Another week of very easy miles on the bike, plus a bit of swimming, seemed to revive me and I had more confidence going into this 100-mile TT, although a bit of me was doubting why I was bothering since my BBAR challenge was likely off without a 12-hour. Nevertheless, I got up for this super-early starting 100-miler and felt like I had a pretty good ride. Maybe a bit quick for the opening 40 miles, but I still had something in hand for the last tricky 8 miles of B-road back to the timekeeper. Unfortunately, right at that point I got bad cramp in my left calf and I struggled with it all the way to the finish (I’ve often had problems with cramp in long distance races, but forgot to dose up with the tonic water that usually cures it in the days before this 100). It probably cost me a 3:59 clocking, ah well. Tejvan Pettinger won it it 3:41, and there were quite a few strong performances this year so I was well down the field in 26th place. Nevertheless a good rehearsal for the National 100-mile TT in two weeks.
The week after Bala I just felt tired all the time, not my usual self at all. I struggled to get any training done and in fact had three days off, felt like I was fighting off a bug. My left achilles was still very sore which wasn’t helping my confidence at all, and I wasn’t sure whether it would stand up to being pounded for 12 hours.
Coming into the weekend I hoped I’d be fresher, but it was not to be. On Saturday I went through the usual bike prep, and filling numerous drink bottles and getting some snacks ready for the day, but as soon as I got up on Sunday morning I knew I was too tired and went back to bed. I managed an easy spin around the local lanes a bit later in the morning. It was shame, because the weather was fairly benign: overcast and not too breezy. I’m not sure I’ll have time to fit in another 12-hour TT now, there are so few on the calendar these days and those that are left clash with other things I’m planning on doing. Looks like no BBAR for 2015 for me, never mind there’s plenty of other stuff to enjoy this summer.
On reflection, I should’ve taken a very easy week after the 600k audax, as I’d just done 6 weeks solid work leading up to it, but of course, trying to tease out a bit more training for the VTTA 10 and Bala Middle Tri just pushed me over the edge. 15 years ago that wouldn’t have been a problem – I’d have soaked up the overload OK. At least I know where the limit is – it’s still pretty high.
Bala Middle was back as the UK National Age Group triathlon championships (for Middle distance, i.e. half-ironman), and as I was expecting to be able to carry over some run form from London Marathon (ha!) I thought I’d do OK. In the end that achilles ache I’d picked up a couple of weeks earlier was still bothering me and I’d barely managed more than a couple of easy jogs.
The swim was cut short from 2000m to only 1200m due to the very low temperatures in the lake, and lowering myself into the water it was breathtakingly cold, even more so than the Merchant Taylors’ Tri I’d done in 2010, up until now a byword for me for cold-water swimming. Off the start I could hardly bear to put my face in the water and was alternating 10 strokes of crawl with 10 strokes of breastroke. The pack of +40 age groupers disappeared into the distance and it wasn’t until I’d rounded the first buoy that I started to swim more normally. I made my way back through the slower swimmers on the way back to the shore, and then emerged on to the jetty, staggering about due to the extreme cold and seemingly unable to extract myself from my wetsuit. I was not alone in this – many of us were suffering.
Eventually I hauled myself out of town on my bike and, finding myself smack in the middle of the age-group pack, set about overhauling them up the climbs. I have never been worried about drafting before, I’m usually off up the road and away, but after 30 minutes I was pretty much always leapfrogging the same four or five guys. Eventually we all got caught in traffic on the way to the turnaround and found ourselves drafting the big trucks here anyway. Less than ideal racing conditions.
I picked up a bottle at the turn and then this little group seemed to split up a bit. I think they were fading where I had the motivation of keeping my power numbers even. Towards the top of the big climb on the way back to Bala we were called off the road – the race was being stopped due to an accident. We were allowed ride a bit and then walk past the scene to get back to the start. It didn’t look good, the air ambulance was parked on the road and paramedics were giving CPR to a rider.
We freewheeled back down to transition to a sombre scene. Our timing chips were removed and we didn’t really know what to do. A few guys put on their trainers and went for a jog, but I didn’t really feel like it (and anyway, my achilles would thank me for another day’s rest from running). I packed up my gear and went home, later to hear that the rider, a 40-year-old from Liverpool and a fit father of two, had died of a heart attack on the bike course [http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/tributes-daniel-cavanagh-bala-triathlon–9429538], a very sad outcome to the day’s racing.
