English national age group Olympic distance triathlon champs 2:13:33

This year, NiceTri were hosting the English “standard” distance triathlon championships and as St Neots wasn’t too far away it seemed like a good way to open my account for the year and maybe a bit of a warm up for the national middle distance (½ ironman) champs a couple of weeks later.

The event got moved to Grafham water due to the original venue’s field being flooded, so it was even more like a warm up for the later championships, as that would be at Grafham too. I wasn’t taking this too seriously, it’s not really my distance, but was quietly confident I could manage to finish well into the top-10 in my age group. I raced the Cambridge Urban orienteering sprints the day before, but hoped that those two short 15-minute races wouldn’t take too much out of my legs – in the end I rather made a mess of those races, mis-punching in the second one and recording a DNF.

The weather was at least nice and sunny if a little cool, and we were warned that the lake would be rather cold (around 13°C). I decided to get some race experience in my new BlueSeventy Helix wetsuit. I’ve had it a year but never raced in it as I’ve found it quite tricky to get out of fast in transition – this proved to be a bit of a mistake.

StNeots_SetUp

Swim
Into the water as the last of four wave starts with the old gits, and the water was cold but not perhaps as bad as Lake Bala. I got my head under as much as possible to try to get as used to it before the start. We didn’t hang about long and were soon off, chasing after the other athletes. I didn’t feel that I was swimming too badly, there was a little group of green-hat veterans with me, but when I came out of the water I could see 24-something on my watch so I knew I’d not had a good swim (unless it was a ‘long’ swim, of course).

T1
I stripped off the top of my suit and jogged into transition and could see that there were already quite a few M50 bikes gone, and as I struggled to get out of my super-flexible wetsuit with numb hands, more bikers were leaving. Every time I grabbed a bit of suit it would snap back, and eventually I managed to stamp the last of it off my feet and head out on the bike. Even getting out on to the road I made a bit of an error with the straps on my bike shoes and had to make a brief stop to sort it out – more time lost.

Bike
I was now well down the field, and chasing hard through the earlier-starting waves, but sort of knew that the game was up. There were some large crowds of slower riders to blast past, and I didn’t use the tribars much in the first 10 or 15 minutes until I was clear of them. Coming up to the turn I could already see Peter Younghusband, the likely M50 winner, powering back towards me so I settled into gaining as many places as I could. The bike course was only 37km, so not much riding for me to make up time in my strongest discipline.

T2
The roads were a bit quieter on the way into transition and I didn’t make too bad a job of the swap to running shoes, just stopping to make sure I had some padding for my “broken” toe.

Run
I ran the first few km at around 4:15/km pace, but it felt a bit quick and I could already see many M50 numbers coming towards me from the first turn so I parked my effort at something a bit more comfortable, hoping to lift it for the final 10 minutes to the line but in the end I came down with a touch of stomach cramp and it was all I could do to jog/walk into the finish, well down on my expectations with 16th in M50.

Swim 1450m/24:59 (14th M50)
T1: 2:37
Bike 37km/59:53 (8th M50 bike split)
T2: 1:01
Run 10km/45:00 (19th)

Total 2:13:33, 126th M overall, 16th M50
(full results link HERE)

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Lake 62 End of season triathlon, 7th (1st M50)

A nice little ‘Olympic’ distance triathlon for the end of the season I spotted not too far away, in the Cotswold Water Park. I realised I’ve not raced over this distance for three years, although at just over 2 hours it should lie in the best range of my endurance.

Despite a decent week’s training the weather had got distinctly autumnal and I’d managed to put on another kilo as a result, not ideal but I knew I still had good fitness. Indeed, my old BlueSeventy Synergie wetsuit was a bit of a tight fit this morning but it didn’t seem to hold me back as I had a decent swim: after a quick sprint off the line I settled into a good rhythm and apart from a slight pause at the second buoy to clear my misted goggles I really enjoyed it. The leader of my wave (I was in the first of four waves) was miles ahead but I don’t think I was more than 5th or 6th out of the water, a good start.

