Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Race Report - Beijing World Triathlon Age Group Championships 2011

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OK, so first off, apologies if this post gets a little long – there’s a lot to try to cram in! I’ll try to just focus on the race in this post and then do a separate one for the whole experience of being in China and watching both Alistair Brownlee and Helen Jenkins seal their world championships.

World Triathlon Championships – Beijing

Arrival in Beijing was made more pleasant thanks to having been upgraded to business class on the way out (I owe a BA cabin crew friend a big kiss and a curry!), though it was immediately obvious stepping off the plane that the anticipated humidity was in full force. We drove for about an hour to get from the huge Capital Airport to our race headquarters in Changpin – the Chinese government had apparently ‘forced’ their oil giant, Sinopec, to open up their conference and hotel facility for our use. Heading into the lobby it was pretty amazing to see the likes of Javier Gomez, Jan Frodeno and Helen Jenkins (and later, Ali and Jonny Brownlee among many others) just milling around.

Race venueThe next day we went to explore the race venue, at the Shisanling Reservoir. The venue is the same one used for the triathlon in the 2008 Olympic games – complete with the blue ‘carpet’ still in place – and with a small army of Chinese workers trying to patch it back together!

First, we rode the bike course for the Olympic distance race, essentially a 14km loop around the reservoir. At training speeds in a group it felt fine – undulating, but nothing to get overly worried about, and on a nice sunny day the road surface was near perfect (we can only wish for smooth roads like those in the UK!). We had a nice amble round, taking note of the trickier corners and trying to get a feel for the general flow of the course.

Next up was a swim in the reservoir. At 26 degrees C it was never going to be a wetsuit swim and the water felt fine. The start pontoon was quite sheltered but the water did get a little choppy as you moved towards the centre of the water. As usual, my bloody goggle decided to fog around 1,000 metres, but I wanted to swim the full 1,500 metre course to get a feel for sighting etc (as it turns out, this was practically a waste of time, for reasons that will become clear later!).

I didn’t get to run the actual run course, but it was clear from the recce trips that there were two pretty horrible hills that would need to be tackled on each of the three laps. Nice!

We had time for a couple more practice sessions over the next day or two, then it was time for the Sprint distance race on Saturday. My room-mate (Mike Hannay – top bloke, very lucky to have been allocated a room with such a nice guy) was racing, so after he set off I got up about 7am to head down to the race and cheer on the Brits.

After what had been a glorious day on the Friday, I felt really sorry for the guys racing on Sunday in cold wet weather. It couldn’t have been much worse for them. Still, some great performances from the guys (including Twitter pals Melanie Ryding and Felicity Cole).

Race Day
Then it was my turn! I knew things weren’t right when I woke up at 4am on Sunday morning and promptly spent the next 30 minutes glued to the loo. My guts were in turmoil – and it wasn’t nerves. It seems the pizza I had eaten the night before really hadn’t agreed with me. I spent most of the next couple of hours either sat on the loo or with my head down it.

Getting to transition the spirits among the Brits were high, with an apparent light-hearted atmosphere that masked the nerves many of us were feeling.

At just before 7am local time (midnight UK) it was time to head down to the pontoon for the swim start. It was then that I remembered I’d left my pre-race energy gel in transition – idiot! Oh well, I still had another gel on the bike, so I’d be fine, no reason to panic.

The rumoured dive start was, thankfully, just a rumour and we lowered ourselves into the water for the start. It was clear, however, that my previous laps of the swim course hadn’t been all that useful – the course layout was different! Thanks ITU!

We were off, and rather than the usual fist-fight, I found myself in relatively open water with only the occasional jostling. As I tend to breathe only to the left when racing, those arms I could see were behind me and so I assumed I was in a good position (lesson to learn – use bilateral breathing to check race position more effectively!) as we made our way along the first leg. Approaching the first turn buoy I could see a group ahead and I was quickly on the feet of the pack. It seemed a little slow so I actually swam through the pack and up to a smaller group in front. Making my way to the front of this pack I could see a fair few fellow Brits around me (the advantage of no wetsuits – easier to see who’s who!). Sighting forwards I couldn’t see any arms flailing (goggles were fogging again!) so I assumed I was close the front. Wrong assumption as it turned out, but I felt my pace was good so was happy to effectively lead my pack, with a gaggle of Brits and yanks drafting me.

Out of the water and I glanced at my watch – 26:30. No way! I never take over 25 minutes to swim 1,500 metres, even without a wetsuit! It turns out no-one met their expected swim times, so by general consensus we think the swim course was 150-200m long, and the timing mat was a good 20 seconds from the actual swim exit. I was chased into T1 by two Americans, who managed to just get out ahead of me on the bike.

