Thursday, January 23, 2020

Race Report - Cotswold Classic middle-distance triathlon, 11th August 2013

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I usually do some form of blog or training update in the week or two leading up to a race, but this time I wanted to keep things quiet for a couple of reasons:  1 - I wanted to remove as much pressure from myself as possible and 2 - I really wanted to do my utmost to treat this as 'just' a training race.  Even before I'd entered, my coaches and I were already clear that this wasn't in any way an 'A' race - it was just a run out to see where my relative strengths and weaknesses currently lie.




So I deliberately stayed quiet about this Sunday's race, the Cotswold Classic middle distance triathlon, organised by 113 Events.


And not only did I stay quiet, I also continued to take full advantage of being on garden leave to get another 11-hour training week in, with only the smallest of tapers from Thursday through to Saturday (I still trained, but did sessions designed to get me ready for Sunday).


With Bristol triathlon starting late in the morning, I'd half-forgotten what a balls-ache triathlon can be as I duly set my alarm for 3.15am in the morning. Up, porridge, faff a little then head out the door for the 30-minute drive to Lake 32 in the Cotswold Water Park.


It was still dark as I started to unload the car and get the bike and nutrition sorted.  I'd chosen to modify my nutrition slightly from Mallorca 70.3 and this time I'd aim to take an SiS Isotonic gel every 25 minutes and then alternate between USN's Cyto HP and Epic Pro drinks (the latter has a small amount of protein, which I thought could be beneficial on the bike).  This meant adopting a two-bottle system on the bike - so working with Chris Newman at The Triathlon Shop in Bristol, we settled on leaving my existing Speedfil bottle in place on the downtube and then adding a bracket between the aero bars.  That way I could still top-up the Speedfil if required, and have a smaller amount of the USN Epic Pro in my bar-mounted bottle.


I'd also done a fair bit of playing around with Chris on the bike position.  We had initially gone from the relaxed Mallorca 70.3 set-up to a much more aggressive bum-up head-down position. But in training I'd been struggling to hold the new position for more than 50km, so in the week leading up to the race we tinkered a little more and found a new bar set-up that suited my (relatively) broad shoulders and didn't cause discomfort in my shoulders and arms.


So with that all sorted, I found my spot in the incredibly narrow racking set up alongside Lake 32.


With 20 minutes or so to go, I climbed into my wetsuit, conscious that recently I've been getting a lot of shoulder and arm fatigue when swimming in my suit - likely to be due to the shoulders being too tight, I am told.  As such, I tried to pull the arms up as high as I could get them to buy me a little extra wriggle room.




Into the water and it was pleasantly warm (how often can you say that in the UK?!).  The swim had been declared wetsuit optional (21.6 degrees C), but there was no way I was giving up the advantage I get from a suit!


I went off in Wave 2 and the swim start was comparatively calm, only a little bit of jostling.  Not knowing the course very well, I kept my eyes firmly on the lead canoe and estimated I was in a lead pack of 10 or so.  Conscious that I had a good half-hour of swimming to do, I tried to relax and lengthen my stroke and keep my breathing under control.


By about halfway, the lead canoe seemed to have disappeared but I could still see a couple of green swim hats (my wave colour) ahead so figured I'd play follow-my-leader! Into the last few hundred metres and what had been a pack of 10 seemed to have dissolved into no more than three or four.  I couldn’t tell from the water whether we were effectively leading the wave, or whether a lead pack had escaped and we were the second group.


As we exited the water I could only see one green hat ahead of me, so knew I'd had a relatively good swim (28:48, in fact it appears I was indeed second or third out of the water in my wave) although I was fighting to get my breathing under control as we ran into T1.




For some reason my wetsuit didn't want to come off my legs today, but mindful this wasn't a sprint I didn't panic and just eased it off before grabbing my helmet - which thankfully went on first time (read other race reports to see what a nightmare the Kask Bambino can be in T1!).  I grabbed my bike and legged it towards bike out.


The organisers had laid some matting for most of the way from transition to bike mount, but to be honest it wasn't thick enough and wasn't much better than running barefoot across sharp stones. Each footfall was painful…


I reached the mount line and got on the bike - not as graceful as normal, but feet in shoes and I was off.




I had told myself before the race that I wasn't really too worried about the bike time and that I wanted to save my legs for the run.  Well, that strategy lasted all of about two seconds before the usual red mist descended and I was in full-on race mode.  The new bike position, honed with Chris Newman of the Triathlon Shop Bristol, is simply "racy". And I was picking off people from Wave 1, so was having way too much fun to hold back.


Apart from seeing some poor girl on the side of the road (someone else had already stopped to help her - I shouted to the next marshal down the road), the first lap of the bike was pretty uneventful - for all I've said above, my brain did take over and I kept my HR to a reasonable level.  Up one of only two hills on the course and then it was time for the 25km slog back to the turnaround point and lap 2.  Again, I was still catching and passing competitors from Wave 1 and this helped keep me focused on the bike and maintain a good speed / effort level.  After semi-redeeming itself in T1, my Kask Bambino then entered my bad books again by fogging, although thankfully it cleared after 10 minutes or so (I was seriously contemplating ditching the 40-quid visor!).


