Alex Anasson Ballarat 70.3 Race Report

5 years ago I did a sprint triathlon in Kurnell in Sydney. I had done two marathons that year and I thought “how hard can a 750m, 20km bike and 5km ride be?”, so I turned up on the day having done one swim session (where I am not sure I actually swam 100m in one go), one 7km bike ride on my husband’s mountain bike from when he was 13 (where the chain fell off 200m from home) and obviously plenty of running in the lead up to the race.

When I got to the race I instantly realized how much more serious triathlon is than running. No one talked to you and when setting yourself up at transition, there was no chatter or laughter just lots of serious faces and funny looking helmets next to my kiddie looking helmet. The water was a frigid 16 degrees and while everyone stepped into their wetsuits after the briefing, I stood ankle deep in the murky water in my one piece red speedo swimsuit, looking-and feeling-very out of place. Fast forward a few minutes til my wave start and I think I may have gotten 100m into the water before the panic attack started. The combination of intimidation, freezing cold water and having never done an open water swim in my life-resulted in me having to hold onto the surf life savers paddle board trying to calm my breathing and then swimming breast stroke with my head above water for the rest of the course and being the very last person out of the water from the entire field. Somehow on my rubbish bike, I managed to overtake a few people on the ride and then again a few people on the run, but when I was done I gloriously announced I would NEVER do a triathlon again! I can’t tell you how long it took me because I didn’t look-I didn’t care.  It was the worst thing I had ever done. My triathlon career was over before it had ever really begun.

Fast forward four years and I had done over 12 marathons and felt like I needed another challenge. A few of the girls from my work were going to do the Gatorade Triathlon and so I decided that I would join in, but this time I was going to train properly. I started training in June for the November triathlon and I  enjoyed the different training and the adaptations my body made and when I stood on that start line, I was nervous but excited and felt much more confident than I had 4 years ago. I finished the race and was hooked. What a totally different experience from a few years before! Funny what actually training will do ☺

So, due to my interest in endurance events I immediately set my sights on long course triathlon and entered the 70.3 Ironman at Ballarat in December 2016 and started training with TriChicks in January to get me ready for the challenge. Some of the girls from work also entered, so I knew there was no backing out-with the TriClub and the accountability from the work colleagues I couldn’t hide!

Throughout the year I kept motivated by reminding myself that each day was a day closer to the race-a race that scared me like no goal had before. These thoughts kept me on track and chatting to my work colleagues and my tri group about training sessions kept me feeling like I couldn’t skip anything.

As we headed into the last few months before the race, things really got serious. The training sessions got longer and more frequent and I really had to conquer my fears of getting the bike off the wind trainer and out onto an actual path or road. In the lead up to the big race I had some smaller races planned and these helped me to stay on track and also gauge how I was tracking and dull the anxiety.

I travelled quite a bit during the last few weeks before the race for work but prioritized key sessions and made sure I didn’t miss out just because of being away.

I battled a little bit some with musculoskeletal issues during the training block but again made sure I put myself first and was treated each week by physios and chiros to keep me in tip top shape. All of this prioritizing of myself made me feel selfish at times and I felt bad for neglecting my husband and friendships to be able to achieve this goal but deep down knew that they supported me in the pursuit. My only other issue was a bit mental in relation to the training schedule-I struggled with the lack of spontaneity-if I woke up wanting to go for a run but it was a cycling day- I couldn’t do what my mind and body wanted to do and I didn’t really cope well with that during the last few big weeks, but I think it was more tiredness and maybe some hormones than actually the training.

In the last two weeks of training, I was asked multiple times “do you feel ready?, and so I contemplated this over and over and I found myself confidently saying “yes”. I felt there wasn’t much else I could have done, in the lead up and although fear of the cut off times was playing on my mind I knew I had done everything within my power to have a good race-probably the first time I had ever felt that way before a race of any kind. So, taper week was very calm and when I arrived in Ballarat on Saturday morning, I didn’t feel the butterflies I expected to feel-just pure excitement for the next day. I am really superstitious before races so I practiced all my usual rituals the night before the race and then got an early night and had a great night sleep-leaving me feeling fantastic and ready to go in the morning!

