Huskisson Ultimate Triathlon - Race Report

IRONMUM Lee Bova recaps her epic Huskisson Triathlon experience...

It's a long read, but well worth it!

Distance: 2km swim/83km cycle/20km run)

Race Date: Sunday, February 19, 2017

Huskisson Ultimate Triathlon

Pre-Race lead up....

I had never even heard of Huskisson or its legendary Triathlon festival until I met my delightful new friend and fellow IRONMUM, Petia Williams, at Ironman Port Macquarie in May, 2016. We were both there for our first Ironman and stayed next to each other at one of the town’s resorts; our kids were playing on the playground outside and one of her kids bit one of mine (it might even have been the other way around!) and right there and then our friendship was cemented for life. She told me about the Big Husky event which was right near where she lived and I thought, why not? And so, in the early hours of Friday, February 17th, I packed up my Kia Carnival, waved goodbye to my four kids (and wished my husband good luck with them!), and then headed off on my ten hour drive to Huskisson, NSW. I arrived tired and stiff but ready for a fantastic weekend with my new friend and her family.


The weather for the weekend was forecast to be nothin’ but rain. Petia and I had a laugh about it as we had conquered Ironman in hours of pouring rain so a half distance in the wet was nothing to be scared of. Saturday delivered its promised deluge but we still enjoyed spending a small fortune at the expo and even a quick swim in the thunder and rain at the local sea pool.

We watched a friend of Petia’s compete in the sprint distance race which was a great way to enjoy the atmosphere of the festival and relish the build up to our race the next day. In the afternoon we met up for a drink with fellow IRONMUM Lenore Kennedy and her husband who were racing together the next day. We then headed home for a short, sharp run before an early night.

Sunday: RACE DAY!

We were up at 4:30am as Petia was starting in the first half of the wave starts. Because the course is actually quite small and there are so many participants, the organisers split the wave starts into two separate time allocations. The first 9 wave starts saw off the elites and several age groups including Petia’s, between 7 and 7:30. There was then an hour and a half break until the next lot of wave starts began, which included my own wave start at 8:58am. It was a really long wait for my race to start, I tell ya! My dear friend suffers pre-race nerves particularly badly, and had also developed Plantar Fascitis in the weeks leading up to the race. After carefully strapping her foot at home, we began driving to the race. Five minutes down the road, she turned to me and said, “I've strapped the wrong foot.” Shrieking with laughter and welcoming the momentary distraction from our race day butterflies, we turned around and headed home for her to strap the foot that was actually giving her the problems. Thirty minutes later we were finally at the course and I waited while she set up transition before heading down to the swim start. As dawn finally emerged, it became clear that we were not going to see a drop of the threatened rain and we were actually going to have a spectacular day for racing. There was no wind, the sun was rising and the water looked straight off a postcard from a tropical island.

I watched Petia start and finish the swim and start the bike ride and then it was finally time for me to start thinking about getting ready to race. I had watched all the previous swimmers running up the steep steps from the swim finish to T1, tugging at their wetsuits and looking decidedly uncomfortable. So I decided at the last minute not to wear my wetsuit – I hate that damn thing and always resent the four minutes it takes in T1 to drag it off so I figured whatever time I lost in the swim I'd make up for in transition. Besides, the water really did look glorious and I love the feeling of swimming in the sea without being hassled by my wetsuit. The water was warm and after a quick warm up and a gel, I was ready to race! The race was a deep water start and it was fun having a laugh with the other women in my age group. I personally love the feeling of nervous excitement that you get at the start of a race, knowing you're about to head off on a journey which will be full of highs and lows and unexpected twists which you'll be able to dissect in great detail with friends later. I can't even remember whether we had a horn or a gun to start us off but all of a sudden we were off and racing!

The Swim (2km)...

So of course, I had breached the first rule of racing: nothing new on race day! I had bought a brand new pair of goggles at the expo the day before as my old goggles leaked and irritated me beyond belief. As it turned out, my new goggles were even worse than my old ones and after swimming for about 25 meters and having them already full of water, I realised this was going to be a disaster of a swim. The next 1175m were the worst of my Triathlon career to date as I had to stop every hundred meters or so to empty my goggles of water. Swim, stop, empty, swear profusely, repeat. Every time I stopped I was overtaken by several other of my blue capped competitors and I then had to put all of my effort into catching up again before another goggle-induced interruption.. Swimming is my strongest leg and it was awful knowing that I was heading for a disappointing result. In the end, my goggles finally stayed put for about the last 900m and I was actually able to enjoy what was left of the swim in those pristine waters. I was pleasantly surprised with my swim time in the end but I know I could have done better if it weren't for my goggle issues. The search for the elusive perfect goggle will continue….

Result: 31.44 (6th in AG)

The Bike (83km)...

