Bunbury OD, 17/02/2019, Alberto Puccini

Bunbury OD, 17/02/2019, Alberto Puccini

LGM Bunbury City Classic – My first Olympic Distance Triathlon – The journey

I don’t like swimming, I don’t like riding, I don’t like running… so why did I do it?

I prefer doing painful training sessions than taking pills for cholesterol and high blood pressure, training is my substitute for medicines;

Training gives me the chance to spend some quality time with my children, quality time for me at least, not sure if they feel the same…;

I believe in leading by example, and I love teaching my kids that if you set a reasonable goal, you make a plan, and stick to it, you can achieve lots of things.

That is why I have done it.

Previous experiences
I had done a few triathlons before this season. About ten years ago I did my first corporate triathlon at Langley Park, distance was 400m swim, 10 km ride and 4 km run… hard work.

Following my arrival in Australia from Italy in 2007, I played soccer for one season with the South Perth Masters. The season ended with only one goal under my belt and a near miss knee injury, then I decided to quit, my weight quickly went out of control and following a routine health check I found that my blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels were out of control as well.

The e-mail to recruit staff for the corporate triathlon was out in those days. I committed to do it and started to do some training, I ate less chocolate, I stopped drinking Coke.

For a few years after that I kept participating in some events, usually the Corporate triathlons, Australia Day and some other events of Stephen Doyle’s.

My longest distance ever was the “fun”, once I registered for the Australia Day sprint and then I got cold feet and changed at last minute to the shorter “fun” distance, I never trained properly for these events, training was random and performances were poor (poorer than now I should say…).

In February 2014, following the collapse of the company I was working for, I found myself unemployed and I decided to commit to run a half marathon (coming from my longest run being the WAMC 7.5 km Cottesloe Cup). I downloaded a 12 weeks training program from the internet, I kind of followed it, and achieved my goal. I ran my first half Marathon in August 2014 in just over 2 hours. In 2015, I ran my PB in the HBF half marathon (1h58 and something), then I ran two more half marathons, the City to Surf 2015 in 2h03 and then a disappointing HBF Half Marathon in 2016 when I hit the wall and had to walk quite a bit finishing in 2h16. After that I lost motivation and I went into “maintenance mode” running a few parkruns and some WAMC events (12 km, the longest since 2016)

Before joining Grant’s sessions, my swimming training consisted of 1 km a week on Thursday mornings during Tommaso’s training at Beatty Park. My PB went from 31 minutes to some 25 minutes for 1 km in the last couple of years, before this year I had never swam more than 400 m in the Ocean.

I bought my vintage bike when I did my first triathlon about 10 years ago, I paid 180 AUD for it and I never trained until last year when Tommaso decided to try doing some triathlon and I helped him learning how to ride… It did not take too long until he was too fast for me. When Tommaso joined Grant’s sessions on Tuesday mornings I used to ride with Jay Jay (Rahul’s dad) from the UWA Sport Science carpark to Elisabeth Quay and back, some 12 km once a week, with my decaf cappuccino being the highlight of the morning prior to coming back collecting the youngsters.

As per July 2018, an Olympic distance triathlon was a hard enough goal to achieve!

How it all started
My main real goal is staying healthy and as slim as practicably possible without giving up my pasta, pizza and gelato, and avoid taking pills, however such goal is too generic, therefore I needed to set a more tangible goal.

As per the SMART rule, a goal must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time related.

In addition to the SMART rule, I wanted my goal to be ambitious and challenging and I identified an Olympic Distance Triathlon to be completed this season as the appropriate goal meeting all of the above.

I met with Grant at Greens Café in an August evening in Leederville, we discussed my starting point and the potential to achieve my goal this season and Grant gave me the green light (how could he not at Green’s café?) so I committed to it.

I joined the riding and running sessions in August 2018 just before the beginning of the triathlon season, and I initially continued to swim on my own at Beatty Park.
My weekly training regime from August has been as follows:

  • Tuesday morning: 1.5 hours Riding with Grant;
  • Wednesday afternoon: 1.5 Running with Grant where I have been nicknamed The Italian Porn Stallion due to my moaning when in pain…
  • Thursday morning: half a hour swimming at Beatty Park (1.0 km to 1.2 km continuous Freestyle swim with no warm-up);
  • Saturday morning: 5 km Parkrun;
  • Sunday morning: WAMC running event when available and lately the Club ride.

