over a minute heading into the long run. From the notes we had been given, it sounded like it would be a tough run. I slightly underestimated just how tough it would be. I only managed to get through six or seven kilometres in the first hour. It was either straight up or down in the slipperiest and muddiest conditions on the most technical track I had ever run (most of it was actually walking!). About halfway through and the track opened up a bit, allowing for a better rhythm and a faster pace. I was still in the lead and couldn't hear or see anyone behind, so just ran a steady pace, knowing that the run was going to take a lot longer than the two hours fastest time that had been predicted. After two hours and 43 minutes of running I finally popped out into Thames and crossed the line. That was a tough way to finish the race, and despite being pretty fatigued from it, I was pretty happy with how the weekend had gone.

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Since the race I've been in recovery mode but I'm looking forward to getting back into the training, and building up for my next race: the Motu Duathlon. Motu will be a new event for me as somehow I've never raced it over all the years. I'm excited to go and experience it, and continue building on the foundation I've laid over the last few months. Right now though it's back to training!

Early Season Racing

It’s been a good last month on the racing front as I continue to build towards Xterra New Zealand. In early February I headed down to Nelson for the Coppermine Epic MTB race. This was one of my favourite races in 2017 so I made a point to include it on my 2017 race schedule.

I’d had a good break after the Tauranga Half Ironman at the start of the year so with only a few weeks training behind me, the focus was to ride within myself and not blow up too much on the big climb early on. I had a pretty good start and actually felt really good for the first few minutes, until we hit the start of the main climb and then I came back to reality. I rode a steady hard effort to the top (about 50 minutes up a 10km climb) and went into Black Diamond Ridge in 5th but only a minute behind 3rd. The native section of Black Diamond Ridge caught me out last year and I knew this year it would be faster for me to get off and run in places than trying to ride on, especially as I was riding the Santa Cruz Highball. This worked well and by the halfway point of this track I was through into 3rd, and then 2nd as the leader Henry Jaine had a mechanical. This gave me a pretty good boost and I knew if I could hold onto 2nd up the next false flat climbing section I knew I had a good chance to hold it down the descent and the traverse section to the end. That’s how it played out and I was pretty happy to cross the line in 2nd and get my off road season off to a positive start.

After another few weeks training I lined up at Xterra Motatapu. I won this race last year so I was looking forward to going back as defending champ and try and defend my title. About 10 days before Motatapu I pushed it a bit far in training which lead me going into the race a bit more fatigued than I was hoping. This was my 5th time racing this event so I know the course and conditions pretty well, and after last year, what I need to do to win.

As soon as I saw the start list I knew the big threat was going to come from Dougal Allen. Dougal’s a quality athlete, recently breaking the long standing Challenge Wanaka record, and after beating me here a couple of years ago, I was hoping to get one back over him. I had a good swim and exited Lake Wanaka at the front, exactly where I wanted to be. I knew I would likely have an advantage over Dougal in the water and guessed it would be between 60 to 90 seconds. Out onto the bike and the scene couldn’t be more different to previous years. Every year we have a pretty clear run through the MTB section, but this year our race started just before the mountain bike race did, which meant after a two kilometer swim, we would be coming onto the bike behind nearly 2000 riders. At the start it wasn’t a big deal but through the middle sections it became more annoying as the riders I was catching were getting more and more competitive and less likely to allow me to pass easily. This made for very short but hard surges to get past them, not what you want in a four hour race.

I felt really good on the bike early on and kept the intensity high, knowing that Dougal would likely ride up to me at some point. He’s a strong rider so I knew I couldn’t afford to try and ride more than half of the bike with him. Everything was going pretty well and it took Dougal over an hour to bridge the 90 second gap I had on him out of the water. But just after he caught me I made a few dumb mistakes through a couple of the rivers crossing sections and lost his wheel as we hit the key section of the course, false flat grass sections with a head wind. I had a bad period through this section and even down the last descent didn’t have the speed I’d expected. I knew the time gap to Dougal at the end of the bike would have ballooned because of this and coming off the bike I heard it was four minutes. Not exactly the time gap I’d hoped to give away!

Onto the run and I didn’t quite have the top gear I needed to close the gap. I felt ok, but not great and that was the difference to my win last year. I felt amazing in 2016 and was able to push hard on the long climbs and steep descents, but this year felt restricted to 90%. I pulled the gap back to Dougal to cross the line just over a minute behind him, and again finish 2nd.

Looking back on the race I know I made a few mistakes in both the lead up to the race and on race day that cost me. Last year I had my best race of the year here and then seemed to fade a few weeks after it, so I was mindful of that in my build up this year. I’m hoping to continue building and find my peak form on the 8th of April. Over the next few weeks I’ll be working toward that.

Tauranga Half Ironman

The Port of Tauranga Half Ironman, which doubles as the New Zealand Long Distance National Champs, is always one of my favourite races on the calendar each year. Coming right after the New Year holidays, this race is a great incentive to keep training through the holiday period and make the most of the summer weather. It also provides a great opportunity to get into a race early in the year, and set yourself up for the rest of the summer season!

As a racer, this course is very fun to compete on due to its flat nature, which makes for fast times and close, exciting racing. The atmosphere out on the run course is amazing with fans and holiday makers out enjoying some sunshine, lining the streets to watch the racing.

This race finished off my recent summer racing block after finishing 8th at the ITU Cross Triathlon World Champs and unfortunately not finishing Taupo 70.3 after suffering a puncture out on the bike. I was hoping to finish on a high and was targeting a top five finish against a very strong field that was lining up. I knew that this was well within my capabilities if I had the form to execute my race plan well.

On the morning of the race we woke to extremely strong winds, and Pilot Bay, which is usually very calm and flat, was full of white caps. This made for an extremely tough swim in the rough conditions and threw the race wide open. I felt good early on in the swim but wasn’t quite able to stay with the front group halfway through the two kilometre swim. I settled into the chasing pack and excited the water 90 seconds down on first.

Out onto the bike course and the pace was on immediately with Cameron Brown putting in a huge effort to get across to the front bunch. Myself and the rest of the chasers weren’t quite able to stay with Cameron which proved costly as he was able to get up to the front group and we were left to ride for ourselves over the rest of the 90 kilometre bike.

After just over two hours of riding to finish the ride, I was out onto the run in 8th. I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be but I knew if I had a strong run I would still be able to push for that top five spot. After feeling great through the first five kilometres of the run, I didn’t quite have the endurance over the second half of the run and unfortunately faded to finish 11th. This wasn’t what I had hoped going into this race, but that’s racing and I didn’t quite have the legs when it mattered. It was still an awesome opportunity to race against an extremely strong field, led my Braden Currie and Cameron Brown, and I’m looking forward to coming back in 2018 and try and claim the National title.

Right now it's time to rest and relax after a long season and then begin the build up to Xterra New Zealand in April!