*** many thanks to Ian Le Pelley for this race report ***
A tale of two triathlons
I went back to the UK for two Olympic distance triathlons in June: the Deva Triathlon and the Dambuster Triathlon. Both were qualifying races for the GB team for the World Age Group Championships that are going to be held in London in September – and both sold out with around 1,000 entries each. Dambuster was also the English National Age Group Championships. I had good races in both (but slightly better in Dambuster), and thought it might be useful if I compared the two.
Deva and Dambuster: DAY BEFORE
I arrived for both races in the evening a day and a half before the race. I always build up my bike as soon as I get to the race location so that I have time to try to get it fixed if something has broken on the flight over. I have never had anything break – ever. UNTIL Dambuster! I just couldn’t for the life of me get my back wheel on and the chain going round properly – the rear derailleur was doing funny things. Eventually I gave up - and ensured that I was in the local bike shop as soon as it opened the next day. Bad news: my rear derailleur was completely broken (despite my bike being in a hard case and the derailleur covered in bubble wrap). Good news: the bike shop had a new one that I could buy that would do the trick. Phew! From now on, I’ll be taking the rear derailleur off the frame when flying with my bike.
The day before both races I had a 20 minute swim at local swimming pools in the morning. I then drove round the entire bike route in the morning so I would know what I was facing, and rode a short section on both courses where there were a couple of hills that I wanted to check out. Again, I biked for about 20 minutes each time, and I rode as easily as I could (which was quite difficult to do so on the larger hills!).
In the afternoon I walked around some of the run course for Deva, and most of it for Dambuster. It’s a fine line between knowing the course, and trying to keep off your feet. I did registration the night before the race, so that I had all the kit labelled and ready to go on race morning.
Deva and Dambuster: RACE MORNING
The night before the race I write down the times when I am going to do stuff in the morning – ie wake up time, time to get to transition, time to do warm up, time to eat and drink. Geeky, but for me if its written down it means I know what I am doing and when, and I find it much easier to stay calm on race morning (better to conserve the adrenalin for the race itself, rather than use it all up before even starting!). Wake up is 3hrs before race start, and the plan follows from there. Same routine for both races, although I leave a bit more of a gap at Dambuster between finishing my warm up and starting my race – it was a bit of a rush getting my wetsuit on in time at Deva. After racking my bike I do a longish 25 minute running warm up for both races – including some 1 minute intervals – to get all the aerobic and anaerobic systems turned on and ready to go.
My first race back in the UK for a year, and the water is 13C. Its 850m upstream, and 650m downstream on the River Dee in Chester. Quite a few people have got on 2 swimming caps – I’d thought about it but didn’t do it as I didn’t want to try out something new in a race (so perhaps something to practice next winter in Dubai?!). My aim is not to hit the swim too hard – I haven’t done an Olympic for a while, and my last few races were sprint, and I don’t want to blow up before I even get on the bike. A quick swim from the get in point to the start line, two or three minutes treading water, and then we are off. A little bit of bashing (maybe I should have picked it up a little bit faster than I did) but after 50-100m or so there are a couple of guys just ahead, so I slot in behind them. I then just draft off them all the way in. They weave and wobble up the river a fair amount, but I still think its better sitting on them than going alone, and the pace seems okay. It’s a good steady pace, all under control. After an eternity we finish the upstream leg, and then start coming down. I’m out of the water 3rd in my age group.
I was happy with my swim in Deva, so the plan was much of the same for Dambuster. Water is 16C this time, but it still feels freezing! I have a quick 2-3 minute swim in the water before the start – again a fine line between getting used to the water temperature, and getting yourself too cold whilst waiting for the start. We start out of the water on the edge of the lake at Rutland Water. The lake edge curves round a bit to the right near the start, and some guys in the wave in front had taken advantage of this and got an extra headstart as they got to run/ dolphin dive a bit more than others that were more to the left. I position myself on the right. The gun goes, but some guys in my wave took the “run on the side as much as you can” approach to an extreme, and as I was swimming they were still running/ dolphin diving 20-30m ahead of me. A “creative” application of the rules by them, but nothing I could do. I swim through a load of these guys fairly quickly (once they’d started swimming!), and once I get to the first turn buoy about 200m in there is just one bloke ahead. I plan to sit on his feet for the rest of the way in, but quickly realise that he must have run (rather than swam) most of the way out there – and he was now swimming pretty slowly and a bit off course. This means I have to swim by myself. I put in a bit of a 25m burst to try to get rid of anyone that is on my feet – and then just try to swim a nice comfortable steady pace in. The buoys are nice and big and orange, so sighting isn’t a problem, and since I’m leading the group I also get a canoe leading the way for a little bit of the return leg. Get out of the water feeling under control, and 1st in my age group by about 25 seconds.
Its an uphill run and then up some stone steps to get into the park that holds the transition area. I manage to slip on the steps as I am running/ getting the top of my wetsuit down and fall over. No damage done – except for losing a couple of seconds and looking like a complete muppet. Get the bottom half of the wetsuit off at the bike, number belt on, helmet on, then off. I’ve overtaken the other two guys I was swimming with, and get out onto the bike course first.
A quick transition, no dramas. My bike is in an easier gear than normal because it’s a little bit uphill out of transition, and I want to make sure I can have a decent forward momentum whilst I get my feet in my shoes. All goes okay.
