A year in the making, there wasn’t much about Noosa Tri race day that I hadn’t dreamed about and played over in my head at least a hundred times before Sunday. Even the mundane and seemingly irrelevant details had at some point featured in my mind’s eye, as I’d excitedly imagined The Day I Would Become a Real Triathlete.
Finally getting to live through it felt very surreal… But live through it I did.
Yes, SPOILER ALERT, I survived The Noosa Triathlon 2016 and you are about to read the official race report. ALSO SPOILER ALERT – it was amazing and I was amazing. Now get a big drink (you may need a spare hour, this took me 4 days to write) read on and re-live the struggle with me…
Having obsessively tried to envisage each and every aspect of what it would be like to take part in the biggest triathlon in the world (I think it officially became the biggest this year) I guess it was inevitable that throughout the day I found myself thinking either ‘this is exactly what I hoped it would be!’ or ‘well this isn’t what I expected at all!’
The first surprise was that I woke up with the alarm. Usually I sleep fitfully the night before a race and wake up well in advance of when I need to. I thought sleeping in a hotel bed would make sleeping even harder, but the first time I knew it was Noosa Tri Race Day was when the alarm on my phone pulled me out of the middle of a dream at precisely 4.30am. ‘That wasn’t what I was expecting at all!’ I thought.
My first job was to head to transition and prepare my gear for the day. By getting this over and done with first thing, I’d worked out that I would have enough time to head back to the hotel afterwards, eat my breakfast in privacy and do some nervous poops in a queue-less toilet. You knew the poops would get a mention at some point, didn’t you.
Still marveling at my impressive sleeping abilities, I threw on my tri suit, cleaned my teeth and slipped on a pair of thongs (also known as flip flops anywhere other than Australia)
Then I added a jacket, which turned out to be totally unnecessary: As soon as I exited the apartment I commenced sweating out all of the precious water I’d carefully hydrated myself with the day before.
The short walk from the apartment to transition felt good. The sun was rising and it was still fairly quiet but as I walked I was joined, one at a time, by a handle of other sleepy-looking triathletes. Each of them was clutching a bicycle pump and bags full of racing gear like I was. It felt like we were in a movie, where suddenly hundreds of people had been awakened and possessed by the notion to make their way to the shore, perhaps to witness the birth of a new era. None of us acknowledged each other, being absorbed in our own worries and fears. But we were all united at that moment and driven by one common goal: To survive this bloody triathlon.
With my task forefront in my mind, at that stage I didn’t get too nervous. Even when I turned the corner towards Noosa Parade and saw the huge queue to get into transition, all my focus was on getting my triathlon paraphernalia into its rightful position. I took my place amid the throng of nervous athletes and moved forward inch by inch, until I reached the entrance.
‘Have you got your timing chip there, love?’ the nice man guarding the entrance asked me.
No, I did not have my timing chip. I had decided not to wear it for my quick walk down to transition, in case I lost it. And also because I had been afraid I would look like a knob going in to set up my bike all dressed up like I was about to set off racing. I hadn’t even put my race tattoos on yet.
Even without considering it for more than a second, I knew I didn’t have time to go back to the hotel, have breakfast and get back to set up transition before 6am (which was the cut-off time, after which they would shut the gates)
I also wouldn’t have time to go back to the hotel, get my timing chip, return to transition for setup and then go back to the hotel for breakfast.
I pulled the cutest, sweetest face I could possibly muster, which is not something that comes naturally to me. My usual reaction in these situations is to start making demands, offend everyone within a 50 metre radius and get myself arrested or banned from the vicinity for life.
But The Noosa Tri was at stake. Or at least, my chance at a nervous poop in my own hotel room and a quiet breakfast was at stake.
‘I’m so sorry, I left it in my hotel room in case I lost it. I am going back there in just a minute’ I whined. I prepared myself to cry; men hate it when girls cry. I wondered if I had any money stashed in my race gear with which I could bribe my way in.
