European Triathlon Age Group Championships 2012, race report

Eilat Triathlon
My first A race of the year, and my first international triathlon was held in Eilat, Israel. A bit warmer and drier than we get in Wales, so not perfect to prepare for, but the windy desert wasn’t far off what we get on the coast here. I qualified at Bala last year for this, the Euro Champs, to race in the standard or Olympic distance race in the 35-39 year old age group. It was a bit of a trip to get out to (22-23 hours each way! Lots of hanging around in airports) but turned out to be well worth the time, preparation, organisation and hassle. I had a great few days out there with some great people.
Hotel view
The topic of the week was whether to wetsuit or not to wetsuit. I was fairly adamant that I wouldn’t use a wetsuit but after 10 minutes of bumbling around in the Red Sea I realised that 20C is pretty chilly for me and I was reminded of Thom Phillip’s comments that modern rubber is fast, even removing the buoyancy aspect. After the Llanelli Tri last year I also realised that there’s an advantage to keeping your legs warm in the swim, ready for the bike. I spent a little time checking out parts of the bike and run routes too and pretty much sorted out my tactics based upon the wind direction.
I was glad when we finally got to race morning. My bike had been approved and racked, my trisuit had been okayed, and disk wheels were finally cleared for use 1 hour before the start. I was healthy (Gareth and I at Swansea Health Solutions had worked hard to fix some running issues over the last year), fit and ready to go, so standing on the start line I’d completed one of my main aims!
Red Sea swim
Us blokes in the 35-39 age group had the largest group (I think) and a start wave all to ourselves, and I didn’t get a great start position as we all lined up in a single row before the starting mat. I was a bit wider than I would have liked. I’d set my fancy schmancy new Garmin 910XT ready to go with an automatic triathlon set up so it would switch from swim to bike to run with lap button presses and I hit the “enter” button as the horn went and we legged it down the beach and dived into the sea. Nice. I started fast, got on some feet and found my pace but those feet wanted to go left to form a group and I wanted to go straight for the first buoy, 700m out. I stuck to the straight line tactic, went for the buoy and we came together as a group there, turned into the sun, then 100m later turned back to the beach. I felt pretty good, a new higher stroke rate helping this open water swimming lark even in a wetsuit. Jolly good. Close to the beach the fatigue started to build, so good pacing I reckon. I stroked until super shallow then pulled out & up and started the looooong run to transition.
Wetsuit strip
I’m happy with long segments like this. I looked down at my state-of-the-art watch to see my swim time, and found I hadn’t started the thing. Oops. I’m getting to that age where modern technology is getting smarter than I am. Er, press start, lap, er, lap again (?) to get to the T1 segment. Blimey. My brain might not have been working too well before the race but it certainly doesn’t work well after 22 horizontal minutes thrashing my arms around.
Plenty of time to strip rubber, tuck its arms in and run. From in the water I thought I was positioned ok but it’s hard to tell in age group waves. I think I was 8th out of the water. There were quite a few bodies in transition. Nip through to my bike, step suit off, lid on and glasses on. Sunwise had sent me some lovely new blue tinted Chromafusion GS lenses for the bright Israeli sunshine. I ran the bike out and mounted on the road straight into the headwind so I didn’t get both my feet in until after the first turn.
Bike rack
There were a few bikes out ahead of me and my strategy was to hammer the bike hard for the first 20km out to the turn. We were going out into the desert, steadily up a slight drag into a strong wind. Hit that hard, pick up places before the turn, and we’ll fly back at 50kph with little opportunity of making gains on each other. So that’s what I did. Tick, tick, tick, place, place, place. I swapped places with the eventual silver medallist, but other than that I picked off athletes one by one, stretched out on the desert road. We had draft busters all over us (3 motorbikes, I think) so it was clear that we were doing a good, legal job. I had a little back and forth placing tussle with a rider as we got close to the turn (we could see the roundabout from a long way away, and it didn’t seem to get any closer) so as it steepened I pushed it hard past him again, slowed for the turn and grabbed a bottle. The aid guy did a great job as even though I slowed for him I must have been motoring already! I poured the entire water bottle down my back to counter the reduced cooling effects of the tailwind home.
Desert ride
