How do you describe the perfect race?
24 hours ago I was pacing nervously around the Excel centre, The Lady almost as nervously watching me wriggle into my wetsuit as I faffed (its a real word) around with energy wafers, ginger root pills and baby oil. Nerves had begun building on Saturday morning, and by the time Sunday afternoon had rolled around, I was expending serious energy on nerves and aforementioned faff. We got to the Excel nice and early – and by that, I mean around 3 hours before race start! What can I say, I’m an anxious racer. The Lady and I grabbed some lunch and watched some of the other people about; the London Triathlon is the world’s largest, so there was plenty to look at. I was pre-occupied with some of the lovely looking bikes that people were wandering about with, of which there were plenty as the elite race had taken place when we arrived.
I racked my bike at first opportunity, and The Lady and I took a look around the expo; I was desperately looking for an opportunity for someone to take my money but couldn’t find one thankfully. I toyed with the idea of buying another tri-top, but the fact that all three I have bought so far ride up over my stomach when I run put me off. So instead we did a bit of a reconnaissance of the swim, cycle and run courses to find good places for The Lady to watch from. It also gave us an opportunity to take stock of how hot it was and what that would mean for the race.
I had come in to the weekend with two main goals; my absolute goal was to better the 3:16 that I had done in 2012. If I couldn’t be faster than I was 3 years ago, with so much more training behind me – weather irrelevant – that would be disappointing. My secondary goal was to go under 3 hours, which as I understand it is a bit of a benchmark for a semi-decent Olympic distance tri. I decided with the weather that I would aim for 3:16, but if I couldn’t make sub-3 hours I wouldn’t bust myself trying. So I headed to the swim, grabbed my pink swimcap (!), nervously kissed The Lady goodbye, and took a dip in the Thames.
As always, I wanted to survive the swim as a means to getting to the bike. I had felt a bit ill the week before when I went for a practice swim at the Serpentine, so I was expecting not to feel great out of the water if I got that far. My goal though was to just swim at my own pace, not go out too fast, and get through the leg. I hovered around the mid-back of the pack for the starting horn, and once the race started, did a good job of sticking to an easy enough rhythm. I struggled a bit for visibility, and by that I mean, I had no idea where I was going the vast majority of the time. I was getting some water into my goggles, which was more uncomfortable than problematic, so I just persisted through it. I also copped the usual bashes around the head and legs, which is typical for an open water race swim – but for once it was more me swimming over people, rather than them swimming over me. It was at that stage that I felt like something might be up. I didn’t really start to feel tired with the swim until there were probably around 300m remaining of the 1500m leg; which bodes well for future swims. The wetsuit felt great, and generally the swim went as well as I could have expected. I exited the water, and looked at my watch to see that I had gone out in 32:53; 3 minutes faster than I had done in the Serpentine the week before, and a staggering 13 minutes and 24 seconds faster than 2012. This was enough to place me 1471st, or in the top 39% of racers. I had struggled in that swim in 2012; now I was flying out into transition one, and on to the area that I had worked on a lot over the last few months – the bike.
I took a little bit of time in transition messing with my Garmin watch, as in all of the excitement of seeing The Lady upon coming out of the water, I accidentally pressed the button on the watch to say that I had completed the swim and the transition. So I wasted some seconds fiddling with that, as well as just generally getting socks, shoes and a helmet on. I went tearing out of transition though, and immediately set about trying to ride as close to the 1 hour, 20 minute mark I had set in 2012. I figured that if I could match my old time, all I needed was a slightly-below par run and I could beat my 2012 time.
The course was more undulating than I remember it, as I must have forgotten all about the rises in the road required for overpasses. They aren’t exactly ‘hills’ per se, but they do get you out of the aero position. I favoured the aero position as much as I could though, as I was just super happy to be on my ‘ornament’ bike for the first time in a race situation.
