Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Race Report - Cotswold 113 middle-distance triathlon 2014

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Clearly blog posts on TriathletesDiary are like buses… You wait forever for one, then three turn up in rapid succession.  This time it’s a quick(?!) report on this weekend’s Cotswold 113 middle distance triathlon.

As you’ll know from recent posts, it’s been a busy time recently, what with getting married, working abroad etc.  As such, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this weekend.  With hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have entered the race had I realized how the training beforehand would be disrupted.

Cotswold113

Having gotten used to ‘luxury’ mid and late-morning start times recently, waking up to an alarm call at 3am was something of a shock!  I arrived at the race venue at the Cotswold Water Park, about 35 minutes from home, just after 4.30am.

The racking was tight and there wasn’t much room to lay stuff out; less of a problem when it’s a pool-based sprint triathlon, but more of a concern in a wetsuit middle distance race.  But everyone seemed good-natured and there wasn’t too much jostling for space.

Transition was closed at 5.30am, even though the first wave didn’t start the race till 6am.  It seemed a bit too early, especially for athletes like me who didn’t have a support crew with them to take jackets, shoes etc.  It wasn’t especially cold, but it would have been nice to stay a little warmer until it was time to race.

Finally it was time for my wave (3 of 4, off at 6.20am) to enter the water. I have to admit it made a nice change to step into British water that didn’t make you immediately recoil was frostbite! It was actually quite pleasant.  A quick warm up and it was time to go.  I positioned myself at the front, but off the racing line.  In hindsight, this was a mistake and I missed the lead pack on the swim.  I could see them ahead in the first 200m and was debating the energy cost of attempting to bridge over versus staying where I was.

Spotting a guy next to me who seemed to be coming past, I thought I’d jump on his feet and use him to help me bridge. It was a bad choice, as he almost immediately slowed down and I had to overtake just to keep my momentum.  So there I was for the first 800m or so; in no man’s land, leading the chase pack, getting no draft benefit, but dragging along a load of others. Bugger.

About halfway round, I started catching ‘blue hats’ from the wave in front, which at least made the swim a little more interesting!

Finally I exited the water in just under 29 minutes, about right considering I’d had no draft, made some poor tactical decisions and done bugger-all training lately. Sorry Adam!

Transition went relatively smoothly and I was out on the bike after a short but painful run across the stony ground.  The mount zone was busy, so there was no elegant flying leap onto the bike this time round!

The Bike

BikeAnyways, out onto the bike and as usual I didn’t bother fastening my shoes for the first five minutes or so; too busy getting up to speed and overtaking!

The air was pretty still and the course flat, so getting up to a decent lick of speed didn’t take long. The 113 course is well known for being ‘flat and fast’. Which it is, but that doesn’t actually mean it’s any less demanding.  Flat and fast is nice if you’re pushing along at 70%, but if you’re giving 100% in a race, it still hurts!

Climbing the hill at Hannington, the only meaningful climb on the 41km course (yes, it’s only about 82.5km in total, so short of the official 70.3 distance), it was clear to see there was a small price to be paid for swapping my rear cassette for one with a 23-tooth bottom gear (I still feel the benefit of closer gearing on the flat outweighed the cons experienced on the climbs). My usual overtaking had to take a break for the two minutes or so it took to climb the rise.  Cresting the hill it was then back up to speed for the journey back towards transition.

My biggest bug-bear with the bike course was the obscene amount of blatant drafting that was taking place.  There were huge pelotons of 20+ riders in some places.  I did see a warning dished-out by a draft buster, but nothing more.  One peloton I saw was neatly formed behind a female competitor, Melinda Atkinson (I only know who it was ‘cos she was wearing a GB suit with her name on it!).  Now in places the roads were narrow and it was tricky to overtake with bikes heading both ways down country lanes. But I saw plenty of drafting offences taking place on wide roads where overtaking was not a problem.

The wind seemed to strengthen considerably on lap two of the bike – that and/or I was tiring.  I certainly felt like I had to control my effort to avoid having no legs for the run.  My gel consumption was based on a new nutrition strategy, and I had my usual bottle of Elivar Endure between the tribars in a Speedfil bottle. But in truth, I wasn’t drinking enough. More on that later.