After a bit of a struggle with cold hands to get my wetsuit off I was quickly out on the bike and reeling in the early leaders. Not too many on the road just yet, so I was able to ride my own race, the way I like it. Coming in around the second lap, the next wave of triathletes were just emerging on to the road. I had about 10 minutes of overtaking them and then another lap mostly on my own. With 5km to go I downed my one and only gel, although I was feeling little “full”, maybe from drinking too much of my bidon on a cool morning.

I stopped in T2 to put on socks – a little insurance for my broken toe – and was soon out on the run. The leader of my wave was already coming around to complete his first run lap, minutes ahead. We had six laps to do, and the guy I’d caught at about 30km into the bike was already past me at the end of lap one. A bit frustrating, but I just had to keep plugging away. At the end of my first lap there were still only four bikes in transition, all good. Looking at my Garmin I thought my run pace was a bit slow, but it was a tight, rough twisty path and all the run times were a bit down. It was good though to have been in the first wave here, as we didn’t have too many runners to overtake each lap. Finally my six laps were up and I could head for the finish. I had a moment of doubt as I’d managed to accidentally pause my Garmin for about 30 secs coming out of T2 and wasn’t sure I’d done quite the right distance, but I hadn’t lost count of those laps!

Quite a nice little event. There were even a couple of newly-weds from Cheltenham Tri doing the event as a relay – the bride ran her laps holding a wedding bouquet from the day before (I’m guessing the wedding breakfast was a relatively sober affair!). The club was having a BBQ at the end of the race which added quite a bit to the atmosphere.  After collecting my M50 award I headed home and a chill on the sofa with the Sunday paper.

Swim 1600m/23:59 (no need for my own splits as the timing mats were well placed)
T1/01:33
Cycle 41km/1:05:26 (37.6 km/h)
T2/01:20
Run 9km/40:12 (4:28 min/km) = Total 2:12:29, 7th overall and first M50 [Results]

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Oxford Tri sprint, 4th (1st M50)

Time to test my fitness with a little local sprint triathlon. Last time I did this one, I was coming off the back of a season’s racing my trike and we had good weather. I was 4th that day,  would I be as fast this time? I was still dropping off to sleep at a moment’s notice, but when I decided to put a bit more effort in on the bike I could feel there was some real power there. No achilles problems after returning from Paris either, so I’d managed three steady runs.

The day dawned wet, and looked set to remain that way so I drove over to Radley College rather than riding. No point in suffering. Being one of the faster swimmers I was off in nearly the last wave, and had a pretty good swim – just 400m in the pool – first out of the water from my wave start, although one other guy passed me in transition while I faffed with a gilet.

The roads were soaked, so every corner had to be taken fairly carefully, no point in any heroics. The first part of the bike course is lumpy and there’s a lot of time to be made up by going hard here I think, so I was soon past the guy from my wave and hammering up over Boars Hill. After the descent that follows it’s more steady, although there are quite a few junctions which you’ve got to jump out of to get your speed back up. Coming back to T2 I eased off a bit for the final 5 minutes and then cruised to the dismount line.

We had a lengthy run across the tarmac transition area here, and barefoot it wasn’t good for the toe I broke this time last year. I faffed about taking my gilet off and squeezing wet feet into wet running shoes but straight away in the run I knew I’d damaged it a bit. This wasn’t so bad on the bits of the run course that were grassy, but there was a lengthy section of footpath, and on the second lap it was really getting sore. I still managed to wind up my pace for the finish – sub 4 minutes for the last kilometre – but the toe was a bit of a worry.

It was good to catch up with the local Oxford Tri folk and see how everyone’s season had gone. After I’d packed my bike away and got changed, I wandered back to the school hall to see how I’d done and was just in time for the prize presentation and to collect a little cup for my win in the M50 age group. Although I was about 5 minutes slower than 2012, the run course was a bit longer (and I was slower) and the bike being wet had slowed that down too, as well as faffing about with a gilet for the bike. Despite the wet it had been a nice little event; friendly faces and some good cakes. Only my sore toe was a bit of a worry.

“SuperVets” claim their prizes

As well as a medal, there were some nice things from Secret training in my prize bag – a gel, some balms, wipes, and sort of sports-flannel.

