Coach’s Remarks: Another great report from Jordo, you love it mate. Grab a few coffees though as she is long 🙂
The Race Report: Although I had been to the States quite a few times before I never really found it that inspiring and didn’t expect Las Vegas to be any different. I’ve been to Miami a few times and although I always have a good time there I find the people rude and aggressive and for some reason expected the same from Vegas but I couldn’t have been more wrong, the people and welcoming and friendly and this set a great tone for the race.
I arrived on the Tuesday before the race to give me some time to get over the jet lag and hopefully do a bit of sightseeing as well. Thanks to Mr National I got a superb deal on car hire so that gave me freedom to explore the area a bit and later to drive the bike course so big thanks to Guy for all his help there.
I was supposed to meet with the Japanese guy I raced against in Korea but he had pulled out at the last minute so I was in the hotel on my own for the first night, nothing for it then but to explore the Strip and lose a few dollars in the casino to get the week off to a great start. The next day the athletes started arriving in the hotel and before long I was chatting away with a few of them and hooked up with one of the competitors in the 55-60 AG who although American lived in Italy and had flown across with his family for the race. His family were more interested in the Vegas nightlife so were quite happy when he found a new friend to get excited with. This was quite cool and suited both of us so we spent the next couple of days driving the bike course (why does it never seem so bad when you are in the car?) and planning out our race day strategy.
A couple of days before the race I took a drive up to Hoover Dam stopping at various points along the road including some native American Indian places, I love the great outdoors and Nevada has this in abundance so it was a great pre race way to relax.
On Friday Tom and I set out for the 15-15-15 session that actually ended up more of a 20-30-15, it was good just to get my body moving again after the long flight then 3 days not training, that drives me crazy! Everything seemed to be in good working order and I was feeling pretty relaxed about the whole race although excited as usual. I didn’t harbour any thoughts of doing anything other than finishing this race, normally I like to be competitive but in this company I knew I had no chance so it was great just to soak up the atmosphere. What was interesting was that more or less everyone I spoke to had the same thoughts, they were only happy to be there and didn’t expect result from the race. This is quite amazing when you consider these were the top age groupers from races around the world but almost to a man no one thought they had the right to be there racing the “top guys” whoever they were. I guess if you think about it in any race there are really only a handful of people
who have any chance of winning and this was no different, what was different that guys would wouldn’t win this time were mostly top competitors in their own right who oftenr won local and even national events.
The location for the race is simply inspirational, the swim was in Lake Las Vegas swimming out under an Italian inspired hotel bridge in perfect temperature water although visibility was close to zero so I was expecting a lot of bumping during the race. The first 70km of the bike course was in a national park where the phrase “Big Country” could have been coined for. The road was awesome and at times almost scary both the uphills and the obvious fast descents we would have to negotiate in
unpredictable cross winds. Before the race I had written the run course off as too easy and probably boring although on race day I was to change my mind very much on this, it was a sublime choice that really finished the race (and lots of the competitors me included!) off.
Tom and I pitched drove up to the start for body marking around 5:15am. This was a bit early for me as my start time wasn’t until 7:55 but Tom was due off in one of the first waves at 6:40 so needless to say wanted to be there in plenty of time. Not that I was objecting, taking in the atmosphere before a race starts is possibly my favourite part of the day and seeing the 1800 top of the range bikes racked and the hundreds of scarily fit athletes milling around made me want to soak up every
minute I could.
The wave orderwas interesting in that they didn’t go with a straight forward age\gender split but mixed it up with the oldest age group going immediately after the pros and my own age group second from last sandwiched between the 18-29 females in front of us and the 18-29 males behind us as the last age group, I guess this is an effort to combat drafting and keep the waves separately and generally it worked really well. The advantage for the old duffers in my age group is we got to
chase the hottest chicks on the course, the disadvantage is that we were swam over, biked through and charged down on the run by testosterone loaded 20 year olds who had far more chance of scoring with the girls than we ever had!
I met up with a couple of other racers I knew from Korea and also some other Brits so we were all hanging around discussing the usual pre race bull when who ran past but our very own Crowie. He saw my T2A race kit and I grinned asking him were his team kit was, he laughed and as he ran past and asked me if I got his message (he sent me a note on FB earlier in the week), I turned round and everyone was just looking at me gobsmacked. Crowie, you’re the man and my stock went up about 50% in 30 seconds
I have to say the organisation of this race was absolutely exemplary so I was a bit surprised when we were allowed to rack our bikes without any sort of safety check. Thinking back to Korea they nearly destroyed the bikes and the helmets checking them, here they did a survey on which model of bike\cranks\gears we had but that was it.
