After an evening of Biblical rain the night before, I had worries about this race. It’d been relocated from St. Neots to nearby Grafham water due to flooding earlier in the week. At both locations, the transition is on grass. The forecast wasn’t good, but even if it cleared up, it was bound to be a mud-bath!
It turned out my fears were unfounded, as the weather cleared up into a lovely day, and the grass transition was absolutely fine! Yay!
I was travelling to this race with a friend, Al, which makes racing a lot more fun! I had both our bikes on the roof of my car, on what I think of as a good bike holding solution (a Thule 591, somewhat like this). But there was a clunk while driving up the A14 dual carriageway, and my bike was dangling upside-down! Argh!
We pulled over, and fortunately it was held on by a bungie cord (which I use due to having a disc wheel), and nothing much seemed wrong with it. I don’t know what happened – I assume I messed something up, but I’ll be adding some failsafes in future! Once we arrived I found that this accident had knocked the front derailleur out of line, but I was able to fix that (I normally bring a full toolset with me!)
I bumped into a triathlon friend Clinton, who was very cheerful and upbeat despite the early morning! I think this may be his personality all the time!
After registering, setting up in transition, and a bit of a panic about the toilet queues (which was resolved when I realised my parents, who’d come to watch, had a camper van with a toilet in it!), there was just a time to have a gel and get to the briefing. To be honest, I didn’t hear much of it, as there were a lot of people milling about, but I had read the instructions, and was already aware of the “foot down stop”. I just hoped nothing had changed.
I was racing in the 2nd wave (with fetching purple swim caps), starting 5 minutes after the 1st (red caps – they just weren’t as stylish). They got in the water, and as soon as they started, we started to get into the water. The temperature was apparently 13.7 degrees C. That seemed like it might be cold to me. I wasn’t sure if it was a great idea, but put on a neoprene swim cap under my purple race cap. This did mean I avoided ‘ice cream’ head when getting into the water, but I was concerned with overheating later on. Given that the air temperature was 8 degress C, I’d also put on a compression top under my tri-suit.
I had a cunning plan to draft Al on the swim, as he’s a better swimmer than I am (I assume this is to do with being Australian, rather than anything to do with skill…). Al had a plan to start at the back to avoid the madness of the mass start, and hopefully avoid any swimming panic attacks (which we’ve both had in the past). So, when the hooter went, I immediately lost Al, and then we both had to swim to the start line (which may have taken 20 seconds?), and then through a load of slower swimmers.
Photo credit to NiceTri events.
The course was a rectangular affair, anticlockwise in what surprisingly turned out to be pretty clear, pleasant water! After the first buoy, we headed into deeper water and it got a bit more exposed. There was some chop, so I had to stop breathing on my preferred side (right) and switch. Fortunately I don’t care that much, so this wasn’t too much of an inconvenience. I did get a little tight chested, but managed to calm myself down without noticeably slowing. Win!
I was on the lookout for feet to follow. I found some, and thought I might settle into this swim! Just at that point, there was a bit of chaos as we approached the next bouy, and new feet to follow appeared, but I promptly had to go round them as they weren’t moving very fast. Uh oh, we were catching ‘red hats’. Coming round the bouy, I found myself on my own with no-one to draft. But after a while I noticed some swimmers about 10 meters off to my right. I decided to change course in order to get over to them. Which I did, managing to get there just behind the last person, who had a fetching pink band around the ankles of their wetsuit.
I followed these feet for most of the rest of the race, occasionally touching them when he slowed to go around red hats. I hoped I wasn’t irritating him too much! After coming around the last bouy, I decided I might be able to go round him, so had a go. I pulled level, and then didn’t get much further ahead – I guess the drafting had been working then! Looking over, I suddenly recognised that it was Al! I had been following my plan, after all!
We came out of the swim side by side, which was great.
Photo credit to NiceTri events.
I’m the much smaller one, although it’s not that obvious from this picture. He’s about 2 feet taller than me…
I don’t have a watch on for this, but from other people’s it looks like it was a full 1500m with a 30m run to the timing matt. I think this means I did the swim in 24 minutes, which was good for me! I think that was slightly over 79th out of 500ish.
I hossed into transition. I’d decided I didn’t fancy running without socks, so since I was going to put them on, I did this before the bike so I’d have the comfort there too. Unlike the pool based, non-wetsuit Saffron Walden triathlon, I was able to already have my calve guards on. I also had my numberbelt on under my wetsuit.
After a reasonable transition (I got my wetsuit off without sitting!) I got out on the bike. Jumping on it like a flying squirrel, I got my right foot on my shoe, then was soo excited I started pedalling before getting my left foot on. Doh. I had to slow down and get both feet on again. I got up to speed, got my right foot in, then had to faff with the left as the Velcro tab was now tightly attached having been pressed into the floor by my messed up mounting. Still, I got going and started overtaking!
