I pull my mandatory Dirt n Dust Triathlon singlet on over my triathlon suit. The singlet is bright orange with a caricature of an ugly man on the front. I’ve got my race numbers written on my arms in nikko pen and my category on my calf. I’m ready to race.
I load my bike onto the cattle truck (a road train) that will take it the 21km to T1, along with all the other bikes. Then I stand around for an hour with the other triathletes waiting to board the buses to the swim start where we will rack our bikes in T1.
There’s good camaraderie on the bus. Everyone is in this together. It’s already well over 30°C outside and promises to get hotter by start time. The drive drags on and I wonder what I got myself into.
Our bikes are unloaded at Eastern Creek. I rack mine and lay my kit out on it. The ground is dusty and hot under my bare feet. Later this dust and the mud from the creek will stick to my feet when I slip my feet into my cycling shoes.
Eastern Creek is a narrow cold brown water hole. I can’t see anything when I put my head into the water, not even if I put my hand straight in front of my face. I am bitten by small fish as I float after my warm up and one jumps up and hits my goggles; fortunately it’s tiny.
Someone made a mistake so 20 triathletes didn’t fit on the buses but no one went back to collect them. At 9:15am someone realises and the race start is delayed to 10am. Someone later tells me that his GPS thermometer tells him it got to 41°C in T1 before the race even started.
We finally get underway. I’m already dehydrated despite having drunk 1L of water since 8:00am. I had timed my drinking for a 9:30am start and was caught out.
I start near the front of my wave. We’re the third wave to start. I power through the water and find myself way out in either first or second. I catch the tail end of the previous wave within 200m. They had a 2 minute head start. By the 400m turn around I am overtaking the slow swimmer from the first wave who had a 4 minute head start on me. Overtaking swimmers is difficult because I can’t see anything underwater so have to rely on my brief navigational strokes to weave through them. I still find myself unintentionally making contact with some and getting kicked in the face by invisible feet. I exit the water near the front of wave 2 despite starting in wave 3.
My feet are caked in thick mud when I mount my bike. It would have been futile to try cleaning them so I just jam them, mud and all, into my bike shoes as I gain speed. (I always leave my shoes clipped to my pedals in T1.)
The bike leg is one of toughest I’m ever likely to encounter. We have to ride 21km uphill and into a headwind to Julia Creek where we will do a 4km lap through the main street. But it’s also one of the most amazing experiences of my short triathlon career. Hawks fly overhead, two dark horses and a foal canter through a paddock, road trains line an adjoining highway waiting for us to pass, and always the stream of orange singletted triathletes stretches in front of me into the distance. As I pass them I encourage them on. Some are really struggling and I know from speaking with others before the race that this is their first sanctioned race.
Thankfully there are aid stations at the 8km and 17km marks where we’re given wet cloths and cups of water (not that I manage to grab a cup at 30+kph). I carried two biddons and set up a 1km drinking schedule but my water was hot from being in the sun in T1 so it wasn’t much help in cooling me down.
The harsh baking heat gave me a fantastic sense of achievement as I came into town. Most of Julia Creek’s 500 residents and the athlete’s support teams were lining the streets cheering us all on. It boosted me and I found myself grinning like a lunatic.
I racked my bike in T2 and stomped the now dry mud and dust off my feet before pulling on my running shoes. The 5km run was 3 laps of Julia Creek’s main street. Mum and Oma cheered me on as I ran in the scalding heat.
I took water at each aid station, which had been placed about 300m apart because I had the nausea of heat stroke and dehydration in my stomach. But I wasn’t stopping! I just kept running all the way to the finish. It felt like a slow 5km but I felt fantastic enjoying the experience of being here at what must be one of the toughest races on the Australian triathlon calendar. It was only an 800m swim, 25km bike and 5km run but the conditions were harsh and unforgiving.
I would rate this the most enjoyable racing experience I’ve had since my first triathlon in August 2011. I probably wouldn’t make the trip up here again but only because I now have a renewed thirst to seek out other similarly challenging and out-there experiences, whether racing or adventuring.
If you’ve never done the Julia Creek Dirt n Dust Triathlon I recommend you get up here. It’s a pretty special event.
Tonight we’re off to the bullride and then tomorrow we hit the road again.
Swim 12:24(800m) 2 cat. 14 oall
Bike 47:44 (2.5km) 7 cat. 30 oall
Run: 23:58 (5km) 9 cat. 47 oall
Total 1:24:07. 6/11 cat. 24/169 oall.