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