Sunshine, beaches, palm trees.Sounds like a great setting for a holiday and a race. "The Anti-Sport" gives her travelling athletes guide to Fiji and her foray back into longer racing.
This was my first race back at a longer distance. After 4 years of trying and failing to get to a starting line. And while I joke around at being at the back of the pack and generally not athletically gifted this event meant the world to me. I had to get there and I HAD to finish.
First a bit about the event. It is run by Elite Energy over 3 days with a great mix of races and events. There were 45 in the long course (guess where I came) 47 in the Sprint along with 29 local teams. The atmosphere was fun and inclusive with very little “Serious Insect Syndrome” even though there were some very handy athletes around. I made a number of new friends that I am sure I will keep in contact with and met Facebook friends for the first time – Pinkboy and his lovely wife, who took time out of their holiday to come and support but more about that later.
Long Course – 2km swim / 80km bike / 20km run
Sprint – 750m swim / 20km bike / 5km run
Enticer – 300m swim / 10km bike / 2km run
Ocean Swim - 1km
Fun Run - 2km & 5km
Kids Aquathon - swim / run
Bike course familiarisation
Official Welcome & Pasta night
Dinner & Presentation night
The bike familiarisation ride was amazing, we had a police escort and were able to ride through Nadi, kind of hairy but I felt fine and safe – an amazing experience. The welcome night was nice and casual with good food. The Presentation Night was awesome! Starting in the foyer of the Sheridan Hotel, which is race central, with fire dancers. The food was amazing and we were provided endless beer and good champagne (no 2 drink vouchers here!) and fantastic food. Way better than any IM awards night I have been to.
On to my race.
Short Version: Hot, hard and crazy.
Time: 08:05:57 (01:05:05 / 03:18:14 / 03:36:53)
Place: 44th out of 44 finishers. 10th out of 10 women. 2nd in age group.
T1 8th in Category even with fluffing around for photos T2 7th.
I was advised that it would most likely be a non-wetsuit swim and looking at average water temperatures I decided not to pack the wettie. The water was warm but you could have worn one, though out of 45 starters I saw only one wetsuit. The swim was nice and flat, hardly any current and held on a rectangle course. As unusual I was off the back pretty quickly and just kept plodding along. I had absolutely no idea where I was in relation to the rest of the field until I was nearly 300mts away from finishing my first lap and a jet ski went past me. It turned out to be Dylan McNeice the pro in the race who also won the event. Coming around the buoy for my second lap I nearly had a head-on with the front of the field. Going around for the second time I had (as usual) my personal water safety and I did actually get worried that I may be pulled off course for being too slow. I just kept swimming and hoping I was not too far off the back and I would be allowed to continue. My goggles kept filling with water so I swam the last 500 with my eyes closed (which I think actually helped my pace a bit) apart from a quick head check every now and then to ensure I was on target – luckily I can swim fairly straight in open water due to very poor eyesight. I was last out, I thanked my escorts and made my way to T1.
I ran into T1 yelling “where is my bike”? And got ready to go. Popped on the new ice wing thingies I purchased (they worked really well for cooling and sun protection) posed for some pictures and headed out.
This was the leg I was most unsure about leading into the event. Up until about 6-7 weeks ago I had been battling back injury, chronic pain and fatigue – for over a year. It saw me DNS Shepparton last year and get off the bike 3 times at the (shortened) Challenge Melbourne. My confidence however was boosted by a training ride on the Wednesday with a new friend (who was a first timer at the distance and came 5th overall) We did 40k “crit style” around the resort road (4.1k loops) so my confidence was high and I was excited for the ride.
Being last out I had a personal security detail. Who loved to use the siren – hilarious. Riding through the first part of the course the roads are ok, a few holes but nothing bad. The roads are open but traffic control was great and there was no malice from drivers just surprise. In Nadi there was more traffic and I came to a stop behind some cars. All main street traffic was stopped so I could be escorted up the centre of the road. Pretty bloody amazing experience. The three loop course is flat but deceptively hard. Half is on good smooth roads and half on …. Well what I like to call Nadi Hotmix / Hell of The East. It was a bit like riding on cobble stones, brand new surface of big blue chip sealed road. It was brutal – you just had to mash the pedals Cancellara ("The slower you go, the worse it is. You have to go fast to smooth out the bumps,") style to maintain any pace.