As the race was on September 11th (9\11) around 6:10 we had a minutes silence, it was really quite emotional. There must have been close to 4000 people there with athletes, family and friends, volunteers and organisers. As is often the case the race start was outside the city so there was none of the normal daily racket we get so used to and the in the silence you could honestly have heard a pin drop. After that a lone trumpeter played the American National Anthem and I saw many a toughened athlete shed a tear or two………they love all this stuff in the States and we were all privileged to be a part of it if I’m honest.
The swim was a long thin out and back course with a run around the head of the lake into transition. As we lined up in our various waves we were able to stand on the bank of the lake and watch the early waves go off. The pros started off 85 minutes before my allotted star time which was great as I could watch the whole swim and T1. In T2A I can understand that we obviously have a bias towards Crowie but it was interesting to note that he certainly got more yells of encouragement than any
other athlete as he quickly ran through T1.
The time to my start wave went by quickly enough including around 1001 last minute loo stops and before I knew it we were in the water for a warm up. You could chose to wear a wet suit in the race but you would have to start in the very final wave and your time wouldn’t count so needless to say there were no takers on that front. When I did the 15-15-15 the day before the water was slightly chilly when you first got in but after 5 or 6 strokes it was perfect. Today however they kept us hanging around for the wave in front for about 10 minutes so it got decidedly chilly. I swam around
a bit to get a feel for the water and stay warm then we were called up to the start line. Normally I’m ballsy enough to go towards the front of a race start even although I know I’ll be swum over but in this company I knew my place and skulked around the back of the group waiting on the final countdown.
Bang, we were off and I felt strong following the pack. The visibility was really poor and expected a lot of bumping and barging but the pack quickly opened up and it was actually one of the least aggressive races I’ve been in. I gave it some bean for the first couple of hundred metres and was appy to see the pack were not too far in front of me and I had quite a lot of guys for company on either side of me so at least I wasn’t embarrassing myself. My breathing felt really free and easy which is a welcome relief after wetsuit swims which I don’t enjoy as much and this continued for the full course.
The 18-29 year olds set off 5 minutes behind us and this included some of the best collegiate swimmers in the world so needless to say it wasn’t long before they were swarming through us like a plague of locust. Again I was worried about this and the thought of them swimming straight over us but there was enough room in the water for everyone and the moved easily through the pack. It was quite something to watch the speed that some of them swam it, they just breezed past with ease and in the couple of seconds were gone into the murk. The only place I had any issues with the
following age group was getting caught in a small group racing at the turn around point. The course was a long narrow out and back with only 40m or so at top as the turn and this is where a pack of around 10 or so caught up with me. There was a little bit of pushing but again I know my place and quickly got out their road and just kept my own rhythm and pace.
I was now on the long homeward straight heading back towards the pseudo Italian bridge which served as a great sighter for us. I was feeling as good as I ever have in a swim and noted I still had quite a few of my age groupers for company. As we approached the bridge I was heading for the same water with another athlete which led to a couple of minor bashes including having my goggles flicked but here I accelerated and got a length or two in front of him to head up to the finish. I
got out of the water on 41m XXs, job done. I was actually a little disappointed with my time but speaking to everyone afterwards and looking at the pros times everyone was slow as there was a slight current in the water. In the end I was around 90 seconds slower than my fastest ever 70.3 swim in Korea which was a wetsuit swim in calm salt water so on reflection I was really happy with this effort and amazingly it was to be my best of the three events on the day.
I had driven the bike course a couple of days before the race and the location was absolutely stunning through a national park that ran up the side of Lake Las Vegas. In some ways it was similar to the course in Korea but I estimated a little more hilly and there would be cross winds anywhere from 10mph to 15mph although on the day this wasn’t really a major factor. As we drove out along the course I spotted a coyote at one point, I’ve never seen a coyote before so got very excited giving
Tom a good laugh. If you have ever been with a South African when it starts snowing you will know the type of excited I was.
The transition was pretty long with a steep path around 70m long up to the start line but everything went without a hitch. As I was running through with my bike I heard the announcer say “Some news about two times world champion Craig Alexander out on the bike course”. Excellent I thought, Crowies taken the lead on the bike, “he has had a puncture”…..groan, shit I just hoped there was a service bike nearby and this didn’t blow his day but I quickly had to put this to the back of my mind
and get on with the job at hand.
