Before about Thursday of race week I had planned on getting (us) up early at 0330 as we live just over an hour away from the venue. My Sherpa (Alison) wasn't much looking forward to this and when I realised somewhat belatedly that registration was the day before it seemed like a return trip the day before would be a bit wasteful.... Having quickly looked at hotel options I quickly saw none available but thought I'd try the next day as typically people have 24hr cancellation policy. Luck would have it indeed that on Friday some rooms were available at a big hotel about 3miles from the race. So at least that would mean no wasted return journey and an hour extra in bed! Nice.
So I had a relaxing day on Saturday, last minute decision to fit tribars (I found last year I was mainly on my drops but thought I'd prefer a choice on the day). So bars fitted, bags packed and car loaded I had an easy drive down Saturday pm. The hotel was massive and we got a really nice room with a balcony over the lake. There were quite a lot of birds nests (house martins we thought) up under the roofing which really was amazing, and given we were going to be up at the crack of dawn was not at all disturbing
I woke before the alarm, something like 4:15, boiled the kettle for my instant porridge in pot and slurp of instant coffee, trying not to awaken my Sherpa as I knew it would be a long morning for her too! With everything lined up on the floor the night before I bleary eyed got into my tri gear, put my race chip on and fed my face. Pre race excitement building. This day had been a long day coming..... In some ways almost three years given this was the race I was supposed to do which I had to pull out of 2 weeks prior due to an ovarian cyst the size of a peanut butter jar being found in me! I have been working with a coach for the first season in years so my training has been more consistent for sure. I was excited to see how I went in the swim, and was hoping to not walk in the run (flu and a calf strain has really walloped my running most which isn't the best anyway! So I was excited for what may happen and to be back racing again.
The drive to the venue was easy, quite a lot of cars exiting the hotel and a convoy of bleary eyed triathletes and Sherpas. We had to queue a bit to get into the car park where a £5 day parking fee was levied (fair enough given the car park was in a commercial one which would normally charge anyway)
Off to racking. Now the racking was pretty tight. Not so much the distance between bikes which was tight but manageable but actually the distance between the rack behind ... So close my shoes were in danger of embedding themselves in the wheel spookes of the bike behind. I couldn't attach elastic to hold up the rear shoe, just wasn't happening. But this a very small issue in what was a really really well run event.
I found some clubs mates had a nervous natter (as you do). The person next to me had decided his/her space should be as big as possible so I tidied their crap (and I mean kit explosion) up a little so I could get my bike in and lay my trainers etc out. Transition soon thinned down as the first wave starting at 06:00 move out to the start line. The race briefing notes stated that transition would be shut at 0550 which it wasn't (thankfully) as I still had phaffing to do.... Pretty sure everyone was out by 06:00 but the officials were pretty good about a little flexibility with this (especially as the car park queue had made some people later then they wanted to be I think). Given I wasn't off until wave 5 at 06:40 I had plenty of time to reccie the swim course and see where everyone else was starting.
I decided having watched a couple of starts (most people now wanting to be at the front placed themselves I a madly congested middle), that I was going to start front and to the right. This meant a sharper turn at about 100m but probably more clear water.
Couple of words of advice for the final 20mins; wear flips flops, I got into my wetsuit in transition and wore flips flops around to the swim start, it was warm enough to not have to do my wetsuit up until 10mins before. It was pretty muddy and you wouldn't want to be barefoot. Plenty of people wore flips flops and left them lakeside at the start. I recovered mine from the same spot post race no problem. The other advice is to carry some spare toilet paper (or have your Sherpa have some to hand)!!! Whilst the portaloos were pretty ok (for portaloos!) mine had run out of loo roll and I had to, well, improvise!!!
