I always knew it was going to be hard, but this was something else. Triathlon is a sport designed to push yourself beyond the imaginable. I ended last season with multiple podium finishes in age group races. I was ready for the next step up to elite races. After all, this is why I got into triathlon in the first place; to see how far I could push my own limits. To see if it was possible to be competitive alongside some of the best in the sport.
Triathlon New Zealand had announced an elite series which was perfect for me. It consisted of three races. The standard in Mount Maunganui, the Tinman, was one I have competed in before. But the sprint distance triathlons in Takapuna and Kinloch were two races I had only ever watched from the side lines.
1. “Malcolm, this is Elite! Get your head in the game!”
This was a lesson learnt the hard way. I was driving down to Taupo when another Elite triathlete txt me to ask if I was coming to the Elite briefing, which had already started. I panicked not realising that I was meant to be there. I had figured it was just on the day. I didn’t know if I was even allowed to race anymore. It was embarrassing and I even contemplated turning around and driving back home.
I called the technical officials and luckily, they were lenient on me because it was my first Elite race. They made it clear that if this happened again I wouldn’t be on the start line. The information race organisers send you is important, so read every part of it.
2. You can’t just rock up
Bike check. Helmet check. Triathlon suit check. Numbers written on you by technical officials. Regulations and rules that I hadn’t experienced before. You can’t just rock up and start setting up in transition like you’re used to. Arriving a couple of hours before the race is essential to ensure you have time for these checks.
3. The washing machine
White water everywhere, feet kicking my hands, chocking on water, someone’s elbow hit my goggles into my eye socket which made it hard to see. This was another level alright. Your position in the swim is vital. It’s a fight to be in the first group on the cycle, and every second counts in draft legal races like Takapuna and Kinloch. In age group racing I was usually one of the top guys out of the water. Now I was in the middle of the pack or nearly last out of the water. I wasn’t prepared for the brutality of the swim and what it meant for the rest of the race.
4. Know your course
Riding a course before the race is key, even doing technical parts of it at race pace. Each corner and hill you need to know and you have to know how to handle your bike. After these races, I realised that at times that I should have been using lower gearing. For example, in the Kinloch race I should have used a smaller cassette which is more ideal for a hilly course (Cycle Lingo: I was using a 53/39 & 25 cassette. Looking back, I should have used a 52/36 & 28 cassette or 53/39 & 28).
Another mistake made because I didn’t know the course well enough was when I had the wrong pedal down while going around a corner. I wasn’t ready for the corner and that not only slowed me down but could have knocked me off. Preparation really is key. You will know how hard and fast you can take corners, and how to use your equipment to its best ability.
5. It’s Elite for a Reason
Racing elite made me realise how quick these guys REALLY are. In Kinloch, I got lapped by the 2 lead men with about 2km to go (To be fair one of them is a 2 x Olympian!). I always knew my first season racing elite was going to be brutal. But nothing prepares you, you’ve just got to get out and do it. Hang on for as long as you can. The most important lesson is taking the defeats and experiences and turning them into motivation. These races have fuelled me to train harder and prep better than ever before.