Cup+medal

Swim 400m/6:31 (Official timing in brackets 7:05)
T1/01:53 (0:56)
Cycle 22½km/37:14 (36.2 km/h) (37:50)
T2/01:22 (1:00)
Run 5.3km/22:42 (4:14 min/km) (22:42) = Total 1:09:49, 4th overall and first M50 [Results]

Grafman Middle distance (and English championship) triathlon

My achilles wasn’t feeling too bad and I’d managed a couple of 10km jogs, although my calves were generally a bit tight after the previous weekend’s ECCA 100. I was confident of a decent-ish result at the Grafman, but probably not an age group win, especially as Roger Canham was on the start sheet. Assembling my kit before the start, I heard he’d dropped out with illness, so that sort of threw the over-50 age group wide open.

We had a nice two-lap swim, with an “Australian exit” after lap one, something I’d never done before (you run out of the water, around a turn, and then back in for lap two). The water was a reasonable temperature so I had none of the problems I’d had at Bala and managed to get out of T1 fairly high up in my start wave. From then on it was just a question of putting as much time into my rivals as I could on the bike, knowing my running was going to be compromised.

I'm in the white hat on the left

I’m in the white hat on the right

I really laid down some power over the first 20 minutes to get clear of the packs and then settled down to work at my own pace. It rained quite a bit on the second lap of the bike course, but I was still putting time into the chasers. At each turnaround I could see groups of 10 or 15 riders together – there were sure to be some fresh legs cruising along at the back of those, waiting to take me down on the run. I didn’t see any draft-busters either which would’ve been handy on such a fast, flat, bike course.

Working hard in the first 20-minute out-and-back of the bike course

Working hard in the first 20-minute out-and-back of the bike course

Running into T2

Running into T2

After turning off the main loop we had a few lumps and bumps to negotiate and then I was into T2, the announcer calling me out as first over-50. I reckon I had about a 2 or 3 minute lead over the next guy in my age group at this point. I quickly settled into a steady plod, never seeming to be able to lift the pace at all. At least the rain was easing off. I got run down by the first over-50 (they were easy to spot with high race numbers) after about 5km, and I could see two or three more going after me. Only 16km to go…

I enjoyed the run course – quite varied, if not the fastest, and you went past the start/finish pretty regularly. With about 1km to go I was passed by the next guy in my age group and I was powerless to resist his challenge. The lack of run miles was telling and it was all I could do to plod to the line, happy to get my bronze medal and a cold pint of Erdinger alkoholfrei.

Grafman_finish GrafmanMedal

Result: 4:37:11/51st, 3rd M50 [results PDF]

Swim 1900m/30:23
T1 1:50
Bike 88km/2:21:54
T2 2:04
Run 21km/1:41:02
(splits taken from my Garmin 910XT – there was quite a long run into T2 that the official timing mats missed)

Bala Middle Distance triathlon

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.

Bath Sprint Triathlon – 10th (1st M50)

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.

Final sprint to the line

Final sprint to the line

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.

Receiving my award for 1st Supervet

Receiving my award for 1st Supervet

[Results: DBmax]

Swim 400m/6:50.2
T1 0:49.3
Cycle 21km/39:26.9
T2 0:52.3
Run 5km/22:43.0

Total = 1:10:41.9

Cotswold 226 Iron-distance. 9:44:16

Here we go then. Another 3am alarm call to stuff down some toast and a large espresso. Why do I put myself through this? I’d spent a nervous previous day watching weather forecasts and preparing wheelsets to cope with any eventuality but somehow managed a few hours’ sleep, a more common occurrence for me before a big event these days, maybe I’m finally getting a bit more relaxed about early morning starts. Decided to pack a jacket and gloves in T1 and stick my “training wheels” on the TT bike, with more robust tyres (and, as a plus, they don’t fill with water like my fancy HEDs).

Training hadn’t gone too badly. After London Marathon in April I’d been going OK but then two weeks before the English half-iron champs at Grafman I’d picked up an achilles strain which meant I missed that race and was a on bit of a downer. A couple of fast cycling TTs at 50 and 100 miles resulted while I laid off the running. I said to myself that if I could get back to a decent 13 mile run before this race then I was going to give it a shot. In the end I got back into my running although my achilles was as creaky as anything. The not-forgotten miles from London training brought some pep into my stride, at least. I managed a couple of 16-milers; not super, but enough to convince me I’d get round.

