Byron Bay is one of Australia’s iconic beach destinations and home of the final triathlon in my 2011/2012 racing season. The race was both beautiful and frustrating, all at the same time. There were things about it that were fantastic (the location) and things that made me feel ripped off (cars on the road, appalling road surface and high entry fees). Overall, I enjoyed my race but I wouldn’t do the event again and think the $170 entry fees were too steep for what we got (up to $100 would be fair).
My day started with a quick 150km drive down the highway to Byron Bay. On the way I collected two geocaches and enjoyed some amazing views over the northern NSW hinterland. Once at Byron Bay I registered, got numbered and racked my bike in transition. I kept my transition set up simple, opting not even to put down a towel because I have learned that I always seem to be able to remember my place on the rack without it. This simple set up also makes me feel more comfortable during the race; there’s less that can go wrong. Being early I was able to find a place near the end of the first rack to give myself the clearest run in and out of transition.
Being early had another upside – I was able to spend a few hours enjoying the clear waters of Byron Bay’s Main Beach. The water was calm but there were some small waves that broke perfectly for some gentle body surfing. Big silver fish swam in the waves and around my feet; the scene was like something from a holiday advertisement.
The race started at 12:01 when the elite men’s wave hit the water. My wave started four minutes later at 12:05pm. There were about a hundred men in my category; by far the biggest wave start I’ve been in this season. We started at the high water mark about 50m from the water’s edge and had a running start into the water. I had a relatively long wade through knee-deep water before the sand bank gave way to water deep enough to swim it. It didn’t take long to swim through the small breaking waves and out into the open ocean. We swam 400m off-shore before turning north with the sweep and swimming 700m to the turning can where we turned back to the beach.
The swim was tough and I went out hard. There was a lot of kicking and hitting going on today, especially when the small pack I was swimming in turned each can. At the second turning can I took a heavy blow to the middle of my back, momentarily winding me but I know the swimmer didn’t mean it – he was probably as surprised as I was when he made such heavy contact. The rough and tumble doesn’t bother me because I’m sure I have kicked or hit my share of swimmers too without any intention to do so. It’s almost impossible to know exactly who’s near you in the swim because everyone drifts around quite a bit. Despite the rough and tumble the swim was still beautiful and it felt good to be out in the open ocean.
The run from the water to transition was long and taxing, especially the sections where we crossed soft sand and then climbed the short steep hill off the beach. My transition was fairly slow because I took a moment to calm my out-of-control heart rate. It was a long 150m run to the mount line where I jumped on my bike and bounced along the most pot-holed road I’ve ever ridden. The pot-holes had been poorly patched so a mountain bike would have been more appropriate.
The cycle leg for the race was shortened from 40km to 36km for reasons that were not clearly explained and was a mixed bag. The roads had not been closed to traffic and the traffic controllers were only working select intersections so I was almost cleaned up by an elderly lady in a black car who didn’t seem to realise that I had right of way on the main road (not because I was in a race but because I was cycling on a main road and coming from her right). I had to scream at her to stop because I was traveling too fast to stop as she careened towards the main road. I am probably really lucky that I did scream at her because she seemed surprised that I didn’t stop.
Once out of town the cycle leg was pretty. We rode through forest, sugar cane farm lands and wet open forest. I had forgotten to bring the GPS bracket for my bike so have no idea what speed I rode at but suspect it was on the slow side because I was just enjoying the scenery. I have raced hard the whole season but today I wanted to combine that with enjoying the experience so I pushed hard but was also kind to myself. The road surface often didn’t lend itself to racing hard, particularly close to town where the road had been patched over and over again, creating a surface that required care.
The race was a draft fest with pairs, trios and packs passing me throughout the race. I think triathlon is reaching a point where it should just be made draft legal to make it fair; we athletes who chose not to cheat are at a huge disadvantage compered with the many athletes who get away with drafting or for whom a 3-minute penalty is small change compared with the gains they make while drafting.
The 10km run leg was four laps of a 2.5km course. Someone had used chalk to write motivational messages on the road, which was fun. I particularly liked ‘shut up legs’. A group of women staying in an apartment had speakers set up with music pumping out of them, which made me smile. The run course took us on footpaths, gravel paths and roads. There were two water stations, which was great because it was a hot afternoon on the course. The course made a large ‘S’ near the lap turn around point / finish line, which made it fun to run through.
As is usual for me, my first lap was slow and tough. It was a mental game to keep running but I knew I’d be disappointed in myself if I gave up. Towards the end of my second lap I started to find my groove and then ran hard for the final 5km.
I was pleased to cross the finish line. I have no idea what my final time was but I gave the race all I had and was totally spent when I crossed the line.
I enjoyed the race and feel I had a good outing. Hopefully the race results will be available quickly because there was no time clock at the finish line to give any indication of time.
Would I recommend the Byron Bay Triathlon?
- The entry fees are too high for the event. The cost is similar to Noosa or Mooloolaba, which are international level events with road closures, good road surfaces and full complements of marshals. The cycle course at Byron Bay is fully open to traffic, has road surfaces that are more fitting for mountain biking and lacks marshals in the run course (the organisers announced they desperately needed 5 more marshals just an hour before the race started and clearly didn’t get them because there were key parts of the course that were not marshalled, making cheating simple).
- On the plus side, the location is stunning.
- 1.5km swim – 27:26 in a big field in the surf – 21/137 age group
- 36km bike – 67:30 or 32kph avg speed – 87/137 age group
- 10km run – 50:55 or 5:05 pace – 65/137 age group
- Total time – 2:28:30 – 64/137 age group