Season Review and New Goals

They say a picture speaks a thousand words, but what about a picture covered in words…?

I recently went through the process of analysing my 2017 season, even completing a thorough questionnaire from coach Dave Savage on the subject. This forced me to be quite honest with myself about the psychological aspects of this training as well as the physical, and how I managed this alongside work and life stresses.

Fitness analysisIt also involved some in depth review of my race/training performances. The Strava fitness graph above shows some of the thought process that went into analysing the physical side of training from the last year, and where my main races fell within the different cycles of training. Whilst this doesn’t tell you much about how fast I actually was at any point during the year, it shows the accumulation of training stress and is a nice way of visualising the training structure over a year. I have added notes on periods of injury or “artificial” drops in the fitness shown on the graph that don’t accurately reflect my training.

So what were the key outcomes from this process? I would say I now have a much clearer idea of what works for me and what doesn’t when it comes to training in 3 different sports, and the effect these sessions have on each other. Specifically, I have noted the rate at which I was able to gain fitness (i.e. accumulate training tress) without getting injured during the build phase; I could not increase that fitness level much at all during the race season without getting injured because of the added stress/fatigue that racing introduces. This shows how important it is to train consistently early in the season (waiting until summer would be too late), and I will be careful to monitor that fitness ramp rate to try to stay similarly injury free throughout the upcoming winter/spring base/build.

I am also particularly proud of how I was able to manage any injuries quickly and get back into training without losing too much fitness. Stay patient, accept the injury, scrap the previously planned training and make a new plan, all whilst taking recovery/rehab/prehab just as seriously as any other aspect of training. If 2017 has taught me anything, it is that there is never a valid reason to ignore injury pain and train through it. Walk before you can run. Get fit before you try to get fitter.

And what about 2018 and future goals? Well stating my aims in November last year was invaluable in keeping me focused and accountable, so I will be trying the same thing again. Last time I picked something that I thought would be very difficult but  achievable based on my current level of fitness if I put in the training. So here goes:

  1. Podium at Gold Coast tri world champs (draft-legal sprint).
  2. Qualify for both 2018 (Gold Coast) and 2019 (Lausanne) world champs (draft-legal sprint).
  3. Qualify for 2019 European champs (non-drafting sprint)

As a longer term goal, I want to get quick enough to enter Elite races in the UK (and not come last!).

And as a racing-adjacent target, I am going to do my BTF Level 2 coaching qualification.

Easy right?

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You win some, you lose some…

As I have been a bit lazy with writing blog posts recently, I thought I should summarise what I have been up to since World’s qualification in Llandudno. I have had a bit of a break from racing triathlons – after doing 4 in 2 months, my bank balance needs to recover almost as much as my body does. So I have been trying to get a good block of training in, and keep things fresh by doing a few different events.

Friday Night Swim 1500m, Reading lake  – 3rd/68 overall

I raced this last year with my fellow Basingstoke Bluefins masters swimmers, and it was one of the most violent swims that I have ever done (finishing 13th/120). I spent the entire race fighting with my teammates, or swimming at safety kayakers instead of bouys. This year I managed to take 50 seconds off my previous time, with a much calmer swim and some more sensible pacing. I didn’t learn my lesson about wearing dark mirrored goggles for night-time swims though, because I spent at least 100m sighting off the lights of a plane before I realised that it wasn’t a bouy.

HOWL Aquathlon (750m/5km), Eastleigh Lakeside – 1st/39 overall

This was my first ever aquathlon (swim then run), and we managed to enter a crowd of 5 Basingstoke Savages for the race (plus a 6th on the water as safety kayaker). I cycled the 16km from work to the lake as a warmup, set up my transition area (i.e. put my shoes on the floor), and cheered on Savagettes Chloe and Lisa who were racing before the men’s wave entered the water. This was also my first non-wetsuit open water swim, although it certainly didn’t feel like the promised 21 degrees in the water.

There were a couple of GB age-group team trisuits dotted about the crowd at the start, and another guy chatting to his friends about his Kona (Ironman Worlds) qualification spot, so i suspected some tough competition. I started fast on the 2.5 lap swim course, managed to break clear of the nearest swimmers by the first bouy, and somehow didn’t see the chasers for the rest of the race. Looking at the results and Strava flybys afterwards, it seems like I gained about a 2 minute lead on the 750m swim, then lost a little over a minute to the next closest person on the run (18:45ish 5km) to finish 1st. Neither the swim or run were particularly quick for me individually. I put this down to a slightly long swim course, a HR monitor under my trisuit that kept falling down, and a trail run with nobody for me to chase (which is unheard of for me).

But this is a cause for celebration, as this is my first ever multi-sport race win (excluding Go-tri events because they are targetted at beginners and the depth of competition is therefore quite a bit lower). I also got some great photos from the race taken by Daniel Stuart Photography, who made them all available for free. All race organisers need to take note!

VC Venta Park&Ride Crit (Cat4), Winchester – 19th/20

With the upcoming tri in Rotterdam being a draft-legal race (i.e. cycling in packs is allowed), I decided I needed more practice racing fast, technical courses in close proximity to other riders. I found a local Crit race which seemed liked the perfect opportunity to practice these skills. A crit is a form of  cycling road-race, that takes place on a short traffic-free circuit. This particular event was 35 minutes long, plus 5 laps; whoever crosses the finish line first wins. The circuit was a simple loop, with 2 technical corners to negotiate on each lap.

My main aims for this race were to have fun trying something a bit different, learn something about cornering and pack cycling dynamics in a larger pack, and not crash. Of all forms of road cycling, crits probably see the highest number of accidents due to their high speed and technical courses.

I managed to get a good position on the front row of the start line, and things started at a fairly leisurely pace, and I spent a few laps sitting in the top few wheels getting a feel for the course and how people were moving through the bunch. The tight hairpin into an uphill leg seemed to stretch the bunch out into single file each time, and resulted in most people standing up to sprint out of the corner to get back onto the group. After 20 minutes of cruising around I decided the pace was a bit too low and moved up the outside to the front. I tried to gently force the pace up a little, but nobody seemed willing to come with me and I found myself with a gap of around 10 metres with little effort.

What I should have done at this point is put the hammer down to try to force a reaction in the hope that someone would bridge over and work with me. Instead, I sat up and soft-pedalled for a lap until I was brought back into the bunch where I slid towards the back to recover a bit before the inevitable later attacks. It was at this point that the group decided to start to turn the pace on, and as a few guys I was following started to slip off the wheels in front I found myself on the wrong side of a small split.