The rain hadn’t quite arrived as we racked our bikes. I could see Chris Goodfellow racking a few places up from me and saw he’d not made any concessions to the wet forecast – no spare bike clothes and his best carbon race wheels. After a quick race briefing we were in the water. I got “warmed up” and then swam over to the right-hand end of the start line for the shortest line out around the lake to the first buoy.

Swim

With only 190 people in the race, there was minimal biff off the start and I soon found a bit of space to sight the first dinghy we were swimming round (although without a few other feet to follow I think I might’ve got a bit lost on the turns of that first swim lap – maybe previous experience of a Cotswold113 event would’ve helped here). We quickly thinned out and I found myself in a group of four or so – Chris G and a few fast relay swimmers were out of sight.

I think I took the swim pretty easy but still managed to get a bit of cramp in a calf with the landing ramp in sight which just dropped me off the back of the group I’d been with. It was just starting to spot with rain, so I continued with my plan of putting a spring-weight jacket and some gloves on in T1. I have terrible circulation so although this carries a small time penalty and an aero-deficit, I knew it’d be worth it for my own comfort. Despite the faffing, I caught three riders within the first 10 miles of the bike ride, so I guess it didn’t cost me too much and I figured I must be well inside the top 10.

Bike

Most of the ride was on my own. I was riding along, aware that maybe I was putting out a bit too much power but actually not feeling too bad with it – I felt like I needed to work hard just to stay warm. The rain was really hammering down and there were some massive floods to ride through in the dips. I found myself laughing at the absurdity of it all at times. Nathan Blake passed me, riding back up the drag to Malmesbury at around 40 miles. He was going easily, spinning a big gear, and there was no way I was going to follow him. Shortly after, I caught and passed a woman riding for a relay team. The rain eased up along here and I started to actually warm up for a bit, but it was a short respite before storms returned on the second bike lap.

Out of Tetbury and up the drags through Didmarton I could see some riders ahead. They looked too close together to be triathletes (non-drafting race, remember?), but who else would be out in such foul weather? Eventually I caught and passed the tail-gunner of the group coming into Badminton, and then made a bit of an effort to close up to the other three. It was clear they were riding strongly although trying to keep apart. We had a bit of a comedy moment at the feed station in Sherston – the marshalls hiding from the downpour in a tent and then rushing out to pass us bottles stacked on the trestle tables. With 85 miles in my legs I didn’t have the strength to make a clean pass on this group (as Nathan must’ve done earlier), so I sat off the back reminding myself I had a marathon to run yet, ate the last of my flapjacks which had formed a nice mush in the bottom of my bento box, and a cereal bar I’d remember to tuck into the pocket of my jacket. Just after Malmesbury one of the three tailed off and I was able to jump past him as the rain bounced down and thunder bellowed from the skies, and slowly reel in the other two with a bit more effort. I had no idea what places we were racing for but I guessed top-10 at least. My fingers were quite numb and I was worried I’d not be able to tie my laces for the run.

Just as we got to Ashton Keynes we caught another rider but he had a high number so I guessed he was also a relay rider. I never quite made it back to the leading twosome, but I was very close to them coming into T2. I took off my gloves in the cruise back to transition revealing white, maybe dead fingers, oh no! Hope I’ll cope OK. And then I was out of my shoes and jogging to my run kit. There weren’t many bikes racked – maybe only four. Where was Chris G’s? It should’ve been a couple of places up from mine. The relay rider, having passed his chip on, was only too pleased to chat as I ditched my soggy bike jacket and tied my trainers – apparently he’d seen Chris at the side of the road with a puncture.

Run

Out of T2 and the girl passing-up gels at the exit shouted “5th” at me as I jogged by. “Cool,” I thought, “at least one of those is a relay runner”. I had a touch of washing-machine belly from the drink on the bike and as soon as I passed some bushes at the side of the lake, stopped for a pee. It just went on and on – evidently I’d drunk enough! Once I got going again I was soon reeling in the runner ahead, and passed him comfortably exchanging “good run” wishes as we crossed although the guy behind in a blue trisuit seemed to be catching me quickly. No matter, previous ironman experience meant I knew I had to set a comfortable pace and ignore those around me – the real racing wouldn’t happen until 10 miles to go. Looking at my watch I had about 3h35 to run to get under the magic 10-hour mark. It seemed doable if I kept my head.