‘You’re the last one I’m letting through without a timing chip. Make sure you remember it for next time’. He said sternly.
I could have kissed him. I did not deserve his kindness.
Feeling like a trespasser and possibly the worst triathete to ever grace Noosa, I located my bike as quickly as possible and set about pumping my tyres. Then I laid down my towel, set out all my stuff and took a picture.
Mission accomplished – not quite exactly how I’d imagined it, but close enough! Saying my silent thanks to the Triathlon Gods, I scurried back to the hotel room with my empty bag and the bike pump. Shane was still asleep, so I kicked him out of bed and proceeded to microwave the carefully measured porridge I’d brought from home. I mixed in a bit of protein powder as I always do, and sprinkled a few sultanas on top as a special treat. Then I stared at it.
I put a spoonful in my mouth. I chewed it. I tried to swallow it. It wouldn’t go down.
This was not what I expected at all!
For the first time in my life (as far as I remember) I was unable to eat breakfast. Normally a time of day that I treasure, my morning refuel was going to have to consist of an energy gel, which I would suck down on the start line. I tried not to panic about it, but posted a picture on Instagram to prepare my legions of fans* for the fact that I might pass out from exhaustion before I even made it down to the beach.
*by this I mean mostly mum and Grandpa, the only ones who might be surprised if I failed miserably at triathlonning because their blind adoration of me prevents them from seeing how truly terrible I am at this sport.
I plastered myself with the race tattoos (one of my category letter, which went on my left calf, and one of my race number, which went down my right arm) and wrapped the Velcro timing chip securely around my ankle. It was time to do the walk back down to the race precinct, but this time it was for real.
It was the most tense walk I have ever done in my life. With each step (taken slowly, so as not to waste my precious and limited energy reserves) I had to focus on not vomiting. I found myself involuntarily groaning and three times I had to stop to double over. Shane seemed clearly disturbed by my body’s apparent loss of control as ‘crunch time’ approached.
When we finally arrived, it was almost a relief to see that the beach was absolutely packed with people, which is exactly how I’d imagined it. The atmosphere was thick with anticipation and energy. I thought I could smell the nervous poops at one point.
We were early enough to watch the elites set off at 6.15am, which with hindsight I am pleased about, although at the time probably made me feel even more anxious. If you, dear reader, are preparing to do a scary thing then I don’t necessarily recommend you watch a professional do it a few minutes before you have to. It really sets an impossible standard and only serves to outline the many ways in which you are deeply and irrefutably inferior to the professionals who deserve to be there.
So with my incredible uselessness confirmed, a few minutes later I got in the water for a warm up swim. This helped to calm my nerves quite considerably; I guess standing around waiting is the worst thing you can do, so it felt good to move around proactively. My swimming cap (provided by the Noosa Tri) stayed on perfectly and my fresh goggles were easy to see out of, with no scratches.
It seemed to be 6.30 really quickly. I said bye to Shane and went to hang out at the starting pen, where a heap of other ladies with violet swimming caps were already milling around. If you’re planning on doing the Noosa Tri, my tip is to make sure you’re not a minute late arriving at the waiting area because as soon as the next wave set off the violet swimming caps were ushered into the gates.
For me this was the hardest part. There was no turning back. I was frightened. And also I was finally about to do the biggest thing I had dreamed about for a year, and I wasn’t sure whether I would prove it had been worth it or a total waste of time, but one way or the other I was about to find out what I was made of.
To top it off I spotted my mum, who had just arrived, as I made my way to the start line. I lost it just a little bit and one full sob came out with a couple of instant tears.
I’m not sure how long we stood in the waiting pen for. It didn’t seem like a long time to me, but it was long enough for the girl next to me to ask which side we had to swim around at the last buoy. Her question made me feel good because obviously I looked professional enough to know about such things (and indeed I did know the answer) but also it was nice to talk to someone. Her name was Corinne.
