Hell of the West
“Morning! Excuse me?!”
It was 3.30am, pitch black and I was standing outside the only lit, open doorway in the street, peering beyond the front display to where people were bustling around in a kitchen out the back. I propped my bike up against one of the tables out on the pavement and walked in. “Excuse me,” I repeated, to the baker who spotted me and walked out with her eyebrows raised. “Do you by any chance have any old newspaper?” I got a funny look which turned into a smile; a quick rummage in the dustbin behind her produced a large folded-up newspaper. Jackpot! I thanked her and hurried back outside to my bike. I tore the newspaper into shreds, whipped out an allen key and some electrical tape, and got to work on the front end of my bike.
This was roughly the 20th adjustment I was making to the position of the armpads on my TT machine. An hour before the start of my second half ironman of 2017 possibly wasn’t the best time to be messing with my position but I wasn’t comfortable anyhow and I couldn’t see how I could make it worse. I was getting very good at DIY.
Newspaper, tape and armpads in place, I jumped back on the bike and made my way to transition. It wasn’t far. Nothing was far in Goondiwindi; it was just Goondiwindi itself which was miles away from anywhere.
Goondiwindi main street
Someone, somehow, had decided about 25 years ago that holding a triathlon in the middle of the Australian outback would be a pretty cool idea. Actually, it was. As long as you could cope with the 40+ degree-temperatures and desert winds of course. Considered one of Australia’s most iconic races, it was definitely not something to miss during my trip to the Sunshine coast. It took the best part of 6 hours and a very close encounter with a suicidal kangaroo to get to Goondiwindi. The place looked like a modern-day Western town: it had one main street lined with shops and cafés which just seemed to be missing the horses tied up outside (TT bikes were playing that role that weekend), and a bunch of motels around the main roads leading back out into the desert.
Katey, Claire and I stayed in one of them: the aptly-named Country Roads Motor Inn, located next to McDonalds, a BP petrol station and an enormous car park, all designed to accommodate the oversized Australian road trains’ appetites and that of their drivers.
The temperature was pushing 45 degrees when we arrived on Friday evening. No wonder the race started at 5am… Hence why I was warming up in the local pool at the ungodly hour of 4.15am after bugging the bakers for newspaper and finally racking my bike in transition, hoping my latest setup would be marginally more comfortable. (It wasn’t, more on that later.)
I’ll spare you the details of the swim in the swamp (river), which despite having the look and feel of lukewarm coffee wasn’t totally unpleasant. In fact I fared considerably better than I did in Dubai a week previously and came out of the water a few seconds off the lead.
Given the expected temperatures we were required to have two full water bottles on our bikes at the start of the race. You can imagine that mini-bike was not designed with two water bottles in mind… My only option was to mount a rear bottle-holder behind the saddle, which I did a few days before the race. It took a lot of fiddling, cable ties and tape to secure it but I was pretty pleased with the result. Until I tried to swing my leg over the back of the saddle to get on my bike. Note to self: may need to work on some stretching and flexibility. I’m glad I came to that conclusion before the race though, or the nose-dive mini-bike and I took into the bushes would have entertained a number of spectators. As it was I swung my leg forwards over the handlebars granny-style rather than attempting my usual superman leap, and off I went.
It was hot, and windy. And as flat as the proverbial pancake. I got my head down and tried to get into it: I was pretty successful for about 15km. Then the road got rougher, the crosswinds picked up and my brain started to wander again. This time there were no cones to dodge, no fancy cars to gawk at, no motorway bridges to get out of the saddle for. I needed water every 10 minutes and started to understand why the race was called the Hell of the West. I fought the wind, the potholes, and braced against the drafts of the trucks as they steamed past in the other direction and just about sent me sideways into the bush. I kept slithering off the front of the saddle and had to constantly reposition myself on the sweaty armpads. The newspaper was doing its job keeping them level, but something still wasn’t right. Oh well. Better luck next time.
Surprisingly, I managed to get my leg over the back of the bike without hitting the deck as I came back into town. It was 7.30am and I had completed two thirds of a half ironman. Temperature: heading towards 40.
It seemed the old pins weren’t all that into running. The travel, jetlag, training and probably the race in Dubai were taking their toll and I shuffled through the first two kilometres wondering how I was going make it through all twenty without walking. I didn’t. I stopped regularly to pour litres of water down my throat and shove handfuls of ice down my suit – anything that would keep me cool, and keep me putting one foot in front of the other. The ice cubes made me look like I had a few sets of spare boobs round my stomach and some lumps and bumps in the groin area but between them and my training finally kicking in, I somehow made it round the three laps and down the finish chute in second place, and in a reasonable time. It wasn’t pleasant, it wasn’t pretty – any flying race photos are in no way a reflection of how I actually felt – but it was to some extent satisfying. I felt crap but I pulled through again; if I can just find that extra gear and focus I had last year, I’m going to be OK.
Looking a little more sprightly than I felt
Post-race celebrations included a 2.5km “warm down” swim in the pool, a couple of iced coffees and a 6-hour karaoke drive back to the Sunshine Coast. Put three chicks, Britney Spears and the Backstreet Boys (oh wait, it was the Spice Girls) into an SUV and they’ll make short work of the dead-straight roads back to civilisation. It was a roadtrip to remember!