I tried to pick up the pace and bridge back to the group, but again I made some mistakes here. I should have put in a short full-gas effort to get back to the group then tried to recover in the draft, but instead I tried to put in a long hard effort to slowly claw my way back onto the group. Unfortunately this didn’t work, and before I knew it I was riding a solo timetrial at threshold for the final 10 minutes+5 laps. As the final lap rolled round I started my last lap as the leaders finished their sprint, to come in 19th of 20 finishers (after a few dropouts).

Whilst this is a pretty awful result, I achieved what I set out to, and learned a lot from my mistakes. I’m fairly confident that I won’t be making those errors again, and that had I not made them my fitness would have been sufficient for me to at least finish with the main bunch. But I will definitely be back to try one of these again – getting lapped doesn’t sit well with me, and I need to redeem myself!

Reading Sprint Tri – 3rd/192 Overall, 2nd in U40 AG

Two weeks out from Rotterdam it was time to refresh my Tri skills again with a local sprint race. This is run by Tri2O triathlon club in reading and usually attracts a good standard of club athletes.  Following on from my earlier 3rd place at Winchester tri, my aim was to make the podium again against this faster competition and give myself a confidence boost going into World champs.

A rolled ankle whilst trail running 1 week before this race meant that I had mildly sprained my knee, so I was cautious not to aggravate this. I ended up not running at all in the week leading up to this race and I was pain free and feeling fresh on race day. This race is split into a 750m lake swim, 22km flat non-drafting bike course, and 5.4km trail run on long grass. The race was split into 2 waves, with under-40s going off first followed by the 40+ athletes 10 minutes later.

I settled into my rhythm quickly on the swim, and went clear of the main bunch with another athlete on my feet. I was happy enough to lead him round as it meant I could focus on my own technique in the millpond-flat lake without fighting anyone for space. As we approached the swim exit he moved up onto my hip before kicking out ahead, and I exited the water in 2nd place on his heels. My transition was probably the smoothest I have had all year (official timing was 35 seconds), and I successfully kicked off my wetsuit whilst putting my helmet on without falling over or getting stuck.

Onto the bike and I tried to stay close to the leader (who turned out to be Junior Elite Alex Deans). Unfortunately I lost sight of him about 5km into the ride and just focused on putting out an even power, get round a few frustratingly slow drivers on the downhill sections (why is it always Nissan Micra’s!?) and trying not to get caught by any of the chasers.

T2 went just as well as T1 (25 seconds this time), and I focused on maintaining technique on the rough terrain. I was actually fairly comfortable throughout this run, so I was pleased to finish the 5.4km course in under 19:49 (compared to my awful 22:27 over the same distance at Blenheim). I crossed the line second in my wave, and was subsequently beaten by 1 person from the following wave to finish 3rd overall and achieving my aims for the race.

Reading sprint tri results

Next stop Rotterdam!

RACE REPORT – Llandudno sea triathlon (Worlds qualifier)

Second time lucky?

After finishing 9th in my age at the previous sprint distance worlds qualifier in Eton, I wasn’t exactly holding my breath for an automatic qualification slot for my second attempt at Llandudno. However, the course looked to suit my strengths a bit more than Eton had; the swim is 750m in the (deceptively wavey) sea, plus a ~200m swim from the beach to the start line. The 18km bike is basically one long steep climb and a fast technical descent done twice, and the 5km run is pan flat out-and-back across the seafront with a short and steep up/down hill to the turnaround point. I was fairly sure, therefore, that I could at least improve my percentage against the winners time (108.7% at Eton).

Pre-race

Chloe and I decided to make a bit of a holiday out of this trip, due to the travelling distance involved. We drove up to Llandudno on the Friday before the race, arriving at our drizzly campsite at 9pm despite setting off at 1:30. We threw our tent up and decided we didn’t fancy squatting around a camp stove in the rain to boil some pasta, so we headed into Rhos-On-Sea to see what we could find to eat. I had been fully expecting that everywhere would either be shut or wholly unappetising; my experience of remote British seaside towns is usually one of faded wealth, where the whole town has a sense that nothing has really been updated or changed in the last 50 years. However, the first place we stumbled upon was a Hickory’s smokehouse/BBQ restaurant that was packed with locals enjoying the fantastic food, and some live music that was actually good! If you have one of these near you you need to go.

This isn’t exactly ideal pre-race nutrition (or in keeping with our aim to eat vegetarian as often as possible), but it was so delicious I don’t even care.

We had a relaxed Saturday morning before going for a wander around Llandudno to scout the course. We parked on the edge of town and walked the run route along the promenade heading for the Pier. It was here that Chloe noticed lots of people staring down into the sea from the side. Curious, we did the same only to realise that there were literally hundreds of rather large Jellyfish drifting past. Perfect.

Retreating in fear, we headed to register and pick up our race packs and check out the cycle route; race organiser’s Xtra Mile Events had put on a free open top bus tour of the bike course around the Great Orme. Complete with complimentary/compulsory pint of Erdinger Alkoholfrei (honestly, is it even a triathlon if you don’t get one of these?), we were driven in reverse direction around what would be the closed-road draft-legal route. This included a free blow-dry from the 15-20mph winds that would be in your face on the long climb. Double perfect.

After driving back to the campsite, we made the most of the sunny Saturday weather and cooked up that pasta for dinner before getting an early night. Race day morning brought some drizzle and grey skies but thankfully the wind had died down a bit. Racking in transition was painless, and the rain soon stopped, so we watched the middle distance athletes set off before going for a jog to warmup, squeezed into my wetsuit, and listened to the race briefing being delivered over the tannoy into transition (another stroke of genius from the organisers).

Swim

We were made to get into the water for a 5 minute “acclimatisation” period (rendering that warmup jog fairly pointless) before being allowed to swim the ~200m out to the deep-water start line. From the shoreline the water had looked nice and calm but once out to the start bouys it became clear that there was quite a strong current and waves that would make this out-and-back swim, running parallel to the beach, a little more difficult.