I really pushed as hard as I could, although it was slightly problematic, as the race was non-draft. I kept finding myself catching people, and pushing hard to pass them – except then I would be in another persons draft, so I would have to push hard to pass them too. I contemplating shouting to The Lady at one stage ‘I can’t stop drafting!’, but figured it wouldn’t be clever to admit cheating, even accidentally. The course was also difficult, as the area around Canary Wharf was very narrow and twisty; meaning other cyclists would close up to each other rapidly. In the end, I decided that I was feeling good and would make the most of it – so I pushed hard to get some clear air, and then settled into a nice rhythm. Riding through a tunnel also helped, as the shade kept me cool from the 26/27 degree heat. I managed to get a couple of gels in, as well as 2/3 of a bottle of water, but by the end of the ride leg I have to admit – my legs were starting to feel a bit fatigued. I was having a good time though, really enjoying the opportunity to cash in on all of the training I had been doing in the past few months.
I finished the ride in 1:12:18, 770th overall (top 20% of all participants) and 8:25 faster than 2012. So for those amateur mathematicians out there; I had something like 21 minutes up on 2012, and could afford a 1:21 10km run to beat my PB. I just told myself not to go charging out of transition 2 and on to the run.
I went charging out of transition 2 and on to the run, and subsequently ran something like a 4:45 kilometre to open with. Which was ridiculous – I completely ignored my own advice. I tried to keep a steady pace for the first lap of the run, and actually felt quite good, albeit a bit dehydrated due to the heat. I was able to see The Lady during the run, which spurred me on to run faster, as well as try to smile a bit – I can’t underestimate how beneficial those two things were when it came to overall performance – I’m convinced of that. I did start to struggle though, and on the second lap I started to get stomach cramps that were quite painful. It meant that I couldn’t take on any further energy, and water was problematic as well. I ditched my energy gel, and took sips of water, before dunking cups of water over my head to keep cool.
The London Triathlon run course is the single most boring run course in the history of triathlon (happy to be wrong), as it consists of laps of a car park. It does however, afford an opportunity to break the laps down into waypoints, which made the whole experience a bit easier. I am told that I was looking good on the run (thanks The Lady!), but I wasn’t really feeling it. Glances down at my watch told me that I was doing an ok pace, but nothing spectacular.
What I didn’t know, was that the GPS was being dropped every time I went into the Excel (ie. every lap), and that was throwing my run data out. So my watch was telling me I was going slow, when in fact I was actually going fast (for me). Very fast (for me). I was reading my watch data saying I was running slow, and I was running faster to compensate! I held on for the last lap or so though, grinding out the run; and I even had enough energy for a final burst over the last 60 metres or so that surprised the heck out of me! I really didn’t know where the energy came from, but I somehow managed to get an exclamation out of the race announcer – so I must have done alright as far as sprint finishes go. I grabbed my celebratory beer and medal, and started to think about the end result.
I finished the run in 46:13, ranked 955th (top 25% of all participants) and – weirdly – a new PB for the 10km. So just put that in perspective for a minute. On a hot day, after swimming 1.5km, then cycling 40km, I ran a faster 10km than I had ever done before. Even milder days, with no other exercise prior. Absolutely nuts.
So you add it all up, and what do you get? I went 2:40:10, which placed me 904th overall for the weekend, or in the top 24% percentile of all participants over the distance (something like 3,800). It was a new personal best for the Olympic triathlon distance by 35:53, as well as personal bests for 10km and the 40km cycling time trial. 24 hours on, and I still cannot fathom how great a performance that was for me – I’m simply stunned and incredibly proud. It was just a great day, everything clicked together – it’s hard to find any fault at all. It sets me up nicely for Challenge Weymouth in just over a months time, which now has to be about lowering expectations a bit – I had a great day yesterday, it doesn’t follow that I will finish in the top quarter of athletes at Weymouth.
In the meantime though, I’m just going to enjoy this one. I had a great day yesterday, a truly great day. I feel like I’ve made a step up in terms of performance, and I now have a triathlon result that I am really, genuinely proud of.