More recently I joined Grant’s swimming sessions and for the last two months I have attended Wednesday and Friday sessions at UWA Uniswim.

I went to see Gaby who gave me her precious professional advise, however I haven’t been brave enough to go back to her or even let her know that I have failed to comply with her nutrition regime.

It is too hard to just eat veggies when my wife puts a bowl of pasta for the kids in the middle of the table and they leave half of it uneaten… it is impossible for me… It is impossible to not eat Pizza when my wife prepares her delicious homemade Napoletana Pizza on a Sunday evening… It is impossible to not eat gelato when the rest of the family have three scoops at Gusto…

So Gaby, I am coming out publicly and you now know why I haven’t come back to see you after that first session. I might try again, I just haven’t been strong enough this time…

The season leading to the event
I had initially identified the Shoalwater Classic Olympic Distance Triathlon on 10 March, however when I tried to register in December it seemed that the event was booked out, so I opted for the Bunbury Classic giving up three weeks of training.

The season started with the Guildford Aquathlon where I impressed Nathaniel and James D. with my sprint finish in the relay event, then continued with the Enticer Duathlon at the Perth Motorplex and the Left Bank fun event.

The first three events were someway successful, I finished them comfortably and I felt reasonably good, however the first big test for me was the Mandurah Club Championship when I registered for my first ever Sprint Distance Triathlon.

The event was on 25 November. I knew that I had to finish comfortably as in just short of three months' time I would have had to do a couple of those in a row…

Grant did not help my confidence when he asked me if I was comfortable in swimming in the Ocean, he said: “If you can’t swim you might drown…”.

The day before the Mandurah triathlon I checked the Sharksmart and the BOM websites for shark activity and weather conditions, that did not help making me feel comfortable. There had been a sighting of a four meters long white shark jumping three meters out of the water just a couple of km South of the venue, the weather conditions were typical sharky weather, however the good news was that the Ocean was not expected to be too choppy.

The Mandurah sprint triathlon was a good test, I finished feeling relatively good in 1h34.51 and I had my son cheering for me at the finish line (thanks Phil for asking him to do so).

On 9 December I raced in Lake Leschenaultia in the Enduro event which was a bit different than normal and I finished the three races relatively comfortably.

The next sprint triathlon was the Coastal Quest triathlon in Hillarys on 16 December. It was a very windy day, the Ocean was extremely choppy and after approximately 250m I found myself on my own far from shore with not too many water safety people around and I thought about Grant’s words, for a moment I thought to give up, then I took my googles off, I checked around for water safety, I took a few deep breaths and I started swimming again calmly and slowly, and I ended up with a swimming time similar to Mandurah. That was a very good test for the swimming leg.

The section of the ride into the wind was pretty hard.

As I often tell Grant at training, I am not too worried to be fast in transition, I race to finish and I use transitions to rest a little bit. In this particular event during T2, I managed to go to the toilette. I finished in 1h42.08 and I was pleased with the result given the harsh conditions and the toilette stop in T2. I checked the times of other participants who had raced both in Mandurah and Hillarys and I was happy to see that most of them had slower times in Hillarys with difference percentages similar to mine.

Last three events in preparation for the big day were the Cottesloe Mile to try a long swim in the Ocean, The Australia Day Sprint Distance to confirm that I could finish half the distance comfortably and the North Coast Aquathlon to try harsh Ocean Conditions as expected on a Summer evening.

The Cottesloe Mile was on 12 January. My wave start was relatively late and the Ocean became a bit choppy, I was not very good in going straight and I believe that I swam much more than a mile, I finished comfortably and not too tired however my time was very high 57m24s and I was 409th out of 415th participants, with the last six guys being one disabled athlete and all others in their seventies. The slow time worried me a little, however the good thing was I had swum longer than the OD swim leg for the first time and I was not too tired.

The morning after I ran the WAMC 10km event at Matilda Bay in just sub 56 minutes and I was relatively pleased with it having swum the Cottesloe mile the day before as my target time for the run in the OD was sub 1 hour. I thought that I could manage 4 extra minutes in Bunbury (that proved to be wrong).

The Australia Day Sprint Triathlon was again a good test. I finished the Point Walter hard course in 1h41.48 and I was pretty happy with my race as I felt well at the finish with some petrol left in the tank.

The very last event before Bunbury was the North Coast Aquathlon. The conditions for the 600m swim were atrocious and similarly to the Hillarys race, I felt uncomfortable after the first couple of hundred meters, however I calmed down again and managed to continue slowly but consistently and finished off the swim when the leader had already completed one lap or two of the running course.

