One of the draw cards when signing up for The Straddie Salute triathlon was the location, and arriving at the island yesterday was everything I had hoped it would be.
I should admit that if you had asked me my opinion in the 12 hours before arriving, I might have screamed various swear words at you and dramatically lamented how difficult it was proving to pack bags for a triathlon and a four day weekend on an island with limited resources. But once the panic was over, it was overwhelmingly a positive thing to have a ‘destination triathlon’; the island is stunning and has a different feel to the mainland, which put us in holiday mode instantly.
As we drove the 20 minutes from the ferry to our accommodation I paid attention to the roads and felt reassured to see that they were lovely and fresh-looking, completely free from potholes and loose gravel (a possibility that had been haunting me for weeks)
Unfortunately my dread returned quickly as we travelled up and down massive hills. I was… well, gobsmacked. For some reason I had told myself that sand islands are quite flat, even though I have been to other sand islands and they weren’t flat at all. Straddie is not flat at all.
I had been planning on taking it easy on the bike and maintaining happy, under-worked legs that would be ready for an epic run. But the more I thought about those hills, the more I realised that taking it easy on the bike was a physical impossibility. By the time I went to bed last night I’d had to modify my Race Day Plan:
New Plan: This will hurt from beginning to end and you will continue to move forward until the hurting can stop. Which is at the finish line.
Abbreviated plan: Move forward relentlessly.
Anyway, back to the pre-race low-down. Pulling up to the Allure resort (our accommodation) I was pleased to see that the transition area was being setup in a park directly opposite our beach shack – about a five minute walk from my personal (clean) toilet! Nervous poops almost felt like something to look forward to.
We spent the afternoon exploring, spotting a real life, wild Echidna and some kangaroos (and the terrifying hills and steps that would feature in the run portion of the race) as well as eating copious amounts of potato (the local restaurateurs’ carb of choice apparently) and trying to stay calm.
I was mostly successful at staying calm, because there was so much else to look at and do. Occasionally we would be walking up some steps from the beach and I’d be huffing and puffing and it would hit me like a lightening bolt that in less than 24 hours I would be running up those exact steps as part of an 8km run, after my biggest ocean swim race and a hilly 20km ride. But I quickly stuffed the ensuing nerves and panic back into the box from which they had sprung, and ordered an ice cream.
At 7.45pm last night we got back to our shack and I started to lay out my gear for the race. I ran through my schedule and almost felt pleased to finally find the thing I had forgotten – the thing that had been niggling at me all day. My breakfast. My pre-race fuel. Missing.
I had remembered my energy gels but my porridge was still at home in a tub.
Luckily I was still dressed, so I scurried off to the nearest restaurant to see what could be bought. I don’t know about the rest of the world but here in Queensland our supermarkets shut at 5pm on Saturdays unless you are in the big smoke, so I knew there was no point trying to find an actual shop – particularly on an island.
Luckily, the first restaurant I found was staffed by a very nice lady who was sympathetic to my predicament. She organised a fruit salad with yoghurt and a piece of bacon and egg quiche. Not perfect, but by that stage I had resigned myself to the fact that none of the preparation I had expected (or found to be successful with the Bribie Tri) would work out for The Straddie Salute.
We watched a little bit of TV and went to bed, to try and find some sleep. I wasn’t too concerned about sleeping as I’d managed to get almost eight hours of sleep the night prior, which is an award-winning amount for me. Plus, being in a hotel bed with strange pillows and rubbish curtains usually means I sleep badly, and there was nothing I could do about that.
The thing I could control was my excitement levels. When I realised this morning that staying in bed was futile, I lay there for a while and ran through the course in my head, imagining happy moments, snippets of success and the wonderful things I would see and feel as I made my way around the course. I think it helped to bring the feelings of excitement to the surface, pushing the nerves and self-doubt down to somewhere I was able to forget all about them.
I ate my bacon and egg quiche without vomiting and it was quite relaxing to not be at home. There was no pile of laundry staring at me, no dishwasher to unload. I revelled in my joy and anticipation of the day, looking at all the photos appearing on Instagram and simply looking forward to the fun.
At 7.30am I heard the energy levels ramp up over at the transition space. I sat on our shack’s armchair and heard the emcee testing his mic, and suddenly some pumping music started blaring through the speakers. I was still in my pyjamas and Shane was still in bed, but suddenly I had tears in my eyes and everything was very real. My hands started to shake and they haven’t stopped yet, almost ten hours later.
With the luxury of only being 5 minutes away from the registration desk and transition setup space, we were able to avoid rushing around too much. I wheeled my bike over the road to transition at 8.30am and went back to the shack for nervous toilet stops and burying my head in the sand until 9.30, when I had to face facts and attend the official race briefing.
