Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Race Report - Swashbuckler Triathlon, 13th May 2012

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OK, so you know the story: chest infection, illness, lack of training, work schedule, yada yada yada. No point in going over old ground, but needless to say my preparation for this weekend's race was far from perfect.  ‘Nuff said.

Sunday saw my first foray into a longer-distance triathlon, with the Swashbuckler held in the New Forest.  On paper, the event is a 1.9km river swim, a flat (but windy) 50 mile cycle course and then a 14 mile run.

Arriving at the venue for registration and briefing, it was wonderful to see that the deluge that has been affecting the South of England for the last few weeks had abated and clear blue skies shone across the New Forest.  Unfortunately, the good weather had arrived too later to have much effect on the water temperature, however.  At just 11.3 degrees, the water was too cold (according to BTF rules) for the full distance swim, so we were told to expect a swim of ‘between 500 and 1,000 metres’.  There was an option to miss out the swim and just do the cycle then run, but that would mean no official result.

I met up with fellow Brit AGer, Sue Pugh, and we went off to drive the cycle course after the briefing (this went much more smoothly than my previous recce by bike two weeks ago!). Then it was off to a quick dinner and early to bed, ready for the 3.15am alarm call.

Racking up at 4.30am on Sunday morning, we were informed the water temperature had not improved and thus the swim length would be shortened to 750 metres. After sorting out transition, we made our way down the 400 metre slope (quite steep!) to the river’s edge.  By the time we reached the river my feet were already burning with cold.   So much so, that getting into the water was almost a relief – almost!

The water was cold – very cold – and brown, and salty.  Underwater visibility was nill, so lots of sighting was going to be the order of the day.  The start was delayed a little due to some guys taking forever to get back to the start line. 

However, the claxon eventually went (wasn’t ready! Doh…) and we were off.  Having not done a UK triathlon swim since July last year, I’d half forgotten how violent the start can be.  Legs and arms were everywhere and I took a whack to my goggles, causing the right one to partially flood – a real pain as I prefer to breath to the right, so I got an eyeful of salt water with each breath.  Anyway, long story short I just didn’t have the swim fitness (almost three weeks away from swimming due to illness) to have my usual pace and I gradually slipped back down the field through the short swim.

Out of the swim I shook off the initial dizziness and headed up the steep incline to T1.  Some matting had been laid out to avoid us having to run across the gravel paths.  Unfortunately there was a fold in one of the mats and I caught it – and faceplanted right into the deck.  Not only classy, but also quite painful (after the race, I discovered numerous grazes, cuts and bruises over my feet and forearms).  At the time I just got back up as quick as I could and got into T1.

Things in T1 seemed to happen in slow motion. I’m usually pretty slick in transitions, but not today.  It took an age to get my wetsuit off and fumble with glasses, helmet and arm warmers (it was still pretty damned cold).  Out of T1 to the mount line, I jumped on the bike but I seemed to have no control over my feet! I’ve never had so much trouble getting my feet into my bike shoes – maybe they were just numb with cold, maybe they had swollen. Whatever it was, it was a very inelegant start to the bike.

Out onto the bike course and I just could not warm up. I was frozen to the bone for the complete ride – no feeling in my feet, no feeling in my fingers (was shifting gears with my whole hand) and I think I really just tensed up far too much (my shoulders and neck were very sore from about 15km onwards).  I was pretty pissed off to see a lot of quite blatant drafting throughout the course, and made sure I wasn’t part of it.

By 20km I was shivering uncontrollably and my breathing was all over the place.  I tried to force myself back into a deep regular breathing pattern but it just wouldn’t happen.  I had similar issues with my nutrition. I was struggling to get the gels out of the bento box with my frozen fingers and then when I got the gel into my mouth I couldn’t swallow. Far from ideal.  Inspecting my bottle and gels after the race it turned out I had consumed two of the planned five gels and less than 150ml of drink.

The bike leg was pretty miserable, if you hadn’t guessed already.  There were times I was shivering so much I could barely see straight.  I did see one guy at the side of the road (being tended to by marshals) with obvious signs of hypothermia.  I think I know how he felt (I’m sure my medical acquaintances would say that rather than hypothermic, I was ‘probably a little bit cold’…). I’m used to holding my own on the bike, but I reckon I was passed 12-15 times on the bike, very alien. 