The first 70km on the bike course was all hard undulating territory in the national park but I’m finding these tougher climbs really suit me, I guess because I’m a lot smaller and lighter than a lot of the other competitors so during this stage I held my own and managed to pass a couple of peole in my AG but this was not the usual ride where I’m ticking people off left, right and centre, the standard here was way too good. As we were riding the song Big Country (by Big Country – imaginative eh?) came into my head, if ever there was big country this was it and I wouldn’t have
been surprised to see John Wayne riding over the horizon pursued by a pack of Indians, it was amazing and I was loving it. There was very little traffic on the road but it was open to the public so we needed to take a bit of care. At one point I saw an ambulance screaming towards us with lights flashing. Oh no, I just hoped someone hadn’t come off their bike, you could really get up some speed on the downhill sections and do yourself some damage. Thoughts of the guy who died in
Antwerp came to mind but I never heard anything later.
There were very few spectators on this part of the course as the organisers had strongly requested family and friends etc not go out into the park as this would have caused chaos and everyone seemed to comply with this so we only really saw a few locals and the various volunteers. One guy I passed had a huge 10 gallon Stetson on, this was a bona fide cowboy whooping us on, great fun. A few of the volunteers had dressed up for the occasion as well with two young ladies holding up a sign saying “lap dance here for competitors only”, they were getting a few whistles and cat calls as we sailed by, all brilliant fun.
I was surprised to find I was actually passing a few of the younger AG who had obviously gone past me on the swim but weren’t very strong at all on the bike, that was welcoming. I also past a good number of the aforementioned young ladies from the AG in front of my wave, I can tell you some of them were a sight for sore eyes and definitely made my day (Sorry ladies, sexist comment but then you lot would have liked the a lot of the boys that I promise!)
About 5km from the turnaround point I was coming to the top of a long 5km-7km incline just grinding away when I heard a female probably from the 50-55 AG going the other way let out a loud cheer, I looked up and saw that she had just got to the top of a very steep climb and she had obviously worked hard to get there. What was a long grind the way I was going averaging I guess 4% – 5% was a very fast and furious decent on the other side easily topping 10% – 12% in some places. What I didn’t realise though until I got to the top of the same climb on the way back though was the amazing view which is also what the lady was possibly hollering about, from up there you could see the whole world and the best part of it was it all looked downhill. It literally took my breath away when I hit the same point.
The sting in the tail with the bike course was the last 25km, the first 7km of this was the steepest section of the course forcing us into low gear and just spinning hard to get up out of the park. Just when you thought you had got over the worst another bloody rise came into view to knock the stuffing out of you. As mentioned though these steep climb tend to suit me so I wasn’t too worried but after a couple of reasonable downhill kilometres we then headed for home on 16km of continual
grind. Imagine the road from Longtoot from the roundabout at the bottom up to the car park that we all hate, well this was 16km of exactly the same terrain but to add insult to injury much of this section was into a headwind and I’m just rubbish on this sort of terrain as I simply don’t have the power of the bigger guys so really struggled. At one point I had hoped to get off the bike in around 1:45 but this horrible last section put paid to any hopes of that and worse still really blew my legs apart for the run to come.
In short, this is a brilliant but very testing bike course. By the end I felt like my legs had been ripped off, kicked about, smashed with a hammer then just for good measure someone had poured petrol on them and set them on fire. I was cooked entering T2 and almost fell off my bike, it was just as well there were catchers there for us. I didn’t even have the energy to get my bike shoes off on the bike so hobbled unglamorously into the T2 tent in my cleats. In the tent I just sat down for a minute
or two to get my breath back and some feeling in my legs. I had left a bottle of water with Nuun in my change back so sat and swigged that before getting changed into my running gear.
The run course was very deceptive, I admit to underestimating it badly before the race started. Again I had driven it with Tom and like me he is more a runner than anything else and both decided it was fairly straight forward and although there was an incline it was nothing that would tax us. I guessed I could comfortably go around 1:40 on this course.
Imagine a backwards “L” shape with the transition in the crook of the L. From the toe of the L to the top was slightly more than 3.5km but all uphill on a gradient I guess of 2% – 4% but fairly constant and that was the course. We started from the crook of the L and headed downhill to the first turnaround. I was just getting my legs at this point and starting to feel ok, I was passing quite a lot of people now so feeling happy with how things were going.
I quickly got to the turnaround and headed back up the incline, nothing too dramatic and again I was just keeping a steady if slightly slower pace back up through transition and the finish line up the arm of the L. This was the steepest part of the course and I noticed quite a number of people struggling here which surprised me a bit as it wasn’t that tough. This particular part of the course was a very steady incline so you could get a good rhythm and just power to the top, before I knew it I was at the turnaround point and starting to head back down.
The first two laps of the course was the only point I really got a chance to see some of the hundreds of other competitors and some of them were just amazing. One lady with one leg and blade runner type prosthetic obviously in agony struggling up the hill, one guy who had an article written about him in the programme who had one arm completely severed at the shoulder so not even a stump and the other arm chopped off at the elbow. Amazingly he did all his transitions on his own without any help whatsoever, hats off dude! Some wheel chair athletes but one guy in particular really
straining up this hill and crying out in pain, boy did he whizz past me on the downhill section later though! A lady at the side of the road in tears, athletes in the 70’s and 80’s just ticking along as best they could, one guy totally prostrate and unconscious on the road with the cops and medics sprinting to help him. It was all very humbling I have to say.
