I’m here in Oz for the second edition of the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in Melbourne. When I started looking ahead to 2013, I fully expected that I’d return to Texas, which is a fantastic race and one that I’m eager to return to again. But I also knew that, more generally, I needed to seek out races that offered me the chance to race from start to finish. The depth of competition in Kona is what really separates that race from every other race I’ve done. But finding that depth of competition outside of Kona is a big challenge. It’s hard to find an Ironman where you really have to race the whole day. Frankfurt has traditionally offered that opportunity, but I didn’t want to wait until July to do an Ironman. The other opportunity was Ironman Melbourne, which last year offered up a stellar field, fast racing, and deep racing. Add so when I got an email from the race organizers at USM indicating that they’d like to have me at the race, I jumped on it.
At the tail end of the Australian summer and in the homebase of the superfish of the sport, Melbourne offers a fast ocean swim (like Kona, albeit with a wetsuit), a fast and potentially windy bike course, and a fast but potentially brutally windy run; the run is point-to-point, so a tailwind means it’s fast all day, but a headwind means you are punished for all 26.2 miles. Right now, it looks like a headwind. Game on.
The depth of field is again outstanding, with a quality of field that’s not likely to be seen at any race outside of Kona until the European Champs in Frankfurt. And with the flat – but exposes – course, there will always be something waiting to pounce in the event of a miscalculation. It’s exactly the sort of race that challenges you to refine your preparation and your execution, and to adapt the way you race. It is, in spite of different terrain and climate, a lot like the race in Kona. And with Kona being a once a year affair, it’s a very good opportunity to get racing experience at the championship level without having to wait 365 days to get another crack if something goes wrong.
I love the race in Texas. And I think that I probably would have gone in as the favorite to win again. And certainly, it’s nice to go in feeling like a good race will result in a victory, both for the financial rewards that come with a win (the prize money is obviously higher for a win, and so are bonuses) and also because winning an Ironman is one of the best feelings in the world. But Texas is the safe choice. And while I’d still have to perform on the day, I don’t know how much Texas would make me a better athlete. I don’t know how much winning in Texas would bring me closer to winning in Kona. I don’t know what my best race in Melbourne will get me. I do think I’m at the level where it will put me in contention for the win, but I do realize that I might have my very best race ever and still come up short. And as daunting as that is, it’s also appealing. That uncertainty is fundamental to sport. It’s what makes it worthwhile. If I’d known how my journey to this point, I don’t know that it would have been half as exciting. I had a great conversation with Paula Newby-Fraser recently, where she told me that a career is not just the successes but also the failures.
With that said, I didn’t sit on a Qantas flight for 16 hours (albeit in an exit row seat with glorious legroom…) with the idea of failing first and foremost on my mind. It’s Australia, so it seems appropriate to borrow a phrase from the legendary Chris McCormack. I’m here to win. That’s what I prepared for, and I am in the best and most balanced shape of my life. Excellence is what I expect of myself, and it’s why I chose this race as a way to test that expectation. Now it’s time to race…