Monday, January 20, 2020

Race Report - Dambuster Triathlon, 16 June 2012

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Today was a day I had been looking forward to and dreading in equal measure. The first of two opportunities to book my place on the Great Britain Age Group team for the Triathlon World Champs in Auckland later this year.

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know the training ‘path’ over the last three or four months hasn’t exactly been an easy one. Illness, injury and – I suppose – fatigue have all lead to a less-than-ideal training plan recently.  This in turn had really dented my confidence going into the race today.

Arriving to register last night, we were informed that the swim would at best be shortened to 1,000 metres (due to a water temperature of only 12 degrees) and could be cancelled if this morning’s weather was bad (a 5km run would have replaced the swim – making it a reverse duathlon).  Disc wheels were also likely to be banned under BTF rules. 

The weather forecast for the morning wasn’t good – high winds and about 11-12 degrees air temperature (9 degrees with wind chill factored-in). At least it wasn’t due to rain till around 10am!

And so it was an early dinner and then early to bed (well, OK, I had to watch the England game first!).

The morning dawned dry, but cold and windy.  Off to rack up and it was confirmed the swim would be 1,000 metres. Not fantastic news for me, but better than the 5km run option! 

Rack space was (for a change!) generous (I think entry numbers must have been down this year, with Dambuster ‘losing’ the national champs to Shropshire) which made it much easier to set up and lay things out.

The Swim
The shortened swim began with a beach start between two buoys.  The race organisers seemed to want to herd everyone over to the right, but I deliberately hung left in the hopes that while it wasn’t necessarily the shortest overall distance, I would have a little clearer water. 

It worked; I think I reached the first buoy in either first or second place in my wave. But then it went tits up slightly and I got royally dunked…  After drinking half the lake I got back into my rhythm and just tried to remind myself the swim was short and therefore I should be pushing a little harder than normal.  I was also trying to be mindful of a recent lesson I had with Steve Cryer of Swim Podium in Swindon where he had me change my head position so that I was looking more ‘forward’ and less ‘down’.

The swim felt fine; I was definitely ‘trying’ but was far from the ragged edge. I heard the announcer shouting that we were about 30 seconds down on the wave leaders as we exited the swim – not bad; I’ll take that…  According to the official results, I was 8th out of the water in a wave of 85 athletes.

Running into T1 and I got the wetsuit unzipped easily and the right arm came off like a dream. For some reason, the left snagged, but I had enough time between the water’s edge and my bike to sort it.  The bottom half of the suit came off fine and I got my helmet and glasses on.  I had laid out some arm warmers in case I felt cold, but actually felt fine, so ditched them (a nearby marshal called out ‘you might want those arm warmers!’ but I pushed on…).   As usual, I had one of the faster T1s, so jumped a few of the guys who had exited the water ahead of me.

The Bike
Onto the bike and my feet went into the shoes but the fit wasn’t perfect, so I opted to pedal on for a bit and re-adjust before finally closing the straps and getting my head down.  I could see my heart rate was sky high (170s) from the swim (normal for me) and so I was mindful that I need to get that down while trying to set a strong pace.

One guy from my wave powered past me and I was almost grateful as I had to back off a touch to avoid drafting.  Probably a good move as it gave me a moment to catch myself and get into a rhythm on the bike.  Then it was down to the business in hand – maintaining my pace and catching as many of the previous wave athletes as possible! :)

It was, as the organisers as promised, bloody windy on the bike with a strong southerly making progress on the ‘Rutland Ripple’ painfully slow.  On the plus side, at least I didn’t get stuck behind an HGV like last year!  The combination of the disc at the rear (I was ‘warned’ against using it, but not ‘banned’ from doing so) and the 82mm front wheel made the bike handling in the wind pretty ‘interesting’ at times.  In a perfect world, I think I would have kept the disc on the back, but maybe opted for a 50mm on the front.  But unfortunately I don’t have one of those (yet!).

The rest of the ride went pretty much to plan. I just focused on keeping a good cadence and making sure I took regular sips of my carb drink (something I failed to do at Swashbuckler). I got passed twice more in the bike leg, but couldn’t tell by their numbers if they were in my age group. 

I reminded myself that all I could do was race my race and not let others affect me.

Again, the bike set up felt great (although I bloody slipped the chain changing down for a hill!) and I’m really beginning to love the Q-Rings I fitted recently.

Into T2 and the Lake TX312 shoes with the collapsible heels worked like a dream (despite ordering the wrong size, I really love these shoes) and my feet were out of the shoes, back on top and back pedalling in no time at all. Into T2 and I managed to rack the bike, remove helmet, don run shoes and head to the exit all in 40 seconds – the 2nd fastest T2 time in my wave.

The Run
Ah… my nemesis, the run! Compared to Swashbuckler, where my legs were frozen, I did at least have some level of feeling in my legs as I headed out onto the 10km (OK, more like 9.7km!) run. I focused on getting my cadence up and trying to keep good form.  I half-expected a stream of athletes from my wave to come flying past me… but it never happened.

All the way through to around 4.5km, no-one from my wave came past me and I even made up a place or two.  The wind was just as ferocious running over the dam as it had been on the bike – great in one direction, hell in the other!

I opted not to take on water or High5 on the run – my reserves felt OK and I didn’t want to risk getting stomach issues.  With about 1km to go I did get passed by a guy from my wave (Trevor Batey, RAF – I’ll get you back on day!) and I just resolved to stay with him to the finish (in hindsight, I’m annoyed I wasn’t pushing harder already – something I definitely need to work on) and ended up crossing the line just two seconds behind him.

I was definitely tired from the race, but not ‘exhausted’.  In one way this is good, as I already knew before I printed out the ‘instant results’ that I’d had a good race, but it does make me wonder if I left too much in the tank…

Anyway, a quick dip in the lake to cool my calves (surprisingly, they’d be largely OK on the run) and then up to see my results.  The first thing I saw was the time: 2:02:30 – even with the short swim I knew that wasn’t bad (still effectively a sub-2:10 Olympic), then I saw my overall position as 35 (at the time, of course this changed as faster athletes from later waves finished) and then finally my Age Group position – 5th!  What the hell?!?  I had roughly calculated that I thought a top-ten was possible (given how many places I had lost/gained in the race) but to get 5th was a huge surprise. I was overjoyed – and yet a little scared to believe it was true!  A 5th place would almost guarantee me a slot in Auckland – the BIG goal for the year.  Could I really have done it on the first try?!

But as I type, the results on the official timing provider’s website seem to confirm things – I was indeed 5th in Age Group, and the 2nd of the Auckland wannabes.  So hopefully later this week I will be able to log into the BTF website and see a big fat “Q” next to my application for the Age Group team. Hopefully!

Painting a target
The thing about being a prolific(?!) blogger and twitterer is that it’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I hope my blog and website do some good in terms of encouraging others and helping newbies progress in the sport I have come to love. At the same time, I’m painfully aware that I’m also painting a big fat target on my own back – or at least I ‘think’ I am.  That brings with it a massive (self-imposed) pressure to perform.   This too is a double-edged sword – in some ways I think it compels me to perform, but sometimes that weight of expectation is actually a hindrance.
No doubt it’s a mental thing. I’ve said repeatedly that my mental game is one of the elements of my race craft that I am least happy with.  Perhaps between now and Auckland in October I’ll be able to improve.

For now, it’s a case of ‘no rest for the wicked’. Coach wants me to race Shropshire next weekend for the experience – and also to see how I perform in a race where there is no pressure (assuming my “Q” gets confirmed this week!).

Oh and finally, a word about twitter and my blog.  I love how many people I now meet at races that I’ve either conversed with through twitter or who have read my blog.  It’s great to meet you all and definitely a highlight of my day!

Oh, and really finally! A big thank you to my coach, Mark Shepherd. With training so inconsistent over the last few months, we took a very ‘high risk’ strategy to get me ready for today. I think it’s commonly-known as ‘overload’ training and is definitely an ‘all or nothing’ approach.  Well – it worked. This time. It’s not something we would do again in a hurry, but on this occasion the gamble has paid off. Thank you Mark.

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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