OK, here’s a race report from yesterday’s olympic distance Pembroke triathlon in Fishguard:
Kim, Jack and I actually left the house on time, at 8am, to get to Fishguard by 10.30. With very little traffic about, except for other triathletes, we made good time, and got there just before Dave (Gumby) Gunthorpe. You could tell there was a race on; on the way there there were bikes on tops of cars, in the backs of vans, and triathletes stopping for a piss in every layby (me included).
The wind was up: a 15mph southerly. Not good.
We had plenty of time to register, sort out the bikes, lay out transition stuff and generally prepare. I met plenty of other Cardiff Tri members, some I had known were competing, others were a pleasant surprise. There must have been more then 10 of us.
At about 12.20 Dave and I got into our wetsuits on the breakwater, dumped the rest of our stuff with Kim, and I went down to the beach for a warm-up and a stretch in the sea. People were complaining the water was too cold, but that’s what a wetsuit’s for, right? It felt OK to me. I regrouped with other Cardiff Tri people, and Ewan gave me a good stretch of my pecs by pulling my arms around my back. I have a climbing related shoulder problem, so I need to make sure I’m loose before swimming or my right shoulder fails.
10 minutes to go and the master of cermonies sounded out the rules and regulations, warning of disqualification for this, that, and the other, and dished out a few bits of useful information. We all stepped behind the water’s edge, and got positioned relative to our swim abilities, ready to start.
Remember, this is my first olympic distance triathlon (1500m swim, 40k bike, 10k run), and my 2nd ever triathlon. The last was done for a free curry in 1996. I’m racing in triathlons this year as motivation to stay fit and thin while Jack’s little and I can’t climb as much as usual. I was getting in at the deep end. I never do anything by halves.
Now, we all need psychological motivation, and I’m afraid mine was Dave. I’d guessed that we were evenly matched. We’re good mates, and he has been training hard all year (I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so fit), but his swim isn’t as good as mine yet because he hasn’t been training his technique as long as me. So in theory I should come out of the water ahead of him, and he should take time off me on the bike. The run was anybody’s guess, but I reckoned we were going to be fairly equal by the end of a long triathlon. If anything he should be slightly faster as he’s fitter than me. So my motivation was to beat Dave. A tough goal, because he can take a lot of time out of me on the bike leg, but there it was. Rivalry as motivation.
So my game plan was to swim hard and put a big gap between us, but ease up in the last couple of hundred metres so I’m not completely mullered in the transition. Then do the bike leg at a reasonable intensity – sensible out into the headwind, and harder on the return leg, again easing up on the descent to the transition. On the run see how you feel, settle into the first couple of km, raising the intensity with 5km to go, and raising again with 2.5km to the finish. It was assumed that Dave would pass me early on in the bike leg.
So, stood back from the water’s edge, the klaxon sounded, and we entered the water. I got on somebody’s toes and into an 800m pace, but they were too slow. I found myself overtaking lots of swimmers before I could get into a bit of space and a rhythm. I wanted to stay in the melee to take advantage of drafting other swimmers, but ended up in a bit of space, aiming out towards Ireland. I sighted the turn buoy and corrected my direction, dropping my pace to something hard but sustainable. We were swimming out and back beside a breakwater, so with each breath on the left I could sight it and keep direction.
At the turn everything got a bit tight as swimmers came together, and it became hard to get back into a smooth rhythm and even stroke as swimmers swam into me, and me into them. You could tell you were getting close to the end as the taste (or smell) of the water changed for the worse. I eased up as we got closer. I hadn’t been swimming hard, but the distance had taken it’s toll, and I was pretty groggy geting out of the water on the edge of the slipway. I had to concentrate on not slipping off the side.
Right, hands down, stand up, walk out of the water. I can breathe! Everyone else is running. I guess I better had too. Jog. Reach round, pull neck velcro, pull cord and get top half of me out of wetsuit. Goggles off. Hat off. Jog.
At my transition spot I pulled my wetsuit legs down, and stepped on my left suit leg and pulled my foot out. Ow – hamstring cramping. Swap legs. My right leg came out OK, so feeling groggy I braced myself on the bike rack and pulled my left leg out. Stepping on my towel I sat down, pulled my socks on, then my shoes and stood up to grab my helmet, which had fallen off my bike into someone else’s box. That retrieved I grabbed my bike and jogged/skated out of the transition behind Ben. As we started up the first hill I shouted, “Will I catch you today?”, knowing I wouldn’t.