The cycle course is a three loop course in the hills surrounding Huskisson. As I headed out of T1, quietly smug with my quick transition time without the annoyance of my wetsuit, and with a Revvie strip dissolving on my tongue, I mounted my bike at the mount line and pedalled off. I didn't even have time to start my Garmin before disaster struck – I had pedalled maybe four strokes when suddenly I heard a snap and my feet were spinning around on my pedals ridiculously fast. “How embarrassing”, I thought, as I realised my chain must be loose and I was going to have to do a bit of a bike mechanical and try to put it back on in front of all the spectators at the mount line. But when I looked down to check my chain, I realised that there was no chain to actually put back on – it simply wasn’t there! I must have looked really confused (and silly!) as all of a sudden I heard some spectators calling out, “your chain, your chain!”. I looked at them blankly and said something intelligent, like, “but where is it?”. They then pointed to a sad lump of metal on the ground behind me and said, “there it is, it just came off your bike!”. And just like that, my race looked to be over. Ten hours of driving and countless hours of training wasted. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry but before I could decide, the same spectators were calling out to me to head over the road to the one and only bike mechanical shed on the course – shining like a beacon about 40 meters from where I was standing! Off I ran with my poor wounded bike, hoping against hope that there was maybe a chance I'd get to finish this race after all. Ten minutes later I had a brand new chain fitted by the professional race-saviours at Shimano and I was good to go. Their professional opinion about how such an outrageous thing could have happened to my beloved bedroom-dwelling, regularly-serviced, used-only-for-races, Giant Trinity cycling machine was that “these things just happen sometimes, love”. Whatever the case, I was just grateful to get a second chance and I was determined to use it.

The bike course is a three lap course which turned out to be one just one relentless hill after another. As usual in a hilly race, there seemed to be way more climbs than descents and by the third lap they really took their toll and it was a battle to keep going. On my first lap, there were still plenty of cyclists out there from the first lot of wave starts but they peeled off pretty quickly and the field thinned out noticeably, so that by the third lap I couldn't see anyone in front of me or behind me. It was a long lonely slog for the last 27km or so and I was very much looking forward to getting off that bike! The bike leg is my weakest and as usual, I was being overtaken by many more people than I was actually overtaking. I did come across Lenore’s husband Matt on the bike and it was nice to see a familiar face for a minute or two and have a chat (no drafting, I promise!). In the end, my lower back was killing me and I made a mental note to add Nurofen to my bento box for my next long course (yes, even in those painful moments I was planning for my next race!) I followed my Ironman nutrition plan, which was to drink two sips of Electrolyte every twenty minutes, a gel every hour and water whenever I wanted it. I also ended up having an energy bar at about the two hour mark. I was really happy with my nutrition as I never felt over full or dehydrated. The one disappointing thing about the bike leg was that the road had become open to cars travelling in both directions and it was an unpleasant and dangerous experience having cars driving up behind you on the tough hills and tight turns. I later raised this with the race director and have been assured they will try not to let this happen in the future.

Result: 2:57:47 – including my time stopped at the Shimano tent (15th in AG)

The Run (20km)...

Ahh, the run. Despite me being your classic “non-runner”, this is actually my favourite leg of the race as it's where the true suffering begins and where we call on the warrior deep inside all of us to take over if we are going to finish the race. I've never been a fast runner, but I've also never been a quitter so I always enter the final stage of the race with a deep faith that no matter what happens, I'm crossing that finish line running! Since employing a coach to get me through Ironman, I've also seen huge improvements in my running over the last 18 months and I know I can hold a pretty decent pace for someone of my “non-runner” status. My big hope for this two loop, 20km run was to get in under 1:50. As I headed out of transition with another Revvie dissolving on my tongue, I hoped that getting to that goal was not going to be too much to ask of my tired body. The first 6km were pretty painless- my pace was consistently under 5:10/km and on the return loop I even had a sub-5minute km which gave me a little boost of self belief that I was going to nail my goal. Alas, it just couldn't last and before I knew it I was sitting around 5:25/km pace for the next 10km. By now I was feeling the fatigue in every part of my body, especially in my right hip which was starting to tighten up. I decided to let go of my aim to run sub-5:10 km and in that precise moment, I really started to enjoy the race. It was a beautiful course, and the perfect weather had brought out all the amazing spectators and supporters who have the capacity to make your race day something really special. Residents sat outside their homes in deck chairs, music blaring and drinking beers and cheering for us all as we ran past. Kids had hoses to spray us with and they squealed with delight when I called out to them to “just give it to me, don't hold back!”. The beers flowed freely and the cheers got louder each time I ran by – when I passed them on my way to the finish line, they had Van Halen’s “Jump” playing loudly and I leapt into the air as I passed them to much yahoo-ing and cheers. I relished the discomfort of the run, telling myself that so many of the people watching us slogging our way through the course would actually give anything to be in my exact position – healthy, happy and pushing my body to do exactly what it was designed to do. I thought of Craig Percival, and thought of the great kick he would get out of watching all the ordinary mums like me getting out there and just giving this race a go. I marvelled at all the amazing age groupers: some bigger than me who ran past me like I was standing still, and others who were skinnier and more glamorous than me who I passed with ease. It's a great leveller, this sport, and I really made a conscious effort to embrace every moment. The final 7km were very, very tough. At Ironman, I had sung six rounds of “The Gambler” to get me through the final stages and I had really hoped it wasn't going to be necessary to do that again! Instead, my poor tired brain came up with a mantra to repeat to myself about why I really do this sport:

“Believing that you can't

Wondering if you can

Realising that you are

Knowing that you did”

To me it sums up the entire journey of each race I do – standing at the start line, you really wonder whether you're going to have a happy ending to your day. It seems so impossible, but the impossible slowly becomes a possibility, and before you know it, even as you're doubting yourself the most, the finish line looms and you're there. Just like that, I had crossed the finish line of my fifth long course Triathlon. And it was freaking amazing.

Petia was still waiting in the recovery area for me and we had a laugh and a cry together about our tough, painful but ultimately triumphant day at Huskisson. AND it turned out I got my sub 1:50 for the run after all! Thanks for the memories Big Husky, I'll be back to conquer you again next year!

RESULT: 1:49:30 (4th in AG)

Final result 5:23:31 (9th in AG from 26 competitors)

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