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The Australian Alpine Ascent Triathlon (3km/130km/30km)
19 March 2016
By Coach Rich Thompson - 2nd Overall
With the benefit of qualifying early in December for the 2016 Ironman World Championship, I wanted to race something early in the year that would work on my strength/endurance levels.
When Coach Scotty mentioned the Australia Alpine Ascent triathlon (‘AAA’), it immediately sparked my interest. Dubbed the “hardest daylight triathlon in the world”, the race was based in Jindybine, NSW taking in Thredbo and Perisher and finishing up at Mt Kozisocko. 3km swim, 130km bike (3200m of elevation gain) and 30km run. All at altitude. Perfect! I had been on a number of training camps in the area, so I was familiar with the terrain and what was required in my training.
At the beginning of the year I suggested AAA to T:Zero Multisport athlete, Brett Kerwick and without any question he was in!
Due to the race conditions, a prerequisite was that you needed a support car, driver and support runner. We had a team of T:Zero faithfuls put their hands up - Brett’s wife Kim Andrew, Coach Steve and his wife Nat (funnily enough all of us had raced Busso in December just gone).
We arrived in Canberra the day before the race. A 2 hour drive turn into a 3.5 hour journey with a memorable stop at ‘Bredbo’ – Thredbo’s poor cousin – though they had amazing pancakes and lovely country hospitality.
We arrived in town and was treated to 40-60km/hr winds and rain. We threw on our wetsuits and had a dip in the lake. It was crazy windy, with the lake serving up 2-3ft sets that the World Surfing Tour would be happy with. We then went for a ride to ensure the bikes had survived the trip. Again, the wind was heavy and holding 400w going 15km/hr was not fun. The gusts were the worst part, with some of the stronger ones almost taking my front wheel off the ground!
The forecast for the next day was meant to be much better, so we were happy to get back to the hotel and keen to see the wind dissipate.
Race briefing was on in the early evening. Mark Emerton, the CEO of Elite Energy took the briefing. A lot to get through in an inaugural race where there was no formal road closures, with all athletes having their own support crew, predictions of -3 degrees the next morning and quite aggressive cut offs. Emmo chuckled as he went through the bike and the run course. The phrase “this section is rather undulating” was the phrase of the evening, usually followed by a wry smile.
After a dozen ironman and maybe 20x70.3s half of which in the professional category, I dont get that nervous before racing anymore. Though, there was something in that wind in the afternoon and the information that was handed down at race briefing that made me quite anxious! Could I even finish this race? Could anyone? I mean, this is the first year of running it – the race organizer has just told us that he is nervous! Why is he nervous?
We left briefing and headed out for dinner with the crew. Brett was beaming with excitement, I had lost my appetite.
Upon reflection, it was a great experience – to remember what it is like to do something new and terrifying. So many of my athletes that I coach have this feeling before their first few Ironman / 70.3 – they are fit enough and strong enough but there is always that nervousness of not knowing within one’s self whether you have what it takes to get the job done. Good lessons learnt about overcoming this fear of the unknown.
The weather forecast was right, race day came and we were greeted with near perfect conditions.
Due to the cold air temperature (ranged between -3 and 4 degrees all day), the TA officials cut the swim from 3.0km to 1.5km- something I wasn’t going to complain about. The hooter sounded and the usual mass swim start mayhem began. Getting on the lead team swimmers feet early was key, and although it only lasted 500m, it set my swim up well and allowed me to exit the water in 3rd place overall.
Unlike your regular triathlon, each athlete’s handler was allowed to be in T1 to assist their athlete. Coach Steve and I had choreographed T1 the night before, so like an Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, we were in sync and putting on a show. Wetsuit off, arm warmers on, wind vest on, winter gloves on, helmet on – go! I was Mr Mistoffelees and he was Rum Tug Tugger, so to speak.
The swift transition allowed me to exit transition in first male overall, with only the team rider in front.
The first part of the ride (90km) was Jindaybine to Dead Horse Gap return, which included a stop into Thredbo Village. Riding to power and keeping an eye on my heart rate – I felt good early and over took the team rider around 25km into the ride. With Emmo the race director in the lead car about 30m in front of me, it was a lot of fun following him around such an amazing part of the country.
