Monday, October 23, 2017

It’s been a busy week – Part Two - Bristol Harbourside Triathlon, 23rd June 2013

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…and so it was I found myself racking up for the Bristol Harbourside Triathlon on Sunday morning. My second of two opportunities to qualify for the Age Group World Champs being held in London in September.  After the competition at Deva had been so high, I wasn’t really holding out too much hope at the Bristol sprint race (the longer the race, the better for me!).

 

As it has been each year at Bristol, the racking is really tight and on a narrow road that doesn’t have the best surface – hardly ideal for running up and down barefoot! It was nice to see many familiar faces and good to share a nervous pre-race laugh with some folks.

All-too-soon it was time to get the wetsuit on and get down to the water’s edge. The swim at Bristol takes place in the Cumberland Basin – basically a small dock where the organisers had to create a funny “W” shaped course to fit in the full 750m.  Standing on the pontoon, I could feel the now-familiar sensation of my buttocks shivering like mad – it wasn’t cold, just nervous tension I guess!

Into the water and the first thought was, “it’s not as cold as I expected!”. That was certainly a bonus. With a lot of bodies in my ‘veterans’ wave, I elected to start right at the front and just risk being swum-over by faster people from behind (better that than to have to swim around people, I figured).  The hooter went and we all sprinted off. It was brutal carnage – fists, feet, legs, arms everywhere. I remember distinctly thinking to myself “this is the most violent swim start I’ve ever done!”.

About 200m into the swim and there was a little more space. For once my sighting was okay and I could see that I was at the front of the second pack, a small group having got away off the front.  I felt like I was working hard, with a bit of lactic building up in my legs.  Around the second buoy and I looked to be a little closer to a small group ahead so tried to bridge up on the long leg up to the third buoy.  Thanks to some poor sighting ahead, I managed to bridge up just in time for the buoy and then I knew the swim was 60-70% done and I started to just keep pace, saving my legs and lungs for the cycle ahead.

Out of the water and I had the now-familiar momentary dizziness, but that passed as I climbed the gangplank up to the dockside and transition zone. Official swim time 11:15 (mat was at the top of the dockside, so call it 11 dead for the actual swim – 8th in my wave). I hate long runs into T1, and while Bristol isn’t a patch on Mallorca, it is still a good 450m from swim timing mat to bike timing mat.

T1

For once, my T1 went well and I managed to get the Kask Bambino (with visor in place) on at the first attempt. I grabbed my bike and had a good run to bike out, yelling to clear my path! Onto the bike and feet went straight into the Trivent shoes. Conscious that I wanted to get away from T1 without getting caught in traffic I got straight down into the aero tuck and pedaled furiously for the first minute or so, not even bothering to fasten my shoes.

Cycle

As expected, the wind was cruel, coming from pretty much every direction except behind! The two-lap closed-roads course consisted of a pretty-much straight run up to the dead turn, then another fast stretch back towards transition before a short tight and twisty section leading into the second lap.  The problem with this layout was that, combined with catching slower riders from the earlier waves, there was little in the course’s topography to break up riders – no hills or tight technical sections (apart from the very lap end). This inevitably led to a lot of riders doing similar speeds having to share the road at the same time.

I’m usually the first to complain about drafting, but on this occasion I think the course layout made it near impossible not to get close to people doing very similar speeds.  As such, I had to be very mindful to really make a strong effort when passing people then make sure I stayed out of the next guy’s draft until I was ready to put in another overtaking effort.  It wasn’t easy.  The bit I enjoyed the most was the tight twisty descent at the end of the lap – I have a great photo (thanks Holly!) of me zooming down at the end of lap 1 with a proper lean on!

I hadn’t seen team-mate Chris Newman at all on the first lap. He’d started in the same wave as me, right next to me at the swim start, so I wasn’t sure if he was ahead or behind me. I was aware that Chris is the stronger cyclist, so I knew he’d be hunting me down if he was behind!  So lap two was another full-power effort, again battling the winds (not the easiest with a 90mm front wheel!). Reaching the turnaround, this time I did see Chris and could tell he was around 30-40 seconds down on me; not much breathing room there!