Towards the end of lap 1, the bikes ahead began to thin out and I have to admit there were times when I lost my focus, which cost me a few seconds here and there.


Out on to lap 2 and there were some definite pelotons forming - which always irritates me!  I was starting to get some discomfort in my lower back and my hips felt like they were in danger of cramping (a common issue I have on the TT bike…) so I had to dial-back the effort just a touch and try to keep the body in check.  On the plus side, my shoulders, arms and neck were all good, so at least the work we had done on the bar position had worked.


My nutrition strategy was going okay - apart from ripping open one of the SiS sachets so violently that I spilled half of it down me!


On the run back to T2 I saw the most blatant instance of drafting I witnessed all day. Two guys basically riding a two-up TT and then when they got passed, jumped right on the wheel of the guy who had overtaken them!  As I passed the 'lead' cyclist I said to him "you've got two passengers there, mate".  I think he was about as impressed as I was…


To be fair to the organisers, they did have two motorbike referees out on course, but this sort of drafting is just plain wrong and the competitors need to sort themselves out.  I later heard a protest had been made about the two cyclists in question, although I don't know if they received penalties as I didn't get their numbers.


On the last run in to T2 I was becoming concerned about my lower back and what this was likely to do to my run - so much for the plan of arriving into T2 fresh and ready to smash out a run PB!


Oh, and by the way, I made the bike leg about 5km short, so that's why there appear to be a lot of fast bike splits - still, I'm happy with 85km in 2:12:40.  To be fair to myself, my HR for the bike ride was pretty good and under control - but my back needs more time to adapt to the new position, so I was more fatigued than would have been ideal.




Back over the thin carpet - more foot pain! Rack the bike, ditch the helmet and… here we go. Socks?! Yes, socks - it's a half-marathon remember! Single-bottle fuel belt (with watered-down gels), glasses and visor.  Are we good to go now? Yes, finally…. (must work on my transitions; even for middle-distance they are a little slow).




Moving out onto the run I felt tight and far from fluid.  "It doesn't matter, you expect to feel like this" I told myself. But it was enough to convince me not to even bother adjusting my Garmin to show my run pace - today was going to be a day for running on feel, not stressing about times.  I was passed with a kilometre by two guys I'd passed on the bike - I wasn’t sure if they were from the same wave as me or not - but their pace was too hot for me, so I just settled into my own rhythm.


As per Mallorca, I'd already decided I'd walk the aid stations to take on water.  In hindsight, I probably didn't need to - and that's something I need to re-assess for the future.  That said, I don't think I lost any places that wouldn't have gone anyway (the nearest guy ahead of me at the end was a good 90 seconds up the road).  The good news was that the body began to loosen through the first lap and I actually felt okay by the end of the second (of three) laps (by "okay" I mean I didn't want to stop!).  I was wearing my super-light Skechers GORun2 shoes and while I could feel the stones beneath my feet on the off-road sections, they felt great and even as I started to fatigue they gave me the small amount of cushioning and support I needed to keep going.


Onto the third lap and I quickly went from feeling good to feeling very tired.  Luckily, my coach Dave Newport had turned up and gave me the words of encouragement I needed to keep at it for the final six or seven kilometers.


Even without any pacing information, it was interesting to see afterwards that my laps were very consistent - so it seems I was running pretty well throughout (by "well" I mean I didn't go off way too fast and simply blow up!).


Into the last couple of kilometers of the run and I spied the two guys that had stormed away from me on the first lap - obviously they hadn't been able to sustain their initial pace. I made a target and even managed to get past them briefly before they found some extra energy for the finish (however, they turned out to be from Wave 1, so I was ten minutes ahead of them in reality!).  I should have dug a little deeper for the final run-in to the finish, but I was suffering a stitch and knew I had no-one on my shoulder.


So the half-marathon was dispatched in 1:33:24. Nothing to write home about but it was at least a little faster than Mallorca.  Allowing for the mixed terrain and tight turns of the run, that probably is more of an improvement than it actually looks.  I also need to realise that I felt far better at the end of Cotswold than Mallorca - which does suggest I can afford to push a little harder still on the run.




Combining my splits with the transition times, I had crossed the line in 4:16:25 - a massive PB (BUT with the short bike to note!) and good enough for 8th overall - yes overall!


I have to admit I was a little gobsmacked.  I was hoping for a top-ten in age group, let alone top-ten overall.  I'm not sure where I actually placed in my 40-44 age group (those results aren't up yet) but obviously I'm really very pleased with my placing.


That's not to say there isn't still a LOT of work to be done!  I know I can improve all three legs of the middle-distance race, but none is more important to me than the run.  So I think it's time to go find some run races of 10km and more to practice!


A quick note to the race organisers and volunteer marshals - THANK YOU! The marshals were superb and with the exception of the tight racking and poor carpet (please fix for next year!), the event was really well organised.


And a final thank you to Dave Newport for the run coaching, Martin Hill for the swim and bike coaching, The Triathlon Shop in Bristol for their support and Skechers UK for the best triathlon race shoes.

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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