HRLooking at my Garmin stats after the race ( it’s clear that my heart rate just plummeted from the moment I got on the bike through to around 40km and then started to gradually recover (see pic).  My averages for the ride were 136bpm HR, 80rpm cadence, and 33km/h.  ALL of those are MASSIVELY below my normal averages, even for training rides.  This seems to confirm that I was seriously suffering the cold and just could not get my body working the way it is used to.  The low cadence probably also explains some of the ‘issues’ I had on the run.  I completed the bike leg in 2:22:09, so missed my target time by a whole seven minutes. 

Anyway. I was glad to end the bike leg!

Out onto the run and my feet were still numb with cold and I had cramps in both my calves and lower back (the low bike cadence would seem to explain these – too much power, not enough spinning). A quick pee stop about 1.5 miles in and then I just concentrated on keeping the wagon on the road and tried to maintain a decent pace.  After missing the first two aid stations, I resolved to walk through further aid stations to make sure I got a full cup of water down my neck. 

This seemed to work quite well for me, and any time lost through walking was made up in the next mile or two.
As usual, I was getting passed quite a lot on the run, but this seemed to settle after 3-4 miles and I even started doing some passing myself. In my head, the run portion of the race became not one run, but a series of runs from aid station to aid station, with a little walking recovery for a few seconds before starting again.  Other than that, the run was painful but otherwise uneventful. I managed to get two gels down my neck and I think I set a pretty consistent pace for the full 14 miles.  In the last couple of miles, I even passed a couple of guys who had overtaken me right at the start of the run.  Again, looking at my Garmin stats after the race I was actually quite pleased with my consistency (if not overall speed!) during the run, average between 4:31 and 4:47 per kilometre throughout.  You can clearly see on the HR graph how my heart rate ‘recovered’ as I warmed up from the frigid bike leg.

Into the final (uphill!) straight and to be honest I didn’t do a massive sprint or anything like that. I was physically and mentally spent and just glad the whole thing was over!  I crossed the line and almost immediately my legs seized up. I’d been aware I was developing a couple of blisters on my left foot, but now they really started to hurt.

I hobbled back down to the finishing straight to watch Sue come across the line about 25 minutes or so later. She even got 3rd in her Age Group, which was a fantastic result.

For me, I tried to avoid reacting too emotionally straight after the race (at least, not publicly!). I wanted to reflect a little on the good and bad points of the race before reaching any firm conclusions.   Later that evening I got the official results.  To my genuine surprise, I managed 8th out of 60 in my age group. Despite an absolutely awful (by my standards) bike, I’d managed a top-ten finish in my Age Group.  I was way behind the winners, but still…

Having had a little time to reflect, here are some of my take aways:

The Good
1. I finished! My first middle distance triathlon on the back of three weeks of illness. Job done.
2. My run was solid, if not exceptional. Of the three legs, I’m actually most pleased with the run.

The Bad
1. I should have swapped arm warmers for a jacket on the bike
2. I should have been more mindful of my nutrition
3. I still visited some ‘dark places’ mentally during the race, I need to be mentally stronger

The provisional official results show me with a total time of 4:22:06, comprising 13:39 for Swim (and run to T1), 2:22:09 for the bike and 1:46:17 for the run.  Good enough for 38th out of 325-odd overall and 8th out of 60 in my age group. Still not the time I was hoping for, but I am pleased at least to have managed a top-ten AG finish on my middle-distance debut.

One thing I’ve learned today is that you need to ‘respect the distance’.  While I wouldn’t expect to waltz in and do well in an Ironman distance race without plenty of distance-specific work, I am conscious that I did kind of expect that today. The simple fact is that you need to approach the bike and run differently.  Now I know this, I will hopefully be better-equipped next time.

Did I enjoy it?  At the moment, the answer has to be ‘no’. It hurt too much and I’m too frustrated by what happened on the bike. Will I do another? Almost definitely.  I don’t like being defeated by a race, so yes I’ll have another go. I’m not sure yet whether 2013 will be the year I ‘go long’, that may depend on what happens for me in standard-distance races this year.

Well done to all my fellow competitors on Sunday. I don’t think anyone would argue it was a tough race (I counted 26 DNFs on the results), so simply finishing is an achievement. Thank you also to the marshals who were all very encouraging and helpful.

Oh, and a last word, 30 hours later and I hurt! A lot!

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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