I decided to start slightly left of the shortest line to the turn bouy in order to avoid the worst of the inevitable contact, and when the airhorn sounded I sprinted hard for 50m before settling into a more steady pace and sighting around myself to see where I had ended up. I had clear water all around me, and a small gap from myself to those who had started alongside me. A group of around 6 people had similarly pulled away from the main pack on my right. I seemed to be keeping up with these guys, so rather than immediately move across to try to draft with this group, I decided to hold my own line to the turn bouy and try to keep within range of them for the return leg of the swim, which would be into the current and waves.

At the turn, 3 of this group had pulled away so I slotted in behind the 4th swimmer and spent 100m on his feet to avoid the worst of the waves. However, it soon became clear that the leaders were getting away from us, so I put in a burst of speed to get around my shelter-man and get just far enough away from him that he couldn’t draft me. As we rounded the second bouy and turned back towards the shore I could see my plan had worked and I was closing in on the front group, however I had left my move a little bit late and I exited the water on my own in 4th 10-15 seconds down from the front.

Bike

After a long, dizzy T1 run and quick transition I was out on the bike – unfortunately my swim tactics had meant that I was starting this alone with nobody to draft. I had anticipated that I would spend a lot of this cycle leg on my own, as the ascent and descent help to minimise the drafting benefit, and lend themselves to smaller groups rather than a large fast pack of cyclists. Onto the long climb (approx 3km averaging ~6% incline with a steeper section near the top) and I tried to spin an easy gear with a high cadence to save my legs for the run as much as possible. I could see the leaders up the road and tried not to lose contact too much – one guy had fallen off the wheels of the other 2 and I made it my aim to try to catch him.

I was almost within touching distance of him as we approached the steepest section near the top, when I was quickly passed by a solo rider. Unfortunately, as the hill flattened out, this pair were able to team up start to pull away from me again before I was finished with the climb, and I wouldn’t see them again.

The really technical part of this course is the fast winding descent. The road points steeply downward, is just one lane wide, and twists along the cliff edge. In hindsight I probably took this more cautiously than I needed too, but the damp road surface and potential for loose scree from the cliffs above was playing on my mind. As I passed through town and started the climb for my second lap, I had been caught by a further 3 riders, and at the top of the climb was passed by a draft pack of about 10 guys who were working well together. I joined this group over the short flat at the top of the course, but was left behind on the descent. I clearly need to spend more time on my technical bike skills, as this isn’t the result of not being fit enough to keep up. Despite this, I had been passed by a lot less people than I had at Eton so I must be getting a bit better.


Run

I found myself running hard out of a smooth T2 alongside another straggler from the group that had passed me on the bike. We ran shoulder to shoulder for the first kilometer, and I was expecting to have a real battle on my hands. Thankfully, the pace proved to much for him and he started to slide backwards. I pushed on, starting to pass some of those ahead of me. I recognised 2 names on the back of trisuits ahead of me that were from my age-group, and started to reel them in. After 2km the road started to slope upwards towards the turn point, where there was also a water point.

At Blenheim and Winchester tri’s earlier this year I was suffering with bad stitch and nausea on the run until having a sip of water which caused this to subside. I felt good picking people off on the climb now, but decided to have a small sip of water at the turn in the hope that it would help to maintain this form.  This turned out to be a huge mistake, and on the following downhill I started to feel really sick. As the road flattened out I realised I had stopped passing people, and I was actually the person being passed. I tried to block out the growing sense of nausea, but my pace had slowed significantly and I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would throw up. I had around 1km too go at this point, and I had a quick internal conversation to decide whether I should try vomit now and hope that I would feel better, or hold it in and hope I would not vomit at the finish line in front of a large crowd of spectators whilst a medal was being put around my neck. Almost immediately, my stomach made that decision for me, but I managed to hold my stride whilst narrowly missing a passing spectator with the liquid I had taken on during the bike leg – sorry to that guy!

I immediately felt better and tried to speed up again, but I had run out of road. I crossed the line feeling a little disappointed that I had not managed to catch the guys from my age-group ahead of me, and resigned myself to thinking that I had probably not done enough to secure qualification.

Post Race

I grabbed another pint of Erdinger, and wandered over to the results tent. My run split was surprisingly fast given how awful I had felt (depending on whose GPS you believe, the course was 100-200m short but that isn’t much different to other races I have done this year). My swim and bike splits were around what I had expected, and as usual confirmed that my swim is competitive but my cycling needs work.

I also spotted that I had come 6th – 2 places short of getting an automatic qualification slot. Prior to the race I told myself if I had to wait weeks for a potential rolldown slot, I would probably not go to Rotterdam even if I was given a place – waiting would mean prices for accommodation and flights would go up, and they were already at the limit of what I would be willing to pay given the huge cost of entering the actual race (£315 for a sprint tri!!!!). I also did not want to go to the race just to make up the numbers, I would want to be there because I had rightfully earned a spot, not just because someone else had pulled out from the race.

However, I realised that if just 2 of the 5 people ahead of me had not registered to qualify for Rotterdam, that would put me in the top 4 for automatic qualification. I had noted that of the 35 or so competitors in my age at Llandudno, less than half of those had actually registered to try and qualify for Worlds. I cross-checked the results with the list of registered athletes on the British triathlon website, and realised that exactly 2 of those ahead of me and not registered! Thus began an anxious wait for several days before the website was updated with qualification information.

Q4. A-goal for the year achieved.

I have done it. I’m going to Worlds.

http://www.chiprace.co.uk/Results.aspx?CId=38&RId=220&EId=1

Age-Group Worlds Qualifying

I HAVE QUALIFIED FOR ROTTERDAM SPRINT DISTANCE WORLDS!

This has been my main goal for the best part of a year now, so it feels amazing to achieve something that was just an intangible goal 12 months ago. I will upload a race report for the qualifying race as soon as I get a chance.

As I have had to explain the age-group world championships qualification process so many times in recent weeks, I thought it may also be useful to summarise it so that I can point people here, rather than trying to explain while people drift off. So…

  • There are 20 GB slots in each 5 year age band (25-29 for me, the same as in Masters swimming) up for grabs each year.  To get one of these you must register your intent to qualify with British Triathlon, then enter 1 or more of 3 qualification races. This year these are held in Eton, Llandudno, and Redcar. Qualifying races understandably tend to attract faster competition than your typical triathlon.
  • The fastest 4 people at each race in each age group that are registered to qualify get an automatic qualification place (labelled Q1-Q4). If someone comes 6th in their age at a qualifying race, but 2 people have not registered to qualify (they may have just wanted to race some faster competition), then that 6th person would be Q4. This is what happened for me at Llandudno.
  • Everyone else is given a percentage score based on the age-group winners time. This is calculated as your time in seconds, divided by the winners time in seconds, multiplied by 100. This is intended to standardise each course, as errors in course measurement, elevation profile, weather etc. could all affect results and make a simple qualifying time unfair across different races. What this also means is that if the winner of your age group is relatively slow, your percentage will be lower (and therefore your chance of qualifying will be better). This also means a very fast person winning your age can make everyone else’s percentage higher, and therefore reduce chance of qualifying.
  • To be considered for a world championships, you must finish within 115% of the winners time. In reality, depending on the location of the championship and associated cost/difficulty of getting there, you will probably need to achieve somewhere around 106-107% or better in order to be in with a chance of qualifying. My result at Eton was 108.7%, which isn’t likely to be quick enough. My result at Llanduno was around 103%, so even without the automatic qualification I would have been much more likely to qualify.
  • The remaining 8 slots in each age group are given out first to people who have pre-qualified (must finish top 15 in their age out of everyone and top 3 Brits at last years world championships). Remaining “rolldown” slots are then given to the people with the lowest percentages across all 3 qualifying races.
  • Confused yet? Good.

After some blank, vacant stares, “Does this mean you will be racing with the Brownlee brothers soon?” is usually the first question that gets asked after trying to explain this process to people. The short answer is a resounding “No”.

An approximate summary of the many levels of racing in the UK is given in the order below. This is my simplification of things, and only applies to sprint (750m/20km/5km) and olympic/standard (1500m/40km/10km) distance racing. Middle and Iron distance racing have a separate system.

  • Typical small/medium UK triathlon, e.g. Winchester triathlon. This is the bread-and-butter of the triathlon scene in the UK, and there could be a mix of abilities anywhere from first timers to local elites out for a training race. Results will be divided into the 5 year age-group bands.
  • Large open UK triathlon, e.g. London triathlon, Blenheim Palace, Windsor etc. Typically will have a significant number of first timers (60% at Blenheim), but the faster competitors are sometimes a higher standard than local races simply because of the sheer number of entrants.
  • Age-group european/world qualifiers, British and English championships. This is the faster end of amateur racing in the UK, and will attract people from all over the country.
  • Age group World/European championships. These are some of the best amateur racers in the world, but the field will  depend on where the championships are held and the cost of getting there etc.
  • Domestic elite races. Many larger triathlons in the UK (Blenheim, London, Cardiff) will also include a separate wave of “elite” triathletes. Age doesn’t really matter in these races, and results are given as “overall” rather than separated by age. This will be comprised of the faster age-group racers from european/worlds qualifier level, juniors on the performance/talent pathway (trying to make it as pro’s), and those elites racing at the top level of the sport who have chosen to race at a domestic race (see the Ali Brownlee and Gordon Benson at Blenheim elite race in 2016 as an example. Blenheim also doubles as the UK elite sprint distance championship race).
  • European Cup racing – The fastest racers on the domestic elite scene will be selected by British triathlon to race this series of races that take place around Europe.
  • World Cup racing – One step above the european cup races, taking place across the world. Some of the best elites in the world race this series. People racing this level for GB are usually those on the Olympic podium potential programme, and are some of the best in the world. These people are also likely to be entered into the European Elite championships race, which will usually happen alongside the age-group european championships races (in a separate wave) . This one-off elite championship race is distinct from the elite European cup racing series.
  • World Series racing – This is the level that you will typically find the Brownlees dominating. This is the highest level of triathlon racing outside of the Olympics. Points are awarded for position throughout the series, which has a Grand Final race with double points as the last race of the year. This grand final is run alongside the age-group world championships races, often on the same course on a different day. For example, the grand final was held in Cozumel, Mexico last year. Clips of Ali carrying Jonny across the finish line of this race went viral last year. But there were also several thousand age-group athletes racing the sprint and olympic distance world championships races separately over the course of the week.

So you can see the Brownlee’s are still leagues above the highest level I will ever reach. However, I will get to see them racing the elite World Series Grand Final in Rotterdam the day before I race at the age-group world championships, which should be pretty inspiring. If you have never watched a world series race, it is well worth following the action with the BBC coverage:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/triathlon/38393376

All of that being said, I am super excited to be racing the age-group worlds. It will be my toughest test yet, and whilst I don’t have any real performance expectations of myself, I am excited to race some of the world’s best amateurs and see how I stack up.

 

Race Report – Blenheim Palace Tri

Another week, another race.

Blenheim first captured my attention in 2016 when I was driving home from my sisters wedding with Chloe and saw signs for the race from the A34. We decided to take a detour to watch some of the racing and the stunning location, beautiful weather and incredible atmosphere meant that we both immediately put this race on our to-do lists despite the hefty £120 price tag.

Pre-race

We arrived at the site in plenty of time, which meant we could head straight to transition and rack our bikes before heading back to the entrance to meet my Mum and Chloe’s parents who had all come down to support us for the day. Blenheim is great for spectators as the swim, 3 lap bike and 2 lap run all pass the same central area meaning that you can see all 3 sports without moving very far. It also has an amazing festival-esque atmosphere that I haven’t seen matched at any other race in the U.K.

We pointed out the key areas of the course that they could see us and headed back towards transition, before saying our goodbyes. I tried to go for a warmup jog which proved difficult, weaving through the thousands of competitors travelling in the opposite direction to me to try and find some more open space. I managed to find a field that was largely empty on the other side of a mini-train that runs around the site, but by this time I needed to go back to transition to put my wetsuit on, so resigned myself to the fact that I would need to rely on some dynamic stretching to warm up properly.

Swim
After a tough-mudder style pre-race chant in the swim pen (Hoo-rah!), our mixed ability/gender wave of about 200 people (including Chloe) jumped off the pontoon into the waters of the lake. This was a great temperature (I would guess around 17-18 degrees), and there was a nice 100m swim to the very wide start line to get warmed up. I postitioned myself at the end furthest from the pontoon as I thought this would be the straightest line to the single turn bouy, however the kayakers were actually moving the bouys around as we got in the water. This meant that my end of the start line was actually a bit further back and probably pushed the swim distance up a few meters – in hindsight somewhere in the middle of the line probably would have been best.

I was caught off guard by the start buzzer whilst discussing this with the person next to me, but quickly managed to find my rhythm. Compared to Eton, this swim was amazingly calm and uneventful, as the wide start line meant I wasn’t near any other quicker swimmers to clash arms/try to draft with. I spotted one guy in a sleeveless wetsuit pulling away from the rest of the pack on my left, but realised he would have to take a slightly longer line to the turn bouy which was about 600m into the swim. I kept my pacing even and beat him to the turn with some clear water between us so he couldn’t cling on to my draft, and kicked a bit harder to get back to the boat house for the swim exit first out of the water.

I got my arms out of my wetsuit quickly, if not smoothly – for the 2nd time I got my zip pull-string caught down my left sleeve after telling myself it wouldn’t happen again. Thankfully the transition at Blenheim is famously long which gave me a bit of time to fight it off my wrist while running up the infamous (but actually not bad) hill to T1.

Bike

T1 was much smoother than it had  been at Eton, and I actually remembered to put my race belt on this time. Progress! Running on the carpeted cobbles of the palace courtyard pushing a bike was difficult but having no other competitors on my row to crash into made it manageable.

My mount went well and I was up to speed quickly on the downhill out of transition. For this race I fitted some clip on tri bars which I intend to use for my other non-drafting races this year. I had used them on the turbo trainer on Wednesday and done a bit of playing around with them on the road outside my house, but this was my first proper ride with them. This was a high risk gamble that luckily paid off, and I could really feel the benefits on the fast downhills and flats of the course without feeling like I couldn’t control the bike. As much as the “nothing new on race day” advice is a cliché in tri, people probably say it for a reason.

I spent the entire bike leg trying to avoid the people cycling 2/3/4 abreast on the very narrow closed road round the palace grounds – sorry to anyone I shouted at to keep to the left! However, anyone entering this race should go there knowing that 60% of the entrants are first timers, and will therefore weave wildly and unpredictably over the road in front you and may come very close to riding you off the road into a tree. It’s not surprising that all the trees have crash mats strapped to them.

I passed Chloe at the start of my third lap and shouted something vaguely coherent and encouraging. I was still expecting some super-bikers from my wave to pass me at any moment, but as I rolled into T2 I realised that this hadn’t happened.

Run

I had decided that this would be a C-race for me, and didn’t taper for it. This meant I was going into the day with reasonably tired legs from a big week of lots of running. I had felt strong up to this point, however my stride felt heavy as I got out on the course. The steep up and down over the bridge out of transition felt like a mountain. A long downhill of about 1km made my impact with the ground feel hard and gave me blisters for the first time in my On Clouds. And very similarly to Winchester and Brighton before that, I got a familiar stitch at the half way point. I struggled round the rest of the run but still wasn’t passed at any point.


It was great to have some family there supporting and it definitely gave me a bit of a boost whenever I passed one of them.

Post-race I proceeded to devour some salty chicken noodles and coffee which brought me back to life, along with the compulsory pint of Erdinger. I didn’t rush to check my results until a few hours later, when I pleasantly discovered that I had got the fastest time of day 1 (with 2000 competitors still to race the following day). I was subsequently beaten by 6 people on Sunday to finish 7th/4736 overall and 2nd/416 in my age, but not before I managed to grab this great screenshot…


I am currently sitting in a tent in Wales writing this, because tomorrow is Llandudno sprint tri – my second attempt at worlds qualification. I have been working hard on my run and bike for the last 3 weeks, and I’m feeling fit and rested. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

https://results.sporthive.com/events/6272723435714003712/races/413014

 

RACE REPORT – Eton Dorney Sprint tri (worlds qualifier)

The big one.

As my A-goal for this season is to try to qualify for the world championships or my age-group, this race has been my main focus for the better part of about 8 months now. Which probably goes some way to explaining why I was so much more nervous in the week leading up to it. Those pre-race adrenaline-fuelled butterflies that normally only show up about an hour before a race made an appearance 5 days early whilst I was sat at my desk thinking about it! This was probably exacerbated by the (slightly creepy) amount of Internet stalking of my competitors that I did – British triathlon handily publish a list of all those that have registered their intent to qualify, and Human Race release a start list of competitors in each wave. This meant I could see that of the 40 or so people intending to try and make the 25-29 AG team, at least 20 of those seemed to be going to Dorney. Those numbers were repeated for the 20-24 and junior age groups who would be starting at the same time as me. This was going to be a fast race.

Of course I had known that for months. A calm lake swim, flat draft-legal bike and flat straight run. Close to London, the only qualifier South of Sheffield. One year after the Olympic triathlon and a wobbly-brownlee/SPOTY fuelled triathlon publicity frenzy. A world championships just over the channel in Rotterdam. The first chance to qualify this year. This is pretty much a perfect storm for attracting as many fast people to a single race as you can get. But googling some names and seeing some incredibly fast previous results (including ex pro-swimmers, previous AG tri world champions and domestic elites) did nothing to help relax me.

Pre-race


All of this makes the sense of calm contentment I felt on race morning even more bizarre. My thinking was that there is no more I could do at that point, so what will be will be. The training is behind me, I’ve arrived fresh, fit and ready at the race. Now it’s just time to perform at the level I think I can. Looking at last years results and qualifiers I figured if I can pull out a 1:04:xx at this race it would be enough to make the team.

Breakfast, drive to Dorney, pick up race pack, transition set up, warmup run. My wave start was was at 9:50 so for the second time this year I had avoided a painfully early start. The weather was a beautifully calm, sunny 18 degrees,  with the lake at 16. Bags were kept out of transition keeping my setup simple. I tried and failed to not to not be impressed by all of the wind-tunnel shaped Carbon racked either side of my aluminium, shallow-wheeled steed. I always see transition areas as a little bit like an old fashioned farmers market, where a race horse or prized cow is led around for potential buyers to ogle over and shout ever increasing bids at. If someone actually set up an aero/deep wheel shop inside transition where kit envy reaches its peak, I’m sure they would rake it in.

I put on my wetsuit and wandered over to the briefing point whilst slowly cooking in the increasing heat. I chatted to a few other nervous looking guys –  it was their first ever draft legal race. And some of them had never even done a tri before. Maybe I wouldn’t get totally left behind after all?

Into the water. The temperature is nice and cooling, and I try to tread water and fight for a spot on the front row despite the incredibly narrow start line. Just holding position for 3 minutes waiting for the buzzer was difficult with everyone jostling for position. This was going to be a rowdy start.

Swim

Everyone went out at what felt like 50m sprint pace. This was a violent swim, at least on par with my previous worst last year with Basingstoke Bluefins where I spent  1500m fighting my teammate with every stroke.

Within about 200m a lead pack was starting to pull away. I tried to cut in from the outside of the pack to get onto some feet but was blocked by a mass of swimmers determined to take the longest possible route to the first bouy. Ok, I will sit on a hip and draft off the pack to my right until things calm down. Except people on my left have decided to try and do the same thing and are pushing me into the washing machine. Open water swimming really is a full contact sport. Round the first bouy and things are starting to thin out, I can see a pack about 20m ahead, and I am sitting just wide of the second group. By this point I was getting pretty exhausted from the contact, and decided I would be better off giving myself some space and trying to keep things smooth. Around the second bouy and back towards the exit. People still can’t swim in a straight line and I’m clashing arms, but I manage to find a bit more clear water and try to control my breathing.

My hands hit the exit ramp and I’m up and opening my wetsuit. The front pack of about 10 people are 30 seconds ahead and heading out with their bikes, and there are about 10 others coming out of the water with me. I guess here my swim isn’t the strength that it is at smaller races. I got the wetsuit down to my waist as I reached my bike, but managed to get my zipper string caught down my left sleeve and I had to wrestle the rolled sleeve off my wrist. I put my helmet on, grabbed the bike and started running before realising my race belt was still hanging from my handlebars. I grabbed it and hastily stepped into it, ripping off one corner of the race number in the process leaving the number flapping by one corner for the rest of the race. This must all have cost me about 20 seconds and I left transition kicking myself for such silly mistakes.

I

Swim = 10:00, T1 = 1:12.

Bike

I worked hard out of transition to try and catch any stragglers from the front swim pack, and caught a couple of guys within half a lap. After giving them a bit of encouragement we got working together to try and chase down the lead pack but watching them comfortably pull away from us I soon realised this wasn’t going to happen. I tried to settle into a rhythm but it became clear that one slacker in our trio was along for the ride and was putting in much shorter turns on the front. As a bunch of 4-5 significantly faster riders caught and passed us on the second lap I tried to bridge up and hang onto them. In the mess that ensued, both of our groups ended up splitting, before reforming as our original trio watching the other group ride away. Damn.

At this point I told myself that it would be unwise to try to latch onto any other groups if they were clearly a lot stronger on the bike than me, as to do so meant digging deeper than I could handle if I wanted to hold together a half decent run, and the risk of breaking the groups and being left as a solo chaser was pretty high. Unfortunately for me, the slacker in our trio had other ideas, and when a solo rider doing about 45km/h passed us he decided he would try to attack and latch on to this rocket. Knowing he would soon be dropped again, I tried not to chase too hard and take even turns with the sole remainder of my small group to reel him back in, which we did on lap 3. We continued to push on but were caught yet again by a much bigger group of about 8 riders at the start of the final lap. I managed to find shelter in the group and hang on here, as slacker, but I was flagging by this point and just let too much daylight appear between myself and the pack on the corners at the mid-point of the lap. For what felt like the 1000th time this bike, I watched the group ride away from me and this time I was on my own. Luckily for me there was only about 1.5km to transition, but as I rolled into transition I realised I had lost another 20 seconds by not being able to stick  with them.

Bike 34:13 (37.2kph average)

Run

Luckily for me, this group took their sweet time in transition and I quickly gained a couple of places back. The run course for 2017 consists of a 2.5km long straight next to the rowing lake, with a dead turn and run back the same way. This means that get a pretty good view of who is ahead and behind at the turnaround point, but is incredibly mentally tough and scenery just doesn’t change and all you can do is focus on maintaining form. Luckily for me this is how I like to run in training, and I managed to hold things together reasonably well. I did very little overtaking but also wasn’t really overtaken either. I spent most of this run just being thankful for the uncharacteristically calm conditions – if there had been even a slight headwind this run course would be brutal.

I tried to put in a final sprint to the line but I had nothing left to give so tried to hold things together. I guess this is testament to how well I paced the run, as I felt I was really balancing on my limits of endurance for the whole thing, and when I finished the tank was well and truly empty.

T2 = 0:47, Run = 18:53.

I checked the results at the finish. 9th in Age-group, 1:05:05 final time.

Rolldown percentage of 109% – the winner of my age-group managed to be 2 minutes clear of the next fastest person, and was the fastest person all day, which unfortunately means I will be unlikely to qualify of this performance. In previous years approximately 107% has been the actual required percentage to make the team (had I done this time in last years race I probably would have made it!). It just goes to show how much it depends on who else turns up on race day, and that is something that you just can’t control.

I am really proud of how far I have come since last year in this sport. Whilst I didn’t achieve what I set out to this time, this was a great race for me. My swim was a decent time considering how violent it was, the draft-legal bike was amazing fun and still a very fast average speed for me despite being my clear weakness, and the run was only 1 minute shy of my standalone 5k PB, and 2 minutes quicker than I have ever done in a tri before. It has given me a lot of confidence in my current fitness, and also clearly shown where I can improve.

I spent the rest of the day getting sunburnt, eating terrible hotdogs and cheering Chloe around the rest of the course. Good day all round.

http://humanrace.co.uk/event/itu-sprint-distance-triathlon-world-championships-qualifier/

I have left this race report a bit late so Blenheim Palace Sprint tri is tomorrow! First time racing with clip on tri-bars to looking forward to seeing how it goes.

 

RACE REPORT – May Day sprint tri, Winchester

First race of the season in the bag.

Race goals

In a repeat of last year, this was my first triathlon of the season. I set myself a series of goals for this race. In decreasing order of priority:

  1. Finish on the podium;
  2. Finish as fastest Savage tri club member (and quicker than last year’s fastest Savage);
  3. Every discipline quicker than last year.

No pressure then?

Pre-race

Let’s just say the week leading up to this race didn’t exactly go to plan. I originally started writing a full review of the week building up to this race, however I decided to save it for a separate blog post – it was a short period of hamstring injury and rapid rehabilitation that I learned a lot of useful lessons from so didn’t want to bury that information here. So I will gloss over the fact I couldn’t even run until the day before the race and and start from race morning…

A leisurely wave start time of 09:20 is a rare treat in triathlon, and provided plenty of time on race morning that you wouldn’t normally get without sacrificing some sleep. 6:30 wakeup call, my usual bowl of granola for breakfast, followed by a 30 minute drive to the race venue with Chloe. On arrival we collected our race packs then parted ways to follow our own race prep routines.

After some discussion with my coach, I decided to try a bike warmup on the turbo trainer. This really seemed to help prepare my glutes and hamstrings, and saved them from the shock they usually get after the swim, despite starting it about 1 hour 15 mins before the scheduled race time. I spent 20 minutes gradually building cadence in an easy gear, with a few spin-outs and  a couple of minutes pushing a harder gear. I then went for a 10-minute jog incorporating some drills and short bursts of 15-30 seconds race pace running. I think this routine really helped to wake my body up and I will be trying it again throughout my other races.  I’ve never been particularly fond of morning training/racing and find I need a long warmup at this time to really get going.

This left me with 15 minutes to head to transition and setup my kit as practiced before heading indoors for the race briefing, some dynamic stretches and a meetup with my club members. After applying and rinsing a thin layer of shower gel off the inside of my goggles (the only guaranteed way I have found of preventing goggles fogging up), we filtered through to wait outside the swimming pool, and were told the waves were 15 minutes behind schedule.

 

 

Swim (400m, pool)

When we jumped in to get ready for the start I was able to do a few strokes to get a feel for the water, and agree an overtaking protocol with the 2 clubmates I was sharing a lane with. It’s a huge help to swim in a lane with people who are happy with overtaking down the centre of the lane rather than waiting to the ends of the pool, particularly as there was maybe a 3 minute time difference over the 400m between us. Only once did I have to drop the pace back for a few seconds to avoid a collision, which meant I could swim at a nice solid speed throughout. I decided not to push too hard to prevent spiking my heart rate, and completed the swim and run to T1 in 5:24, which turned out to be quickest of the day by around 40 seconds.

Transition went perfectly, with no wetsuit to worry about, and I got on the bike and up to speed quickly.

Bike (24km, 2 laps)

On the bike I settled into a quick but comfortable pace. I was cautious not to try to get too low/aero as I didn’t want to put too much strain through my hamstrings early in the race. I focused on keeping a high cadence spin on the climbs and worked on catching the people from earlier waves who were ahead of me. Traffic was significantly busier than  last year due to starting later in the day, and there was one particularly irritating kilometre spent trying to overtake a car who was stuck behind a slower cyclist and was intent on trying to move in or out to block my attempts to get past him. I was also stopped at traffic lights by transition as I was starting the second lap, and worked hard to get back up to speed as quick as possible.

I wasn’t sure what sort of speeds/time to expect as the course is rolling with a few short punchy climbs, but was thinking I would be maybe a couple of minutes quicker than the 50 minutes it took last year. It actually ended up 5 minutes quicker, which is a huge amount considering the increased traffic and the fact I was holding myself back more than I would have like to. This is probably the part of the day that I am happiest with, as it shows I am making significant improvements despite my cycling being the least structured part of my training.

T2 is a challenge at this event, as the approach is uphill with speedbumps making maintaining speed and removing feet from shoes pretty difficult. In removing my right shoe I managed to flip it when I hit a speedbump and pedalled with it upside-down  scraping the floor to the mount line. This caused me to hurry while trying to remove my left foot, and while doing so my calf cramped pretty badly. I hit the ground to run through transition and realised this cramp wasn’t going anywhere fast. Interestingly this is almost an exact repeat of what my legs did at Brighton tri last year, so I have made a mental note to remove my feet sooner and take out the left foot first at the next race.

Run (5km, 2 laps, mixed terrain)

Shoes on, helmet off, start running. Ignore the cramp. This run is tough – hilly, 2 laps, with a mixture of road, bark, and grass. Stitch hit me at the end of lap one, and my pace slowed considerably. I managed a 20:45 5k here, which is about 1 min slower than I wanted to do at this race, and only 1 minute quicker than last year (despite my standalone 5k PB being about 3 minutes quicker than last year). This was not a good run, and I struggled mentally and physically throughout. However, given that I couldn’t run at all for a week until the day before the race, I’m not surprised that my legs were struggling. My cardio fitness didn’t feel too pushed on this, which does give me some hope for the next race.

Overall Results

Finish time: 1:13:51 (3rd/250 overall, 1st in Age, 1st Savage tri club)

Splits: 05:24 (1st), 51s (2nd), 45:54 (12th), 56s (13th), 20:45 (7th). All faster than last year.

Despite the race organisers saying they would allow for time stopped at traffic lights, the results don’t reflect this. The winner finished, in 1:13:30, and 4th place was 1:14:15. This means there was 45 seconds separating all of us, so if stops were factored in these places could totally change! It is a bit annoying that 2 weeks after the race this still hasn’t been resolved (and is the reason this has taken a while to write).

However, I am considering all goals for this race accomplished. Overall I am happy with how things went. Chatting to all of Savage Tri club after the race was a lot of fun, with everyone buzzing from their performances. Extra proud of Chloe for smashing her goals and finishing as fastest female Savage, and 5th fastest lady overall – we now have 2 shiny trophies in the house to find shelf space for.

Next up is the big one – Eton Dorney, AG Worlds Sprint tri qualifier.

 

1 week to go!

1 week until I my first Tri of the 2017 season.

I always get most nervous for the first race back after a break, even if it isn’t my A-goal. It will be interesting to see if I feel the same way going into Winchester Tri next Monday, as I have still been racing in small local single sport or duathlon events during the build phase of training. But I know I am certainly excited to put a full swim-bike-run together again, and it will be great to finally see where my fitness is at after a really solid training block.

I have high hopes/aspirations for my performances this year. I have never really been the sort of person to speak openly about my goals in sport, choosing to stay silent about them in a bid to potentially avoid the embarrassment of having to explain a failed attempt at achieving what I set out to. It is much easier to talk about putting in the hard training hours over so many weeks if they have actually amounted to some measurable form of “success”.

However, there is something about triathlon that has made me a bit more willing to discuss my aims. After finishing my third and final triathlon of last year, I was reviewing my race data on Strava and thinking about what events I wanted to enter for 2017. I decided that I wanted to try to:

A) Qualify for the GB Age Group team for sprint distance, and

B) Compete for podium positions at smaller races like next weeks Winchester sprint tri.

But arguably more significant than the goals themselves is the decision to tell people about them. I have been trying to put my finger on what has made me decide to be quite so open about this, putting myself at risk of publicly being seen to fail at achieving something. After all, triathlon is a sport where hard work and discipline are rewarded as much as talent (i.e. if I don’t achieve my goals, the only person or thing that I can blame for that is myself). I have tried to summarise what I think the key factors are that have influenced this:

  • I think I can actually achieve it with a bit of work. As much as people like to talk about setting themselves challenges to push their limits etc, I think it is actually quite a rare thing for someone to enter an event/openly state that they will try to do something that they genuinely believe they can’t complete (assuming they have some knowledge of what is involved to get there).
  • Triathletes seem to be a very welcoming bunch, who have a lot of first hand experience of failing/having bad races/overtraining and getting injured. They are therefore more likely to understand the difficulties of juggling training, a full time job, relationships and friendships, and that this balancing act means that sometimes the preparation needed to achieve a tough physical challenge just doesn’t happen.
  • Telling people about my aims makes me accountable. I know that I need to put in a lot of hard training to qualify for  the GB AG team, and if I don’t do that then I won’t qualify. That doesn’t mean that I am doing it to save face or appease anybody else; amongst the many reasons I do triathlon are my genuine love of hard training and the adrenaline-induced buzz of competing. But I don’t know anyone who would want to tell people that they are aiming to achieve a certain standard in sport and then not at least try to put in the training needed to get there. This accountability helps get you out of the door on the days you would otherwise skip, and 90% of those times I am grateful for that motivation once I actually make it to training.

I am acutely aware of my weaknesses and deficiencies leading into this first race. I have gotten used to being nearer the top of results sheets for my swims and runs recently, so getting my ass handed to me in my first cycling time trial last week by the majority of people there (including the other 2 members of my club) has served as a reminder that although my cycling has vastly improved, I am not the cyclist that I would like to be. A minor hamstring strain in that same race has meant that this week is going to be a much longer/easier taper than I had planned for it to be. Wednesdays brick training will be skipped because I am going to a gig that I booked long before my races.

But being open about my goals keeps me honest in training, and helps to keep me going when all I want to do is lie on the sofa and watch Netflix. Winchester was my first ever tri last year, and I finished 15th in 1 hour 20 minutes. I intend to smash that time, and I cannot wait to get out on the course.

Tri season is finally here.

View from the top of Porlock Hill, Exmoor (April 2017)

 

RACE REPORT – Reading Gotri Duathlon (March)

Back for round 2. After thoroughly enjoying the Gotri event I did in February I decided to give it another go a month later. The aim was to check my fitness is still progressing at the rate I want it to, speed up my transitions and use it as another short brick training session. That was the plan anyway…

Long story short, I had a little bit more to drink on Friday night than I had planned. This meant I spent Saturday lying on the sofa feeling a a bit unwell (and a tad guilty for missing the bike ride I had planned to do), and only ate 1 meal all day. Maybe this is what people actually mean when they talk about the challenges of age-group athletes balancing “life” and training?

Sunday rolled around far too quickly, and still feeling a bit hungover I decided to race anyway. The pace from the start was higher than I knew I had a chance of holding onto (under 2:50/km), and I quickly mentally resigned myself to sitting in second behind the lead runner. The pace stabilised after the first 400m or so and I found myself following the leader the whole way around the race to finish second with 200m between us throughout. This race felt like a mental battle as much as a physical one, and it was hard to feel like I could catch the leader on the run after he so easily put time into me from the start. Looking at the results afterwards, we were a very similar pace throughout except for the sprint start, and my transitions were definitely quicker than his. On a better day I might have caught him, but that’s not how racing works unfortunately.


This was not a comfortable race, with strong headwinds and a severe lack of energy meaning I was about 30 seconds slower than previous on the bike, although I was pleased to see my run splits totalled 1 minute quicker than last time. Given how horrific it felt I am not quite sure how that happened. Run pace was consistently 15 seconds per km quicker than last time, although I am still losing 15seconds per km from run 1 to run 2. Transitions were fast and smooth and probably made feeling terrible for half an hour worth it.


All things considered this was a decent performance, finishing 30 seconds quicker than last time overall in less than ideal conditions. More work on the bike needed over the next month before Winchester sprint tri, and more discipline in the days leading up to a race. I expect and deserve no sympathy for self-inflicted suffering.

(results: http://www.gotrigreenparkreading.org/results/4589165532 )

Running Progress

Whilst visiting family at the weekend I decided it was time to put the running training to the test at Parkrun again. My last time doing one of these was around October in Basingstoke before an IT band injury from hill-repeats in training put the brakes on running for the rest of 2016, with my PB sitting at 18:50 and a highest place of 7th.

Training from October to mid-Jan therefore consisted mostly of run-specific strength training with Savage Triathlon Club and very gradually building up the ability to a continuous (slow!) 5k pain free again. From the end of January these club sessions were converted into track sessions to start to build up some speed again, complimented with some longer easy/recovery runs exploring some more of the local area with Chloe and I am now back into the full swing of training (albeit only ~20km a week).

So tackling a new parkrun course I wasn’t sure what to expect. The start was pretty chaotic with a lot of jostling for position, but once things settled down I set about reeling a few people who had gone out too fast.I went out with a strategy of running even splits and that is exactly what I did (each 1km within 5 seconds of each other), whilst still managing to finish running at my limit and fully exhausted. I finished 2nd/450, time of 17:46, over a 1 minute PB. Training is working then…


To prevent re-injury I have had to be extremely strict with myself and hold back in training at times when I have really wanted to push hard. This has made my training into this season a very gradual ramp and I think that this has actually helped me to better periodise my training and not peak too soon. I am terrible at being injured normally and tend to end up eating a lot of Dominos pizza and feeling sorry for myself, or trying to train through the pain and hope it goes a way (note to future self – it doesn’t!). Thankfully this time it seems to have worked to my advantage.

More than a bit of credit for this has to go to Dave Savage for suggesting adaptations to sessions wherever possible and really understanding how frustrating it can be to be injured when all you want to do is hammer yourself in training. His club training program seems to have worked to help me recover and is now really starting to sharpen up my speed as race season gets closer. I cannot recommend joining a club (and specifically Savage Tri Club) enough – it has totally changed my outlook on tri training for the better.

http://www.savagesports.co.uk/