Thursday, January 23, 2020

Race Report - Sprint Distance Age-Group World Championships - Sept 2013

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Having spent the last few months thinking that the ITU Age Group Sprint Triathlon world champs (now there's a bloody mouthful!) was a long way off, suddenly it was here.  And so on Friday morning I took my position on the pontoon and got ready to slide into the chilly Serpentine waters…



But let's rewind a few days, as my preparation wasn't exactly ideal!  First, the new job demands that I'm in Stockholm every other week (I'm not complaining, I'm really enjoying it), which kind of kills my training routine - with no pool to swim in and only a rickety old gym bike as an alternative to running.   And then there was the small matter of turning 40 on the 7th September, which saw me celebrating in Dubai.  Again, I'm not complaining, but swimming hard efforts in 33 degree C sea water was near-impossible, as was running outside in the 42 degree C heat!  Thank God the hotel had a good gym - and being handed mint-scented cold towels while doing speed reps on the treadmill was actually quite nice. Maybe they should be compulsory at triathlons from now on?!


Flying back from Dubai the Tuesday before race day, I then headed straight to London for an industry event on the Wednesday and Thursday - 10 hours a day on my feet in an air-conditioned coffin.  I could feel a cold coming on from the first hour!


Thankfully work were really understanding and let me have time on Thursday to register and attend the team briefing.  I then had to head back again in the evening to rack up before having a nice pasta dinner with some work colleagues.


OK, so fast-forward again and we're on the pontoon.  I elected to be first out on the far left of the course as I knew my wave was pretty large and I wanted to avoid getting into too much of a bun fight. I figured the clear water would be worth the extra metres to the first buoy.  Into the water and it didn't actually feel as bad as the stated 16.5 degrees C - either that or my new Huub Archimedes suit does a great job of keeping the cold out?!


Almost without warning the hooter went and we were off. I concentrated on getting into a rhythm that I could hold for the 750 metres, no need to sprint the first 100m or so as I had reasonably clear water.  I was surprised how quickly some of the guys to my right had started, but my approach paid off as they seemed to tire and fall back well before the 250m buoy. I rounded the three buoys at the far end of the course without too much drama and then started the longer straight to the next turn.  The bad thing about being in clear water was that I didn't get a draft from anyone, but again I just concentrated on my own rhythm.  I did swim straight over one guy at one point - no idea what happened, guess he must have just stopped dead!


Rounding the last buoy I was feeling good; I knew we had a looooong run to T1 - probably about 400-500m - so I didn't want to emerge from the water completely exhausted.  As such, my 12:02 swim time (my Garmin made the course 50m long, but that could just be the tracking) was a little disappointing but I did feel stronger than normal on the run to T1.


Transition had been set up on the grass and the rain plus thousands of athletes racking up the night before had already worn away the grass leaving slippery mud.  Hardly ideal but as I reached the bike I dumped my goggles and hat, fumbled a little with the unfamiliar wetsuit and then grabbed my helmet before running with the bike to the mount line.


I'd elected to leave the visor in place on the Kask Bambino helmet - but I had drilled some holes in the visor in an effort to cure the fogging I'd been suffering recently.  Safe to say that within a kilometre I knew it wasn't working. The combination of rain on the outside of the visor and fog on the inside meant I couldn't see a thing. F*cking hell.


I grabbed the visor and turned it upside down, replacing it on the helmet (the magnets on the visor should in theory hold the visor in place in either orientation).  That lasted about 20 seconds until the visor flew off and I never saw it again - what a waste of 40 quid.  Quite frankly Kask, I am annoyed with you and reckon you OWE me a new visor.


But meanwhile there was a bike leg to race.  The rain was coming down now and the roads were pretty slippery.  We'd already been warned as we waited for the swim that there had been multiple crashes on the bike course.  Mindful that it wasn't worth hurting either the bike or me by coming off, I admit I was probably a little over-cautious on the corners, especially when I was around others whose competence looked a little 'suspect'.  I figured I could use my power out of the corners to compensate for loss of momentum through them.


The course itself was okay. The speedbumps in a few places were brutal, but the dead turns weren't as bad as they could have been.  I did have two guys go down in front of me and narrowly avoided collecting either of them, but otherwise my bike was pretty incident free.  At one point I had a draft buster draw level with me and I was convinced he was getting my number - but I was certain I hadn't drafted anyone! But he sped off again after a while.


The bike was a three-lap course and I was mindful that I didn’t want to kill myself with the run to come, so again like the swim I probably played it too safe and lost a bit of time that I wouldn't normally.  I definitely came out of my shoes too early on the approach back to T2 and ended up cycling a good 500m with bare feet on top of my cycling shoes - a silly error and one that would have been avoided with a proper bike recce (which we weren't allowed to do).


My bike time of 34:41 (the course was 22.5km, not 20km) was still pretty fast in my Age Group but as a benchmark it was 50 seconds slower than my TTS team-mate, Chris Newman.  I could have, and should have, gone faster.


Another mammoth run into T2 (someone calculated the total running in T1 and T2 came to 1.9km!) and I dumped the bike on the rack before ditching my helmet and grabbing my Skechers GORun2 shoes (top tip - having the brightest, loudest trainers in transition certainly makes it easier to find your racking space!). I also stuck my custom Oakley sunglasses on my head - it was properly raining now, but I wasn't going to risk having them crushed by late-comers to T2!


Out onto the run and I felt surprisingly good.  The course went the opposite way round the Serpentine compared to last year's Olympics.  I started overtaking some girls and guys from earlier waves, but also got caught a few times by guys in my own Age Group.  Still, I focused on my rhythm, but didn't check the Garmin, opting to do the run by feel.


The support on parts of the run course was amazing - lots of shouts of 'Go GB' or 'Go Fisher' and even some people who obviously know me from Twitter shouting 'Go Matt' - thank you all, it really did help! As I came to finish lap one, I knew my mate James Milnes would be manning the aid station and we'd promised each other a high five.  True to form, James spotted me coming and raised his hand - bang! - and I was on my way to lap two.


Again, more cheering and fantastic support and I finally found my legs about halfway through lap two (there's a reason I prefer middle distance!).  I even managed to spot my mum and son in the crowd and very uncharacteristically gave a smile and a wave!  Another high-five with James and it was soon time to make the final 180-degree turn into the finishing chute.  No way I was losing another place within sight of the finishing line, so a final sprint and it was all done.


I'd done it! Completed a world champs triathlon on home soil. I was elated! My run time wasn't even that bad - a solid(ish) 19:13. Still slow compared to all of those around me, though.


I'd finished 35th in an Age Group of 112, and thank God, wasn’t the last Brit home (in fact, there were seven or eight behind me, meaning I'd outperformed my qualifying position).  I was initially very happy with my performance.


Forty-eight hours later and I can probably reflect a little more objectively.  The fact is I didn't race hard enough. My brain was playing it safe, and that was the wrong strategy. I'm sure I could have swum and cycled faster.  But it's done now and if nothing else, I think it bodes well for my next middle-distance venture - which now looks like it will be Austin 70.3 in late October, as I've had to forfeit my place in Lanzarote due to work commitments.


I won't spoil this race report by delving into the clusterf*ck that was trying to get my bike out of transition, or how I'm pissed that people racing the 'open' triathlon paid a lot less to enter yet got all the same medals and t-shirts that the qualifying age groupers did.  I may go into those issues in another post…


But to all the volunteers who gave up their time to support the team, manage the course and provide assistance to the athletes - THANK YOU.  And to all the amazing supporters, friends and family on course - THANK YOU.

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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