Well, it has been a while since my last update. My race calendar has not been as intense as it was last season, but that is due to me squeezing in a few full Ironman distance events throughout the year this season.
My win at Ironman Western Australia last December has had a lot more impact on my career than I had originally anticipated. Previously, I used to rummage through the industry magazines to see if there was any mention of my name, or to see if I showed up in any of the photos. Well, the last several months have been an eye-opening experience in terms of the media exposure that I’ve received since December.
Even in the lead up to Country Energy Ironman Australia Triathlon, I was invited to be one of the four professional triathletes to speak at the VIP Breakfast Function on Friday morning. The other three athletes, however, were all past or current Hawaiian Ironman Champions—Chrissie Wellington, Michellie Jones, and Tim DeBoom. I was honored to be invited and to be listed with some of the legends in this sport.
Other than that, I had a few other media responsibilities, but I tried my best to keep a low profile before the race. That can be a bit difficult when you’re racing in your hometown. Even just stepping out for a coffee took longer than expected with all the locals wishing me good luck for the race.
For any of you that have read some of the reports from this race, you will know that the weather was not ideal in the lead up to the race. Fortunately for me, I knew the course, and I was meant to taper anyway, but we had rain on and off throughout the week. This must’ve been frustrating for a lot of the visiting athletes that were hoping to get familiar with the course during that time.
I felt well-rested on race morning, and other than having to slog through ankle deep mud on my way to the swim start, I was feeling quite good about the day. For the first time, Ironman Australia allowed the pros to start 35 minutes before the age groupers. I don’t think this had much impact on the men’s field, but I think the women’s race was a bit more honest.
In the swim, I anticipated that the usual group—Pete Jacobs, Cam Watt, and Mathias Hecht—would pull away early, and I figured that Tim Deboom would be with them, since he has a strong swimming background. I stayed with the second group, and we made a few errors in navigating the course, so we ended up coming out of the water about three minutes back from the leaders.
Once on the bike, I settled into a good rhythm. I was feeling strong, but I wasn’t interested in trying to catch the lead swimmers too early. I knew there was some good runners with DeBoom and Jacobs up the road from me, but I had 180 km to ease my way back to the leaders. And with a three-lap bike leg, you get to see the time gaps at each end of the course.
About halfway through the ride, I saw Cam Watt breakaway from the rest of the group, and he was having a crack at it. So before the race got out of hand, I picked up the pace to bring myself back into the lead group, and then I would look into how far ahead Cam would be at that stage.
Just after the start of our third lap, I caught what was left of the leaders, and I could tell from the turnaround that Cam was another two minutes ahead of us. I made the decision not to do anything stupid, like trying to bridge the gap up to Cam, because I felt that the race was going to be coming down to the run, and I was now riding in the vicinity of Vernay, DeBoom, Hecht, Jacobs, as well as Simon Thompson, who was an unknown over this distance but still a major concern.
Fellow Port Macquarian professional triathlete Adam Holborrow came around me, and he was flying. He was powering along, and I felt that the pace may be a little too high, considering it was our final lap and we still had the 42-km marathon ahead of us. I looked over my shoulder to see how the others were handling this pace, and I could see that Adam and I had dropped the rest of the field. They were about 30 seconds back. I knew that Adam was focused on catching Cam, but I didn’t think that was the best move for my race, so I eased back and let him pursue to Cam on his own.
I gave my legs a little rest while I cruised along and waited for the others to join me. I maintained a decent pace throughout the rest of the lap, but every time I turned around I could see the strong runners still hanging off the back.
When we were about a kilometer from the transition area, I could hear the race announcer calling in Adam Holborrow, so he would’ve had a minute and a half on us going into the run. My buddy Nathan Stewart got off the bike just ahead of me, so we both entered the tent together. I made quick work of my transition, and I was the first to exit the change tent. As soon as I came out, I saw Adam standing—well actually he was hunched over massaging his leg, and I knew he had cramped up—just outside the tent. I think he tried to run out with me down the chute, but it must’ve taken him a while to find his running legs.