The Run

Into T2 and I made a good dismount but then totally f*cked-up by running straight past my racking spot. I mean, FFS, I have the BRIGHTEST trainers in the world and I ran past them! Hashtag Facepalm (as I believe the cool kids say…). But seriously, that’s how cramped transition was.

I donned socks, the Skechers GORuns and grabbed sunnies, visor and gels (yes, gels plural, new nutrition strategy).  I’d decided ahead of the race to just do the run on feel. I’d check my km splits as they flashed up on the Garmin, but I would just run according to how I felt.

So when the first km split came up as 4:21 I was reasonably happy; no point sprinting into a 21km run. Better to build up.  But the build up didn’t come. The next km was 4:39, but then the next back to 4:21.  With its mix of trail and on-road running, plus a fairly twisty run route, the 113 run course makes it difficult to get into a steady rhythm, you have to constantly make alterations to pace, footing etc.

I downed a gel about halfway round lap one – the first of three I would take on the run – and was feeling OK. Into Lap two and a few more people had left T2, which meant that I both had more targets to catch and more people to overtake. The first was a good thing, the second not so, especially on the tighter single-track parts of the off-road sections.  I tried to use those parts as a chance to recover before I was able to overtaken and push on.

Although I was making lots of overtakes, I was also getting overtaken a few times myself.  Some guys breezed past me like I was standing still (I’m pretty sure a couple were relay runners!) but others sounded like they were killing themselves. Nonetheless, they overtook me, so maybe I just wasn’t pushing hard enough!

I downed another gel on lap 2, but by the end of it I could feel myself slowing, just like I did in Mallorca.  Having run the previous aid stations, I finally walked the last one and took the offered cup of coke, hoping it would be a magic cure.  It wasn’t. But I knew I was on the last lap and wasn’t dead yet, so just keep running! My stomach was churning a bit but moderating my breathing seemed to stop it developing into anything worse.

With the finish line only 2km away it was time to dig and try to increase my pace before the finish; I could afford to risk a blow-up now.  Into the last 1,000m and push a little harder, into the last 500m, a little harder and then a quick check to see that no one was chasing me down the finishing chute.

I’d done it, crossed the line in 4:19:31 (remember, the bike course is short and the transition area is NOTHING like as long as Mallorca!).  A quick results check showed me as 3rd in AG (which later dropped to 4th as the wave behind me finished) and in the top-20 overall.  I felt a bit flat to be honest; it wasn’t what I was hoping for.

Post-race analysis

In truth, the swim and bike were about right. Although I managed a sub-28 1.9km swim in Mallorca, I just haven’t done the hours in the pool lately and knew I’d pay a penalty for that.  My bike was the fastest in my Age Group and 12th fastest overall. I could have gone faster, but I deliberately held back in hopes of posting a decent run.  But that’s where it fell apart. Again.

Although I actually managed to run the full half marathon with just one short walk through an aid station (I’ve had to walk pretty much ALL the aid stations in previous races), my time was far away from what I had planned.  I think the nature of the course played a SMALL part in this (mixed terrain, very twisty in places, no rhythm), but the main reason for the poor run remains elusive.

My coach insists that it’s not down to run fitness. He still thinks we (or, rather, I) have more work to do to get my in-race (and possibly pre-race, too) nutrition right. Put simply, he doesn’t think I’m putting enough calories in and so I am bonking on the run.

So clearly there is still work to be done.

My initial self-analysis was perhaps a bit harsh. The race wasn’t exactly a disaster. But it’s just so frustrating to keep not performing on the run. I know I can run a 1:24 half marathon fresh, so there’s no excuse to keep running 1:34 half marathons off the bike!

A quick note of thanks to all the marshals and volunteers on the day – without you guys, we can’t race, so thank you.

Another quick note – I only learned after the race that Team True Spirit had 12 bikes stolen from the campsite the night before the race. I sincerely hope everyone does all they can to help recover these bikes. Please see the BBC website for more details (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-gloucestershire-27858918).

So… I need to stop typing as I need to break the bike down and get it packed ready to fly to Sweden and then Denmark this week. Yup; I finally relented and booked my travel and accommodation for the 70.3 race in Aarhus next Sunday.  Time to see what it feels like to run two middle distance triathlons back-to-back!

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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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