Trail running, mountain biking or swimming through the wild for kilometres whilst competing is epic, but what about doing all 3 in one hit? Rowan Beggs-French relives the 2017 Sri Chinmoy Triple Triathlon in Canberra to give an insight into the straight-up inspiring world of off road triathlon racing.
The Adventure Capital
I love living in Canberra. There aren’t many places in Australia that offer more to people who enjoy the outdoors and endurance sport. The facilities, surrounding green space and calibre of athletic community here means you’re never short of opportunities or motivation to explore somewhere new and train hard.
In 1995, the Sri Chinmoy marathon team created a multisport event that showed off the spectacular landscape of Canberra, and pushed the limits of endurance in a single day event.
Each year since then (with the exception of 2 years due to weather) the Triple Triathlon has tested athletes either solo or in teams to swim 6.2km, ride 100km and run 45km in an enduro-triathlon format that takes in the lakes, mountains, and meadows that envelope our bush capital.
Not Your Typical Triathlon
The Sri Chinmoy isn’t the kind of race where you can sit on your pre-determined power output on the bike and then sit back into your marathon pace running. On the bike you’ll be vaulting over gates in the bush, and pushing it up crazy-steep, loose fire roads, then soaking in a view before an awesome descent.
On the runs you’ll be running along trails mainly used by kangaroos and wombats, scrambling up Canberra’s highest peaks, and dropping through beautiful single track. It’s a race that forces you to really feel and immerse yourself in the amazing trails. It’s why I love it so much.
I first raced this event as part of a team in 2008 with my now wife Amy and friend Scott, shortly after starting my journey in triathlon racing. We had a ball and raced again the next year. In 2011 I decided to push my limits and go solo for the first time. After moving around Australia as an Air Force Pilot, I was itching to do it again in 2015 when as a family we moved back to Canberra. I had another great experience: I won and set a half-hour PB.
Preparing For An Off Road Triathlon
My 2017 had been pretty up and down with injury but around September I started getting excited for another crack at the Sri Chinmoy Triple Triathlon. It was the twentieth anniversary of the race and the field was looking bigger and deeper than it ever had been. My build for the race involved a lot of strength work in the gym along with hill riding and running. I’m a full-time dad and luckily my daughter loves going for adventures on the back of my bike, or in the chariot!
Having done the race previously is a huge advantage – the stress of not knowing what to expect has passed and you’ve nutted out the logistics to make it run as smoothly as possible. Over the last couple of weeks I wound down my training, but ramped up visualisation of the course and how I would feel throughout.
During the week of the race I was full of nerves, not knowing how the day would come together given my preparation and nervous about the competition I would face, with 8 previous winners of the event lining up with me.
Arriving at the shores of Lake Ginninderra to the west of Canberra the weather was beautifully mild, around 15 degrees, and there was this calm enthusiasm and anticipation from the 22 other solo competitors and their helpers (the 70 odd teams started half an hour later).
After a moment’s silence in the soft dawn light we dove into the first 1.5km swim of the event. My plan was to try and jump on the feet of Michael Brennan, but after about 50m he left me behind and I settled into my own rhythm. It pays not to blow up in the first swim of an 11-hour race!
I was happy to be on the mountain bike after a quick transition. I met up with Michael about 5km into this leg and we rode together for the next 8km, through some fast flowing fire roads, which were perfectly grippy from the rain of the past week. Then we reached the first of the big hills — affectionately known as ‘push bike hill’ — on the side of Black Mountain. The 800m rocky Fire Trail sits between 25% and 35% gradient for its entire length.
After a short walk at the steepest pinch I got riding again to put some distance between Michael and me. After some more punchy climbs and flowing descents I arrived at the next transition in the shadows of Mt Majura. The atmosphere in transition was electric, many of the teams were eagerly waiting for their riders to come in with the warm morning sun and barely any wind. After a quick gear change I was off for the 250m climb of Mt Majura.
