Challenge Melbourne Half

St. Kilda, a suburb named after the schooner of Sir Thomas Acland (Lady of St. Kilda), ironically also a place where beers are not usually drunk from schooners, provides the hub for Challenge Melbourne. The race would be my fourth race around the half-distance, with Hell of the West being slightly shorter.

A short history is that I’d set my half distance PB (5:15:49) at Ironman 70.3 Western Sydney in November, an effort that I’d considered to be less than perfect. A little bit of smarter execution in cooler conditions on a similar course and I thought I should be able to take a couple of minutes off that performance; but a lot can happen over five-and-a-bit hours.

This is not something you read in many triathlon blogs, but my lead-up was virtually completely free of injury and illness; pretty shit if you’re looking for an excuse for underperformance.

In 1840, St. Kilda was the first quarantine station for Scottish immigrants coming into Melbourne. On race day they would have felt slightly at home with a faint mist covering the water off St. Kilda beach. It was probably the sort of stuff that Paul McCartney and Wings got so excited about in Mull of Kintyre.

I couldn’t care less how cold it was, I was elated with the fact that, for the first time this season, I’d be swimming in a wetsuit and salt water. These are the sort of luxuries that below average swimmers crave.

The swim was uneventful. An extremely well-marked course, including swimming under the famous St. Kilda pier made it a pleasure. The time was considerably faster than I’ve swam in any other half-distance, mainly the result of favourable conditions rather than me suddenly knowing what I’m doing.

The wetsuit was quickly discarded and it was time for three laps of the famous Beach Road to the Black Rock clock tower and back.

The plan of power and heart rate worked well and the bulk of the bike went to plan. The hardest part of the 90km was staying out of trouble on the final lap.

A congested course made it tough to maintain the 12-metre non-drafting distance and equally as hard to pass big packs without getting caught up or burning a hell of a lot of fuel.

I witnessed quite a few penalties being handed out, luckily I wasn’t caught up in the flurry of felonies. My time was 22 seconds faster than Western Sydney. The bike was the only part I was happy with in that race, so I was relatively happy to reproduce something similar, at a slightly lower output in terms of heart rate.

The weather during the ride and run had been ridiculously un-Melbourne-like, it was nigh on perfect.

The aim for the run was to start a little more conservatively (read realistically) than I had recently. I’ve fallen into the bad habit of trying to run pre-injury times, which I am yet to reproduce. In other words, I’d start the half-marathon like Mo Farah and finish like a re-enactment of the Hindenburg disaster.

As a result of this plan, the first 10km loop of two felt relatively comfortable, it was actually enjoyable. Watching the pro’s, some mates and my wife go past at certain points and shouting encouragement to all, helped the cause.

The second lap, like most half-marathons, was a little darker and hurt a hell of a lot more. The upside was that there was only around 20-secs between my fastest and slowest km’s for the run, unlike Western Sydney which was over a minute, in the ultimate display of self-destruction.

The finish takes place in the picturesque Catani Gardens, names after the Italian native, Carlo Catani, who was responsible for planning the beautification of the St. Kilda foreshore in 1906, as Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department (he didn’t do a bad job either).

I hadn’t thought about how I was travelling in terms of overall time. I was pleasantly surprised to cross the line in 5:03:20, a bit over 12-minutes faster than my previous best. Naturally the normal reaction of a triathlete is to think of where you could have shaved the time off to go “sub-five” but that was not something I’d have considered pre-race, I’m sure there will be plenty of other chances for that.

Funnily enough, the overall time was just 12-seconds slower than my Hell of the West time. Given the fact that it was a 10km shorter ride and 1km shorter run, this would also indicate improvement from early February to late April.

As always, thanks to coach Nathan Miller for always having me well prepared for anything I do.

Now it’s back into plenty of volume with the next race being the ITU Long Course World Championship in Fyn, Denmark in 10 weeks time.

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