Monday, October 23, 2017

Blood, sweat and (missing) gears - Cotswold Classic Race Report

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So it hasn’t been the easiest of years.  I’ve documented struggles with balancing triathlon training against my real-world responsibilities as a husband, father and Vice President of a fast-growing company.  But lately I’ve been feeling pretty positive.  To some extent, I refound my mojo and I’ve started to (whisper it quietly) enjoy training.

So I woke up at 3:45am on Sunday morning feeling a little better than I might have expected.  Sunday would be my dress rehearsal for the Weymouth 70.3 race in a few weeks time.  My chance to see where my swim was at and whether I could pace the bike well enough to keep a respectable time but leave enough for a half-decent run.  The Cotswold Classic middle distance triathlon was calling.

Racking up in the dark seemed a bit strange after what must have been mostly ‘luxury’ late morning starts in 2015.  I’d completely forgotten the importance of a good head torch – thank God the iPhone has an LED light!

My wave was off second-to-last, so I had plenty of time to watch the earlier waves start and heard the pre-race briefing enough times to memorise it.  Eventually, just after 7:00am we had our turn and a little warm up in the lake, which was surprisingly warm.  I was mindful that I hadn’t done half as much swim training as I’d like recently, so I needed to be realistic with my swim effort and expectations.   Nevertheless, I positioned myself near the front.

The whistle went and we were off; maybe 40-50 of us in the wave of all ages and genders.  I found myself leading side by side with another guy and quickly decided it would be wiser to try to draft him instead. So I moved around to get on his toes.  He soon sped off but I ended up in a small group, taking turns on the front over the course of the 1,900m swim.  It felt like I was working reasonably hard, but it was within my limits.

Closing in on the exit, the water got busier as we started to overtake slower swimmers from the previous waves.  I think I exited in about third or fourth place and was pleasantly surprised to see my watch just ticking over 29 minutes. A better swim than I had expected.

As I ran into T1, I stripped the top half of my rather worse-for-wear Huub Archimedes wetsuit. I was wearing a long sleeve Fusion Speed Top over my Fusion long distance suit, as it had been chilly earlier.  It was warming up now, but I elected to keep the top on just in case the sunshine didn’t last the duration of the bike.

Out onto the bike course and things were going well.  A few small position tweaks lately have helped me adopt a slightly more aero position without causing too much tightness in my shoulders.   I was overtaking everyone in sight, although clearly with no idea whether they were from my wave or previous ones.

Coming up to 10 miles into the course, there was a sharp right-hand bend.  There was a guy ahead on a road bike (I think!) on the left of the road so I positioned myself more to the centre-line to make the overtake.  The tarmac on the left of the lane was rougher than the right, so I wanted the better surface.   There was more than enough room for two bikes to pass without needing to cross the centre-line (just as well on a blind bend!).

As I closed for the overtake, the guy on the left on the rougher tarmac decided he also wanted to be on the smoother tarmac.  Not ideal, but I eased up a little.  As he moved from the rough tarmac to the smooth, however, he lost his front wheel and went sliding to the ground right in front of me.

He had become unclipped from his bike and he was on the right and the bike was to the left.  I managed to swerve and avoid hitting him but even with my brakes hard on, I smashed into his bike and it flipped me hard onto the tarmac on my right-hand side.

I slid for a bit and came to rest in a load of mud at the roadside.  I won’t lie. I was moaning. A lot.  I couldn’t move. I was convinced something (or many things) was broken.  I could see blood everywhere.

The guy who had slid off came over to me, but from what I can remember didn’t actually do much to help.  What I do remember is someone calling my name, which I thought was a bit strange – then I recognised the voice as my friend Steve Crosby-Jones, who had set off in the previous wave.  I’d obviously overtaken him on the bike without realising it and he had stopped to check I was still alive.

I was still clipped-in to my right pedal, so at first I didn’t want anyone moving me or the bike until I was sure nothing was broken.  Eventually, we got me and the bike separated and Steve helped me to my feet.  My knuckles on my right hand were bloody and there was blood on my right leg, although no obvious cause for it.