We were allowed in the water as soon as the previous race cleared so it was good to get some acclimatisation. It's been a little chilly start to the OW season and I've been swimming in 14 locally... So having had a few warm days prior to the race and wat with the lake being shallow it was a balmy 16.5 degrees which is a pretty perfect temperature I think. The swim course is a kind of squared M shape, starting in the middle right gap of the M and heading out to the bottom right of the M at the start.... So quite a few buoys and sightings to be done. I swam out strong at the start and only had one side on collision! Before the first buoy I had clear water and was a bit surprised to find not many people coming past, I think one person did (the waves are mixed sex), and after turning left at the first bouy I did manage to swim at lower side of someone so got a bit of a draft but either they started to tire or I got into a strong rhythm as I soon found myself going past without any perceptive change in effort. Coach words were to swim strong but not fast (when I try and swim fast I tend to swim slow!), so I focused on timing of my recovery arm to catch (as that helps keep my rhythm without over gliding and stalling) and just swam! The only real time I had trouble spotting was the way back down to the middle point of the M shape, I think they had a boat with a sail up in the lake but I couldn't see what I was aiming for for toffee! So I took bearings off a mixture of swimming hats ahead, shoreline and a canoeist!! Through more luck then judgement I found myself right in line with a set of floats tied together which marked the v shape turn. Heading back up there were even less swimmers near me. I wasn't at the front of my wave I knew that as there had been a small group formed at the start, but there really was few people near.... In fact I only recall seeing one pink hat near me for the rest of the swim, I was already in and through some of the previous waves tail markers. Midway back up to the next bouy the lake got a bit weedy... Mostly they were low enough not to effect your catch but there were the occasionally had through weedy bit. I do remember thinking and being thankful it hasn't been a really warm and sunny May or this bit would have been quite horrible I think. The pink hat swimmer near me was off to my left and I suspect in clearer, deeper water (I bet they had done the race before!). Another turn bouy approaching I caught some more swimmers from the previous heat so given they were back markers I gave them some space (as didn't want to freak them out!)... Coming back down near an island the water got shallow and weedy again.... My recomendation is to do swim so close to the island even though it is probably the straightest line...
Having then made my final turn I began to spot the exit ramp every three strokes feeling strong and feeling like I had had a good swim. Approaching the ramp it got a bit congested, a guy on the ramp was shouting something and as I got nearer it was him telling people to keep on swimming... Evidently some people were slowing maybe thinking they would get their feet down sooner.... I'm always one to swim until my hands can touch the bottom so I swam thorough these people before reaching the plastic ramp (when I say ramp I mean it... It is quite steep), where a hand was offered to help drag me out, followed quickly by a second as I stood up! Happy exit, felt strong hit my lap button to see a swim time of under 35mins which is what I was hoping for. Very pleased with that and overall my swim had felt strong and consistent. After 300m no one in my heat came past me which for me means I probably swam a more consistent pace as in prior years I've found people come past in the final quarter.
Having exited the ramp you are right by T1 although have to jog down the side to enter.... The side being grassy and wet was marshalled with someone calling out the slip hazard and apmaking you aware and asking to take it easy. So I tiptoed and jogged my way down pushing up my goggles and taking down my suit. Jogged through a couple of chaps who were walking and chatting hearing them say "we've just been overtaken my a pinky!" (Which was my wave hat) so that felt quite good (for me anyway)... Getting into transition I found it quite hard to spot my position which was mid way down... Had a just looked for the messiest one it would have been easier.... So the arsehole (as I now refereed to him as) next to me had scattered wet suit, googles and other detritus all over my kit and even managed to spread his wetsuit as far as the bike the other side of me. What a selfish prat. If ever there were to be penalties for being like this then this guy deserved one! So I kindly moved his kit back to under his bike position (note I left his shoes nice and tidy despite having the urge to not do so), took my wetsuit off and placed it, my hat and googles folded under my bike. Put my race belt on, gillet on (I felt better to be safe then sorry as the forecast was for 11-14 degrees and possibly rain... Although it was probably already 14), I also put on arm warmers (laced with talcum powder so they could slip on properly)... Hat on, sun glasses (orange tint) on, grabbed bike and away we go!!! Of out of transition, across a muddy stretch before hitting the bike mount line.... Now it was because of the muddy stretch I decided to have my shoes on my peddles already, with one elasticated to the bike. Have to say there was no flying mount as it was a 90 turn out of the muddy path and onto the road/ mount line.... So ungracefully swung my muddy toes onto my bike, put my feet on my shoes and peddled off. Not the fastest transition but it wasn't bad and I felt like I had the right amount of layers on for this time in the morning. T1 done....
