It’s hot, dusty, there are flies, and it involves what can loosely be described as a swim through a muddy cattle creek. And thousands of triathletes and spectators wouldn’t have it any other way. The iconic Julia Creek Dirt ‘n’ Dust Festival weekend is April 17-19 and will see the 400-person town swell to 3,000. We caught up with Graham Crawford from Townsville’s Free Radicals Triathlon Club and Trent McIndoe from Townsville Tri Club who are just two of the hundred or so Townsville triathletes who are excited to be heading west for the three-day event.
“The stewards were on the side of the creek shouting, “No standing up! No standing up on the swim leg!””
How many times have you done this event? This will be my third time in a row. Before that, I tried to get to the previous two but failed due to logistics. I’m sure that after each time I say, “Never again”, but then it turns out you should never say never!
How are you feeling about it? I’m excited: the excitement builds as the event comes closer. It’s on everyone’s lips, at the coffee shop after tri training, at the bike shop and down by the water cooler at work. It’s the first big triathlon event in North Queensland (or at least in striking distance by car) and so I have been waiting for this since the beginning of the year.
What was it like last year? There were a whole lot of flies last year, annoyingly so, but none the year before! I heard that the bugs are going to be worse than ever this year. Every year is different except for two things: the heat and the headwind. The ride is 25km back to town from the swim and the headwind is pretty constant all the way. Oncoming full-size road trains add to the excitement too. My first year saw a reduced swim leg due to a lack of water – it was so shallow I bottomed out! The stewards were on the side of the creek shouting, “No standing up! No standing up on the swim leg!” It was perhaps one of the only times that tall competitors were at a disadvantage. Last year the heat on the bike leg pretty much dehydrated me making the arrival into town for the run so much harder.
“I was competing against a colleague who was a lifesaver – he won by just six seconds and I thought, “Wow – if I can do that maybe I could…” That was the defining moment, way back in 2010”
What are you most looking forward to about the event? The atmosphere: there’s nothing quite like it. The townsfolk are outnumbered by the incomers every year so it becomes a weekend of triathlon that starts on Friday afternoon with all of the junior events. After the main event finishes late Saturday morning it then becomes one big party… for those capable of partying that is! Numbers swell up on the Saturday as people arrive from all over for the bull rides and live bands.
What will be the most challenging aspect? This year for me it’s going to be all about T1 and the ride. Last year with the number of competitors, T1 turned a little muddy as the water mixed with the dirt, it got everywhere and made the bicycle start a little tricky. Getting the hydration mix on the bike leg is a challenge: I’m going to make it leaner. I think if it’s too strong you end up worse off.
How have you been training? For Dirt ‘n’ Dust, you can’t beat training in the heat. Competitors coming from Townsville definitely have the edge, especially coming off the back of summer. Then there’s the headwind: I’ve been on a windtrainer to prepare me for this. The heat and the headwind are your enemy – they will try their very best to slow or stop you. Some people say that there’s a mental barrier to overcome before swimming in Eastern Creek (a cattle creek), but when you are there on the bank, with just seconds to go, in the heat and dust; that barrier becomes very small.
What are you hoping to achieve? I’d love to beat my time and place from last year: 1:27:59 [fifth in Age Category] – it would make my day, probably year, definitely decade. I also love to help newcomers: They always have so many questions and I get such a buzz out of improving the quality of their race experience.
“Your longest run must never exceed 50% of your weekly mileage, never, no exceptions”
What activities are you doing outside of tri training? I took up Pilates last year and it has helped so much. When I’m riding I can hear the teacher telling me to drop my shoulders and relax my arms and I can ride longer. When I’m swimming, I can feel my core keeping me aligned and springing me out of each turn; and running involves my glutes – they’re now so squeezy… apparently!
What activity makes you the happiest and why? Pilates at the moment: Although there’s a very physical part to each class, there’s also a stretching, perhaps sensual or meditative part that smooths out all the muscular kinks and knots and a few mental ones too. You leave each class in a relaxed state, almost always with a new ache though.
Have you always been active? Yes, I excelled at swimming from an early age and come from a cycling family so things started early on. These were replaced with squash as I hit my 20s, a game that can be brutal on the body and, sure enough, injury stopped my progression. Years and years behind a computer in a desk job started to take its toll though and I bought a treadmill, started to swim in summer and bicycle at weekends. I moved to Townsville from Brisbane in 2007 and a couple of years later ended up doing the swim leg for a team. I was competing against a colleague who was a lifesaver – he won by just six seconds and I thought, “Wow – if I can do that maybe I could…” That was the defining moment, way back in 2010.
Are you a morning or afternoon mover? Morning, early morning, but not ‘crazy scary early’ like some. There’s nothing like training as the dawn breaks. It brings another dimension to the exercise. No matter what sport, you feel the warm and cold, you see the shadows wax and wane, you smell the fragrant still air start to move and you welcome the day break (usually it’s very welcome as I’m wearing sunglasses) – incredible.