I have an average wattage for the race that I have in mind as a target for the course, but I spend the first few minutes just riding on feel to ensure that my heart rate comes down to the level that I want to ride at. (I don’t wear a HR monitor in races, so this is just on my heart rate “feeling right”). Once I’m relatively comfortable I try to chug along at what feels like a manageable pace – keeping a rough eye on my power but essentially still trying to ride on feel. I try to ride strong enough so that I have a little bit left in the tank for the run – but not much! After about 20km a guy comes past me – but doesn’t roar past me, so I make a conscious effort to stay a legal distance behind him (ie “pace-line” but not drafting). Even at 10m behind you still get a benefit – and it is also motivating to have a goal in front of you to try to stick with. I stick with him all the way in – and we get passed by an uber-biker at around the 30km mark. My legs (and strangely my arms) are cramping a little in the last couple of km on the bike – but nothing too serious. I’m happy that I’d scoped out the bike dismount on the day before the race, as I have got my feet out of my shoes for a flying dismount as we get to the line, overtaking the guy I’d been riding close to. I’m into T2 2nd in my age group. My legs are hurting and I’m wondering how I am going to feel on the run – have I done too much too soon?!
The plan for the bike is much the same as it was for Deva – but it’s a bit of a tougher start up a slight incline and then into a headwind. Again, try to get the heart rate under control and then keep the effort nice and consistent. I then hit the first of 3 not insignificant hills that come one after the other – again it is a case of going strong enough on the uphills (its always quicker overall to push a little bit harder in the uphill, slower, bits) without going too strong and using up all the “matches” that you have available. Two guys come past me at the top of the second hill – one of whom I recognise as the guy from Deva. Again, I try to stick with them a legal distance away – and it works until about 30km in when a third guy shoots past, and one of the lads goes with him. Its tough work and the course keeps throwing in a load of inclines time after time which begin to take their toll. I take a salt tablet at 25km (to try to ward off the cramps I got in Deva), and a gel at 30km (which I’d also done in Deva). I drink 750ml of water + carbohydrate powder (I’d only had 500ml at Deva, and had wanted a little more in the last few km there). My legs are definitely ready for the bike section to come to the end, but I’m just about under control. We finally get to the end, and once again I’m into T2 just ahead of the guy who I’d being going to and fro with in the last 10km.
Deva and Dambuster: T2
Both uneventful + quick. Helmet off, shoes on, out.
Immediately on starting to run my quads are cramping, and my glutes and calves aren’t exactly singing a nice song. However, its not too bad and I’m able to run through it. There’s a little descent and then a slight rise up and over the bridge that goes over the river, and I am feeling it. My main concern is not to blow up over the course of 10km – I think I know my race pace (aiming for around 3.45 per/km) but every race is different and I haven’t done an Olympic for a while. I try to run relatively conservatively for the first 5-6km, with the intention of really putting the hammer down (in terms of effort, if not speed) in the last 4-5km. The run is a 2 lap course, on road and then on a mix of uneven gravel path and uneven grass path – and the uneven surfaces sap my legs a fair amount. One lad absolutely nails it past me at about 5km (putting me into 3rd) and then I can see that I am gaining on the bloke who I am sure was the uber-biker who went past. My mission is to get past him by the end – but I keep telling myself not to blow up (was I talking myself out of going deeper into the pain locker?) and I never manage to overtake him. Two guys fly past me inside the last kilometre – quite depressing when you are in pain and there is absolutely nothing you can do to respond to it. I finally make it to the finish line in significant discomfort – and luckily in 5th position which means I make the GB team for the World Age Group Championships. But I’m not sure if I’m 100% happy with my race. Could I have pushed more earlier on in the run? Would I have blown up if I had?
My legs feel slightly better than Deva, and the race plan is not to worry about the km split times in the first half of the run, but instead go completely on feel. I’m not going to worry about blowing up and instead just run at a pace that I hope I can sustain. I know I am in 3rd position, but I’m not thinking about position, only about the execution of the run. The first couple of kilometres are on a tarmac path, then about a kilometre on grass before we run across a dam. In Deva the waves ahead were all girls and weren’t running at the same pace as me, but at Dambuster all the younger age group guys started 10 minutes ahead, so I am running amongst some quick runners and that helps in terms of running at a consistent pace. There is a nasty side wind on the dam, and then a section that is a little more sheltered before we hit the turn at 5km. No-one has run past me by this point, but I’m also hurting a fair amount by now. I am determined to push myself hard on the run back, and resort to repeatedly counting from 1 to 10 to keep my mind off the pain . I just concentrate on getting to 10 each time (it’s a small but achievable goal, and it seems to help when the finish line seems so far away) and keep reminding myself to keep my cadence high and not to over-stride. By 8km in my legs are starting to cramp a little and my body has really had enough. I keep pushing, reminding myself that all my training for the past couple of years have been for these races. And then I’m in the finishing straight and suddenly I’m done. I know I couldn’t have pushed harder – and so was satisfied to have left it all on the course. And I stayed in 3rd place, giving me the bronze medal for the 35-39 age group at the English National Age Group Championships. I briefly think to myself that I am going to sleep well tonight – but then remember that I am flying back to Dubai overnight that evening in economy class!
Thanks as always to the many many people who’ve trained alongside me and have helped me with my training and racing – you all know who you are. And thanks to all of you who give so much of your time and effort to contribute to and participate in TriDubai – we wanted to set up a small training group but never imagined that it would grow into such an inspiring community.