The exit of T1 was downhill, which made it fun trying to mount the bike while merging safely into the main cycle course. I managed my usual mount, got my feet into the shoes and then managed to tighten the straps before plunging down the reservoir’s sluice gate – a steep descent which was bumpy as hell and with a bone-jarring angle change at the bottom (was convinced I’d blown a tyre each lap!).

Out onto the course proper and I concentrated on getting into a good rhythm and not working too hard bearing in mind the hills that I knew were coming. I caught one of the two yanks from the swim exit quickly and passed him with ease. Then we hit a long, shallow incline which turned out to be much more energy-sapping in the race than it promised to be during the practice rides.

I had my usual Zelusi Sustain2 in my Speedfil bottle and a Zipvit energy gel tucked into the handlebars. I made a conscious decision to take a small sip of liquid every 8-10 minutes and was saving my gel for a specific point (crossing the reservoir dam) about 2/3rds way round the last lap (giving me time to absorb prior to the run). This was all working well until I got to the sluice gate starting the last lap and the bump at the bottom caused the gel to go flying! Oh well, no gels at all for me today then! I drank a bit more Sustain2 early in the lap, so that it wouldn’t be sloshing around too much when I hit the run. My guts were still in turmoil, however, and I was alternating between needing the loo and wanting to vomit.

Into T2 and my transition was good. It’s always fun trying to find your spot in T2 and our massive transition area certainly made it a challenge. However, having bright green racing shoes helped!

Out onto the run and my guts were still not happy. I tried to push it to the back of my mind and just concentrate on getting as close to 4 minute KMs as I could. It felt terribly slow, but I just didn’t have anything more to give and I could feel my left calf had locked solid while my right knee was getting more and more sore. At the far end of the run course loop there was an evil hill that felt like you were walking – thankfully it seemed everyone was struggling so even though I felt really slow, I actually made up a few places.

Despite my body desperately wanting to stop, I kept focusing on the decreasing distance until the finish line and tried to pick people ahead that I was going to catch – big thanks to all the GB supporters shouting along the way – sorry if I didn’t acknowledge you at the time, but trust me, I heard you and it helped! Just before halfway on the third and final lap, the American I had passed on the bike caught me on the run – I was not happy and resolved that I was not giving away a place that easily. Thankfully towards the end of the lap he seemed to blow up and I slowly eased back in front and then just kept telling myself it didn’t matter how much my knee hurt, I only had 1.5km to go to finish the biggest race of my life so far.

Into the final stretch, as I turned the final turn to move away from the main course into the finishing chute I could hear a few ‘Go GB’s but then also heard a ‘Go USA!’. I took this to mean I had a yank on my shoulder and no way was I letting him take me in the last 300 metres of the race! I ran down the chute literally as fast as my legs would carry me, panting like a female tennis player with a huge grimace on my face. I crossed the line arms aloft and just tried to savour the moment.

FinishCrossing the line at 2:19:16, I was initially really disappointed with my time. I had actually set myself a target of 2:10, so to miss this by nearly ten minutes was gutting. It wasn’t till later than I found out nearly everyone had had a ‘slow’ race. In the end, we all agreed that the swim and bike were both definitely long (we reckon 150-200m on the swim – plus a long run to transition – and then about 2km long on the bike) and that the run course was just a b*st*rd! Many people I expected to go sub-40 on the run took 41 minutes or more.

In retrospect, this made my 42:48 run more acceptable than it at first seemed. Still slow, but actually not as bad in comparison to others. More disappointing were my swim and bike times – even allowing for the extra 2km, I shouldn’t have taken 1:06:19 for 42km (38km/h average) on that course. I never really felt like I settled into a rhythm on the bike – and my glutes were killing me. Bike position definitely needs a look at over winter, as I’ve only been getting this issue since changing to the Argon 18. That said, all the evidence does point towards the Argon being faster than my Cannondale Slice, with over two minutes knocked off my 25 mile TT time recently. So, I think it’s the fit that needs adjusting, not the bike per se.

My swim, too, showed up a weakness of training in 2011. I’ve concentrated so much on the run and bike that my swim just hasn’t improved at the same rate. The lesson here is to join a master’s class or similar and really get some good technique sessions in between now and the start of the next season.

BUT... I have to remind myself that while I missed my overall target time, I did achieve my other two goals - to finish in the top half of my age group (I managed 34 / 87 odd) and to not be the last Brit home (there were two behind me in my AG)!

And so for now I’m taking a much-needed rest! With the exception of climbing the great wall and trudging round Beijing, I’ve not done any exercise since the race, and I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty! Training will recommence soon enough, but for now it’s time to take a moment to look back on a rollercoaster year and look forward to what 2012 may bring!

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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