Monday, January 20, 2020

Beijing Qualification attempt #1 - Eton Race Report 22/05

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I’d heard rumours it’s always windy at Dorney Lake.  But nothing quite prepared me for the howling gales that greeted me as I parked up and got the bike out of the car for the Beijing sprint triathlon qualifier on Sunday morning. 

In front of the potaloos at EtonAfter about 30 seconds debate it was clear that running my rear wheel with the Aerojacket disc cover on it (see Gear Review here) wasn’t going to be a sensible option, which left me with no other choice but to run my 38mm clincher ‘training’ rear wheel.  At times like this, I wish I had a ready stock of wheels for all occasions – a set of 50mm carbons would have done just nicely!

Anyway, enough moaning.  The one thing you can say about weather conditions is that at least they’re the same for everybody (at least, everybody on the course at the same time as you!).

Registration was swift and painless (thanks to the Human Race Events organisers) and I was pleased to find that the Beijing qualifier waves had all been allocated slots on the first row of racking, making finding your way through transition that bit easier.  Less good was how tight the rack space was – which was made worse by the battering winds slewing racked bikes all over the place!

I made the decision (being a short-arse, my front wheel often hangs mid-air when the bike is racked by its saddle) to ‘reverse-rack’ my bike by its brake leavers, thus making it a bit more stable.

I had a good chat with a few of the chaps racking around me, and was a little surprised to find that I wasn’t the only one with the Beijing qualifier as my first triathlon of the season (done plenty of duathlons, but no competitive swimming in 2011).

As you’ll know if you’re a twitter friend (@m_j_fisher if you’re not!), I spent the week before the race on a family holiday in Portugal, with a much-reduced training schedule. I also took the opportunity to have a much-overdue massage mid-week – but in hindsight this may have caused more problems than it solved, as my legs were sore for the rest of the week (actually got shin splints on my Thursday run – haven’t had those for years!).

So, for fear of cramping and in the hope of easing wetsuit removal (my first race in the Xterra Vector Pro X3 wetsuit), I chose to wear the Compressport calf guards recently loaned to me by coach, Mark Shepherd.

So wetsuit on and into the water for the combined 30-34 and 35-39 Beijing Qualifier wave.  Unlike ‘open’ tris where competitors seem to self-select their starting position, there was a real jostle for the front, which led to a packed and somewhat frantic start to the 750m swim.  As my first competitive swim of the year, pacing was a concern but I just had to go with what ‘felt’ right.  The one thing I remember was that I hardly ever saw a pair of feet to draft off! In fact, on the last straight back into T1 I could see I seemed to be leading the second wave of swimmers, with plenty of arms and hats around me but none close in front.

Results show I exited the swim with a time of 12:22, 20th out of 39 in my wave and a bit disappointing to be honest.  Next guy in front was 11:55 and next three behind all within 10 seconds, so lends weight to theory that I was leading the second ‘pack’ of swimmers.  I know I can swim faster, so must do better next time to get into the lead pack and enjoy benefits of drafting.

Into T1 and I struggled to find the cord to unzip my wetsuit – thankfully the run to my rack space was probably 150m or so, so I had time to fumble and still get top half off before I found my spot.  Fears about the wetsuit legs being tricky were thankfully unfounded and the suit came off easily.  Helmet on, grab bike and run for the mount point… (according to timing mats, I had 7th fastest T1, so not all bad!).

Semi-flying mount onto the bike and feet slipped straight into shoes and I made up a place within 50 metres of leaving T1, result!  Then I turned the corner onto the main ‘out’ straight of the bike and… f*ck this for a game of soldiers!

I’d forgotten just how fierce the wind was.  Halfway down the cassette on the back, down in the tuck (struggling to control the bike against the side wind at times) and with a cadence in the high 90s and doing… about 27km/h!  This was going to be a tough (albeit short!) cycle leg.

Thankfully there was some relief on the ‘in’ straight, as I managed several times to top 50km/h, even without the aid of an aero rear wheel (I did opt to keep my 82mm front, which did make the bike look a little absurd).  The four laps of the bike simply became a task of head down and grind/spin against the wind for 50% of the lap and then recover while mashing it (if that’s possible!?) for the other 50%.  My 20km bike time came in at 33:49, comfortably my slowest 20km for some time, but good enough for 4th in Age Group and 12th in the wave.

It seems I always complain about drafting on the bike, and I did see a few cases, BUT to be fair the wind and the narrow nature of the Dorney bike course kind of made drafting inevitable, so this time nothing much to get on my high horse about.

Into T2 and (like Limerick) I aborted plans to take my feet out of my shoes on the bike and instead just unclipped.  I decided a gust of wind while mid-extraction and that could be race over, so better to lose a second or two in T2.  On reflection, most of those around me made the change easy enough, so I probably could have done it – but that’s a mid-race decision and not worth mulling over too long.

T2 times did indeed suffer and I only recorded 22nd out of 39, so practice on the dismount is definitely in order (I haven’t learned the flying dismount yet, so have to pretty much stop dead).

Out onto the run and it was clear my legs didn’t want to play ball.  Whether due to the massage earlier in the week, or maybe I went too hard on the bike, I just struggled to get comfortable and get myself in the ‘hurt locker’ (I think this is a psychological issue as much as anything else).  It didn’t help that somehow my Garmin had switched off mid-race, so I restarted it on the run leg so I could at least get a sense of pace.  I was thus suitably disappointed to see I was doing 4:30/km pace and felt like I didn’t have much more to give.  With just under a kilometre to go I was passed by a 30-34 age grouper and resolved to stay on his heels no matter what.  Funnily enough, I could find a 4:00/km pace at that point (lending weight to my psychological theory) and I crossed the line in 1:09:58.  Relieved to have stayed within my target time of 1:10:00 (just!) but disappointed and confused by my poor run (yet again – various theories around this, including wind and possibly even over-distance run leg).

The provisional results published later in the day showed me as 6th in Age Group (out of 15 Beijing candidates) and 23rd in Wave.  I’m disappointed not to have taken one of the top four qualifications slots, but I also think the overall result is a reasonably fair reflection of where I’m at right now.

With only a week to go till the second Beijing sprint qualifier at Speedy Beaver, time is short to make any substantial changes, but my take-aways from yesterday’s race are:


1. Swim is okay – can push harder at Speedy
2. T1 is good, routine works for me, so no changes
3. Bike is strong, can use to my advantage

Areas to address:

1. Push harder on swim, 750m isn’t that far!
2. T2 needs work
3. Run forest, run! Need to really get to grips with what’s limiting my run performance

Hopefully a solid preparation week, a bit of mental focus and a little good luck will see me perform just a little better at Speedy and possibly make one of those top four slots mine!

Oh, and good to finally meet Mel Ryding (@nuuutymel) at last - and congrats to her for her Beijing qualification :-)


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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