T2

I made it back to T2 unscathed (by which, I mean, without any accidents or drafting penalties – more on that later) and executed a smooth dismount into transition.  Time: 31:09 – 3rd fastest bike in my AG (2nd fastest if you excluded the guy who got DQ’d). Bike racked, helmet off, Skechers GORun2 shoes on and away we go – back down the length of transition to run out and then around the dock before climbing up to the overpass – a cruel start to the run!

Run

I felt tight, really tight. I’m never the smoothest of runners, but even I could tell I was running tense (a video clip later showed just how awful my form was). I felt like my muscles were fighting treacle and just didn’t want to move. I got passed within the first 300m or so by a guy going like a steam train – no way I was keeping up with that! So I just focused on getting my stride right and trying to calm my breathing.

Reaching the turnaround, I knew the worst was over and could also see that Chris was probably losing a little ground on me. Knowing that I was finally on the last leg of the race, I dug a little deeper and tried to bring it home with some sense of speed.  I think I lost 3-4 places to fellow 40-44 Age Groupers on the run, so I was really suffering, but just hung in there the best I could.

Finally the finish line hove into sight and I belatedly put a sprint in to cross the line in 1:07:19. Far from my fastest sprint triathlon – but as we all know, these things are all very course-specific.  I was totally gutted with my run time of 21:54. I can’t remember the last time I ran 5km so slowly. But then I checked the Garmin to see that it had recorded the run (I started the Garmin on the run timing mat, not before) at 5.3km and I had average 4:09/kms for the run.  Still a good 15 seconds per kilometer slower than I want / expect but it wasn’t the disaster I’d initially thought.

Immediate results gave me as 9th in Age Group, but this was ‘upgraded’ overnight to 7th as I’m guessing one guy got a drafting penalty and another got DQ’d.

For me personally, 7th is good news – not an automatic qualification slot for the World Champs in London, but it puts me very high in the ‘queue’ (my time was just 104% of the winner’s, further helping my cause).

Reflecting

Looking back at the race, I have to be happy with the swim. Given my frustrations with swimming this year, this first race under Martin Hill’s swim guidance has given me faith that I can re-find the sort of form I had early in 2012 – and hopefully go beyond it! I definitely worked hard on the swim and my efficiency is probably woeful, but coming out of the water in the top ten was pretty good.

The bike was difficult. The winds were blowing us around all over the place and the course combined with sheer volume of competitors meant that you often found yourself ‘in company’.  To that effect, I find myself having to question the number of drafting penalties and DQs handed out during the race – in my wave alone there were four DQs and a further four two-minute time penalties for drafting.  That’s eight people in a 55-person wave. Way above normal!

I’m usually the first to call for tougher enforcement of drafting rules (read any previous race report of mine!), BUT this time I do have some sympathy for those that were busted – or at least, those that really weren’t doing it deliberately.  The shape, length and topography of the course really didn’t help split riders up – and the sheer volume of cyclists on track was very high.

That said, all of the DQs in my wave were for double-drafting violations – so I guess you have to question the intelligence of someone who gets busted once then puts themselves in a position where they risk being busted again…  I guess at the end of the day, I would just encourage the race organisers to take note of the high number of penalties and at least consider what they could do with the course to help reduce these in the future.

One thing I simply can’t fathom is that my team-mate Chris Newman was DQ’d for ‘dangerous riding’. It simply doesn’t stack up – Chris is one of the best cyclists I know, picks his lines extremely carefully and has a confidence on the bike few can match. I can definitely see his style as ‘aggressive’, but I would describe myself in much the same way.  That Chris was DQ’d overnight, with no warning on the day and no chance to lodge an appeal while the ‘incident’ was fresh is completely wrong in my opinion. Chris has appealed and I will openly support him in any hearing.

Finally, the run.  I mentioned earlier the video – this is the first time I’ve seen moving images of me emerging from T2 (as opposed to stills) and it wasn’t pretty viewing.  It was, however, invaluable as I noticed a number of things about my running that I wasn’t really aware of before. Fixing this will, I am sure, help me in future races.  Acknowledging that the race was long, it shows some progress that I am disappointed with running 4:09 kms off the bike.  Now, if I can get to the stage where I’m disappointed with running 3:45s….!

So, with a little luck (and without repercussions on my thoughts above!), London is calling in September.  I won’t find out for sure for another four weeks or so, so for now it’s back to business as usual and time to re-focus on middle distance – I can hear Lanza 70.3 calling my name!

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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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