Running after such a difficult swim proved very hard and I needed all the support of Grant who encouraged me at every lap and the cheering of the UWA athletes to finish the five laps with half of each lap going into a strong Southerly wind.

As the 17 February approached, I was hoping for easier sessions, because in 7 years of Tommaso’s swimming I have heard the magic tapering word so many times, however Grant’s view on tapering was limited to two easy sessions, the Wednesday run and the Friday swim prior to the event.

New bike, new shoes
My view is that equipment does not count too much… however everybody seems to think differently, included my son, who insisted for me to look for a better bike. The very last week before the race, I found a second hand 2014 Merida Scultura Comp. 905 for a reasonable price on Gumtrees and I went for it, the seller was an engineer I had done some work with some ten years ago (small world, isn’t it?) then I walked in a bike shop to look for the shoes and their price was 25% of the cost of the bike… so I did not go for them. I had a few days left to find some shoes at a reasonable price but come Saturday (race day -1) I had not found anything yet and was prepared to change the pedals and use those of my old bike, when I tried Kevin’s suggestion to look at Anaconda and found a heavily discounted pair of GIRO cycling shoes for 12 AUD. I could finally take full advantage of the new equipment, however I had never tried cycling shoes with cleats, so I did a quick test on the wind trainer and in the road in front of my house and I felt comfortable enough to use them for the race. It was almost time to head down to Bunbury.

Father and daughter day out
In order to keep the race budget under control, I had initially booked a shared room in a backpackers dorm in Bunbury for $30, however I had a second thought as I wanted to make sure to have enough sleep and not compromise my seasonal goal for a few bucks… then I upgraded my accommodation to a double room with Air Conditioning (which ended up being absolutely required) and asked my daughter to come down with me for a father and daughter day out. The rest of the family would join in the morning as Tommaso’s shift at IGA finishes at 9.00 p.m. on Saturday. Rebecca and I left Perth at 1.30pm and after one stop at the new service area on the freeway (which reminded me of the Italian Autogrills) and we arrived in Bunbury at approximately 4.00 p.m.. We rode to the Registration area and after collecting the race pack, we had a nice swim in Koombana Bay, we even had a short race on the Aquathlon course (obviously Rebecca smashed me…) lovely way to spend the afternoon with my daughter. Back to the Hotel and off to dinner. We wanted to have Pizza (carbo loading) at Nicola’s, the Italian Restaurant, however it was fully booked and they did not accept us (they must not be real Italians, Italians would always find a small corner for more customers) and ended up in an old pub where I had bruschetta and chicken schnitzel. A short stop at the local Coles to buy food for breakfast (baguette, strawberry jam and bananas) and off to bed praying for the BOM website to be right. Expected conditions were relatively good with some 25 km/h wind expected coming from shore and therefore likely to not make the Ocean too rough. Prior to going to bed Rebecca packed the backpack and checked that I had everything needed and she realized that I had left my race belt and running shoes at home. Tommaso must have got it from somebody… Plan B was to use a headband of Rebecca’s as a race belt or wearing a T-shirt over the Trisuit and run with my joggers which are not as good as the running shoes but would have the done the job at my expected pace… however I gave my wife a call and asked if she could leave slightly earlier in the morning to make Bunbury in time for the transition being still opened… She was not happy but she said she would try.


