World by Bike 16: Asking Questions
Scrolling through Twitter whilst definitely not on the John, I saw a tweet by one of the pro athletes I follow online, and the location marker on the tweet said Sunshine Coast, Australia. The tweet was from pro triathlete and 2012 Ironman Triathlon World Champion, Pete Jacobs. He'd been an interesting guy to follow, struggling with fatigue issues after his big Ironman win, and had subsequently faded in prominence a little when I started getting into the sport back in 2014. However, I began to follow his journey online more closely when he announced he was working on a slightly unconventional training philosophy back in 2015/2016. I was intrigued as my first two seasons had been plagued with injury and illness, not the same as Pete' issues, but we’d both started to look for alternative, healthier training philosophies.
At the time my Dad had been reading about a guy named Phil Maffetone, who preached lower intensity training, and rethinking the role of carbohydrates in training (this is an aside but seemed relevant)). I was intrigued as it seemed so counter-opposed to everything I’d seen or learnt about in triathlon and basketball before that, but decided to give it a crack. I made progress after a few months, but looking online I couldn't find too much information about people actually applying this method, or specifics on types of foods, or types of training sessions. So when Pete announced before the Ironman World Champs in 2016 that he'd been training with the Maffetone philosophy I began to pay closer attention, as I knew no one else following the philosophy. He's been an interesting guy to follow since, combining his proven pedigree in the sport with this relatively undocumented method. It's been fascinating gleaming insights into how he trains, learning from it and trying to apply that in my own growth as a triathlete.
Anyway (back to this trip), when I saw Pete's tweet, the idea of reaching out to him came to mind, as he's just about the only guy I know following the same method, and at such a high level too. Always keen to learn, and buoyed by the confidence that has developed on this trip by constantly having to ask strangers for help, food, water or shelter, I shot him a message. explaining my trip and I asked whether I'd be able to come see him, referencing the similar training philosophy. I'd gone with the low-ball approach, asking if he and his wife could put me up for the night, fully expecting to be ignored, giving me room to lower my request. On the off chance he did respond though, I thought the response would be a polite 'jog on'. You can imagine my shock and excitement when he replied within the hour saying that I could stay. An actual Ironman World Champion was happy to talk to me!
I set off excitedly the next morning and breezed my way out of Brisbane, up the highway and back out to the coastline to hit Noosa, the home of triathlon in Australia, and home to the Jacobs. As I pulled up I could hear a relatively familiar voice, especially familiar after listening to his podcast that day to make sure I didn't make myself look too dumb when discussing triathlon ideas., I was surprised to learn he was live on Instagram as I dismounted my bike, broadcasting my arrival to a few thousand of his online followers. I was a touch apprehensive about looking incompetent in front of Pete and his wife Jaimi, let alone Instagram Live!
Their hospitality immediately blew me away, providing me with chocolate and a delicious smoothie within minutes of my arrival, followed by an offer to use their pool, shower and laundry machine. Before I arrived I was very conscious about being a burden, or getting in the way of their training, but their openness and spirit as a couple made me feel at home immediately. They even gave me a razor so I could trim my beard and get a haircut. I found it so amazing because here was this couple who had reached the pinnacle of their chosen field, but were seemingly so happy to help out a randomer like me. I think it takes real humility to do that, and it's inspiring to see.
The Jacobs gave me so much of their time, invited me to stay an extra couple of nights, took me down to the beach twice, let me use their pool, introduced me to their friends and Pete even taught me a little about how to surf. I'd wanted to try surfing at least once in Australia, almost as a 'gap year bucket list' type-thing, but one thing I had never planned to do was to have the fourth fastest person to ever have run the Kona run course as my instructor. When it eventually came time to leave ,Jaimi loaded me up with so much food I felt like a donkey - in the best possible way - more food! I felt miles healthier after eating cleanly with them for a few days, and my mind was brimming with new training ideas, tips and potential for the future. However, I think my biggest take away wasn't just how committed the Jacobs' were to the own goals, but how inter-dependent they were as a couple. They were so supportive of one another, and they had fun together. It was great to witness.
I can’t thank them enough. They gave me new socks, an old pair of sunglasses and even helped source new bike shorts as I departed northwards. I've met some kind people on this tour, but the Jacobs were definitely up there as some of the most hospitable people I've met. I'm incredibly thankful to just have got a response online, let alone spend a few days with them. They're admirable not just in their athletic pursuit and their commitment to improving their diet but, at least from my perspective, in their marriage too. They're awesome people. I can't wait to follow their journeys as they get back racing this year, and they've made me even more excited about trying to qualify for the Ironman World Championships myself upon my return home. It's not too early in the trip to be thinking about the next project, is it?
As I rode north from Noosa, roads became more rural, riding some off-road, gravel sections and almost running out water as I rode from Noosa to Maryborough. After staying with keen age-group triathletes there, and their seeing their for the sport (they were up at 4am for a 2 hour ride before work!), I was inspired to push-on the next day, riding 130miles to camp out in the small town of Miriam Vale. I'd never wanted to camp out in Australia before getting here, fretting about snakes and spiders, but it's interesting how quickly you become confident in your surroundings. I'm still pretty clueless about this nature stuff, but it's interesting to see what encouragement you can take from camping on the outskirts of a town versus in the middle of the bush somewhere - I still wouldn’t camp out in the bush alone just yet. I actually got chatting to a guy upon my arrival in Miriam Vale, and he suggested asking the hotel if I could pitch up there, and they generously agreed. My tent was between the exit of the pub and the car park so I drew some attention from a few patrons, and one British couple who were on holiday in Aus were so intrigued by my trip they said if I could get up to Cairns before the end of the month they'd buy me a beer. Very kind people!
The next day I made it to Rockhampton and stayed with a contact of one of the Jacobs' friends (people are awesome) and I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, which felt really cool. Weirdly the town doesn't advertise that significant point on the map, instead broadcasting the fact that it's the beef capital of Queenland, with a giant cow on the roundabout as you enter off the highway. It's a strange marketing choice in my opinion, but I did accidentally find the sun dial that sites on the tropic line, and took some time to reflect on how far north in Australia I now was. What I didn't quite clock was that crossing that line meant I shift from Australian summer, to monsoon season - it could get interesting as I head to Cairns!
The next few days passed with big miles, little change in scenery, few water stops and far too many punctures. My rear tyre is all but worn out but I'm hoping to eek it out to Cairns before getting new ones, but my puncture rate has dramatically risen, with 7 (including slow flats) in the 4000km since Auckland, whereas I’d just had 3 in the first 8000km of the trip. However, with successful big days behind me I managed to make a short detour to Airlie Beach, a big backpacker town, for Australia Day and a half-day off before making the final push to Cairns. Although there is a little controversy or debate about whether 'Australia Day' should be an event, with issues surrounding treatment of the Aboriginal community, from what I saw there was such a good feeling of community and gratitude for the freedom that Australia offers. One song by a singer-songwriter down by the beach, focused on the opportunities Australia has presented to people from all over the world, and it got me thinking about how grateful I am for the freedoms I can enjoy on this bike trip and in my life, as well as the awesome opportunities Australia has afforded me: Ironman World Champion Pete Jacobs taught me to surf! Well, he tried…