So back to me run and on the first downhill section I felt fantastic, a good spring in my step and hitting around 4:20 per km and quite happy with the world. Before I knew it I was back at the turn around and starting to dig in again for that long 3.5km incline only this time it started to hurt a little and I had to work much harder. The heat had built up to 90+ degrees but there was plenty water on the course, people hosing us down and fantastic support to keep us going. After 2.5km my legs now knew they were in a race and the efforts from the bike were starting to catch up with me, the last 1km to the top was pretty challenging but what to do but keep going. Finally I reached the turnaround point and was looking forward to the long decent only this time my legs weren’t firing quite as well, my thigh and calf muscles were tight and seizing so although I did pick up some speed it wasn’t anywhere near as fluid or as fast as before.
By the time I reached the bottom again and had to start that last 3.5km uphill I was drewading it, I knew now it was going to be tough and very painful, now I understood why I saw so many people struggling earlier on, they were on their third lap. As I said I had underestimated this course and now I understood why the director was so proud of himself in his choice of route, if the swim and bike course were sublime this was the icing on the cake on really separating the men from the boys
and certainly taught me a lesson I won’t forget in a hurry. That 3.5km was the longest 3.5km I have ever ran in my life, I walked through each of the 4 aid station en route soaking up sponges, water, horrible Gatorade, ice anything I could get my hand on. I had taken one of the powershot gels they give you, a yucky apple flavour and commenced throwing it up half up the climb, I just felt rotten and my poor legs hated me.
After what seemed like four and half weeks I finally approached the top when I felt a tap on my shoulder. A guy called Colin Kuster who I had beaten by quite a long way in Korea sailed past me looking great, I couldn’t believe it as I had beaten him by over 30 minutes on the run in Korea. “Come on Craig” he encouraged as he went past. “What ;ap are you on” I asked, expecting him to say his first or at best second but no it was his third so he had just taken a place from me…..drat!
We were very close to turning so I decided I get there and as the last 1.5km was all downhill to the finish put in a glorious effort and retake him before the line. At the turnaround we were only about 30m apart so should be possible. As I hit the turnaround though I commanded my legs to get moving…….nothing, not a peep there was no way they were going anywhere. I just couldn’t do it and had no option but to watch Colin’s back recede into the distance. In the last 1.5km downhill he
took 3 minutes out of me and finished in exactly 100th place, good on him he got his own back on me in the race that counted.
Finally I turned into the finishing shoot and suddenly had a little burst of energy taking me over the line in a has assed sprint finishing in a total time of 5:36:36 (I actually made it 5:34 by my watch so think something went wrong somewhere but it wouldn’t have made much difference other than the odd place or two). I came in 106th out of 124 starters but we just pleased with my effort. I was still throwing up at this point though so ended up in the medical tent for 10 minutes but soon started
to come round and go meet up with some of the other finisher including Colin and Tom for a bit of pasta and the usual dissection of the race.
This was stunningly well organised race and the best event I have ever taken part in which I suppose is as it should be for a world champs event. A bit unusual here but I will start my thanks with the organisers, marshals and volunteers, they just made this an amazing day that I will never forget and everyone I spoke to was in full agreement.
It goes without saying Coach Pain as always gets an honourable mention. Just over 20 months ago I weighed in at a hefty 80kg and wasn’t in particularly brilliant shape. I was already in some sort of training when I met Jason though and on the road but let’s just say I was a bit misguided in those days. I keep a diary of all my events and training and to look back before I started working with T2A is almost embarrassing but funny. To have taken me from where I was to a second place in a 70.3
event then onto a world championship race in the 15 months I’ve been with T2A is unbelievable and take a very special coach to do that.
All of the team of course, I had some great laughs along the way as well as some good honest competition. I’ve seen team mates in win and team mates in pain struggling just to get to the line. I’ve seen us cope with injuries and personal challenges and it is amazing how in such an individual sport we have bonded into the strongest team I have ever known, I honestly think we would do anything for each other without hesitation (well, almost anything!).
Obviously my lovely lady Jun who sits quietly in the background on a lot of race days but always supports me no matter what. She thinks I’m mental and keeps telling me winning doesn’t matter and I should just take it easy and stop being so competitive but she also knows there is no chance of that ever happening. None-the-less, despite thinking I’m mental she is always there without a word of complaint ready to wash my smelly kit with a smile on her face…..bless