The week after the Beast from the East 600k I hadn’t been feeling too tired – my plan to take it easy on that ride seemed to have paid off, although a couple of training runs in the week had left me with a very sore achilles. I even had time and energy for a bit of “gardening” (basically, strimming back the weeds and brambles).
This year’s VTTA championship 10 was on the superfast V718 course, up hear Hull, so I thought it’d be a good opportunity to ride it. In the end it was the most oversubscribed 10-mile TT ever, and I just scraped in by 3 seconds!
After the long drive north I didn’t have too bad a ride, all things considered (I’d also been to a work leaving do the evening before – not ideal preparation!). My achilles didn’t seem to bother me too much in the warm up and I set off at a power I thought I should be able to maintain but clearly I was still a little jaded – and perhaps I should’ve taken it a little easier in the week before – as I just didn’t seem able to raise my game over the slight drags and into a bit of a breeze on the way back to the timekeeper. 20:42 was still a 1-second beating of the time I’d entered on, registered the year before on a quick night on the F20/10, so I can’t complain too much. I was about 8 Watts down on my best 10-mile power from 2014, but I usually hit bigger numbers when it’s warmer than this. The fastest rider (Steve Irwin) did 18:40, which shows the potential of this course.
I ditched plans to ride the Reading CC 50 the next morning – it was a cold and damp Sunday ideal for pottering about at home.
So, a week after a sprint triathlon, my packed May/June schedule continues with my last Paris-Brest-Paris qualifier, the +600km Beast from the East. This event is only run once every four years, to coincide with PBP qualifying, and as I hadn’t ridden it before and it seemed like a nice route I thought I’d give it a go. It was also one of the first 600s in the 2015 calendar so riding it would mean finishing my qualifying nice and early and getting my entry completed for PBP itself in good time.
It’s a nice route, east out of Hertfordshire and across Oxfordshire, through the Salisbury Plain and down to the far turn at Taunton services on the M5. It then runs back across Wiltshire, along the A30 to Salisbury before turning back north to Maidenhead and beyond. We had a lovely hot day for the Saturday, and riding out of Waltham Abbey I was soon in familiar company. Through the first control our group split and re-formed, and knowing that I had the VTTA 10 championships the week after I wasn’t keen to push on, taking an easier route if it was there, although this got me slightly unstuck past Hungerford as my Garmin didn’t alert me to a left-hand turn and 30 minutes later I realised I was well off-course, in Pusey. I stopped at the local Post Office to see if I could get directions back on track and a woman there dug a road atlas out of the boot of her car to help me. So much for modern technology.
In the run across Salisbury Plain I got back together with the others – Anton “Spurious Vitriol” Blackie (an old friend from Oxford, since moved away), Nick “Flatlander” Jackson, Rimas “ZigZag” Grigenas and Mike Henley and we controlled together at a petrol station on the way into Warminster, glad to get out of the unaccustomed sunshine in the shade of the forecourt. I left first here, but the others didn’t take long to catch me and we rode to Taunton Services together, via the route of the Tour of Wessex sportif, packed with riders, and then later a swarm of bees (I got stung on the leg, ouch). There were also runners/walkers coming towards us along here, on a multi-day armed forces charity ultramarathon (http://www.forcesmarch.org.uk/).
Up to this point we’d had a gentle tailwind but we all noticed as we cruised to a halt in the M5 services that the wind was turning to give us a slight tailwind home. Result! After a snack and a chat, I headed out with ZigZag, up a particularly long and hard climb – tough on the legs after +300km. My Garmin was still playing up a bit with the navigation, but we soon found our way down to the main road descent, swooping along at 60km/h. It didn’t take us long to get to Yeovil and it was still relatively early in the evening. Quite a few of the later riders would be sleeping here but we were just stopping for some hot food and a few cups of tea. Anton, Mike and Nick caught up with us here but Anton and I left before them to tackle the rollercoaster A30 back to Middle Wallop via Salisbury, a long stage. Anton was going well, and I left him to get on up the road, his blinking red light disappearing in the gloom.