What’s your favourite thing to do on a weekend in Townsville? Walk the Strand, stop and have a coffee or perhaps lunch and a beer: All in view of the sand, sea and palm trees. Seriously, where else can you do this? Perhaps just a handful of places: We are so lucky.
Your most motivating tune? There’s so many, but the one I’m running to at the moment is Take a Long Line by the Angels: I try and match the cadence; it’s a real bugger. Others are It’s a Long Way to the Top by AC/DC and Longtime by Ash Grunwald. Last year it was The Trooper & Ace’s High by Iron Maiden and before that it was Speedy’s Coming by the Scorpions. But really, when I’m behind a desk all I can hear is Freddie Mercury singing, “I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike, bicycle! bicycle!”
Motivational quote? “The starting gun goes off and everything changes, nothing stays the same, nothing else matters, and all I can see is the finishing line” – PattiSue Plumer (with a little help from me).
How do you pep yourself up when you’re craving the couch? There’s a meme going around, “I didn’t feel like running today, so I went for a run”. This is so true – you will feel better for it, always. But also, you have to know the difference between not wanting to train and not training (or resting). An important part of training is knowing when to rest – you have to be able to listen to your body, you have to be able to tone things down, you have to be able to be sensible about effort and distance. When you can’t do this, things get ugly; real ugly.
Most annoying fitness fad? Walking in the swimming pool. I’m sorry, but it is.
What’s your greatest fitness achievement? Townsville Triathlon Festival Sprint 2013 (1:16:23) – It’s a good time for an old man.
Most memorable active moment? Helensburgh 10K, Scotland, 2013 (49:21) – My first 10K with about 1,000 serious competitors – what a rush. Burdekin Sugar Rush Half Marathon, 2014 (1:51:17) – My first, and perhaps last, half marathon – a rush of another kind, see training advice below.
What activity have you always wanted to try (and what’s holding you back)? Stand Up Paddleboarding – simply haven’t had the time.
What’s something we don’t know about you? I was married in Las Vegas by an Elvis impersonator; well I think he was an impersonator!
What’s your next goal after Julia Creek? ANZAC 100 on April 26; Steel Sprint Triathlon on May 17, then Coral Coast Tri on June 7. It’s non-stop now until July, and then again from August through to November.
Most embarrassing moment on the go? During swim training I struggle to read the plan poolside so I just slip my glasses on over my goggles… you can guess what happens next.
Who would you most like to train with (e.g. famous person, or someone you look up to)? I’d love to train with Ryan Bailie, who brought bronze home for the Australian Triathlon Team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games with an almost unbelievable finish. I want to know where he dug out that finish from.
The training advice I wish I’d listened to was… Your longest run must never exceed 50% of your weekly mileage, never, no exceptions. I spent the last half of 2014 on the sideline with Hamstring Tendinitis through overuse: bummer.
Most treasured piece of fitness gear? My Free Radicals Tribe suit and matching orange and grey bike helmet – a funky combo, but never underestimate the power of looking great while racing.
My best local fitness tip is… Find a club or team that does your sport. It’ll be filled with like-minded people and you’ll have so much more fun. I found and joined the Free Radicals Tribe Triathlon Club and have never looked back. They improved the quality of my race experience.
Tell us a joke (why not?) You know you’re a triathlete when you get up at 5am every day but never arrive at work until 9am.
Last words? Triathlon is a growing sport and here in North Queensland – we’re lucky enough to have the weather as an enabler. It promotes and requires a healthy lifestyle for the whole family, which is just fantastic.
“It’s difficult though because each year the conditions can be very different. If you get a really strong headwind on the bike it can impact your time, but also the run with more fatigue in your legs”
What were your initial impressions of the Julia Creek Dirt & Dust Festival when you did it in 2012 as a team? I loved it – we had a great day, no world record-beating time I can assure you, but it was a heap of fun. It was a great weekend overall, not just the triathlon, so I made the commitment that I would be back the following year to do it as an individual.
Had you done many triathlons before to compare it to? This was my first triathlon so I had nothing to compare it to. I had done a few running events but the Dirt ‘n’ Dust is a far more all-round event than most of those.
How did you feel doing it as an individual the past two years? Both years it has fallen in for my training for the Ironman Cairns 70.3 (Half Ironman) so it’s a good training race for me, including going through transition and seeing how the three aspects are coming together. I particularly enjoyed last year, coming first in my age group and about 12th overall.
What are you most looking forward to about this year’s event? Hopefully performing better than last year. We have some social/work functions on afterwards at the races [Trent is regional manager NQ & NT for Rabobank], they are always really enjoyable and a great way to wind down.
What will be the most challenging aspect? The run, it’s always the run isn’t it! It’s always very hot by that time of day running the streets of Julia Creek. All the volunteers providing water and wet sponges are a great help though. The bike leg can be tough, depending on the headwind.