I knew I still had Cam up the road from me, so I just tried to find a good rhythm and a comfortable pace. Within the first kilometer, I was joined by New Caledonian Patrick Vernay, and I settled in to a four minute kilometer pace. Patrick was speaking to me. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. He has a strong French accent, so I’m not sure if he was speaking to me in French, but either way, I didn’t know what he was saying.
We ran shoulder to shoulder for the first lap, and I could feel him put in a few surges, but nothing that was too difficult to match. After we’d come through for the start of our second lap, he started to pick up the pace, and my Garmin Forerunner displayed that we were doing 3:40/km. I knew this was too fast, but I didn’t want to let him go. So I ran with him for another 3–4 km, but by the time we got to the turnaround at Settlement Point, I decided to let him go.
However, I think the elevated pace had taken its toll on me, and I quickly backed off to doing 4:10/kms, and even that felt tough. As I approached the halfway point of the marathon, I felt I was in a bad patch. I was just hoping I could get through it as quickly as possible. I could see at the turnaround that Pete Jacobs and Jimmy Johnson were not too far behind, and they looked to be running well. The crowd support was incredible, but it wasn’t enough to lift me from the patch I was going through. On the second half of my second lap, I felt Jacobs coming up on me, and rather than try to run with him, I decided to run my own race. He seemed to be focused on catching Patrick, but with 15 km to go, I felt that it was not the right move to try to surge again with Jacobs. Also, I was hoping that if I kept a steady pace, I would be able to catch a tiring Vernay and Jacobs in the final stretch of the race.
But I have to hand it to Patrick and Pete because on the day they had the stuff, and Patrick walked away with his third consecutive Ironman Australia victory, with Pete taking out second. I finished third, another two minutes and 40 seconds back from Jacobs, but I was really happy with the way I raced. I could have easily sat back on the bike, and let the others set the pace, but I was out there having a go, and I took it to Patrick for the first half of the run, and he is one of the best in the sport.
I have to acknowledge the support I got from “Team Berkel ‘09” which was the mastermind of my mate, Benjamin “Woodsy” Woods. Woodsy took charge of the project, which involved contacting many of my sponsors to support a fundraising activity for another mate of mine, Brad Foster.
Woodsy got the support from my clothing sponsor, Scody, to supply 100 singlets, which he sold through a support group on Facebook, to friends and acquaintances that were coming to spectate on the day. Also, Cannondale donated some clothing, gloves, socks, and other items, which were sold and auctioned on the day, to the supporters. And lastly, PowerBar came through with those inflatable noisemakers, which were a huge hit amongst the athletes.
“Team Berkel” set up camp at the top of Windmill Hill, so they were able to see us on each lap of the bike, and each lap of the run. I know these guys were supporting all the competitors, including the other pros racing against me, but it was always the highlight of every lap for me to come up over that hill and listen to the alcohol-induced crowd go crazy.
I think every athlete will go home with some fond memories of these “fool’s on the Hill,” but the best part is that we were able to raise over $4000 for my mate Brad Foster, who was attempting to raise $140,600 for the K.I.D.S Foundation. He didn’t reach his goal, but we were glad to be part of it, and he’s coming back next year to do it again and hopefully reach his fundraising objective. And I’m sure we will be back to do our part.
My next race will be the Busselton Half Ironman on May 2. I haven’t done a lot of short course training yet, but it will be good to get back into doing some shorter sessions in preparation for some races I’m doing in North America. I’ll keep you posted as the season unfolds.
2009 Ironman Australia Results: Top 10 Finish Times
- Patrick VERNAY 8:24:53
- Pete JACOBS 8:29:03
- Tim BERKEL 8:31:43
- Jimmy JOHNSEN 8:33:43
- Maik TWELSIEK 8:34:10
- Timothy DEBOOM 8:39:47
- Simon THOMPSON 8:42:21
- Trent CHAPMAN 08:47:33
- Matt WHITE 8:50:59
- Chris DMITRIEFF 8:53:06