Up the hill I was going backwards. My body was trying to get used to being out of the water, but everyone else seemed OK. It was a long drag out of Fishguard, at an easy gradient. I settled into a rhythm, looking over my shoulder for Dave. At the top of the hill I felt OK, and got my legs into a decent cadence. The course was far from flat, and the headwind was also slightly across us, blowing us out into the road at every farm gate and junction. The big hedges gave some protection, so I stayed close.
I was overtaking women, but being overtaken by a lot of men. I was constantly looking over my shoulder for Dave. Jerry passed me, and we swapped positions a couple of times. I just about managed a wave.
The sea was in my throat. I tried to wash the briny taste away with orangey/lemony high-5, trying to breathe at the same time, forcing it down.
The first 5 miles took an age to cover. As the mileage crept up I felt better. I was already patting myself on the back for staying away from Gumby for so long.
As I started to see returning cyclists I felt better. I knew the turn was close. I reached it and turned fast and jumped out of the saddle to accelerate back up to speed, quads burning. I couldn’t believe Gumby hadn’t caught me yet! The tailwind helped, but it was still across me. I upped the pace and started to take back some places. I saw Dave going in the opposite direction and shouted at him, but he was in “the zone”. I don’t think he even saw me. I forgot to look at my computer to check the distance between us.
The return leg was much better. With the help of the tailwind the undulations didn’t feel so bad, my legs felt better, and I could spin and put out a decent effort. With only 5 miles to go a short, steep hill pushed me down to 39×21 and out of the saddle, tiring my legs for the run, but when I saw the sea I was elated. I knew it was downhill from here. Spinning out 52×12 we were doing up to 40 mph and I was able to loosen up my legs a little, and relax into an aerodynamic position, knees together and hands aside the stem, head down, trying to recover a bit before the run. At the roundabout I swung around perfectly, before braking hard for the transition. I dismounted and ran to my racking position.
I ran down the wrong aisle before finding my spot. Bike racked, I dumped my helmet and swapped into my running shoes. The elastic was too tight and I cramped up my left calf squeezing my foot in. Aaaargh! On a full tetanic calf I forced my foot in, and pulled a muscle in my left shoulder. Crap! With a quick puff of my inhaler I jogged out, and spotted Dave taking his helmet off. I shouted at him but he didn’t hear me.
The run started as more of a hobble, with my calves, hamstrings, quads, abs and chest feeling as though they were all going to cramp up at once. I didn’t know how long I’d last, so I tried to settle into my usual stride pattern but it was too long, and I swapped to a shorter shuffle.
Dave caught me with a cheery, “Alright, Sam?”. I can’t remember my response, but no doubt I was hiding the pain. We ran alongside one another exchanging words, but before long I had to settle in behind him. I followed his shoulder, keeping pace. The first 5km were painful, but with each kilometer my muscles eased and my body settled into run-mode. The imminent-cramp sensation dissipated, and my stride improved. Dave started to get away from me, but I was unwilling to respond. I couldn’t go any faster yet. He didn’t get very far in front when he stopped to stretch a cramping calf or foot, and we settled in along side one another again.
At the turn he was ahead again, and Knoxy shouted at me, completely missing her boyfriend in front of me. Oops. Kim shouted at me from behind a bush.
With 5km to go I felt more confident. I could hold Dave and out-sprint him if it came to it. We swapped places and I moved ahead, stretching my stride. After the water stop we were side-by-side and he stopped for a piss. With 3km to go! Sod that, I’m not waiting for him. I maintained my pace, planning to push from the next turn. A heavy shower of rain came down and chilled my hot legs, bringing back the imminent cramp sensation, and taking away my confidence.
After the turn I saw Dave, and that he hadn’t taken a long stop. I had increased my pace, and was giving all that I could muster to lift my speed, catching other runners. The headwind was gusting, trying to stop me dead. A small boy in a high-viz jacket, marshalling, was leaning into it with his big arrow card.
I didn’t afford a look behind, assuming Dave was on my heels, psyching myself up. With about 1 km to go I pushed again, aiming to break Gumby if he was chasing me, and just about held it to the line. I was so relieved to finish. I was so relieved it hadn’t been a sprint – I would have puked and cramped for sure – but I would have won it 😉
A small boy handed me some water, a banana and some High5. Once Kim and the others had found me I sent her off to find me some Coke and a couple of cans of that sorted me out. Dave came in about 30 seconds later. I was surprised and chuffed that I had beaten him. I rubbed it in something rotten. Sorry Dave!
My first triathlon went well. I achieved my goals, and set myself a PB of just under 2.36 (official result should go up tomorrow). I was surprised how hard the distance was, but fairly happy with how I coped. Bala at the end of September is next, and I need to work on my bike section, and improve my bike to run endurance. Plenty of time.