Some kind soul rode back to the nearby marshal point and shortly after a police car turned up, but by that time I was more interested in getting my chain back on the chainring and getting going again. I was buggered if I was going to DNF 10 miles into a 56-mile bike ride!

So after doing my best to convince the policeman I was okay to continue, I remounted the bike and set off, pretty much realising I’d be riding the rest of the course one-handed as I couldn’t really put much weight through my right shoulder or elbow.  It became evident that the Di2 rear mech had taken a real bashing when the bike hit the deck, as I only had about five usable gears at the back.

Blood was soaking my hand and bike, from where I wasn’t sure (turns out it was my knuckles) but despite the hip being really sore, I was still able to get some power into the pedals.  Needless to say, my white Fusion Speed Top was not white anymore.

And so somehow I managed to not only finish the first lap of the bike course, but do another as well, completing the full bike course in 2hrs 25 mins (including five minutes – checked my Garmin against official time – on the floor).  On another day I would have been pretty bloody pleased with 2hrs 20min for a half-ironman bike leg (okay, the bike is about 1-1.5km short)!

Coming into T2, I managed to get my feet out of the shoes and ready for the dismount.  Despite the blood, I was determined to still put down a decent half-marathon time – that, after all, was the real purpose of the day.

But as I dismounted it all went to pot.  Immediately from the first step I knew I wasn’t going to be able to run.  While the hip injury hadn’t been so bad that it stopped me from pedalling, it was definitely stopping me from running.

I walked into T2, covered in blood and limping;  racked my bike and ditched my scarred helmet. I managed to get my trainers on, thinking that I could at least try jogging out of T2 and then picking up the pace as the hip eased up.

But it wasn’t to be. I couldn’t even make it to the T2 exit jogging and the pain in my hip was agony.

The transition official saw me (God knows what he thought!) and beckoned me to just sit down while he called the paramedics.  I sat. And I cried. Not really with the pain, but the frustration.  The accident hadn’t been my fault, but my race (and the upcoming races) was wrecked.

The paramedic arrived quickly and he started to check me over.  Luckily my collarbone wasn’t broken, but I’d lost a lot of skin on my knuckles and elbow (can’t imagine how much worse my arm would have been without the Speed Top) and there was blood oozing through my trisuit from my hip.

I had to convince the paramedic not to cut the suit off me, but we managed to disrobe (in a closed tent, thankfully!) where we discovered a pretty deep gash on my right thigh.

Anyway, long story short, I was messed up but thankfully nothing major broken and certainly not dead.  I’ll live to fight again, although probably not this year.

As I write this, I can’t help but feel equally thankful and frustrated.  Thankful that I’m still alive and writing this report from the comfort of a restaurant in Austin TX (there’s nothing quite like a 10-hour flight in economy with a busted hip, elbow and shoulder – thanks for the sympathy upgrade, British Airways, not!). But equally frustrated that I now face a premature end to my season and a lot of expense through no fault of my own.

I’ve re-run the accident a hundred times in my head, going through all the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. But at the end of the day, the guy in front binned-it at exactly the wrong moment.  A second or two earlier and I would have braked in time. A few seconds later I would have been past. I was, as they often say when describing Formula One crashes, just a passenger.   The other guy didn’t even seem to have any injuries. I guess because he was probably doing less than 30kph while I was doing closer to 45kph, and he slid to the ground whereas I was flipped right onto it.  Had the other guy looked ahead and planned his line through the corner better, it wouldn’t have happened. But he changed his mind halfway through.

Was it a reckless overtake? No.  Was I carrying too much speed for the corner? No.  Was it just bad luck? Yes.

As I’m writing this, I’m still pretty sore and have much-reduced movement in my right shoulder.  The chances of making the start line for Weymouth 70.3 seem pretty slim.  But let’s see what the week brings.

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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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