I'd love to say I jumped on my bike and peddled smoothly off.... But that would be a lie... The mount line was a 90o turn left out of the transition exit some kind of just got on with my feet on the pedals.... And this is when I realised that I had forgotten to open my velcro wide so my feet could slip in easily (I blame the tight space, lack of ability of elasticate the shoes on and, well frankly a lack of practice (even though I had done one of my three transition training sessions!!).... So I peddled and phaffed and peddled and phaffed... Got my left foot in ok but my right was a nightmare..... The inner was folded the Velcro was stuck in the wrong places and I almost decided to just stop and do it properly.... And then my foot went it. I had a power range to keep to supplied by my coach the day before. This was my first race with power and I have to say it really helped keep me both honest and also stop me pushing too hard (or helped with gear selection). I was just getting into a proper rhythm a few miles down the road when fellow TVT club mate Jamie came flying past.... I saw the blur of "TvT" on his tri shorts shouted good luck and he was gone! Flying! The bike route itself is a flat fast two lap course with one lump of a hill midway through the lap. A few twists and turns and even a badger set to go past on each out and back section! It was both quiet country road and really beautiful. About half way to the hill another TvT club mate and wife of Jamie, Kathryn came haring past me. She wasn't hanging about and looked as strong as her husband!! I have to say the Cotswold bike is a great location, even if on occasion the roads were pretty narrow, some very pretty scenery!! It is also really well marshalled as well, everything was pretty clear (although I nearly did over shoot a couple of turns)! Coming towards the end of the first lap the sun came out and I decided it was a good time to ditch my gillet (which was annoying me a bit anyway as the bottom of the zip kept opening causing a bit of flapping).... I have to say I utterly impressed myself by being able to take off my jacket, ball it up and throw it at a marshal at the drinks station whilst also throwing an empty bottle and grabbing a new one!!! 3 miles straight back to transition and the turn point and I realised that actually I was biking well. With little wind I had only been watching my power, cadence and HR and had little idea what speed I had been traveling at... So was more then a little surprised to see my watch time (I switched it to see) was a startling 1hr25 at the half way point. Now I had been thinking I would be happy with a time of 3:15 before realising the course was a little short so thought maybe 3:05-3:10.... I felt pretty good, pretty in control and definitely not blowing ... So with a smile on my face I headed out for lap two... My nutrition continued to go down well and whilst the course was thinning out of people it was still as pretty and windless as the first lap with slightly more sunshine (so much I was beginning to wonder why the hell I hadn't put some sundress in transition... !).... At the hill I met one final TvT guy David... We had a quick chat up a hill before he took off although some point later I over took him before he came back past me again as we were in the last mile or so before transition..... It was as I was turning left to go right and into the final few hundred metres to T2 that I heard the awful sound of carbon on road and saw David on his side having chewed on some tarmac. So I stopped and checked he was ok as some marshalls came running over, he didn't look too dazed although did have some fresh shiny road rash which did look nasty. He reassured me he would be ok and to carry on and as we were near T2 and marshalls on the scene I thought I probably couldn't do much more anyway.... So I headed off up the lane to the dismount line and managed to get off my bike without falling over (felt like a bit of an achievement!!).... Back through the muddy bit and into T2. Bike done in a bloody fantastic (for me and my expectations) of 2hrs51.... Now all I had to do now with a half marathon.... Oh how we laughed...
T2 (longest writing t2 in history as started this blog post in June but seem to be continuing and finishing it from here, it's now September!!)
The biggest thing on my mind in T2 was should I risk the T2 portaloos or should I risk that I can get into the public loos about 400m out of transition.... Given I ran past the portaloos to rack my bike I decided I didn't want the extra yardage and risk the public loo.... So quick rack of bike, quick application of Vaseline between my toes, helmet off, cap on, grab gels and go!
Always entertaining trying to find your run legs and more so with a full bladder! Luckily I found and was able to access the public loo quite quickly after the exit from T2.... The loo was queue-less and very clean... And blissful!! Having got myself sorted got back into my shuffle... Main focus from my watch point of view was noting my cadence primarily and then heart rate... Cadence because when I tire that drops, my running gets heavier and slower... My aim was to tap around 170 ... My HR I wanted to try and keep in an easy zone for at least the first lap. The course is mostly off road, there are a couple of pinch points on the course but nothing too off putting. I smiled to and thanked all the marshals, primarily because I am grateful for the attendance but also it keeps me positive and out of the "unhappy" place you can get into! The first lap passed rather faster then I expected, coming in around 41mins for the 7k which included my loo stop.... My second lap was predictably for difficult... Now I had done a big training session (metric half which ended in a 13.2k run)... So whilst the second lap was hard I figured in my brain I could do it as I'd done it already in training... My lap time had dropped towards 45mins but I had survived without walking! The third lap was then a case of just running towards mental markers on the course. My main overall aim for the run was simply to keep going and not walk - well apart from the aid station - but to keep going, when my cadence dropped to run taller, lighter with short steps... The last 2-3k were a bit of a blur but I was determined to keep running... With the words of my coach in my head when it gets tough, when it gets painful, just dig in. Well I dug deep and didn't walk and was well chuffed to have completed the run in 2:13... Quite a bit outside my pb for a middle distance run, but to be honest this surpassed my expectations of where I am right now... And my pb was done in 2009 so I was a bit fitter and younger then!!
Overall I was over the moon with this race. A psychological success as well as a physical one.