“It’s all about keeping it in balance. If you spend more than you earn you go broke, so it’s the same principle with food and exercise”
How have you been training? I’m in the middle of Cairns preparation again which is mid June so it’s starting to wind up fairly well now. I have been doing some more swim squads than normal and my coach Mads Larsen is helping with technique, which has been great. I’m doing about nine sessions a week; somewhere between 10 to 15 hours I suppose depending on the week.
What are you hoping to achieve? I really just want to race well and hopefully beat last year’s time. It’s difficult though because each year the conditions can be very different. If you get a really strong headwind on the bike it can impact your time, but also the run with more fatigue in your legs.
What activities are you doing outside of tri training? No other training, just tri’s. I have a farm up near Innisfail where we run cattle so that keeps any other spare hour I have occupied and active.
What activity makes you the happiest and why? I love the farm work: it’s just such a release from everything else I do. When I’m on the tractor I can’t hear the phone ring, which makes it even better. I have things sorted quite well now that I can still get my training in up there so that makes me doubly happy. Training is fantastic and I enjoy it more than racing. I used to love running the most, but I think cycling is taking over. Swimming unfortunately comes third – an easy third.
Have you always been active? I have been for the past six years or so. Prior to that I used to walk Castle Hill a few times, go to the gym and that sort of thing, but nothing too structured or serious. Over the past six years I have dropped 20kg but I have been the same weight now for two years.
“It’s going to hurt to start with and that’s the easiest time to give up. Stick it out; the benefits of being fit and active are fantastic”
Are you a morning or afternoon mover? Either doesn’t worry me. Sometimes it’s a bit hot in the afternoon, particularly for running, but you work around it. If I had to pick one it would probably be the morning: It just sets you up so well for the day.
What’s your favourite thing to do on a weekend in Townsville? Relax and catch up with family. I’m not here that often so I try to make the most of it. I really enjoy the bunch rides on the weekend to catch up with people.
Your most motivating tune? I don’t really listen to anything when training but there is one song by Santana and Nickelback ‘Into the Night’ that they used to play in the spin classes I did at the gym before I got into tri’s. Every time I hear it reminds me of that torture room – it was great though.
Motivational quote? “It will hurt, it will take time, it will require dedication, it will require willpower. It requires sacrifice, there will be temptation. But I promise you, when you reach your goal, it’s WORTH IT”.
How do you pep yourself up when you’re craving the couch? Thankfully it doesn’t happen too often, but if it does, I just remind myself of how good you feel after training.
Most annoying fitness fad? This is a hard question as I think any fitness, whatever it is, is good for people. If they enjoy it and they’re out there having a go then that’s great. Some of these diet things get to me: calories in, calories out – it’s that simple. It’s all about keeping it in balance. If you spend more than you earn you go broke, so it’s the same principle with food and exercise.
What’s your greatest fitness achievement? Probably taking on a Half Ironman, it’s not something I thought I would ever do.
Most memorable active moment? Townsville Running Festival in 2013 – the Half Marathon was a great event for me. I felt really good going into that and did a time of 1:26 and came about 12th overall out of about 400 entrants.
What activity have you always wanted to try (and what’s holding you back)? Mountain biking has really been taking my interest; I just don’t know when I could fit it in that’s all. I don’t like the idea of taking too much bark off me either! I like the look of the Adventurethon stuff as well, but haven’t looked that hard at it yet.
What’s something we don’t know about you? I really enjoy cooking and, by all accounts, I’m pretty good at it. It is something that has fallen away in recent years though.
What’s your next goal after Julia Creek? Cairns 70.3, then Townsville Triathlon Festival Olympic Distance.
Most embarrassing moment on the go? Probably falling off my bike while standing still. I was with a bunch, to make it worse and we were waiting for someone to fix a flat I think. I lost balance and didn’t get my foot out quick enough.
Who would you most like to train with (e.g. famous person, or someone you look up to)? Mads Larsen, my coach, if we could ever get him out on the road again.
The training advice I wish I’d listened to was… The very first time I was told to get fit, but didn’t. I should have done it years ago.
Most treasured piece of fitness gear? My two bikes: one road bike and one TT bike. I love them both.
My best local fitness tip is… Make the most of the great ride and run spots: plenty of hills, plenty of flats and great scenery. And plenty of people to enjoy it wit
Tell us a joke (why not?) A cyclist shows up at the local race on a new bike.
His friends all ask, “Where did you get a new bike?”
The cyclist replies, “Well, yesterday I was out running when this absolutely beautiful woman rode up to me on this bike. She threw the bike to the ground, took off all her clothes and said, “Take what you want!”
Last words? It’s going to hurt to start with and that’s the easiest time to give up. Stick it out; the benefits of being fit and active are fantastic. Besides you can eat and drink as much as you want (within reason) if you work hard enough!
You can still register for the Junior and Sprint Julia Creek Dirt ‘n’ Dust Triathlons (registrations close Monday, April 13 at 5pm). Also check here for the program of events over the action-packed weekend, which also includes live music, Australia’ Best Butt competition, bull riding, bog snorkelling, horse racing and a red claw lunch.