Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Back in the triathlon game. Lake62 standard distance triathlon 2017

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So, once again, I’ve left it too long between updates.  Although the definition of ‘too long’ is something of an assumption on my part!

In May I was chuffed to at least be a ‘multisport’ athlete again.   I had managed to finish (albeit unspectacularly) a small local duathlon.

Well, a few months later I can finally brag about being a triathlete again. Not once, but twice (I say that loaded with sarcasm, I am well aware of the pathetic nature of completing just two triathlons so far this season).

First up, back at the end of May, I competed in the Westonbirt Sprint Triathlon.  Although way off previous performances, I endured the dire weather conditions (half the bike course was flooded, and you can imagine what the run was like) to take the V40+ win.   Very chuffed to come out on top, but also very aware that the fast boys (or, in my case, old farts) had stayed away.

A few weeks later and I took my first-ever win at a local midweek 10-mile Time Trial.  Again, more due to the lack of top-end competition than a stunning performance on my part (that said, a PB is a PB, so I’m not knocking it).

It’s fair to say that the Giant Trinity TT bike and I are gelling well.   At least, as well as I’ve ever gelled with a TT bike.  Even though my power is no better (perhaps a little worse) than last year, I seem to be able to put out consistently better times on the Giant compared to the S-Works Shiv (for sale!) and Argon18 E116 that preceded it.   I’m grateful to Race Hub for organising the bike for me through our sponsor, Giant UK (no, it wasn’t free, but we are grateful to Giant for their financial support).

And so to my most recent exploit, today’s Lake62 Standard Distance triathlon in the Cotswolds.

Lake62 triathlonI was lucky to get a last-minute entry to today’s race.  I chose to enter partly because I thought it would be good practice for next week’s Cotswold Classic middle distance and triathlon and partly because I wanted to satisfy myself that I should even turn up next week.  As usual, my work schedule is playing havoc with training.

Today’s race was a 1,500m open swim (a nice easy two laps of a rectangular box, why can’t more swims be like that?!), a 41km bike on a variety of roads and then an off-road 9km (turns out it was slightly shorter) run.

Placed in Wave 5, I had a relatively late 10:00am start, which gave me plenty of time to get the bike racked and get familiar with the course etc.   What I could tell was that yesterday’s storms had left the run course in a right state – slippery and muddy.  Not great when all I had with me were two pairs of road shoes.

The swim

After race briefing, it was into the water for acclimatisation and a little warm up.  I positioned myself at the front, perhaps forgetting that I’m not the strong swimmer I once was (does anyone else find that swim technique is the first thing to go as training levels drop?!).  We went off and I was quickly reminded how brutal open water swim starts can be – and that was with only 30-odd in the wave!

The course was nice and simple with large buoys making sighting easier than is often the case.  By the time I reached the first buoy (maybe 300m) I could see a few guys already had about a 50m lead and I was swimming in no man’s land in between them and the pack. A familiar story!

At the next buoy, they were further ahead still.  No sense in trying to close the gap; just keep my head and trust in my biking power to undo the damage.

As I started the second lap I had to make my way through the starters from the next wave. Thankfully, like the Red Sea parting for Moses, they saw me coming and a nice little corridor opened up to allow me through unimpeded. Thank you guys.

The second lap was pretty uneventful until the last buoy when I was caught by a couple of fast guys from behind.  Again, no drama, I tucked-in for a tow to the exit ramp.

We’d been warned that the exit was slippery and that the matting didn’t extend far into the water.  They weren’t kidding.   I had to scramble on all fours, slipping on the algae until I clawed my way onto the matting and exited the water.  Running up to the timing mat, my Garmin was reading about 23:40.  Hardly stellar, but arguably better than I might have expected.

The bike

I seem to have totally forgotten the art of the quick transition.  Definitely more practice required.  But at least I did remember to put my helmet on (which was sitting on my bike in a different position to how I left it – somebody must have knocked it off) before grabbing my bike.

Running to the exit barefooted across wet grass, mud and gravel wasn’t ideal and as I mounted the bike (another thing I need to re-practice!) and slid my feet into the shoes I could feel the grit around my feet.  Great.

From start to finish of the cycle, I was glad to be in a late wave and thus have plenty of ‘targets’ to pick off ahead.  For the most part, the road conditions were pretty good. Although what felt like a strong northerly wind meant that most of the course was either a cross-wind or a headwind, which meant the going felt pretty slow.

The downside of being in a late wave was that most of the guys ahead were substantially slower, which meant that on narrow roads, cars were having to wait in line behind before overtaking (which I’m not criticising; I’ve nothing against sensible car drivers!) which meant I had to wait behind them.  It certainly robbed me of speed and momentum a few times.

The plan was to try to keep my power to about the same level that I would normally try to race in a 70.3.  I wasn’t looking to set a new bike course record (chance would be a fine thing!) and I wanted to see what my legs felt like on the run.

I was unfamiliar with the bike course, so the first lap was something of a sighter and then I felt like I had a good feel for it on the second lap. This was reflected in my time for the two laps; the second 20.5km being a good minute faster.

I eased-up in the last kilometre or so in the hope that my legs would feel better at the start of the run.  Coming off the bike in just over 1:04 (38kph average).

The run

Quagmire.  Not the Family Guy character.  But that just about sums up the state of some parts of the run (especially near the start of the lap).  And as I already mentioned, road shoes were a bad, bad choice.

Although not hilly, the path that surrounds Lake62 is tight and twisty.   I’m sure a great runner could still run a fair lick, but for 99% of us, it made for slow going.  As slow as I was going myself, I was surprised to be steadily overtaking almost everyone I was sharing the path with (only in my later laps did I ‘lose’ a couple of places).  Those wearing trail shoes had a distinct advantage (none more so than the guy who came storming past in cross-country spikes!).  Picking a line and trying to identify firmer ground began to occupy as much of my mind as telling my legs to keep pumping.

The run course comprised six short laps, which I think I actually liked as it meant you run past the spectators and supporters more often, which always adds a little boost (thanks to Sam, Roo and Andy for the shouts).  I just had to remember to count to six!

Finally, it was done.  As usual, a better pace in the last 500 metres left me wondering whether I should have been pushing harder from the very start.  Too late to change anything now!

There were no immediate results, but given the number of overtakes I had done on the bike and how few places I had lost on the run, I assumed I had done okay.   The online results would later suggest that I had taken 2nd place in the old farts (40-44) Age Group and finished in the top ten overall.

Post-race analysis confirmed what I already knew: I’ve lost some of my swim speed, but it’s not disastrous; my bike speed is good (I just need to be mindful not to ‘over-bike’) but my run is still way below par.

It leaves me a little nervous about the Cotswold Classic middle distance triathlon next weekend.  I’m not overly worried about the swim and the bike, but the on-road / off-road half marathon is leaving me thinking I at least need to find a pair of race shoes that can better cope with mud and gravel without killing my feet and ankles on tarmac (any advice welcome!).

Thank you to the organisers and volunteers at the Lake62 triathlon.  The event was very well organized and enjoyable.

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Matt Fisher runs TriathletesDiary.com - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a 2014 qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs

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