Time To Run
After a hard first ride I eased into a more relaxed rhythm running, following the rocky single track that weaved up the western side of Mt Majura. After reaching the summit, the next section was a rollercoaster descent through the single track in the Majura Pines. Traversing the ridgeline between Mt Majura and Mt Ainslie I checked in with my body, which was feeling great. More importantly, my mind was really calm, I was taking the chance to soak in the surroundings and let my body do what it needed to.
Coming off Mt Ainslie and onto the flat bike path leading to the next swim my calves were starting to tighten up, but luckily I had a 3.5km swim ahead to get off my feet.
Rollin’ The Arms Over
After having half a bottle of my electrolyte drink and wriggling into my sleeveless wetsuit I was off on the next swim. That feeling of being off my feet and just rolling the arms over was sublime. I pulled alongside a jetty mid-swim to get some more calories in — spending the best part of an hour swimming in the middle of a race makes it really easy to hunger flat going into the next ride (a lesson learnt from previous years!).
After a quick bite of sushi and some beetroot juice in the next transition I was off for the longest ride of the day. As it turned out, I exited the swim at the perfect time, a friend and veteran of the Triple Tri, Dave Osmond, came past me about a kilometre in as part of a team.
I was feeling great at this point so jumped on his wheel and spent the next 10km riding and chatting with him. This ride is where the day can start to get pretty warm due to its exposure; despite a top of 25, I was feeling the heat.
Friends On The Trail Giving You The Push You Need
Another friend, Michelle Cooper, came past about 5km from the end of the leg on her way to taking the bike course record. Surging to stay with her was a great boost to both my speed and mind. After another quick ride I came into the crunch point of the race tired, but feeling strong.
After some NoDoze I was off on the 11km run which takes you up the steep climb of Mt Taylor. In the heat of the day it’s a brutal test. As soon as I hit the 25% gradient fire road climb I was down to a walk. But that was hurting my quads too much so I started walking backwards, and then discovered that shuffling backwards felt great.
1km of climbing felt like an eternity but after reaching the top the view of the Brindabella Mountains and knowledge that the rest of the run was downhill was a huge boost to morale.
Nearing the end of the run my legs were shattered, but mentally I was still calm, and looking forward to the last 1.2km swim.
Finally getting onto the bike, Klayten Smith, the winner from 2016, was about 20 minutes behind in second place at this point, so I focused on opening that gap so that we wouldn’t be running together at the end.
Before I knew it I was approaching my last transition through the infamous stormwater pipes of Hindmarsh Drive. Being 6’5” and having raced for over 9 hours already, riding a bike through a drainpipe for about 80m was somewhat of a challenge.
I had some more water, caffeine, a bottle of Infinit, and took off on my last run. I settled into a rhythm through the climb over Red Hill, enjoying the final view of the city. The smiles of the teams as they come past and words of encouragement from the helpers at aid stations are one of the things that make this event so special.
Running onto the bike path and past the second last of the aid stations I glanced at my watch to see what the time was. After some slow mental maths I realised that I could surpass the solo course record set by off-road legend Jason Chalker in 2002, if I held my pace.
The remaining distance was gently undulating and shaded along the south side of Lake Burley-Griffin. Rounding the corner to the finish, the joy of having completed this course quicker than anyone had in its 20 year history was overwhelmingly emotional. A week later it was still sinking in.
Endurance sport is such an amazing experience — the emotional highs and lows, the hundreds of small decisions we make leading into and during a race, the weather, the mechanicals, the other unforeseen challenges we have to adapt to make it truly special when it does all come together in our favour.
If you’re looking for a different challenge, atmosphere and experience this race will provide it. I love the diversity that exists within the sport of triathlon, and this race truly is one of those hidden gems.
I’m really fortunate to have some wonderful support on my athletic journey. A huge thanks to Infinit Nutrition Australia, rideTECHNICS Mountain Bike Skills coaching, Sweet Bones Bakery, Pushy’s Bike Shop, Spin Cycle Clothing, Transcend Multisport coaching, and Altra Running for their help. They are all exceptional companies in their respective fields, so check them out!
Feel like a challenge?