Port Elizabeth, South Africa 70.3 World Championship. A race that has dominated my thoughts for eighteen months or longer. A bucket list destination and potentially my best opportunity to make a breakthrough at this level.
It was a decade ago that the 70.3 World Championship race first caught my imagination in Clearwater, Florida. A lot has changed since then. The sport has moved on massively. There are significantly more 70.3 races across the world, resulting in many more people qualifying at AG level and at a higher standard than ever before.
A lot has changed at my end too. The decision to be coached, committing to better nutrition, consistent training, an obsession with equipment, improved aerodynamics, weekly massage, a great physio, and ultimately just time. Time to be able to layer the years and years of training on top of each other to develop the strength and fitness required.
The most significant change in the run up to this race was to train at altitude. Spending some time in St Moritz leading up to the race gave me a massive boost and the confidence that I was probably in the best shape of my life.
Race day itself brought about everything I was looking for. Typical British wet and breezy weather created a choppy sea swim, followed by a tough undulating bike course and a not too warm run. The AG waves were set off as a rolling start with 10 going every 15 seconds. The tactics from my coach, Rafal, were simple – swim hard, expect to be near the front, make the bike count and don’t look back! Thankfully, that’s generally what happened.
I came out of the swim in 3rd, but as we started to overtake people from the 40-44 and 70+ waves in front, it was difficult to keep track of who was in each AG so I just went for it on the bike. I was confident I was leading but wasn’t sure of the gaps. The first 35k was into a headwind before a turnaround where I would get the chance to see what was happening. It was still difficult to be sure, but I was 90% confident that my training partner and other Head Coach of TTT, Phil Murphy was in 2nd at about 3 mins back. Delighted he was having a great race and happy with my current position I continued to plough on for the remainder of the bike leg.
Coming into T2 my wife Heather informed me the gap was up to 4:30. The run was 2 laps but with 2 out and backs. On the way off the first, Phil came across and told me he was in 2nd and from there I knew the gap was probably out to nearer 6 mins. Trying to not get too far ahead of myself, I just set off at 6 min miles. Keep running this pace for as long as you can and it’s very unlikely somebody is going to catch you. Thankfully, the run legs were there and 6 min miles felt reasonably comfortable, so I just settled into clocking off the miles. As always the last few miles become a little harder as you start to tighten up, but made all the better by knowing I was about to become AG World Champion. I have to admit at the finish there was certainly a bit of emotion as I took it in!
In over 20 years of racing I have never been tested by Anti Doping, but this would be my first time. A little bit of a novelty to start with as I entered the tent to see Jan, Alastair and Javier! But 2 hours later and still struggling to get a pee out, the novelty soon wore off. It finally happened, and I was allowed to go and enjoy the moment with the rest of the crew. A great day finished off with Phil and Sam Shepherd also having fantastic performances and showing that what we are doing as a Coaching Group is working.
You always think you could sleep for about 12 hours the night after a race, but 5am and I am wide awake. Always thinking about what next, I ponder it. Shall I race again this year? If so, what? After turning down my Kona slot from Florida, should I chase this?
Those close to me know that I have always had this thing about racing as a Pro. The opportunity to race against the very best athletes in the world, and for me to chase getting the most out of myself. I know I don’t have too many years left before it really is too late for this. So that morning I decided I was going to make the leap.
This subject is always hotly discussed on social media. If you aren’t making a living then you aren’t a Pro. And I whole heartedly agree with this. But to me it’s the terminology or classification that should maybe change, because in reality if you aren’t in the Top 10 in the world you probably aren’t making a living from this sport. At the end of the day whatever that classification is as an athlete I am just trying to improve. The reality of what I am doing is that I am no longer going to be racing in Championships, or having to wait around for the podium presentations, but I am going to be racing head to head with stronger athletes and this can only make me better as an athlete.
So, I head into the unknown… it’s daunting and it’s going to be tough, but it’s also refreshing and new and I’m looking forward to it. There is no big life change about to happen. I’m not about to give up the job and be training full time, so it’s more of the same, as what we are doing currently seems to be working.
A week on from that special day in Port Elizabeth and a fantastic week exploring South Africa, but it’s now back to work as I prepare for my first Pro Start.