From the turn I was hitting 60kph, and averaged around 50kph all the way back with a top speed of 69kph. And there were no descents! Windy day! I’d stuck a GlucoJuice to my top tube with tape, and pulled that off to drink before the run at about 50 minutes of biking time. That worked well and I stuffed the empty bottle into the top of my trisuit to dump at the first aid station on the run. I’d also had one before the race along with a can of unknown energy drink which I’d hoped had lots of caffeine in but was only labelled in Hebrew. It turned out that I’d ridden my way into 2nd place by the roundabout and held that to the end of the bike and T2. I’ve made some significant power gains over the winter and was struggling to really believe the data from my iBike power meter, but I guess it might be correct! Check out the speed data for windy!
Eilat Bike Leg Speed Data
I didn’t know my position at this point and it wasn’t until partway round the first lap of the run that I realised that the announcer had called out “and here comes the 2nd place athlete from Great Britain” when I ran out. Was he talking about me? I started out at the usual pace, and began to get faster. The looping nature of the 4 lap run course meant I could try and figure out from race numbers and calf markings who was in my age group. I didn’t see many, but saw more enter the run course after my first lap round. Nice! I lost one place on the run, and couldn’t hold his shoulder. We encouraged each other as we passed, but I couldn’t lift my pace to stick with him. For the 3rd and 4th laps I would normally be able to raise my pace at this distance, but not today. I pushed the effort up to the limit in the second half but wasn’t getting any more speed out. It wasn’t a fast course, with turns, hairpins and changes in surface with lots of gravel. I guess I used up a lot on the bike, or maybe it was a bit hot for me. The aid stations were great and I dumped 2-3 cups of water on my head every lap and that seemed to keep my heart rate to the right level. It felt good too! It turns out the water clearing feature of the Sunwise GS lenses was useful after all!
Hot run
I’m still trying to learn where my developing fitness levels are, and with the hard first segment ride strategy I guess I found my level on the run. I couldn’t have run fast enough to get myself into 2nd place and was happy that I’d pushed myself to my limits for the race by the time I staggered over the finish line. Big effort. Back slaps, handshakes, and water in the shaded athlete tent.
After crossing the finish line I had the strangest feeling of, “oh it’s over!” Not the usual elation of finishing, the triumph of placing well or the thankfulness of it all being over, but a feeling that I’d like to go around again (my legs wouldn’t). That months and months of preparation; financial, organisational and physical, was over. All that work was at an end. A successful end, but an end. It was done. Funny, I’ve never felt that before.
Me and Claire
I caught up with friends watching (after a long, smiley hobble round a block to get across the barriers, chatting to GB supporters), cheered on friends racing, and enjoyed the sun and the setting. Eventually I got around to the athlete’s lounge and lots of cake, bananas, cake, iced water, and cake. Lovely. Cake. When I went to get my bag I found that the results were up and my name was in 3rd place. 3rd place! I’m getting a medal! Awesome! At the same time the fella that finished in the silver medal position found out his placing too, and much back slapping and cheery, sweaty hugging followed. I found my friends and team-mates and told them my placing and they were as chuffed as I was. Awesome, awesome, awesome. What a good week. Lots and lots of work over a very long period of time ending in a good result. There’s nothing better.
Medal awards
The following week back in the UK I had the usual struggles with coming down after a high along with soreness, fatigue, eating like I’d been lost in the wilderness, and not enough sleep. It has been time to transition to the next phase, to analyse, consider and plan. The first big race of the season was a massive success and the whole thing was a lot more fun that I thought it might be. Now its time to look onwards to the remainder of the season with lots of races to do, a couple more peaks if I can manage it, more qualifiers and an end to the season with a bit of fun and maybe some fundraising (for charity, not for me).
Thanks to everyone that helped me get to the podium in Israel. My sponsors: Swansea Health Solutions, Sunwise, and BBI Healthcare with their GlucoTabs and GlucoJuice products have all played key parts in getting me out there and helping me perform as I did, and my friends and family have been big supporters of what I’ve been doing. I couldn’t do any of this without Kim, of course, and I hope she also got a lot out of the result. Unfortunately she didn’t get a tan, but maybe next time?
Coffee in Israel
(Thanks to James Manson for the photos of me).

