I love living in Canberra. There are not many places in Australia that I have been that offer more to people who enjoy the outdoors and endurance sport. The facilities, surrounding green space and calibre of athletic community here means you are never short of opportunities or motivation to explore somewhere new and train hard.
The Sri Chinmoy marathon team in 1995 created a multisport event showing off the spectacular landscape of Canberra, and pushing the limits of endurance in a single day event. Each year since then (with the exception of 2 years due to weather) the Triple Triathlon has tested athletes either solo or in teams to swim 6.2 km, ride 100 km and run 45 km in an enduro triathlon format taking in the lakes, mountains, and meadows that envelope our bush capital.
It is not your typical triathlon! It is not a race where you can sit on your pre determined power output on the bike and then sit back into your marathon pace running. On the bike you will be doing gate vaults in the bush, and pushing your bike up crazy steep loose fire roads, then soaking in a view before an awesome descent. On the runs you will be running along trails mainly used by kangaroos and wombats, scrambling up Canberra’s biggest peaks, and dropping through beautiful single track. It is a race that forces you to go off feel and immerse yourself in the amazing trails. Which is why I love it so much.
I first raced this event as part of a team in 2008 with my now wife Amy and friend Scott. I was racing standard distance triathlon but was mainly training on trails and the event really appealed. We had a ball and the next year raced again. In 2011 I decided to push my limits and go solo for the first time. After a great day I finished first solo in just under twelve hours. After moving around Australia as an Air Force Pilot, I was itching to do it again in 2015 when as a family we moved back to Canberra. I had another great experience winning and setting a half hour PB.
My 2017 has been pretty up and down with injury but about September I started getting excited to aim for this event as it was the twentieth anniversary of the race and the field was looking bigger and deeper than it ever had been. My build for the race involved a lot of strength work in the gym along with hills riding and running. I am a full time dad and luckily my daughter loves going for adventures on the back of my bike or in the chariot!
Having done the race previously is a huge advantage – the stress of not knowing what to expect has passed and you have nutted out the logistics to make it run as smooth as possible. Over the last couple of weeks the training wound down but visualisation of the course and how I would feel throughout ramped up. The week of the race I was full of nerves, not knowing how the day would come together given my preparation, and nervous about the competition I would face with 8 previous winners of the event lining up with me.
Race morning was early! A 5:30 race start meant getting the family up at 4 to get ready for the day. Amy and my friend Marty were my support crew for the day along with my three and half year old daughter Imogen. Arriving at the shores of lake Ginninderra to the west of Canberra the weather was beautifully mild, around 15 degrees, and there was this calm enthusiasm and anticipation from the 22 other solo competitors and their helpers (the 70 odd teams started half an hour later).
In the soft dawn light after a moments silence we dove into the first 1.5 km swim of the event. My plan was to try and jump on the feet of Michael Brennan, but after about 50m he left me behind and I settled into my own rhythm. It pays not to blow up in the first swim of an 11-hour race!
The first transition went smoothly and I was happy to be on the mountain bike, where my plan was to push a solid pace and see if anyone went with me. I met up with Michael about 5 km into this leg and we rode together for the next 8 km, through some fast flowing fire roads, which were perfectly grippy from the rain of the past week. Then we reached the first of the big hills – affectionately known as ‘push bike hill’ on the side of Black Mountain. The 800m rocky Fire Trail sits between 25 and 35 per cent gradient for its length and is the first of many opportunities to get off your bike and push.
After a short stint walking at the steepest pinch I got riding again to put some distance between Michael and me. The rest of the first ride went well, some more punchy climbs and flowing descents and a great single track section through Bruce ridge which led us towards the transition to the first run of the day starting at the base of Mt Majura. The atmosphere in transition was awesome, many of the teams were eagerly waiting for their riders to come in with the warm morning sun and barely any wind. I sat down for a moment to get my socks, runners, and hydration pack on before taking off for the 250m climb of Majura.
After setting a quick pace for the first ride I eased into a more relaxed rhythm running, following the rocky single track that weaved up the western side of Majura. It’s a special track especially in the early morning sun as you get glimpses of the city and Brindabella Mountains glowing in the distance. After reaching the summit the next section was a rollercoaster descent through the single track in the Majura Pines mountain bike park. Traversing the ridgeline between Majura and Ainslie I checked in with the body, which was feeling great. More importantly my mind was really calm, I was taking the chance the soak in the surroundings and not over thinking what I needed to do or concerning myself with pace.
