Monday, 30 May 2011
Swashbuckler Middle Distance Triathlon
Other than not being able to run as much as I should have due to allowing my calf to recover and repair, I was raring to go. Swim training had been good, if not great. Same for the bike.
So going into the race, my only worries were:
1. Would my calf hold out?
2. Would my legs handle a half marathon with the minimal running I’d done leading up to the race?
Funny how sometimes the things you worry the least about, trouble you the most.
Is there anything worse than diving to the start of a race in the pissing rain? Added to that, the trees looked like they were lying flat on the ground. Oh, and did I mention it was 3:30am? Yip, due to tides, kick-off was at 5:15am.
I’d planned on racing with my newly purchased aero-wheel cover. With the wind blowing a gale, I chickened out and removed it before racking. A decision I’m still regretting. This was a ‘B’ race and as such I should have tested the cover. Live and learn.
Setting up in transition the rain and wind started to ease slightly which was great.
Getting into the water I was frothing. It’d been ages since I last raced and I was keen to give this a proper go. Being a strong swimmer, I positioned myself on the front of the start line. There was a slight current running meaning an easier swim to the turnaround buoy but then more effort required for the return. It’s a two-lap, course.
The siren sounded and I put in a few hard strokes to get things going (Sounds like the opening line of the World Wanking Champs – ha ha ha). After a few metres I noticed a large pack coming past so drifted towards them. They were going quick and it felt too early to be pushing that hard. Mistake 1.
I kept a steady pace but in doing so didn’t sight as much as I should have. Mistake 2, a schoolboy mistake! When I finally looked up, I noticed I’d swum too far to the right. I tracked left and got to the turnaround buoy. For the rest of the swim it just felt like I kept losing places. On reflection, I lacked the speed. I’ve got too used to swimming ‘long’ at a nice steady, comfortable pace. In a half Ironman it’s full gas from the word go. 1,900m is short and should be raced, not just swum. Hard lesson to learn but glad I learnt it on a ‘B’ race.
I may come across as being too hard on myself considering I came out 13th (unlucky number alright) but being my best/strongest discipline, I’d hoped to be inside the top 10. Including transition, I swam a 32:49. A below-par result.
After a quick T1, I hopped onto Felty, looking forward to a ride around the beautiful New Forest. The morning rains had left the roads soaked. Starting out, it felt like I was riding with the brakes on. Having only taken the aero-wheel cover off minutes before racking, I thought maybe I’d knocked the brake onto the rim. My first thought was to stop and check but then thankfully I remembered there’s the option of opening up the brakes by turning the small knob on the brake callipers. Even after opening the brakes up, it felt like I was riding through hummus. It then suddenly stuck me. Wet roads = sticky roads. I had a small chuckle to myself and pushed harder on the pedals. I couldn’t help giggling as I passed at least three guys stopped on the side of the road spinning their back wheels thinking they too had brake issues. Another great lesson learnt and one for the Experience Bank.
The Swashbuckler bike course is breathtaking. Not only because my heart rate was sitting at165bpm, but because of the pure beauty. Open space, wild ponies and quiet roads. It’s a big chain ring course but with the wind up, it was tough going. I tried to pace off other riders (not daft – I NEVER draft), with the occasional rider flying past me. But I generally held my position and hammered away.
Only at about 40km (of 80km) did I feel like I was ‘racing’. Up until then I wasn’t comfortable. It felt really hard going and my mood was very negative. Maybe it was a result of the poor swim, who know? But on a half, there’s no time to ‘get into’ the bike. It needs to be smash, smash, smash from the word go.
I can happily go so far as to say it is one of the best bike courses I’ve ever ridden. On some sections you could see for miles ahead with the guys all spread out. Boy would I have loved to have had a camera. And the time of course.
I fuelled well on the bike. Nearing the end of the ride I was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. Again a result of the pan flat course which meant being down in the drops longer than any of the training rides I’d done. Time in the saddle doesn’t equate to time in the TT position. Some longer turbo sessions are definitely needed. The final 10km were brutal into a hectic headwind.
Bike split – 2:17:59.
The only hold-up in T2 was getting my socks onto numb feet. It was more annoying than time wasting as it probably only made a difference of the few seconds.
Having been worried about the run since the horn sounded, I ran out of T2 hard, hoping any problems would surface sooner rather than later (shorter walk back!). But as with life sometimes, the thing I was most concerned about worried me the least. Not a single grumble from the calf or legs for that matter, except for my hamstring attacking me. But that was self-inflicted. Let me explain…
As already mentioned, I ran out of T2 with numb toes. About a kilometre into the run, it felt like I had a stone or berry stuck under the sole of my shoe. I knew it wasn’t inside my shoe as I would have felt that from the first few steps, so I could only guess it was lodged in the sole. Without thinking, I stopped and very stupidly lifted my right foot up towards my face. The sniper rifle fired. Well, that’s at least what it felt like. My hamstring instantly cramped and I quickly shot my leg out into a straight position. I must have scared my fellow competitors as I screamed out in agony. I screamed LOUD. Instinct kicked in and I just ran. The cramp faded quickly but boy did it give me a massive fright. Another good lesson learnt – no quick, impulse movements when it comes to legs and their muscles.
The 22.5km run is a two-lap affair, passing the finish at the halfway point. Getting to said halfway/finish point involves a fairly steep grassy hill (which we also had to run up after the swim) but other than that, it’s a fairly flat course that’s best described as lumpy. There’s a 2 or 3km section of trail near the end of each lap, which I absolutely love. It’s through a tall tree forest with the Beaulieu River to the left. I embraced the scenery and told myself how lucky I was to be racing in such a stunning environment.
I tried my best to ‘race’ the run, going with a runner when they came alongside me for as long as I could hold on. I targeted runners ahead who I could see were suffering/slowing and made sure to pass them with a little spurt of pace hoping they’d not bother to chase.
I held onto a fairly decent pace, starting out at well below 4:30s but slowed to around 4:40 pace on some of the final kilometres. With not worries with the calf, I felt stoked to be running with confidence again. This really helped my mindset and I pushed the final 2km along the trail, around the corner and onto the grassy ‘knoll’. I crossed the finish line knowing I’d run to the best of my ability. A great feeling.
Run split – 1:40:40
Total time – 4:31:30
30th overall. 9th in age catergory.
So, I went into the racing wanting to smash the swim and bike. What happens, I smash the run and fluff the swim and bike. It’s a cruel old world. But that’s what keeps it exciting. No two races will ever be the same, and it’s the experiences and lessons learnt that make the next one that much better.
Five star. It can’t be easy putting on a race around the New Forest. They’re a vocal and understandably passionate community so any indiscretion (litter, dangerous riding, etc) gets the locals up in arms. The organisers put huge emphasis on this at the compulsory Saturday race briefing.
When being briefed, it was easy to tell that the Race Director has a genuine passion for the event versus it being just another moneymaking opportunity. They wanted to put on the best possible race they could. And they certainly did.
Along with the award for best bike course, they hands down win the ‘best medal’ award too. Not your run of the mill bronze medal. A lovely touch was the Race Director himself handing out the medals as we crossed the finish, thanking us for partaking in his race. We also received a great t-shirt, which I’ve used already to run in.
If you ever get the chance to race the Swashbuckler, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Entries sell-out fast so you’ll have to be move quick! But that’s the point.