There was a short sharp downhill, which got a lot of speed up before some corners, so I had to be a bit careful, especially while overtaking. The course went out for a few km, did a little loop, then headed back. At this point I got caught behind cars which were caught behind slower cyclists a couple of times. I don’t think I lost a lot of time, and tried to take it as an opportunity for a short break.
Before long I was back at the steep hill. On hills I try to up the watts, but limit it to something like 10% extra. But on something this sharp I wasn’t looking at the figures – just down into the easiest gear and then grind up it! I was overtaken by two people at this point. That doesn’t normally happen! I got to the top and then overtook them back within about 15 seconds. Ha!
I enjoyed most of the cycle. I managed the foot down stop without any incidents, and the rolling hills gave way to a fast section towards the second turn around point. I didn’t see all, but shouted out to Clinton at one point. I worked my way through enough of the field (including the red hat wave) that I was about 60 people back from the leader by the second turn around. I did wish I was racing in the first wave, as it’s nice to see who you’re racing!
There was a hill on the way back where I closed up on a big group, but they got to the top and dissapeared. I spent the rest of the race wondering if I’d catch them – which I did just coming towards the end. The course was slightly short (38km?) – if it’d been full lenght I would have passed them, but as it was I was about halfway through by the end of the bike section.
Photo credit to NiceTri events.
I’d come 2nd on the bike second, 15 seconds down on the fastest. I’d moved up to 12th position by time overall by this point.
I got off the bike with no trauma, managed a fast transition, including picking up a gel, and was off.
Although… running off of the bike is odd, and not helped by the fact that I haven’t done any ‘brick’ training, where you focus on doing this. The first part of the course is out and back over a damn, so is nice and flat, and had a beautiful view down over a flower filled meadow, where you could see the top half of people whizzing by on the bike leg! I, however, was being repeatedly passed by other athletes. I did think that this was going to feel like a looooong run. I thought I must be going very slowly, but was seeing 3:40 to 3:50 per km on my watch. Given my recent leg problems, I was aiming at 4:00km pace, so it was worrying to be being passed so easily!
Fortunately the others seemed to slow down, and running bacame to feel more normal to me, so I stopped losing places, except to the occasional good runner that came past. None of my injuries seemed to be flaring up, although my calves began to feel tight at about 5km in, and I was beginning to feel pretty hot in my compression top/tri suit combo.
The second part of the course goes round the lake and involves lots of short gentle hills up and down. None felt too taxing, but they certainly mad it hard to keep the pace constant or fast! I was doing a fair amount of watch watching hoping to get under 40 minutes for the 10km, and also, since there was another out and back section, number watching trying to work out who was in my age group.
This was a qualifier for the International Triathlon Uninion World Championship races in 2018 and 2019 – top 4 from each age group qualify. I wasn’t interested in the 2018 race (as it’s too far away – in Australia), but the 2019 in Switzerland I wanted to go to! The age groups around mine (40-44) all had a lot of people in them, around 50 I think, so it’s not easy. I didn’t know what the numbers were for people in my age group, and to add to that, you also need to look at the younger age group (which for me, happened to be racing in the previous wave) as if anyone goes up an age group by the next year, you’re competiting against them for the qualification slot.
Anyway, looking at their numbers really didn’t help, as I hadn’t worked out what range my age group was. So I was left with guessing from how fast people were moving, and how old they looked! By the time I’d got to the turn around, I’d convinced myself I must be in about 20th place in my age group (ignoring the fact that anyone younger had a 5 minute headstart, but I was slightly oxygen starved by this point!), so I focussed on trying to hit the 40 minute 10km run. I thought I was going to make it coming to the last km, as I had over 4 minutes left. However, I forgot that there was more up than down in that section!
I got to the finish in just over 40 minutes, to be greeted by a) (alcohol free) beer. Yay Erdinger Alkoholfrei! and b) my parents. Ace!
Photo credit to NiceTri events.
That was a PB on the run (I haven’t done a 10km fast since I’ve been doing triathlon’s but a 2 minute PB is nice!)
I got my result printed out. 2nd in age group! 20th overall! Woop! I guess my counting of opponents wasn’t up to much. 2 minutes behind the winner of the age group in 2 hours 2 minutes 41 seconds.
Unfortunately, there were 5 athletes in the younger age group that were faster, and it turns out 3 of them are going up an age group! As a result, I’ll have to wait and find out if I get a ‘roll down’ spot (which is done by how close you were to the winner of your age group, so at 1.5% behind, I should get in).
All in all I’d had a fantastic time. The race organisation was very very good. I think NiceTri have been doing this for a while and have a very smooth process in place! The weather turned out nice, the company was good, and I didn’t break myself!