The expansive view of Mt Ainslie is iconic, and against the blue sky and having 2 of the 3 biggest hills of the running course out of the way was an awesome moment! Coming off the mountain and onto the flat bike path leading to the next swim my calves were starting to tighten up, but luckily I had a 3.5 km swim ahead to get off my feet and let the legs recover.
Getting into a wetsuit mid race is an experience! I bought a sleeveless wetsuit in order to expedite this process. After having half a bottle of my Infinit electrolyte drink and the 3 of us working as a team I was in the wetsuit and off on the next swim. That feeling of being off my feet and just rolling the arms over was sublime. I had a gentle tail wind, which meant the chop was giving me a slight push. I pulled alongside a jetty mid swim to get some more calories in – the best part of an hour mid race swimming means it’s really easy to hunger flat going into the next ride (a lesson learnt from previous years!).
After a quick bite of sushi and some beetroot juice in the next transition it was off for the longest ride of the day – around 38 km of flowing fire roads to the southwest of the city. It turns out I exited the swim at the perfect time as friend and veteran of the Triple Tri, Dave Osmond came past me about a kilometre in as part of a team. I was feeling great at this point so jumped on his wheel and spent the next 10 km riding and chatting with him. This ride is where the day can start to get pretty warm – as it is predominantly open and its late morning or early afternoon at this point of the race. Despite only having a top of 25, I was feeling the heat. The climb up Mt Stromlo went well, just slow and steady, before another fun descent along some weaving fire roads.
Another friend Michelle Cooper came flying past about 5 km from the end on her way to taking the bike course record. Again surging to stay with her was a great boost both to my speed and mind as things were starting to tire. Staying close to her for the rest of the ride I came into the crunch point of the race tired but feeling strong.
A quick reapplication of sunscreen, body glide and some no dose and I was off onto the 11 km run which has you summit Mt Taylor a short and sharp peak in Canberra’s south. In the heat of the day it will definitely let you know if you have gone too hard early in the race. As soon as I hit the 25 per cent fire road climb I was down to a walk. But that was hurting my quads too much so I started walking backwards, and then discovered shuffling backwards felt great. The 1 km of climbing felt like an eternity but after reaching the top the view of the Brindabella Mountains and knowledge that the rest of the run is downhill was a huge boost to morale.
Nearing the end of the run my legs were shattered, but mentally I was still calm, happy and very much looking forward to the last 1.2 km swim. The swim was slow as I really focused on recovering, cooling down and preparing mentally to push through to the finish. Getting onto the bike for the final time with a solid dose of caffeine I tucked in for the coming 10km of flat bike path into a head wind. Klayten Smith the winner from 2016 was about 20 minutes behind in second place at this point so I focused on opening that gap so that we wouldn’t be running together at the end.
The short steep hills on this leg passed quickly and before I knew it I was approaching my last transition through the infamous storm water pipes of Hindmarsh Drive. Being 6’5” and having raced for over 9 hours already, riding a bike through a drainpipe for about 80 meters is somewhat of a challenge. I got into the tunnel just ahead of one of the team riders and completely messed it up! I tried to slide down and lie on my top tube as I had done in practice but instead just lay on top of my seat and had my back wedged against the tunnel roof, paying my blood sacrifice to the race.
After some frantic stuffing around I exited the tunnel had some more water, caffeine and a bottle of Infinit and took off on my last run. I settled into a rhythm through the climb over Red Hill, enjoying the final view of the city. The legs were in pretty good shape compared to previous years, and I focused my mind on keeping my running form as light and smooth as possible. The smiles of the teams as they come past and words of encouragement from the helpers at aid stations are one of the things that make this event so special.
Coming onto the bike path and past the second last of these aid stations I glanced at my watch to see what the time was. I saw that it was 3:18 and I had 7 km to run, which meant that if I was able to hold my current pace of just over 5 min per km that I could surpass the solo course record set by off road legend Jason Chalker in 2002.
The remaining distance was gently undulating and shaded along the south side of Lake Burley Griffin. There was plenty to loose myself in and appreciate as the final kilometres ticked down. Rounding the corner to the finish the joy of having completed this course quicker than anyone had in its 20 year history was overwhelmingly emotional. A week later it is still sinking in, I like many others thought that record would never be broken. Overall it was an awesome day.
Endurance sport is such an amazing experience – the emotional highs and lows, the hundreds of small decisions we make leading into and during a race, the weather, the mechanicals, the other unforeseen challenges we have to adapt to make it truly special when it does all come together in our favour.
If you are looking for a different challenge, atmosphere and experience this race will provide it. I love the diversity that exists within the sport of triathlon, and this race truly is one of those hidden gems. I am already getting excited to toe the line and see what the day brings next November!