Around Salisbury the temperature dropped and a light drizzle started to fall, although it never amounted to much. I got to the Middle Wallop control (a tented affair, just off the car park) around midnight, stopping for hot soup and a top up of my bottles, still feeling pretty good. Phil Magnus was helping here – I’d read his account of the 2011 edition of this ride only the night before. Anton arrived a few minutes after me having stopped at a garage in Shaftesbury for a top up of his bottles. He was going to stop for a kip here but I headed back out into the gloom. I could feel my left achilles tendon was a little sore – something that was only going to get worse in the cold night air. I should’ve worn longer socks to insulate it, not something you think about when a sunny day is forecast. That was a bit of an error which would bounce back to bite me in the weeks afterwards.
I enjoyed the night riding. It was cool, but I had a gilet to keep me warm. There were some nice quiet villages to ride through, but not much wildlife. I could see the streetlights of Reading, Newbury and Maidenhead glowing in the distance and after a quick stop at the Winnersh Sainsburys to grab an ATM receipt as proof-of-passage, I was on to the stretch to Beaconsfield services, a little light coming into the sky.
My gears were acting up a bit – slipping when I stood up on the pedals – but at Beaconsfield I gave them a good look under the lights of the garage forecourt and couldn’t see anything amiss. I clearly didn’t look hard enough because at the top of a long climb somewhere near Chalfont St Giles about 10km further on my chain snapped! I’d nearly gone over the handlebars and it took me a second to collect myself – was my qualifier about to end 60km from the finish? What was I doing next weekend, could I ride another one? Don’t panic.
Fortunately my multitool has a primitive chain tool on it, which I’d never used (I also had a spare “quick link”, although I wouldn’t like to try and fit it). After a bit of brute force I managed to shorten the chain by one link and re-join it, although it wasn’t a very good repair and after another 10km I stopped again at a convenient bus stop to take out another link and get a better looking join. Despite cleaning my hands with grass they were really oily now so I rode without gloves.
I didn’t really trust this repair, so for the rest of the ride I left the front derailleur alone, chain in the small chainring, and just changed gear with the rear gears. It was a bit slower, but I got back to Waltham Abbey OK where I collected another ATM receipt just before 8am and back to my car for a couple of hours kip before checking in at the organiser’s house. I had a quick wash of my oily hands and then a drive home, my 600km qualifier in the bag.
I was looking forward to a good smash out on this hilly sprint triathlon (400m swim/ 23km bike/5km run). I had a bit of a sub-standard 25-mile TT the day before on the H25/1 when I’d got my pacing badly wrong and then my handlebars had come un-bolted with a mile go, so was looking to salvage something decent from the weekend.
We had perfect weather – sunny and cool – always a confidence booster. The swim was in the Bath University 50m pool, the first time I’ve swum in a 50m pool since I was a teenager! It was a pretty short 400m, which didn’t present too many problems, although I realised fairly early on that the wave starts were a bit random so I pushed my way to near the front of my wave to get in the pool nice and early so I didn’t have too many people to swim past.
Quickly out of the pool and on to the bike with a flying mount – every second counts in a sprint – I was soon into top gear and flying down the road. The first and last bits of the out-and-back bike course are through minor roads with quite a few junctions and mini-roundabouts, you have to be ready to stop, which can slow you a bit. I was pretty pumped up though and pressing on hard. Towards the turn there’s a massive down-and-up that you have to do twice (worse on the way back). I realised it was important to pace the climb properly, leave something in the tank for the flat run back to T2 and the run beyond. I think I just about got it right as I nabbed a couple of Strava KOMs in the last 10km, although I was a little held back in the descents by traffic queuing behind slower, more cautious riders.
Stuffing cold feet into racing flats for the run took a little longer than I’d have liked, but I was soon out of T2 and struggling up the gradients. Like the bike course, the run is up and down quite a bit of the way. It’s on grass and gravel but as we’d had no rain, easy to negotiate – good for my still slightly sensitive “broken” toe. I tried to leave a little bit for the final kilometre back to the finish but really I was all done in.
The winner passed me with 1km to go – no way could I live with his pace.
I was very happy to find I’d finished 10th overall, and first SuperVet (over 50) by a good nine minutes.
Total = 1:10:41.9
Finally, I got my resprayed/repaired TT bike frame back from Argos Cycles, so I hurriedly built it up in the week ready for this Saturday afternoon TT. I’d bought some new PDQ aerobars over the winter, so I slapped them on as best I could but in the end I don’t think the position was quite right. I still had a good ride though. I wasn’t sure how hard to go out and definitely took it a bit too easy over the first half, having plenty of energy left to really wind up the pace for the last 5 miles. It ended up being a 25-mile power PB for me, I can’t complain at that, just need to get that position sorted out