Monday, January 20, 2020

Speedy Beaver (National Sprint Championships) Race Report

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I'll admit that when I signed-up to race the Speedy Beaver as my second attempt to qualify for the Sprint Triathlon category at the Beijing world champs later this year, I wasn't really thinking about anything other than qualifying...

I wasn't thinking about geography.  I wasn't thinking about the condition of the lake. I wasn't thinking about the topography of the bike and run courses. And... I wasn't thinking 'hang on, that's also the National Sprint Championships'.

If I had been thinking, I might not have actually entered.  It turns out that a) it's a bloody long way from Wiltshire to Grantham! b) visibility in the Belvoir lake is ZERO! c) the bike course was windy and hilly and the run course is hilly d) the competition was seriously tough!

Anyway, as I've said before, the conditions are the same for everyone, so you just deal with it!

Arriving in the morning it was nice to see Transition was well laid-out and rack space was definitely more generous than Eton last weekend.  Less good was spotting the run from the lake exit to T1 entry - around 500-600 metres, I'd guess!  That was going to make things fun coming out of the swim.

Down to the water and it was clear that there were a lot of bodies in my wave (I think about 160), which was definitely going to make the start 'interesting'. Into the water and it didn't feel quite as bad as the stated 14deg C, but what really took me by surprise was that there was literally ZERO visibility in the water (even less than the London docks at the sprint last year). Start time came and, unsurprisingly, chaos ensued!  Legs were kicking, arms were hitting and people were literally just swimming into each other due to the total lack of visibility in the water (I ran into someone's feet without ever even seeing them!).

Reaching the first turn buoy, things calmed down a little and I could see I was reasonably well-placed (my lack of swim training is hurting me a little at the moment).  On the return leg, the water quality got even worse - each time you returned your face to the water after breathing it was like someone had just turned the lights off and my hands started scraping the silt at the bottom of the lake.

Swim exit was a very welcome sight and despite a stumble on the exit ramp I was out of the water in 11:55, a decent improvement over Eton (12:22).  Then there was the 'fun' run up the field to T1 entry - thanks to Sam for running alongside me and encouraging!  As swim times were only recorded at T1 entry, I showed a swim time of 14:08 (which would have comfortably been my slowest 750m in some time!).

I faffed a bit in T1, to be honest.  The suit didn't come off as smoothly as I hoped, but just over a minute later I was out and onto the bike.  The usual semi-flying mount went well and I was making up places within the first 50 metres, which continued all the way up the castle drive to the main road. 

Out onto the road and almost immediately there was a sharp decent.  I bottled it and elected to ride the base bar rather than TT bars - and duly got passed by a roadie! I wasn't having that!  As the hill levelled out, down onto the tri bars and bye-bye roadie. 

Having driven the bike course the evening before, I knew what to expect and hunkered down for the wind-blasted initial leg of the course, before the long hill I knew was to come.  Despite a ferocious wind limiting my speed to around 30-32km/h I was making up places, so all good.  The hill came and very quickly I was pleased to have made the decision not the run the disc wheel my coach Mark Shepherd had leant me - not that the disc itself was an issue, but it only had a 11-21 cassette!  I needed all 25 teeth on my usual cassette as a group of us made the climb (I think they'd struggle to do us all for drafting at 15km/h!).

At the top of the hill, we turned so the wind was more favourable and then it was time to get the head down and drive.  I saw 50km/h on the speedo a few times and was more-or-less keeping pace with another 'G' age grouper about 100m or so ahead.

In towards T2 and I was able (for a change) to get my feet out of the shoes.  I spent some time Saturday morning practicing the flying dismount and it all seemed good, so I did this in the race and it worked perfectly.  My only gripe was that there was no dismount line on the road - so while I was conservative and dismounted before the cone, I subsequently learned others went beyond the cone.  Not exactly a big deal, but would have expected better at a national championships.

T2 went brilliantly, in and out in less than a minute. The practice paid off, for sure.

Out on the run and I was determined to beat my Eton time and stick as close to 4min KMs as I could.  All was good for the first 1-1.5km and I even made a few overtakes - but then we started climbing.  And then we kept climbing.  And then we climbed some more!  I hadn't bargained for that... (note to self, familiarise yourself with run and bike course in advance!).  I struggled on best I could, but by the turn-around at about 2.8km or so I was pretty shot. Thankfully, of course, the return was largely downhill but even then I was still getting passed (it's fair to say my downhill running technique needs as much work as my uphill!).

With about 1km to go I was hurting, and legs just felt so heavy.  Into the finishing chute and I felt great... until I was passed by another 'G' age grouper with about 10 metres to go.  I never heard him coming and he took me totally by surprise.  And so I crossed the line totally and utterly pissed off!  Had this joker coming out of nowhere just cost me a qualification place for the Sprint Triathlon world championships in Beijing?

No-one to blame but myself, but a dark cloud was looming over Matt Fisher in the immediate post-race period.  I tried (and probably failed!) to sound upbeat with Kim Ingleby and Sam, but inside I was gutted.

Anyway, getting my results I was at least pleased to see that I had indeed beaten my Eton run time by nearly 40 seconds; so while it's still a long way from where I'd like to be, it is progress of a sort (the two mini-bricks done mid-week helped here, I am certain).

By the time I arrived home, the results were coming on line and I was initially disappointed to see I placed 15th in the 35-39 Age Group, significantly down on my 6th at Eton last weekend.  But then I saw last week's AG winner himself only posted 6th, so it was clear that some of the really fast guys had turned out to play.

A certain amount of geeking of results versus names down for Beijing suggests that, despite a lowly placing... I have indeed qualified for Beijing!  This needs to be officially confirmed, but it appears that despite losing a place on the line (he took the third qualification slot), I managed to scrape in with the fourth qualification slot for the race (others ahead of me had either already qualified or had not registered for Beijing).  So now I am holding my fingers, toes and anything else I can find crossed for the official confirmation with a 'Q Speedy Beaver' next to my name on the BTF website.  I will be gutted if it doesn't happen, but also don't quite want to believe it until it does.

But supposing it is confirmed, the next question is: "how the hell do I afford to get to Beijing...!"  It'll be a nice problem to have. 

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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