Racing Triathlons In Australia

melanie mcquaid running Penrith

Racing Triathlons in Australia

Racing triathlons in Australia is so fun.  This is my fifth visit to the country including two other occasions to race mountain bikes (a World Cup and the World Championships).  On this trip, I raced the 2016 IM 70.3 West Sydney, which saw Annabel Luxford take a convincing win.

The Race

The event is held at the Olympic Rowing Stadium in Penrith where the 2000 Sydney Games were held.  Penrith is a town in the western suburbs of Sydney, Australia near the Blue Mountains.  Highlights of the town include a gorgeous walking trail next to the river, a picturesque park filled with mulberry and jacaranda trees, lots of cafes, an outdoor 50m pool, and a bunch of really cool people.

Rowing venues have lanes installed,  which work as swim lane lines as well.  This generally eliminates the need to sight in triathlon races so as a result, I have had fast swims in rowing venues (first out of the water at Lake Stevens and Ballarat). I didn’t have a great swim in this race and that was a preamble to what was overall a less than expected performance.

Under cloudy skies and in murky water, sighting the lane lines underwater was difficult.  I managed to clip the floating lane markers constantly as was swimming directly over top of the underwater lines to see them despite wearing clear Blueseventy goggles.  As a result of this, and potentially just a crap day (see notes on my run), I didn’t achieve the start to the race I planned.  I was still good but not really good out of the swim.

I leapfrogged through the field on the bike to get within 90 seconds of second place so I am riding well.  I had the second fastest split despite some significant slowing due to traffic/turns.  This race ends up quite similar to Ironman Arizona on the third lap of the bike.  Anyone who has done that race knows exactly what I mean.  I made up a lot of time on the first lap… far less time on the second lap.  There is a solid stream of age group athletes when the pros went into their second lap which made the 180 degree turns dangerous and the draft marshalls disappear.

I had high hopes of testing my running for real at this race but that isn’t what I did.  This is the second time I have raced in West Sydney and in both starts I ended sick during the run and running to the portaloo.  This time, refusing to have another DNF, I ended up stopping constantly for the last 12 kms as I struggled to the finish.

melanie mcquaid running Penrith
Running around the lake at Ironman 70.3 West Sydney

It was unfortunate, distracting, unexpected, kind of embarassing (since I had people out there cheering while I ran off in the weeds), and disappointing.  I can’t see how I could have avoided it other than not racing as I didn’t do anything unusual and I don’t normally have any of these problems.  I did my best but running to the loo 10 times really interrupts your momentum.

I went from 3rd, to 5th, and in the final kilometer, 6th.  Dangit!  At least I still won some prize money for taking another 6th place this season, and (without all the stopping) I would have had a fast-ish split.  Positives!

My trip was still fun.  I have listed my top favorite things about racing in Australia, some of which are awesome whether you are racing or not!

Why Racing Triathlons in Australia is the Best

Hilarious Banter

The “sledging” amongst the group of guys I trained with is hilarious. Even the race announcer was taking bets on the day as to whether local Andrew Vicary would start or not so the abuse it both private and public.  LOL.  Of course, the jokes at each other’s expense were always with love and as one guy said, “You have to give it when you can because you can be sure you will get it.”   In general, Aussies have a great attitude and live in the moment.  I appreciate this very much.

boys coffee club penrith
The boys always meet after swim squad meet at Gloria Jeans for coffee.

Coffee

Aussie’s coffee is perfect for a snobby Pacific Northwester: strong and short.  No big milky messes…. And no overheated milk.  It is perfect.  A close second to the coffee is the hot chocolate.

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It is a good thing the cafes are wonderful because I can’t plug my coffee machine in.

Swimming Culture

There is a reason the Australian age groupers are great swimmers.  First off, there are a lot of outdoor 50 meter pools to choose from.  Also, athletes choose to get together to swim in Australia the same way guys in Canada get together to play hockey in the middle of the night.  Only swimming is at 5am instead of midnight.  Either way, sleep is lost for the sport.

The swim sets are legit.  There was a lot of discussion about the 7km sets athletes had completed the previous week and I don’t know many pro athletes in North America swimming seven kilometers a session, or more than four, frankly.  I regularly swim 5km but 7km?  It was eye opener for me as a coach to see that.  The guys I trained with weren’t all in full training mode but were still swimming sets that would be considered hard work in some of the age group clubs I know in Canada.  The takeaway lesson is that hard mileage results in good swims.  Big surprise there.

Exotic Animals

I spotted a deadly snake, kangaroos, and camels all while participating in triathlon training and racing while in Australia.  I suppose that is no more special than spotting a bear on the Whistler bike course.

camels in australia
Those are camels right on the bike course in Penrith

There are also a lot of flies.  I saw a fellow with his ENTIRE BACK COVERED by flies in the race while he was moving on the bike.  It was like that “beard of bees” guy but only “back of flies” edition.  You can’t even make this stuff up.

Weather

I have gone to Australia during Canada’s spring and winter and can safely say that at those times of the year, Australia’s weather is superior.  Although it was quite stormy in Ballarat during my visit in 2014, other than a bit of freezing wind and rain for two days, Australia has boasted almost exclusive sunshine the entire time.

Sun is awesome.  Less awesome is the fact that the Australian sunshine is like a UV laser burning through seven layers of your skin.  The lack of ozone layer makes a burn inevitable if you don’t slather on the screen.  I use mineral screens (physical barrier sunscreens) with much better success than chemical blocks.  My favorite is called Goddess Garden.  Don’t forget your sunscreen and don’t forget sunglasses either -protect your eyes!

Towels

You get a towel as a finishers souvenir at triathlons in Australia.  How cool is that?  Hey Mo, can we do this at www.xterravictoria.com?  Useful for everyone, great race specific memento, and one size fits all!  Sweet!

Racing triathlon in Australia gets you a towel
The finisher’s towel at Ironman 70.3 Sydney

Time Zone

Although it takes a LONG TIME to get to Australia (20 hours of travel later – or more) the jetlag is minimal.  I find going “west” and having the clock turn back is easy travel.  So although I lost an entire day, the time is actually behind PST.  Effectively, it is an easy time change.

Thank You!

My trip to Penrith was excellent (even if my race was medium).  I hope my travels take me back as there are so many trails and rides I would love to do if I get back there.

I can thank the Panthers Tri Club president Joey for connecting me with Kate Dukes for my stay.  I appreciate the entire Dukes family for the homestay week with special thanks to Will Dukes for giving up his room for me, Mabel for the beautiful card, and Nelson for the intelligent political discourse.

Kate, you are a star for taking incredible care of me.  Thanks for showing me around the beautiful Blue Mountains area, taking me to see the little pigs, treating me to lunch, and joining me for runs.

Paul, thank you for letting me be one of the blokes at swim squad for the week.  Ryan (www.3dbikefit.com), thank you for the swim coaching and for the mint tips on tweaking my arms in time trial position.  Andrew Vicary – you are hilarious and why didn’t I get to meet your PUG???  Thanks Daz for the sweet ride through the countryside and the inside scoop on the A380.   So many more of the boys to thank so I need another visit!

It was such a fun trip.  Homestay racing is the bomb because I meet the most incredible people.  I am so grateful to have this and it is one of many things I appreciate triathlon has given me.  Lucky girl.

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