The day was long and extremely hot. I had been dabbling in multi-sport races on and off and figured this one suited me. It was also being held in the Australian Alps, about a six-hour drive south of Sydney, so that was another reason to enter.
The event comprised a 15km mountain bike on a 5km looped course that took in a long climb, fast descent and a river crossing (I fell in on all three crossings), followed by a 17km road run with a long climb out of the village then a very undulating course along the Alpine Way. Following this was a 28km road bike slightly downhill to the largest town/village in this part of the Snowy Mountains, and home to one of the largest dams in Australia, the town of Jindabyne.
With the transition area right beside the lake, we then had a 2km wetsuit swim followed by a 10km kayak paddle. After the kayak paddle, it was back on the road bike for a 48km course predominately uphill back to the starting point at the ski village of Thredbo and finally a 10km cross country run to the finish.
As usual, these types of events do attract the numbers and with a couple of hundred entrants, it was going to be a difficult day. The weather was hot with little breeze. Not being great at any of the individual disciplines but OK at all of them gave me the confidence that if I stayed tough through the day I may end up with a decent result.
That is how it played out.
The first leg MTB section was not great, but I managed to pull back a few in the 17km run. With the first road bike section more down than up, it was not easy to gain places and I arrived at the lake/dam in 18th position overall. After the swim/kayak section (probably my best legs) I had moved to fourth and began the long hot (uphill) ride back to the starting point. It was another day of patience and like most of these types of endurance events, the nutrition side is just as important as being physically able to bash out one of these beasts for the entire duration of the event.
Certainly, one doesn’t work without the other.
Arriving back in Thredbo in 3rd place I began the 10km cross country run with purpose but not feeling amazing. We had been at it for over eight hours already at this point and I couldn’t see the guy in second (apparently the guy in first was well clear) and I was told the fourth-place competitor was quite a way behind. Halfway through the run, I saw the second-placed runner ahead and I slowly (very) gained.
With about 1km of the race remaining the gap was 100 metres and my crew was telling me to take him.
I tried to explain that if that even if my Grandma was in second place, I didn’t think I could bridge the distance.
Remarkably, the gap narrowed.
I was totally spent, and about 500m metres from the finish we were due to run over a small stone bridge. In a car, the rise would not be noticeable but at this stage of the race, it was going to matter.
The gap was now 20 metres. I was running on fumes and the only thing pushing me forward was the thought he was suffering more.
I wanted second but I wasn’t sure I could keep digging that deep.
I committed to one more effort.
On the bridge, I would try to take him. If he resisted me, even for a second, I was going to give him the second place.
I was mentally prepared for that one more dig but that was it if he fought me, I was going to give him that victory over me.
I moved up behind, he never looked at me, but he knew I was there. I wondered if his world, at that moment, was as horrible as mine. We reached the start of the climb. I was really suffering, and I moved up alongside him.
Again, my brain was telling me that any resistance from him and my day was done. I moved a stride in front of him as we began the small decent. I never turned to look but in my peripheral vision, he suddenly wasn’t there anymore.
Then I turned. He was now walking. I couldn’t believe it. I took second in a bit over nine hours. I spent the next hour on an IV drip in the medical tent.
About four years later. I saw the guy I beat that day in a pub back home. I hadn’t seen him since that moment on the small bridge in the Australian Alps. We saw and recognised each other at the same time. Both of us immediately taken back to that moment and we laughed.
I said to him that if he had fought me on that day, even for a moment, just for a step or two I was going to give that to him. I told him that it took all I had just to get to him. I was one wasted unit. The rest I just faked.
His reaction was disbelief.
‘No way’ he said. ‘You looked super strong, that’s why I started walking’
I often think about that race because it cemented in my mind that sometimes you just have to take the bastards on. Deep at the business end of all races, no one (not many anyway) are just cruising and on many occasions, they are not up for the fight.
So, take them on and never assume you know what they are thinking.