Soon enough we were ushered out of the waiting pen to the front, where a deep groove had been drawn in the sand to mark the start line. I found myself at the very front of the pack with plenty of room each side of me – not like how we practice race starts with the Grimsey brothers on a Sunday morning, where they encourage us to get shoulder to shoulder and do a bit of jostling. There was no jostling with my fellow age groupers at Noosa.
In my dreams I’d actually imagined myself starting at the front, mainly because I know most girls my age don’t like to go at the front, so I’d guessed it was likely to be an option on race day. Starting at the front or the back or the middle wouldn’t affect my swim performance in any way, shape or form because there was no chance of me keeping up with the pack even if I had a head-start. So I didn’t feel the pressure that some of the faster swimmers might have felt by taking a position at the front. I simply felt confident about how I wanted to begin my race, thanks to all the practicing Grimsey & Grimsey have made us do. I was ready to run in, dolphin dive over a few waves and find my own pace swimming, so it didn’t worry me to be at the front. If anything I finally started to calm down.
For some reason I was expecting a gun or a buzzer to set us off but when the moment finally arrived, I didn’t hear anything. I felt a change in everyone’s stance, looked over at the clock and saw it said 6:52:58 then 6:52:59 and I barely had a chance to process it before I was pumping my legs and setting off into the ocean. Apparently the legendary Dawn Fraser started each of the waves, but I didn’t see or hear her.
It started well. Before I knew it, I was past the few crashing waves and into smooth water. About 200m into the swim I felt my arms were more tired than they ought to be and I realised I hadn’t had the energy gel I’d asked Shane to hold when I warmed up. I cursed myself and tried not to dwell on the fact that I had never swum 1500 metres without any energy in me before.
Regular blog readers will recall that sighting and staying on course is always a challenge for me, but I did surprisingly well and barely strayed from the straight lines (as seen on the map above) at all. At the turnarounds I kept tight to the buoys and inevitably got swam over by faster swimmers coming up behind me, but I didn’t find anyone too rough or nasty about it. If I was in their way they were simply trying to get past me, and I tried not to panic as I went underneath them but instead focused on chasing the bubbles they left as they made their way off in front of me.
I had to stop at one point because my goggles had fogged up, even though they were brand new and had never been touched before. I am not sure if I just have unusually hot and steamy eyeballs but I am yet to find a pair of goggles that don’t fog up on me, even when it’s impossible that the anti-fog protection has worn off. I was on the approach to the third red buoy you can see in the map above, having just passed the two pink triangles. I stopped to tread water for a few seconds, round about where the black turd appears to be floating. I quickly licked the inside of the goggle lenses and popped them back over my eyes, then continued swimming.
The swim continued for what felt like 10 more kilometres, but the relief when I saw the final buoy and could turn into shore was invigorating. Finishing that swim sent electricity through my veins. I think I did quite well catching a couple of waves in and fighting to not let them drag me back out. It’s almost safe to say I enjoyed the last 50 metres of that swim!
As soon as I noticed a man next to me running back to shore I jumped up and waded after him. It was so exciting to know that I had finished the section of the race that I felt was the most dubious for me. I joyfully told myself it could only get better from here.
Running up the beach, I heard my stepdad Blob calling me after I’d run past him. A bit further up I heard Shane yelling urgently – he had remembered the energy gel too and wanted to give it to me, although I had stashed a run and bike gel in transition already and it was pointless taking my swim gel now. I grabbed it anyway.
It was a long run to transition but I actually enjoyed having a jog and soaking in the fact I had completed that bloody swim. I saw mum and Grandpa standing along the side as I got closer to transition and they yelled out their encouragement. I was able to yell out that I loved them and kept running.
Making my way through the gates to transition I couldn’t help but notice that apart from my bike, there were only about 20 other bikes left in my age group section of transition. Which meant that just about everybody else in my age group was already out there riding their bike. As I ran in towards my designated spot I laughed and said to the volunteer ‘I must be the last one!’