Sure enough, the guy behind dropped away after 15 minutes and then it was just a question of counting those ahead as they ran back from the first turn-around and it was quickly apparent I was 4th, although one of those was a relay runner (in speedos!). Nathan had biked himself into the lead and the guy in 2nd was looking strong so my only concern was whether I was going to get caught. I just plugged away at around 8-minute mile pace and just concentrated on doing a good job of the run. Nice smooth stride, rocking the arms, head up. I passed 10km in around 51-something, no miraculous 3:26 Roth-style marathon run was coming here. A gel every half lap, washed down with some water or coke (at a walk). The week before I’d warned the president of my cycling club that the run turn would be practically outside the end of his street, and sure enough he was there to cheer me on. That was a bit of a lift, I think he was very impressed to see me up with the leaders.

The sun came out, and after a lap or so it was obvious that a smallish guy in a black trisuit was hunting me down. I wasn’t sure whether he was on the same run lap as me but it seemed likely – he had quite a few lap bands on his wrist, just like I did. A small tendon in one of the toes in my right foot was starting to hurt so I had to adjust my stride a bit – more heel striking than on my midfoot – not so comfortable. The wind got up and made the run to the far turn hard. But it was the same for everyone so I just made the best of it I could, although the wheels started to fall off my effort coming into the last lap and I just could not get my stride together (as an ex-rower I feel that form is everything – if you can keep that then everything else follows).

Cotswold226_1

Just about to turn around for the final lap (Photo thanks to Keith and Jenny Williams. More photos here: Flickr)

Into the last lap and I knew the guy behind was maybe only a minute behind me now. No more walk breaks, just keep moving, and a podium was in sight. Surely he must be getting as tired as me? Thankfully he was and although I only managed a jog up the finishing straight with arms half-raised he was still 23 seconds behind when I crossed the line.

Aftermath

It took me some minutes to get back to reality and realise that a few weeks after my 50th birthday I’d come third in an iron-distance triathlon. My cycling club president was keen to have a chat and get me some water and a few photos were taken, which was a welcome distraction while I came to my senses. I’d not had the presence of mind to pack a dry bag for transportation to the finish, so had to wait until I got back to my car for a change of kit but to be honest I was beyond caring. I was quite happy to sit and sip water. Eventually I managed to drag myself over to the waiting minibus transit and get a ride back to the start and my car, and bike, and then a steady hour’s drive home for a beer and a pie.

Massive, massive thanks to Graeme and the 113 crew who put on a great event, and to the marshals who stood out on the course in some quite frankly ridiculous weather. I tried to thank everyone as I rode round.

Race splits:
Swim 59:42
T1 3:38
Bike 5:17:08
T2 2:49
Run 3:20:59 (run short at 24.2 miles)

Total 9:44:16.6, 3rd overall, 1st +50 vet (full results here: DBmax)

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What next?

Obviously with splits like that, a few people have pointed out I would be fairly certain of an IM Kona slot in the M50 age group – that would be quite a dream. However getting to Kona seems to cost most people something around the £5k mark – burning up a lot of my savings, scary (but then, what are savings for? *evil grin*). IM Frankfurt would be a good place to start (they have five M50 slots, so that would leave a bit of breathing space in case, say, I punctured on the bike or had a meltdown on the run), but it’s sold out for 2015. There are still places left at IM UK 2015, but there they only have three M50 slots, and the first one will certainly go to Roger Canham, who’s a much better runner than me (although marginally slower in the swim and bike). Next year’s IM UK is likely to clash with the Mersey 24-hour, which is always good prep for Paris-Brest-Paris.

Complicating things is that I’m likely to be made redundant in February next year, that’s tricky and I ought not to be too distracted from finding gainful re-employment. 2015 is, of course, a Paris-Brest-Paris year, and I loved that last time around so ought to make the effort to do it again, meaning it’s likely I’ll do a low-key iron-distance race in the summer of 2015 (Forestman?) and then go for the whole M-dot ironman championships thing in 2016, and try to get a Kona slot for when I’m 52. I’ve just got to hope I don’t slow down too much in the next two years!

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