The first lap was fine. The second time on the Hotmix I got a little grumpy for a moment. Then pulled my head-in and remembered what a privilege it was to be out there in the first place. Second lap I stopped to see if one of the speedy New Caledonia athletes was ok. He was having a Norman Stadler (without the swearing) moment with a tubby. I was stopped for around 5 mins with him before he realised I was giving him my tire leaver. Then went on. It was a great ride for me, I was in aero most of the way and had zero problems with my back. Traffic control was awesome as were the aid stations. Riding through the country, amazing views and lots of random “Bulla’s” from the sidelines was priceless and something I will always remember.
Disclaimer: This is actually not the real bike turn around, just some pre race fun.
I rolled into T2 to see Pinkboy and his wife there and to see Ryan flying into finish. Happy as I ran out feeling great
I ran out fine, I was confident with the run as training had been going very well for me in the weeks leading in. I knew I could do the distance. I filled up my top with ice and went on my way. The run course was perfect for me, lots of options to run on the grass as the 4 loops went around a golf course.
I ran to plan for the first 3k though on the back of the golf course my breathing was getting very laboured. Came to the 2nd aid station where my friend Sue (we travelled over together) was serving refreshments had a quick chat, got dowsed with a litre of water which filled my shoes. And went on. Now walk running, not breathing well and quite hot.
It all went very pear-shaped about 700mt from the end of the first lap. I couldn’t breathe, I was on the ground having a frightening asthma-style attack. I just could not get air in to my lungs. I tried to calm down and remember my first aid training so I could sort myself out. It was the one time I thought I would not finish.
I regained some laboured breathing and sat under a tree for a few minutes. I was checked on by officials in a golf buggy. Asked if I was ok. I responded that I didn’t know but I would not do anything stupid.
I got up and walked a few paces and tried to run, I managed 5 steps and was out again. At that point I thought to myself “no F*#&!$ way am I giving in to this. No way. I am going to finish even if I have to walk and it is not official”. I got my walk going with purpose.
Lap 2, Pinkboy and wife are on the road. I trot over to them to introduce myself properly and to let them know that is all the running they will see. He asked if I was ok, I said no but I am going to keep going. He then offered to do a lap with me. It made the world of difference. I was quite upset and rattled but determined to finish. Having company for a lap helped me to calm down and get my positive brain back. I was so grateful to them, they took time out of their holiday and drove quite a distance to come and support. We had not even met face to face before – genuinely great, kind and generous people. Thank you.
The next lap I said goodbye to them, they had to get the hire car back, and went on maintaining the best walk pace I could aprox 10 min/k. But got bad again on the golf course bit. Wheezing and the like and probably not looking happy – I was told to “Cheer-Up” by a tourist in a golf buggy. I nearly told them where to go but kept quiet.
Where it all went pear shaped. Nice spot for it.
Out to station 3 and Pinkboy and wife were there in the car for a final cheer. And I kept going. The rest is similar – walking as best I could. Constant checks from the race directors who had been told by my friend that “she really wants to finish”. Great support from the aid stations (lots of local kids involved who were AMAZING!) and even though I was “off the back” by an hour none of the aid stations ran out of: water, PowerAde, coke or ice.
The last 500mt another friend from Melbourne came back on his bike to walk with me and another aid station vollie from NSW. And I finished. Over an hour after the second last person.
I would not have blamed Elite Energy if they had asked me to stop. They didn’t, they let me finish and did not make me feel bad about it. I am so grateful for that. ALSO when I finished the massage people were still there waiting for me which was huge and nice surprise.
So the upshot is even though the run went pear shaped I had an amazing time, I have not smiled like that since Busso 2010. I am back and I love it.
I encourage anyone who wants a fun, challenging and different race to give Fiji a crack – it is an awesome experience and I will be back next year.