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Grove Building, College of Medicine, Swansea University
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I’ve landed in Tel Aviv and I’m wondering, why am I here? Not the big, “Why Am I Here?”, but the smaller, why am I here hanging around for several hours in an airport in Israel after an overnight flight and a long coach journey across the UK with very little sleep and bags of stuff? Why am I in an airport with loads of skinny people in red, white and blue kit laid all over the place like some sort of competitive triage centre? I forgot.

I’m on my way to sunny Eilat on the Red Sea to race in the European (yes, I know, it’s Israel) Age Group Triathlon Championships on Friday. I’m here because I habitually tend to push myself a little further than I’m comfortable with, because I know from experience that from those fears can come smiles. With opportunities I think about saying, “yes” before I think about saying, “no”. I’m here because I thought, hmm, Israel, I’ve never been there and I fancy a little adventure. I’m here because this triathlon malarkey (and racing in general) is fun for me, and the racing isn’t stressful as such, but the logistics and the travelling can be. I’m here because, although completing a 2 hour triathlon is not a challenge for me, racing in a foreign country against competitors that have gone through a qualifying process is a challenge. As is the aforementioned getting myself and all my stuff to the start line intact. I’m here because last year it rained for almost every race and I thought I might be guaranteed a little sun by the Red Sea. And I’m here because I have good support, and although my family were sad to see me go they also thought it would be a cool thing to do. I miss my bagman but I’m hoping that in future years we’ll be able to do this together.

So it seems that results and placings and medals are secondary or tertiary to all this other stuff. That said, I’ve done the training, I’ve put myself into a good position with some great fitness, and race day will show what I have. I’ll push hard and get what I get. If the experience is as rewarding as I hope it will be, hours and years of preparation will move me forwards and upwards. All while having fun. That’s why I’m here.

European Tri Champs, coming up

Sunny, cloudy Welsh riding
It’s Tuesday. We’re all back at work after a nice Easter break. Next Tuesday I’m off to Israel! It’s my first A-race of the year, and a pretty big one at that. The European Triathlon Championships for us age-groupers (i.e. amateurs) is on the Friday and Saturday next week, in the sunny, hot and often blowy Eilat by the Red Sea. I’m looking forward to the sun, although I’m often not much use in it, and I’m well prepared for the wind.
With all the costs, logistics and hassle of getting myself and my carbon stuff all the way to the Middle East I’ll be chuffed if I’m goggled up and ready to go on the hooter. It’s a bit of a learning curve, pushing me out of my comfort zone (and I hate travelling – like being places, hate getting there) and I’m hoping this will be a long term thing, so getting there, starting and finishing, learning and enjoying are big parts of next week’s racing. I’m in great shape right now too, so if all goes very well and I can crank out all I’ve got it’ll be great to see how I compare.
I’ll be wearing the skin tight blue & white, and sharing a room with another GB athlete so it’ll be good to meet some people and spend some time with little to do but, well, do little at the end of a taper and then hammer it. Followed by doing little. It might be good for my blood pressure.
I’ll avoid taking a computer but I’ll pocket some gadgets so if the hotel WiFi gods are in a good mood hopefully I’ll be flooding my areas of t’internet with pics and words. If I can nab a 30-pin iPhone Ant+ dongle off anyone I’ll upload some data too.
Right, back to positive thinking and checking my check lists. Really hoping it’s not so windy that my disk wheel gets banned… And that I don’t step on anything poisonous in the sea… And that I don’t eat anything dodgy… And must work out a puncture kit as I can’t take CO2 canisters on the plane…

150-odd days in the life of an age grouper triathlete

Training And Racing 365 Flickr
I’ve been taking a photo a day of something training or racing related for the last 150 odd days and putting them up on Flickr as a bit of a 365 project. I started when I began preparing for the 2012 season, and as I train every day I thought I’d snap something as a bit of a record. I’ve done this before as a normal 365 project, which was a good exercise in thinking about photos and turned out to be an interesting way of chronicling stuff you do.
A lot of it’s pretty basic stuff, and there’s a lot of cycling in there (not surprisingly). I’ve tried to put in various bits that show the different things you end up doing when you’re trying to be competitive as an amateur triathlete.
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Take a look at the Flickr set if you care to, and pop back regularly. The more hits it gets the more I’ll be pushed to put up interesting photos!
Flickr: Training and racing 365 set

Swim drills & confounding the Garmin 910XT

The Garmin 910XT measures your indoor swim training distance by counting the lengths you swim. You tell it how long the pool is and it does the maths. It can get confused if you change stroke mid-length or don’t swim normal strokes.

I tried it out with some sculling drills today and it was fine with front sculling and mid-sculling but it got a bit weird with back-sculling and added a couple of lengths. Not sure why. Maybe it would be fine in a 25m pool.

I had a look through the data from my 1000m TT swim & found a couple of things. Like I said, my stroke rate could do with improving so I had a crack at that. @thomiphillips has been trying to get me to up my stroke rate and cut out the dead spots in my stroke and he’s succeeded to a point, particularly with the TriLife training day over the winter. My tempo pace stroke rate was around 60spm, and it’s surprisingly hard to stroke faster. It feels like thrashing at the water and I only managed to get it up to 68spm, but I was only losing 1 stroke over 50m at that rate. It felt good though; more like a punchy open water stroke, like I really managed to cut out the front end dead spot, and you seem to breathe so much more!

End result: I swam the fastest 200m reps that I remember ever swimming in a 50m pool. I swim these things at this pace a lot, and these were a lot quicker for the same effort. Nice. That’s something to work on between now and Israel!