I threw down my goggles, swimming cap and ear plugs and scrambled to get my helmet clipped on. I squirted my feet with water using the bottle I’d brought especially for the purpose, then tried to pull my socks on, which didn’t quite work perfectly. With bits of sock bunched up around various toes, I squished my feet into my cycling shoes and grabbed my bike. I was off.
Mum was cheering me on as I ran under the bridge towards the bike mount line – I think she must have run a half marathon over the course of the morning, trying to get to all the good vantage points. I pushed my bike quickly over to the line and then slowed down, ready to throw myself onto the saddle and start pedaling… But for some reason my mind went blank and I couldn’t think which foot I normally put in first or how to mount my bike. I had to stop completely, climb clumsily onto the bike, move my pedals around, stop again, start again, then push off like a novice and just hope for the best. It was not at all elegant or fast.
On the bike I was at home. The first 10km were lovely and quite comfortable: The road was flat and smooth, the course was not too cluttered with other riders, and I found a good pace straight away. My only problem was a constant stream of snot running from my nose and no other option but to wipe it with my hand and then rub it off onto my triathlon suit. Luckily there were no prizes for most glamorous triathlete.
At 10.5km we turned a sharp left, and there on the bitumen in front of me someone had spray-painted the word Garmin. This is it, I thought, the infamous Garmin Hill.
I am a Garmin athlete. I have the watch. And I love cycling, especially hills. During my Noosa research though, I had developed a healthy
fear of respect for Garmin Hill. You may remember the interesting facts I’d found out many months ago, which included some terrifying trivia on Garmin Hill.
I immediately slipped my bike down onto the little ring and prepared to push. I didn’t want to ruin my legs completely going up the hill, but I also didn’t want to go too slow. So I was thrilled to find it really wasn’t a killer hill at all. It was certainly a long hill, but at no point was it excruciatingly steep. And as a bonus, the hard parts near the top were lined with crazy cheer squads who clapped and screamed at me to KEEP GOING AND BEAT THOSE BOYS!!! which made me laugh.
Of course, what goes up must come down. The downhill for Garmin Hill was somewhat delayed – it came at about the 19km mark. But it was well worth the wait and if you are a keen cyclist I recommend you either do the Noosa tri or join a team and do the cycling part of the Noosa tri because being able to come down a hill like that when it is closed to traffic is better than any roller coaster I have ever been on. It was by far the fastest I’ve ever been on the bike – I started pulling on the brakes when my bike computer said I had hit 50km per hour (my previous speed record) but even when I was braking I still managed to hit 60km per hour! It felt exhilarating – but the road was such good quality that I felt safe and in control, too.
In short, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Perhaps a little too much – I soon began to worry that I’d overdone it and overcooked my turkey legs.
As soon as my bike computer said I’d completed 30km I tried to ease off on the pedalling a bit and started to spin my legs. It was trickier than it sounds because I didn’t want to accidentally draft off anyone, not just because I didn’t want a 90 second penalty but more because I would really have had no idea where to go to a penalty box or how the logistics of getting penalised would work. So when I found myself getting too close to someone in front of me I had to pedal really hard to get past and in front of them within the 15 seconds permitted by a non-drafting race. My poor legs got only limited rest.
The last 5km seemed to drag on for ages. We cycled in on the same roads we’d gone out on, so they were easy and smooth sailing. It gave me some time to think and it seemed so strange to realise I was really going to make it to the run of the Noosa Triathlon. I hadn’t drowned. There were no punctures. Based on the few cyclists I’d passed with the category letter ‘J’ on their left calf, I also wasn’t even last.
Suddenly I was so keen to get out on that run course.
I pulled up at the dismount line quite well without any fumbling and commenced running back into transition with my bike. It didn’t hit me straight away, but the more I tried to move forward the more I realised my legs were apparently under the impression that the triathlon had finished and they were no longer required to move.
