Monday, January 20, 2020

A weekend of racing

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After my last blog about the need to pull myself out of a bit of a slump and get my head back in the game, this past weekend I chose to enter a local sprint triathlon – and then my coach decided since it was a Bank Holiday here in the UK, I could do a 25-mile TT on the Monday too!

The triathlon in question was the Malmesbury Triathlon, run by DBMax. The format was a simple 400 metre pool swim, a 22km bike and then a 5km run. Pretty standard stuff.  As a sub-6 swimmer I was in the second-to-last wave off, and thankfully only had one fellow competitor to share my lane with.  As coincidences would have it, this particular cohort was mate and friendly rival, Will Poole.  A great biker and runner, but I reckoned I’d have the edge in the pool.

There’s never a chance to warm up properly in a pool triathlon, so within seconds of getting into the water we were off.  The pool was a bit murky after a morning of several hundred competitors going flat out but I concentrated on finding a pace that was good enough without killing myself before even mounting the bike (I know my swim fitness is down a bit at the moment).  I think it was a case of strength over style as I powered up and down the pool the required sixteen times; not pretty to watch but good enough to get out and cross the timing mat on the entry to T1 in 5:53 (estimate about a 5:45 swim from that, which is about right for me at the moment).

I was half-surprised to come into T1 alone; clearly I had finished the swim first in my wave. My son and girlfriend were shouting encouragement as I donned race belt, glasses and helmet before grabbing the bike and navigating the rather convoluted route to the bike mount line.

My mount went reasonably well, although I struggled with the shoes again (as per my last race – maybe I need more practice…). Out of the leisure centre and onto the road and one thing became immediately apparent – the first half of the bike (effectively a straight-ish line) was going to be into a headwind. Lovely!  The course map had suggested that the bike route was pretty flat.  It really didn’t feel like it! The headwind combined with a net climb (and getting stuck behind a car) to the turn point meant I only averaged something like 32-33km/h on the first 11km of the bike.  A bit disappointing and I kept waiting for Will to storm past me.

In fact, it wasn’t till I had made the turn that I saw him, next in line behind me and probably about 30 seconds down.  OK, I can probably just about hold that until the closing stages of the bike (and then watch him run away!).  Where the first half of the bike had been a slog, the second half flew by (with the exception of a nasty short climb) and I was regularly touching 50km/h. One problem was a recurrence of a cramp I suffered in my right hip flexor in previous races.  I’m not sure if this has been caused by the bike position or something else (pain in my right knee makes it difficult to stretch that leg).

Overall, the bike was a pretty lonely affair.  I started to catch some guys from the previous wave in the second half, but I would have preferred a few more ‘rabbits’ to catch. Into T2  (bike split for 22.8km was 36:10) and I was again half-surprised to still be leading my wave.  I could see Will dismounting just as I was putting my run shoes on, so he clearly hadn’t taken too much time out of me in the second half of the bike.

I’d decided to wear my ‘old’ Adidas Adios for the run – the first time I’d competed in them since Beijing last year – and I was immediately reminded why I like them.  They’re so light and really help me achieve a nice mid-foot strike (saying that, I will probably get sent a photo of me with a massive heel strike now!).  I set off at what felt like a good, but sustainable pace.  I hadn’t recce’d the run course, so didn’t really know what to expect (bad Matt).  As it was, there was a sharp downhill followed by a 500-600m climb and then it was pretty flat out to the 2.5km turn point.  There were few runners near enough ahead to target, so I pretty much just ran my own race – still waiting for Will to storm past!

I did catch one guy about 1.5km in to the run and said “good running mate” as I passed.  But I think my words of encouragement had the opposite effect as all he said was “oh bloody hell, you’re fast!”.
A friendly local family had set up a water and hose point at about 2km, but I waved them both away as a) I didn’t fancy a garden hose shower at that point and b) I generally choke more water than I swallow at 5km pace! Thankfully I don’t think they were offended (at least, I hope not).

Turning around and heading back for the last 2.5km I passed Will coming the other way, about 30 seconds or so down on me.  Wow, I might actually just about hold him off!  I think this gave me a little spur and I concentrated on a group of 5-6 runners about 700m ahead that I wanted to catch before the finish.

In the end I started catching them with about 800m to go, passing the last one up the horrible little incline to the finish line.  I crossed the line pleased with my performance (and, if I’m honest, even more pleased Will hadn’t gotten past me!).  My run time came in at 20:17 – nothing to write home about at all, but given my ongoing knee problems it was – like the swim – probably a fair reflection of where I’m at currently.  My total time was 1:04:07 (including transitions).

After some toing and froing on the times, I was confirmed as fourth overall and third senior male, which was subsequently promoted to second overall when the former #1 and #2 were disqualified for drafting on the bike (being cynical, I noticed they were both sponsored by the race sponsor, so whether there really was drafting or not is open to question – although they had near-identical swim and bike times, so they definitely weren’t far apart!).  

So all in all a good day out; plenty of room for improvement in the swim and run but I’m pleased with the effort.

And so to Bank Holiday Monday.  With heavy rain forecast and heavy legs from the bike cramps, I had resolved that if the weather was okay, I’d race, otherwise not.  As luck would have it, it dawned bright and dry in Marlborough so I was up at 6.30am in order to have breakfast well in advance of race time (perhaps the curry on Sunday night wasn’t the best pre-race food though!).

I’m not really sure how you can make a TT race report interesting.  The short version goes something like this: "I turned up, I registered, I warmed up (felt shite), I started (felt shite), I hurt a lot, I hurt a lot some more, I crossed the finish line, I nearly fell off my bike with exhaustion".

That kinda sums it up really!

I suppose for the sake of completeness I’d point out that it’s been nearly a year since I did a competitive 25-mile time trial (outside of a triathlon, that is) and that my current PB was 1:01:19.  I elected to take position #5 so that I could get the race over with.  Off at #4 was a journalist from Pro Cycling magazine, riding a very nice top-end Specialized Shiv and deep-section Enve wheels (the pros of having an abundance of review kit to pick!).  I ended up catching the 3, 2 and 1 riders within the first 4-5km, but never saw #4 until he passed me coming the other way after the turn around. 

I had a pretty lonely race until 32km when I was passed by #7 and then again at 35km when #8 got me – bloody hell they were shifting.  In the last few KMs I could see I was borderline for getting a sub-60 so really gave it all I had.  I finally crossed the line in 59:56 (well, 59:55 according to my Garmin, but who’s counting?!). A new PB at least, even if I had had my ass handed to me by a bunch of roadies once again.

Given my legs were tired from Sunday’s race (and thus had been struggling to get my HR up throughout the ride), I was very pleased to have both set a new PB and finally broken the 60-minute barrier.

So all in all, a good weekend’s racing.  To be honest, I hadn’t really been looking forward to it, but I’m glad I gave myself the much-needed kick up the backside and just got on with it.  It just goes to show that sometimes you just need to man-up and put yourself on the line.  You might surprise yourself.

More racing will follow in the coming weeks – just need to find which races to enter!

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Matt Fisher runs - 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 two-times qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs