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Race Report

Race Report – Etonman Middle Distance

So, I did it. My second ever triathlon, first Half-Iron distance race; and for once I managed to actually complete my year beginning goals. Which gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling in my rather sore body this morning. I took the day off work following the race, so I’ve got the chance to recover a bit – and eat whatever I damn well want, since I burned something like 3.4 million calories yesterday. The morning after damage report is actually not too bad all things considered; stiff shoulders and neck, a little bit sore in the legs, and some tasty, tasty sunburn from the run. But other than that – all things are functional.

Without further a-due, here is the race report:

Pre-Race
Woke at 4:30am, with the first of my ‘why did I think this was a good idea’ thoughts of the day. There were a few of these, particularly during the run. Managed to cram everything into the car though, and drove the 40 minutes or so in the dark out to Eton Dorney – tinged with nervousness, particularly about the swim. Once I got there, I got registered, picked up timing chip, number and swim cap and then headed back to the car to unload in transition and try to relax a bit. It was roughly at this stage that I was reminded of one of my favourite sporting groups – the VSTs with their VEBs. ‘Very Serious Triathletes’ with ‘Very Expensive Bikes’ were in number; making me feel a little inadequate wandering about with my £300 Boardman with clip on bars. I think for most people, their wetsuits were more expensive than my bike. I did get down to transition though, and started laying stuff out in a semi-logical manner in case I came out of the swim disoriented, which is frankly what I was expecting. Managed to squeeze in a quick chat with the fella next to me, who asked me whether all of these kinds of events were so serious (it was his first triathlon). I replied the only way I knew how – ‘mate, I’ll be the one halfway through the bike with a beer in one hand, and a fag in the other, asking passers by if they think a carbon cigarette would be aerodynamic’. That is the first, and hopefully only, triathlon joke I ever vocalise.

By this stage, mercifully, it was time for the race brief, which I spent most of which ignoring as I had already put my ear plugs in, and I was praying to the various gods that they would prevent my motion sickness.

Swim (46:17, 82nd out of 106 out of the water, 4:37 slower than the average time)
First thing I noticed about the swim – the water was not that cold. It was actually pleasantly warm. I was so nervous though, that I don’t think it would have mattered. The horn to start went off fairly quickly, and I settled into a consistent stroke early on – avoiding the washing machine effect of the front of the pack. I still managed to cop a kick to the chest, and a couple of karate chops to the head, but all told I was ok. Most importantly though – no motion sickness. None at all. I think I may have been the only swimmer in the group who was smiling while he was going about the course. It was the best swim I think I’ve ever had – it was brilliant. Thanks to the clear water and rowing lane markings, I was able to swim the shortest line around most of the course, which had the added benefit of giving me something to focus on while swimming. I didn’t stop, I just ploughed through the swim, which led to some aching shoulders towards the end – but all in all, I could not have asked for more. I yelled out upon leaving the water “I’m not last!”, which was not the most sportsmanlike thing I’ve ever done. I was so ecstatic at getting through that leg though – I spent all of transition 1 with a grin on my face. Had a quick chat to the guys around me, and then hopped on my bike for 90kms of pedalling.

Bike (3:24:03, 93rd off the bike, 19:37 slower than the average time)
Grinning from ear to ear, I set off for 10 laps of a 9km loop around the lake, which would rapidly become immensely boring. I was so excited to be on my bike though, that I didn’t care – in fact I went out too fast on the bike in retrospect, and by lap 4 (about 36km) I was flagging a bit. An energy gel later though, and I was back to being a happy cyclist. I realised at this point however that my GPS watch wasn’t giving me speed or split data, so it was effectively useless to me as a tool. This was disappointing, because I could only measure required effort by feel – rather than by data. The course was nice and smooth, which was helpful, and there were some very minor rises due to bridges over water; but the biggest impediment was the wind off the lake. It was about 10 miles per hour, which is hardly Kona-esque, but for little me it was mildly problematic. I just put my head down though and pedalled as hard as I could, trying to monitor my legs for over-fatigue that could cause trouble on the run. I took on gels around once every 2 laps or so, and drank water from time to time – but probably not enough. In the end, it was not the bike performance I had hoped for – but then again, I had only covered the distance twice before, so its hardly surprising. The last two laps were particularly hard, as the effort began to take its toll – my neck and shoulders were fatigued from spending time bent down on the tri bars (looking up straining my neck) and I was just looking forward to not having to cycle any more. I entered T2 probably about 10 minutes slower than I had hoped, knowing that the chances of me running a 2 hour half-marathon were slim-to-none.

Run (2:21:49, 89th overall, 20:05 slower than the average time)
I had a quick stretch in the transition area, particularly looking after my quadriceps which had taken a battering during the bike. The benefit of having a well-fitted, triathlon-specific bike is that it is designed to take the strain off your running muscles. I didn’t have that.

I started off nicely though, felt comfortable in my pacing, though again, I had no real measure of how I was doing as I didn’t have watch data. I had to extrapolate out split timings in my head to work out how I was doing. This probably wasn’t such a bad thing – the rudimentary mathematics I was doing in my head was taking away from thinking about the pain in my legs, hips and back. I knew I wanted to try and finish in around 6:30, but that it was unlikely.

After the first 5km, I asked a fellow triathlete whether or not it was a 3 lap course or not. Disappointingly he told me it was 4 laps – quite crushing to hear I had an extra lap to do! When I looked at my watch though, it made sense; it was unlikely I had just run close to a personal best time for around 7km in the state I was in. So I kept plodding on, taking on water and sweets at the turn around points, and trying my absolute best not to stop plodding. Once you stop, it’s so hard to get going again – so that was my aim.
I definitely hit a wall with 10km to go though; things started to get a bit blurry in the vision and the legs were screaming a bit more. I didn’t feel I had to walk or stop, but it was just getting tough. I was ticking over though, focusing on chasing down people who were walking – I didn’t want to let them beat me. And it was in the last 5km that I really picked back some of the places that I had lost early in the run, as well as those I had lost on the bike. I think I passed about 5 or 6 people on that last lap alone, really feeling good for a middle portion of the last 5km, before crashing over the finishing line and remarking to myself ‘just existing at the moment hurts’. I was handed my medal, shirt and Gatorade, and promptly lay on the ground and laughed to myself. I had made it.

Times:
Swim – 46:17
T1 – 5:36
Bike – 3:24:03
T2 – 3:42
Run – 2:21:49
Overall – 6:41:27

Post Race
So what did I learn? Well, as I have suspected all along – swimming is actually my strongest sport when I’m not vomiting from motion sickness. I want to expand on that over the winter, and I’ve bought paddles to help with that. The run off the bike is the biggest area to work on I think. So cycling speed in the aero position, leading into short brick runs will be a focus as well. The ear plugs worked, thankfully – and I think ginger extract helped with the stomach as well. If I can find some money somewhere (possibly through the ‘Cycle to Work scheme’), an absolute bottom end triathlon bike would be ideal, particularly if I am going to keep doing these things. And I am. I loved the race on Sunday, and I am super proud of myself today. I just had a great time, even when I was suffering in the back ends of the bike and run. I’m going to take a couple of weeks to relax a bit; I’m heading to Brussels for a well deserved holiday in a couple of weekends, and then…well…when is the next race??

Listened To: ‘Can’t Hold Us’ by Macklemore, and I was also singing to myself the theme song from ‘Katie Morag’. Yes, it was that kind of day.

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