Race day
I had a good sleep and woke up early enough to be able to have my breakfast and head to transition on time. I racked up the bike and prepared the transition area with Rebecca’s headband as race belt and my joggers ready to go. Just one minute before transition closed my wife arrived with the race belt and proper running shoes, I rearranged my gear and headed to the briefing. I was pleased to see that the ocean was as flat as a swimming pool and also that the organisers had set the course with some intermediate buoys to help swimming in the right direction. The course seemed long, but I decided not to think about it, stay calm and consistent. I was one of the few swimmers not wearing a wetsuit (I haven’t made that investment yet, I did not have the advantage of the additional buoyancy, however the water temperature was OK. My wave started at 7.15 and based on the Cottesloe Mile I told my family that I would have taken between 45 and 50 minutes so they should expect me out of the water between 8.00 and 8.05. I was getting a bit nervous, then the time came, the siren blew, and I was off. I tried to keep up with a couple of slow guys in my wave and I managed to do it for a few hundred meters, then I found myself on my own until the swimmers of the next two waves caught me coming fast from behind. I swam very calmly and consistently and checked the direction regularly; the swim went very smoothly, and I was out of the water much earlier than expected. When I finish the swim, I am always very happy because that means that I was not eaten by a shark… My family missed my finish as they were expecting me to come out a bit later, they thought that I was another guy wearing a blue cap who was slower than me, when they realised that he was not me they started worrying… Then somebody told them that a guy wearing a blue cap had pulled out because he was not well… they thought it was me… they went to check the bike and did not see it… They realised that I had made it and made it well. Swim time was 39m43s, bloody good by my standards… Transition was my chance to relax, I put on socks, ate my first gel and headed off to the bike course T1 time was 2m47s. I set my watch on average speed and kept an eye on it stabilising on 30 km/h a few km into the first lap. I passed in front of my cheering family and headed South along the Ocean for the first lap. The road was wide, the surface was smooth, just a couple of roundabouts when exiting the City Centre and a couple of easy hills on each lap, overall the Course was very good, wind was not too strong. I finished the first lap passing in front of the family again, I was comfortable and riding at an average speed of approximately 29 km/h. At the beginning of the second lap I made a mistake at one roundabout and had to do a 360 degrees circle around it prior to taking the correct exit. I maintained a consistent speed and finished the ride at an average speed of 29.2 km/h according to my Tom Tom, however according to my Tom Tom the distance was over 41 km. This explains my official average speed of 27.4 km/h which is still an excellent result compared to my previous rides (bike and shoes maybe helped a little bit). Final time for the ride was 1h27m27s.



T2 was 30 seconds faster than T1 (2m17s) and I was off for the run. My goal was to run at 6 min/km pace, however as I often do I went off a bit faster with the first Km at 5m45s per km. I quickly adjusted the pace to 6 m/km, however I progressively slowed down a little bit and I got to the half way mark at an average pace of 6m03s. At the 5 km mark Tommaso was waiting for me and started running to my side encouraging me to not give up as he was seeing sign of fatigue on my face and my pace was getting slower and slower. At the 7 km mark there was a steep hill just before the last U turn around the lighthouse and I had to walk for about hundred meters with Tommaso telling me not to do that. When I started running again I caught an old lady who kept complaining and telling me that I was cheating because Tommaso was supporting, aiding, pacing me… After a couple of polite replies by Tommaso I was just a little bit harsher than him and I said to the lady: “report me, get me disqualified, I don’t give a s…” I was too happy to have my rebel teenager son at my side encouraging me, to listen to a grumpy lady teaching me the triathlon rules 3 hours into my first OD triathlon. On the downhill back from the lighthouse I had to stop and walk again, for a cramp in my leg this time, however I managed to get over the cramp and started to run again for the last 2.5 km. Soon after that I started asking Tommaso ”where is the bridge, where is the bridge…” as I knew that once I made the bridge I was almost home… The bridge finally arrived, the finish line was in sight now, with 500 meters to go Rebecca joined Tommaso and ran next to me as well, I found the last bit of energy to slightly increase the pace (not a sprint) and finish inside the 3h15m mark which was my third goal. First goal was to finish, then to finish inside 3h30m, then to finish inside 3h15m. The run leg was 1h02m28s at 6:14 min/km pace (slower than my plan). Finishing my first Olympic distance with my children on my side was a great experience, I was very pleased with my result, official time was 3h14m42s, swim and ride were faster than expected and run was slightly slower, I finished 201 on 214 overall, 123 on 129 males and 13 of 13 in my age group. I was last in my age group but not last overall… The most important thing is that I have achieved my goal and thought my kids that I can do it.

Grant has told me that at my age and in my current condition and form I take time to recover, therefore he has been gentle with me at training the first week after the event, however I suspect that the bonus is over… so I have managed to organise a working trip in New Zealand the second week after the event. The Monday after the race I went for a routine blood test and on the same day I got a call from my GP asking for a non-urgent appointment. Glucose and Cholesterol were all right however Transaminases were much higher than normal levels. I knew that that could happen (I had had it in the past), Transaminases level can increase significantly after an intense sporting event, I told my GP and he was of the same opinion, not to worry.

What’s next
I am now considering preparing for the HBF Half Marathon and then setting a goal for next triathlon season. I might go for a longer triathlon… not sure which is the next one up… Need to talk to Grant very carefully prior to committing…