Luckily the position of my transition space meant that I didn’t have to run too far before I could re-rack my bike and squat down to change my shoes over. I unclipped my helmet and replaced it with my pink running cap. Then I clipped my race number belt around my waist (to which I’d already attached my personalised race number and an energy gel) and took a gulp of electrolytes. I squatted up and down again once more to try and pump some blood through my legs, and set off.
It was like I was running through cement. Or like running through cement when I was already made out of cement and the air was slowly turning to cement. I felt like I was barely moving. I pumped my arms and concentrated on one foot at a time and after about 200 metres I crossed back under the bridge where once again my Mum was standing.
‘Go darling, you’re doing really well!’ she yelled.
‘My legs aren’t working!’ I laughed back at her.
The first two kilometres felt like that. Two thousand metres of cement. But it didn’t hurt – I wasn’t injured. So in comparison to other times when I’ve tried to run and known I physically couldn’t do it, this was a different kind of challenge. It felt fruitless, it felt frustrating, it felt like I would go quicker if I got down on my hands and knees and crawled, but at the same time I could continue to do it. It didn’t occur to me until afterwards, but of course those first two kilometres are more of a mental challenge than anything else. Your body is capable. I saw so many people stop and walk and many of them looked much fitter than me. It took everything I had, but I believed I could continue and my body proved me right.
There were hundreds of people lining various parts of the run course. Locals were out in their front yards with the garden hose trained on us athletes, just like I’d heard about and just as I’d imagined. Of course, it was stinking hot and the hose water was fantastic to run under, just like being a little kid again. Some people had music blaring from their front porch and many of the children reached out to high five me as I ran past them. It was absolutely everything I had dreamed about. Perfection.
When I reached the half-way point (every kilometre had a marker telling us how far we’d come) I told myself ‘just one parkrun to go now’ and started to focus on the end. I still felt like I was running very slowly so I tried to pick up the pace. My plan was to get to the last 2km with nothing left in the tank and pull out something magic for the last 12 minutes. So I pushed harder and harder.
It’s difficult to describe what the last two kilometres felt like. I was firstly genuinely surprised to see the 8km sign and realise that I was going to be able to make it to the finish line; I had barely dared to believe it. As that knowledge set in and I started to feel it in my bones, I was overcome with peace and a sense of fulfillment. The crowd suddenly intensified and people started calling out my name for the first time (which was written on my race number) and hearing complete strangers cheer me on was both humbling and empowering at the exact same time. I hadn’t let my name down – I could be proud. Little old me was about to finish The Noosa Tri.
I even relished the pain and exhaustion that was starting to overpower me. It was exactly how I’d imagined it! I opened my heart and let all the pain and aliveness inside. I wanted every bit of it.
As I rounded the corner and saw the legendary blue carpet I’d watched people run up last year towards the finish chute, I saw Shane and Grandpa taking photos of me from the side. I was so grateful to have them there and I was immensely proud to show them a strong finish. I couldn’t manage a sprint finish but I could certainly manage a smile, so that’s what I tried to do. I think I managed it – except for a few seconds after I crossed the finish line and heard my name over the loud speaker. I let out a few tears then. Because after a whole year of learning to swim, ride and run, I’d achieved a dream that had terrified me at first but rewarded me with something I didn’t know I wanted until that moment:
Proof that I can do anything I want to do.
The perfect end to the perfect race is of course to be treated to a lovely lunch back at the hotel with my family. We all had stories to share about the antics we’d seen on the course and it was hours before we ran out of steam and said our goodbyes. It was like Christmas day I guess, and in my opinion we can never have too many of those.
When I finally got back to a place with internet I had so many wishes of luck and messages of support from people I have met through doing this sport, as well as from family and friends and blog readers. My sister had been watching the race on her TV in England and had even heard my name called as I went over the finish line (although the camera had panned away for a few seconds and she didn’t see me)
Thank you to all of you who sent messages or thoughts my way. It felt so good to let you all know I survived and if I haven’t replied to your message yet then please know I am getting to you!