I got into Thredbo and met up with Steve. Bottles exchanged, some inspiring words from our newest T:Zero coach, I was off and ready to tackle the downhill back to Jindyabne. My heart rate had dropped a on the decent and as a result, made my lungs became a little wheezy. I got some Ventolin back in town and was ready to tackle the big climb of the day – 25km to Charlottes Pass. I was told my lead was about 10mins. Amazing! My power was still solid and my heart rate was responding well. Met up with Steve and Nat again at Perisher to replenish the bike and my lungs. The cold weather and altitude weren’t really agreeing with my lungs at all, so Ventolin was on the menu at every opportunity.
After 125km of riding solo, and 100km of not seeing another rider, I turned at Charlottes Pass only to see another rider 50m behind me! I got into T2 at Perisher Ski Terminal a mere 5 second lead. How the hell did that happen! Killer ride by old mate behind me. Seeing Steve and Nat at T2 was great – they had everything laid out for me and were so supportive.
Another fast transition and I was on the run with about 20 seconds in front of 2nd place. The first 8km of the run was the unassisted trip to Blue Cow and then back to Perisher. It was on trail and it was crazy steep. Crazy. My lungs and my legs hadn’t really prepared for that terrain, so old mate came up beside me, we had a chat about how ridiculously hard the race had been so far and unfortunately for me I never saw him again.
I was feeling well nourished in T2, but made the wrong decision of thinking that I wouldn’t need any calories or water for the trip to Blue Cow. Those 8km took about 60mins which was disastrous for my feeding plan. I got back to Perisher depleted and feeling very sorry for myself. I know the overall result wouldn’t have changed had I fueled properly, but it would have certainly allowed for a more enjoyable run.
I got some fuel from Steve back at Perisher and then headed on the 20km to Mt Kosciosko. It was cold and a block head wind the entire run. I was surprised that my limiting factor was my aerobic fitness (heart rate) rather than my muscle degeneration (legs). I have spent weeks at altitude before but totally forgot how hard it is to keep your HR down when trying to operate at threshold. The most efficient way of running on the day was a run/walk strategy. My heart rate sky rocketed after a few minutes of running, and recovered quickly when I began to walk. My chest was a concern for me as well, I lost count how many puffs of Ventolin I had but it certainly didn’t help my elevated HR during the run. I knew I had no chance to win the race, so my plan shifted to defend my 2nd place.
I made it to Charlottes Pass, and Steve had traded the car for the mtn bike, ready to do the final 9km to the finish line. Still holding 2nd place, we set off to reach to the top of Australia. Running (and walking) scared, we got Rawsons Hut, Steve dropped the mtn bike and did the final 3km on foot with me. Knowing I was going to be 2nd overall, was an amazing feeling. Not only to reach the top of Kozi, not only to know that I had just finished the hardest daylight triathlon in the world, but to have done it with Steve as my support was just awesome.
We stayed at the top and waited for Brett. We were getting feedback during the day that he was having a great race, and the final update we had received from Kim was that he arrived into T2 feeling great. We didn’t have to wait long before he crossed the finish line! 10th overall and 1st place 35-39! He trained perfectly over the past three months, followed the race plan I had set for him and achieved the result he thoroughly deserved. So stoked for him. Can’t wait to read his race report.
Swim – 24:50
Bike – 4:27:52 (280w NP for those playing at home)
Run – 3:07:49
Overall – 8:03:28
Goodness there are a lot of people to thank for allowing me to achieve this result.
Firstly all the T:Zero Multisport family for your support and wishes before, during and after the race. Always so inspiring.
To the kids that let me use their gear for the weekend – TB, Damo and Nick Quinn – champions.
To Mark Emerson and the team at Elite Energy for putting on such a ridiculously awesome race – I will be back next year for sure!
To Brett – such an awesome cat. To know we were training for the same race was awesome. To race that race together and be there as you finished was unforgettable.
To Steve, Nat & Kim – you guys are legends. Thank you for being there for us not just for the race but throughout the entire weekend. We simply couldn’t have done it without you guys and for that I am truly thankful.
Finally to Lise and Teddy. To have a wife who not only give the thumbs up about doing such a race, but to be so supportive in my preparation all while she is training for North Face 100, is just awesome. It was the longest time spent away from the household since Teddy was born and something that I really struggled with during the trip. I missed them greatly and did my best on race day to justify my absence. I love them more than I can explain.
Now looking forward, I will have a rest for 2 weeks to shake the fatigue from the race. April starts with our T:Zero Long Course Training Camp in Cairns and then I will start laying down the early ground work in preparation for my return to Kona in October.
So proud of being a part of the T:Zero family!
Live your potential!