*** many thanks to Christopher Cullen for this race report ***
It starts with a crash….. The disappointment, embarrassment, and frustration of not being able to complete the Dubai International Triathlon. This was a race that I had pushed myself into completing. But a momentary lapse in concentration leads to a DNF and a short trip to the emergency room (not broken, just bruised).
My wife then (very surprisingly) suggests Auckland 70.3, a race that would allow a trip to my home town and a chance to race for the first time in front of family and friends on the streets that I grew up on. Tickets booked and I am on my way! It was disappointing to not have my regular support crew coming with me; my wife could not get the ticket. However annoying this was, there would be plenty of other people ready to shout random things at me.
After I get over the jet lag of a 30 hour trip down via Adelaide and Sydney, I get out on my bike and attack the hills along the northern beaches and up mount Victoria in Devonport. So great to be home. Several runs, and a competitive swim in a local summer series in the Hauraki Gulf and I think I am ready.
Rain the day before throws me off guard. Not only are hills foreign to me, but so is rain. Oh dear, I start to research “riding in the rain” and pick up on some pointers…… Dubai has spoilt me!
Race morning was clear and fine weather with very little wind, perfect race conditions, why was I worried about a little rain? The pre-race rituals completed, transition set up, and wetsuit squeezed into. My wave was the first age group after the pros, it was great to jump in and line up. As the horn sounds the mad dash for the first buoy commences. The pack has sorted itself out by the first turn and everything goes smooth as we make our way through the Auckland harbour and then into the viaduct basin. I was out of the water in mid pack and slower than expected, but not to worry. Into transition with the cheers of friends and family ringing in my ear, wetsuit drop, helmet on, grab the bike and off I go. About 200m later the wheels come out from underneath me as I cross over some tram tracks still wet from the day before and I end up skidding along the ground in a very familiar fashion. I could not believe it. Two 70.3 race starts, two bike crashes! Not a got start. I brush myself off check the bike and carry on. Only 89.8km to go…
The first loop of the bike course went through Auckland’s North Shore, along the northern motorway and into the northern suburbs of Miarangi Bay and Albany. I was now riding on the streets that I had spent my child hood on. I passed my old house, and came within a block of where my parents currently live. The northern course had a few hills to contend with including the iconic Auckland harbour bridge. This was a challenge for me as I had only started cycling in Dubai and was not used to hills. This didn’t bother me to much as I enjoyed the scenery of my home country rush by. Coming back over the harbour bridge gave me the chance to see the city from a different angle, how lucky was I to be here right now doing this? Back through the downtown area and out onto the eastern loop for the first of two laps. Again, this area was very familiar; it was great to ride along Tamaki Drive, nice, flat and sheltered from the small breeze that was picking up. The sun was shining as I made the first turn at St Heliers Bay (home of the original Auckland 70.3), then back into the city in a good rhythm. The hills on the northern loop had sapped my legs and I was not able to maintain my usual pace, but I just had to keep moving. A return to the downtown area and again my noisy family can be heard cheering me on. This gets me motivated for the second loop again out to St Heliers.
Returning to the downtown area again and as I fly into transition I get to see Tim Reed cross the line for the win in the background. But this does not really register as I am now in transition autopilot… bike racked, helmet off, shoes on, hat on, water bottle, go go go!!! Out running and it is now that I can feel what crashing on the bike has done to me. My thigh in my right leg is pulled tight and it is hard to get it moving, but I just keep on pushing. Around the beautiful viaduct basin and past all the bars and nightclubs that I had frequented and meet my now wife in (ah, all the memories) concentrate Chris, you still need to finish this.
Out along Princes Wharf and then along the Waterfront past ports of Auckland. All I can hear is the cheering crowd, screaming out random names, cheering everyone on. Coming past all the aid stations being greeted with singing and dancing volunteers, sprayed with a hose, slapped on the butt; what great motivation. I don’t remember Aucklander’s being this friendly sober… Coming back towards transition to complete lap one of two, friends and family there again, cheering at every step. I am feeling exhausted at this stage, the turn around marshal has a dangerous job telling 1100 exhausted athletes that “you have one lap to go…”. I make the turn and head out. Half down, half to go. Keep moving forward Chris. The second lap seemed to pass faster than the first (although it didn’t in reality), the sun is burning now as everyone trudges along. I was surprised to see a familiar race kit in front of me. I got to run the last 3km with Luke Porter, a former TriDubai member now living in NZ. Unfortunately for him it was only his first lap. But it was good to talk for a few KM, keep each other moving at a good pace.
The final few corners could not come fast enough. Back around the viaduct, into Wynyard quarter, and along to the event area. The red carpet awaited! It felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders as I ran down the chute. People cheering, sun shining, my name gets called out and TriDubai gets its mention “Chris Cullen, all the way from Dubai”. As I cross the line I cannot contain myself and scream out YES!!! Fist pumping!!
Finally I did it. I was now half an Ironman. If I have to nominate a half, it is definitely my legs.
For anyone this is an achievement. For me, it tops off a complete life transformation. 4 years ago I was a heavy smoker, 2 years ago I peaked at 110kg, 1.5 years ago I was spending the night in an emergency room because of an asthma attack. 2 months ago I had crashed out of my first attempt at this distance. But here I was, 26kg lighter, smoke free, healthy. A finisher.
I have to thank all the TriDubai folks who helped along the way. Most of you won’t know me but you have all inspired or helped in some way or another. But most of all, my wife. She thinks we are all crazy, but no one else supports like she does!! She was even watching from Switzerland and got to see me cross the line! I could not do any of this without her support.
Where to next?? CHALLENGE DUBAI!!!!