I absolutely loved the organization and atmosphere at the race precinct and on race morning it felt electric! I organized myself at transition and headed out to see the girls from TriChicks who were racing and supporting-which only cemented my positivity with their demeanour. I found my husband at the starting line and had one last calming hug before heading into the water for the deep water start. And then we were off!

The lake, was not as cold or as dirty as expected and there was plenty of room to move and you could even swim in a straight line because of the buoy lines in the water-sighting was a breeze! I swam comfortably and kept relaxing myself if I ever felt a bit panicky as the men from the wave behind me swam over me. I came out of the water feeling awesome and felt cool, calm and collected heading onto the bike-my most hated leg.

I was happy with how spacious it was out on the bike-plenty of room for me to sit in on the left and the fast, strong men fly past me on the right. My goal was to average 24.5km/hr as a bare ass minimum, so I tried to sit comfortable at about 28km/hr and not sprint to keep up with the big guys-I needed to pace myself… In the transition tour the day before they spoke about how not to get excited on the way out because of the tailwind but I felt super excited as I clocked high 30’s getting over 40kms/hr at some points! I was certain I was going to smash the bike after about 25kms because I felt so good-then the turn around came… The headwind was horrible and there were hills (I did not remember that from the course recce a few weeks ago!). My speed dropped significantly and I had to use everything I had to push through and up the hills all the way back to Ballarat. And all I kept thinking was-we have to do that again!!!!! 

On a side note-I can’t take my hands off the bike while moving (I know what a loser), and so while dealing with this wind also had to find a place to pull over to quickly get some nutrition in. When I did-getting started again, hurt A LOT-es[ecially into the headwind! Note to self-MUST MUST MUST learn to eat and drink while moving!!!!

The second lap felt good again on the way out and the headwind was a little less on the way back in this time, and with about 15kms to go I worked out I was on track for a 3hr20 finish-which was about 20mins faster than I had set my goal to! WINNING! And I had just completed my longest ride ever!! DOUBLE WINNING! This thought made me feel awesome coming into transition and the precinct was again electric-especially with all the TriChicks girls cheering me on. True to form though, whilst I felt like a weapon- I had the most ungraceful dismount off the bike right in front of the TriChicks girls and with everyone near me making an audible gasp as I fell sideways with one foot still clipped in. I was fine but definitely NOT a weapon. 

Starting the run, I was feeling good mentally and in my cardio but my lower back and calves hurt which was a bit tough-but I kept thinking about a beautiful text a really special friend sent me before the race all about staying positive and I kept telling myself, that this would pass just put one foot in front of the other! And sure enough at about the 4km mark in the half marathon, I started to feel great! No niggles, cardio working well and my head really enjoying the laps of the run! Every time I passed my family, friends and the TriChicks crew-I felt a surge in speed and excitement-I was actually going to finish this and I didn’t even feel bad! 

On my last lap of the run I worked out I was going to finish under 6hrs and I almost burst into tears. Going into this, I had said I would be happy with just finishing but under 6.5hrs would be amazing. And then as I entered that incredible finishing chute and crossed the line with tears in my eyes, I looked back at the timer above the arch and saw my name and next to it: 5.52! Not only had I made it under 6.5hrs but I had done it by almost 40mins! The sheer adrenaline and relief that washed through my body in the recovery area was exhilarating. I had never in my life felt more proud of myself. I had set my sights on something that pushed me, and had trained and committed to it from the beginning and seen it all the way through and now I had the medal the finishers towel to prove it! What a buzz!

The next day, I was moving better and feeling less tired than I do after marathons and every time I thought about the race I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into another one. I had absolutely loved my first long course racing experience-and within 24hrs of completing my first half Ironman I had entered my first Full Ironman-Bussleton 2017.

And so, the training plan starts all over again.

I guess I must be hooked-a far cry from that first sprint triathlon 5 years ago…

Special thanks to Amy for preparing me so well, the TriChicks crew for supporting and a huge high five to Ashild, Courtney, Joe, Nathan, Luke, George, Mel, Jo, Emma, Helena and Gemma for completing their own awesome races and giving me some great high fives and energy during the race. And last but not least my wonderful husband Tom for supporting me as he always does.