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7:59:59. « James Cunnama’s Blog

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7:59:59.

Magic moment. (Thanks Fabian Jäkel for capturing it.)

I planned it all day. Had every second accounted for, every step worked out, even a toilet stop on the run timed to perfection and coordinated with my toughest competitor. Just to get under that magic 8-hour mark. My goal for the day. I love it when a plan comes together… Ok, that is bullsh*t. I didn’t even wear a watch. I was blissfully unaware of the time until I looked up a few metres from the line and saw 7:59:55…7:59:56… So I surged and made the magic numbers. For about 4 seconds of those 7 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds I was totally focused on the time. The rest of the day, I was simply focused on winning…

Two years ago I was forced to withdraw from Ironman Austria the evening before the race with illness. And so, a quick call and two weeks later I took that fitness to Challenge Roth. I was blown away by the race. I already knew all about it and it’s history, but it really is a special event. I met and became friends with Felix, Kathrin and the Challenge Family. That year I came 6th, and I was stoked! Two years later that 6th place seems like a lifetime ago. In the interim I have had some great success, but also some bad disappointments - I was forced to withdraw from Roth in 2011, and then dealt with a bad injury which sidelined me for the better part of the last year. And it was on this backdrop that I entered Challenge Roth 2012.

Coming into the race I had a sense of calm and confidence I haven’t really had before. My training had gone well, but certainly wasn’t perfect and I hadn’t really built to ‘the numbers’ I might have liked yet, but I was feeling good and mostly I was very, very motivated to put the last year of injury behind me – Brett told me top 5 would be good, podium would be great. I told him I would win. He just said, ‘We’ll see.’

How the race unfolded is a matter of record – they write your race report for you in the media when you win – but briefly it went something like this:

I got smashed by over-enthusiastic sub-9er AGer’s and tangled in the start rope of the swim. I swam hard to overcome this. I got tangled in the same rope going back the other way up the canal as they lifted it one side for a wave start and dropped it on me. I got out the water and was surprised to see all the top guys around me. I didn’t know it then (no watch) but I swam 47mins. That’s a swim PB. By a lot!

The first lap on the bike Timo Bracht and myself traded off the lead spot, while Konstantin Bachor sped off up the road and we slowly shed the large group of guys behind us. The second lap was just a group of 6 – Stephen Bayliss, Mike Aigroz, Georg Potrebisch, Cam Brown, Timo and myself. As we dismounted Timo, Mike and myself had put some time in the other three in the final km’s and took off running. Well, Timo took off while Mike and myself slowly found our rhythm. After 3km Timo was back with me and suddenly Sutto popped out of the bushes. I can’t say I was surprised, but it was good to have him there. His only advice was to tell me to stay with him. I gave him a thumbs-up. No prob, that was already the plan. We stayed together at a steady clip of around 3:40-3:45/km for 18km, when Timo faltered and lost some time.  Around 24km I caught Bachor for the lead. Sutto popped up again then, to berate me for attacking too early. I just smiled and gave him another thumbs-up – I hadn’t attacked and we could straighten out what had actually happened afterwards; for now I was winning one of the most iconic races in triathlon. And that was about it for the drama of the day (until those final 4secs, of course!). I came in with a run time of 2h40:06. Also a big PB, and of course the PB of sub-8hrs too.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was an easy day – I was hurting a lot of the time, and badly at times, but the memory of pain is short at best, and seems to be made far shorter when you win! This race will most certainly go down in my memory (and my autobiography one day) as a very special memory. And a very big breakthrough.

Big thanks to everyone who played any part in making this dream come true. You know who you all are and there are far too many to thank here but especially Brett Sutton, TeamTBB, Alex and all our sponsors. Jodie, my parents and all the close friends who support and encourage me. And Lawrence van Lingen again, for magic hands helping get me back on track this year.

And to my homestay in Roth, Cornelia, Rudi and Benni – thank you for making me feel at home in your home. See you next year!

As ever, onwards and upwards…

(Thanks Ingo Kutsche – www.sportfotografie.biz for the images.)

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