By Stephen Bourdeau on 08/09/09 at 11:43 am
Editors Note: Norfolk Island is the middle of nowhere smack bang in the middle of the South Pacific due north of New Zealand and home to about 2,000 people.
The opportunity to represent Norfolk Island in the ITU Triathlon World Championships is a huge honour and a massive challenge. It is also a very daunting one. So what goes through the mind of someone who is taking this task on? What does the race actually involve and is it a disadvantage to be training here on Norfolk Island, or is it a blessing in disguise? Here is my slant on these questions.
The Olympic Distance Triathlon event begins with a 1.5km swim, which will be conducted off the Southwater Parklands in the heart of Surfers Paradise. Being an age group competitor (40), there will be many athletes starting at the same time, so the water will be choppy and there will be arms and legs everywhere. Now Im thinking that swimming in Slaughter Bay mid winter has not really prepared me for this crowd thing. I have certainly learnt to kick off the raging Artuti and have occasionally had to duck Don or John as they pass by in their glass bottom boat. But all in all, the verdict on this one is you are under prepared.
But there is a huge upside as I see it. What an environment Norfolk Island is to swim train in. No black line on the bottom of the pool to bore you lap after lap. Instead, you watch the fish, the coral and each time you swim around the salt house, you notice something else. Then natural ocean currents provide greater resistance some days and so you have to adapt. Some days as you are swimming along, and you cursing the Northern hemisphere athletes like the Germans, French and English, who are summer / spring training, in the nice outdoor sunshine. Meanwhile, the southern hemisphere swimmers like the Kiwis, Aussies and South Africans are more than likely indoors in nice heated pools. Then you think no way. Chemicals, smell and then you have to adapt to cooler water when the pools reopen. I say its a blessing here. Im not saying the southerly winds were not challenging some days, but its raw and we are designed to exercise outdoors. So the verdict is that its a great spot to prepare for the swim.
After the relaxing 1.5km swim, you get out and run to your trusty steed aka, the bike. Now that again sounds OK. Just go and grab it and head off for the 40km bike stage. But the concern is, there are now hundreds of bikes there - all lined up with no one standing there going hey mate, its over here! Again, getting out of Slaughter and hopping onto the only bike leaning against the convict wall is anything but confusing. The only confusion that exists is the look on a passing motorist face when they see you in your Speedos in the middle of winter.
But here is an upside. First of all, the road is dead. As I have learnt, it has no roll here, which means that you slow down quicker. Because of this, you have to actually work harder to keep going. Now the Gold Coast event will be on hot mix roads from Southport to Runaway Bay and back twice. Smooth, no bumps and compared to the consistent south-east winds on Norfolk Island, relatively no wind. Even if it is blowing a gale on the race day, its what you are use to here some days. I remember almost going backward a few times heading up toward bloody bridge the wind was 65km/h one day. Who needs a fancy wind tunnel?
Then you have the hills. Once you are down town with your bike, there is only one way up, add one extreme leg strengthening activity right there like it or not. When I first arrived on Norfolk Island in January 2001, I remember asking Gary Dowling what was the best way to get back up the hill with my bike, after riding to cricket from Anson Bay, where I lived. He replied On the back of my truck. I did not take his offer up, but have learnt that the hills are a strange blessing here for the cyclist who wants to work hard.
The bike leg will also involve negotiating hundreds of cyclists not the norm here. But how many of these athletes have learnt to dodge chickens, geese and cows not to mention their after math bombs. Again, as they said in the great movie dodge ball, Norfolk cyclists have learnt how to dodge, duck, dive, dip and dodge. Well be fine.
So with the 40km cycle leg done, its time to slip into your running shoes for a 10km foot race. So how does Norfolk compare for this one? It does well. Running on various surfaces actually engages more muscles groups and so can assist in strength development when running. National Park runs, road runs and grass sections such as up and around the Golf course are not only undulating, but also great variations. Again, the hills make you work hard, which is great for strength. The Gold Coast run is flat oh what a joy. So again, thumbs up for Norfolks environment. Add to this the fact that you have to wave to each vehicle or actually speak when you run past someone and you have an even more challenging training environment. And wait.we also have the cheapest Asics shoes in the Pacific (Im starting to sound like Charles now).
So has Norfolk Island been a good training venue for the World Championships? Id say yes. I wont win and really, neither will all but one athlete. What I am looking to do is meet a personal time goal. The event is a gruelling one, because no matter how fit you may be, you still have to push yourself to the limit. Why must you do this? I cant answer that one. Just because, as my four year old son Eli tells me when he does something naughty. But at the end of the day, its just fun.
Brett Thompson (NFK) #1478
Age Group Competitor Olympic M40-44
Find more details about this event - 2009 Dextro Energy Triathlon - ITU World Championship Grand Final Gold Coast