I was thrilled to spot familiar faces at the briefing – the emcee was a dude off the telly whose name I don’t know! Very exciting! And I also spotted Adam Gordon, the triathlete, who obviously left me for dust when the gun went off.
There was a short walk to the start of the swim course, because rather than being an ‘out and back’ type of swim, it started at the end of the beach and we were to swim parallel to the shore, towards the swim exit. Luckily Shane is a fast walker otherwise he may not have been able to snap pictures of both the entry and exit of the water.
HA HA THAT IS A JOKE!
My swim was terribly slow and I swam off course a bit, as is my habit. I had planned to not beat myself up about this (as it was inevitable) but sticking to that plan was hard. The conditions for the swim were absolutely perfect and I had no reason to be slow, so a little voice in my head tried to state the bleeding obvious repeatedly – ‘you are such a crap swimmer, Lauren’. You know the sort of thing.
Upon exiting the water I was elated and nobody could have wiped the smile off my face. I yelled to nobody in particular that I had found it hard, then I pumped my little legs to get up the soft sand to transition, which was about 300 metres away.
T1 went quite well, except that as I grabbed my bike and started running to the mount line I dropped my bike and got overtaken by a few people who took great pleasure in yelling ‘on your right’ to me. Apparently they hadn’t read my blog, otherwise they would have known that the bike leg is my strongest and they were about to eat my dust.
I set a new top speed on my bike on one of the downhill sections – 51.8kph which is fast for this slow triathlete. I also set a new bottom speed on one of the uphill sections – 12.1kph. It was tough! But my tree trunk legs are evidently perfect for hilly bike rides and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. Grandpa must have been pushing me on.
Coming into T2, I made the decision to sit down for a minute to change my shoes. I knew I had a tough run ahead of me and the day was heating up quickly, so I wanted to gulp down some more water. It’s certainly not a very pro thing to do, but I really felt that I needed to just rest my legs and make myself slow down for a minute. I don’t know how long I was there – I don’t think it was embarrassingly long – but I got up and started running feeling mentally and physically ready to ‘go hard’.
I had practiced my mash-ups so many times in the preceding weeks that the first kilometre didn’t feel too bad. But just to reiterate, in case you missed the previous blog posts, this particular race holds its run portion on a mixture of beach, boardwalk, trails and steps (with a little bit of bitumen thrown in)
I have been reliably informed that the beach section was 2.2km long in total, and there were 350 upward steps. And yet bizarrely, I loved it. It was amazing to run on pristine white sand, completely alone except for the couple of runners in front of me and whomever was behind. The boardwalk were fantastic, shaded by stunning pandanus trees and eucalyptus. The views were outstanding.
On the beach, I concentrated on one metre at a time, telling myself to run that one metre and then assess the next one after that. It seemed to work, because I didn’t have to stop and walk once. I loved the run.
The best part was on a bit of the boardwalk that I was running alone, around the edge of a cliff with beautiful trees and ocean to my right and rainforest to my left. I found myself completely alone, pumping my legs up and down the steps or over the undulating boards and breathing hard.
Suddenly, as I rounded a corner I saw that two aboriginal men were standing ahead of me, dressed traditionally with markings on their faces. They immediately launched into song, with one playing a didgeridoo and the other chanting in their local language and also saying ‘welcome’ in English.
It was so touching to be welcomed by the traditional owners of the land in such a secret and special way. I burst into tears (and I am crying as I type this) and gushed ‘thank you, thank you, this is amazing, thank you!’
I guess it has been an emotional week, but this wonderful experience brought everything to the surface and I didn’t just let a few tears slip – I was full-on, guttural sobbing like an idiot. I struggled to breathe but kept running, and tried to take a moment to appreciate how lucky I am to have the opportunity to race in such an amazing location.
The race was so well organised – not at all what I expected for a relatively small event on a somewhat remote island! My only criticism is that the run was supposed to be 8km long but we ran past a distance marker that said 8km and I reckon we had another 800M at least after that, before the finish line. But that may turn out to be a blessing when I find out my total time because I will exaggerate how much further I had to run in order to explain away my extremely slow time.
I think it took me about 2 hours and 10 minutes, but I can’t be sure because I didn’t time myself and I haven’t seen the results yet.
All I know is that it was at least 2 of the best hours of my life. I would love to get out and do it all again tomorrow (although my poor creaking old-lady joints may disagree) and I certainly hope to be back next year.
Straddie Salute. Put it on your bucket list, friends.