With 2018 the year of ‘local racing’, the Bowood House sprint triathlon was a near-perfect
race candidate: practically on my doorstep, a sprint distance I could manage without the need to train specifically or taper, closed roads for the bike course and all in in a very picturesque setting.
The scorching weather lately in the UK meant the lake at Bowood was a balmy 24.6 degrees (Celsius!), which in turn meant that the swim would be non-wetsuit. Having expressed some concerns lately about my swim speed in different wetsuits, I was actually pretty happy to hear this. As someone who would happily do a full IM distance swim in just a trisuit, the idea of a short 750m sprint without the buoyancy or insulation of a wetsuit really didn’t bother me. In fact, I thought it might actually be to my advantage.
That was until I noticed that Geoff Twinning (thankfully a couple of Age Groups down from me!) was in my wave. Geoff is a sub-five minute 400m swimmer, so I knew he’d be well ahead of me out of the water at Bowood. I had half an idea I might be able to sit on his feet for the swim, but that was wishful thinking!
Having worn my Huub long course short-sleeved trisuit at Westonbirt and feeling like it wasn't that good in the water (i.e. without a wetsuit or swimskin over the top), I elected to go old-school and wear in ITU-legal rear zip suit from a few years back.
I still started alongside Geoff at the front of the wave, figuring I’d either find some feet to jump on or I’d just do my own thing. As the hooter went, Geoff shot off, but another two guys made a decent start and I settled in on a pair of feet. All good. Making the second turn, the feet in front seemed to have run out of steam, however, so I made a short sprint over to a ‘fresh’ pair a few meters ahead. And that served me well until the final turn when the direction of the feet in front didn’t correlate with what my own eyes were telling me.
I was pretty sure I could spot the swim exit, but the feet in front were off-course by about 20 degrees. Do I follow the feet or I do I head for the swim exit?
I chose the latter and it turned out that my eyes weren’t deceiving me. The other guy must have realised after a while, as he finally course-corrected and we exited the water close together, in second and third place respectively.
The run from the lake to T1 was a 500m dash uphill, thankfully on grass (so not too hard on my ankles and feet).
My first transition was pretty smooth and I headed out onto the bike course, which was on a narrow perimeter road around the estate. The good things about the course were the lack of cars (I can’t exactly say it was ‘traffic-free’ with the amount of other bikes on it!) and that it was relatively flat. The bad things were that it was very narrow, room for two bikes abreast at best, quite twisty (no real chance to get your head down and into ‘time trial mode’) and festooned with ramps that had been erected over cattle grids and speed humps!
I’m not sure if you’ve ever ‘got air’ on a time trial bike when you’re down on the tribars, but (feel free call me a wuss) it’s pretty ‘interesting’ (for which read scary, especially if you don't hit the ramp dead square-on). There was a lot of barking “on your right!” from me as I made my way through the bike traffic. I apologise if I scared or annoyed anyone and I am very grateful that most other riders were extremely courteous in letting me through (I can appreciate that the speed differential with which I overtook some of the other riders might have been a bit unnerving).
The ‘bitty’ nature of the course, with constant spurts of power followed quickly by freewheeling or braking for corners or ramps, really didn’t suit me and my power average for each of the seven laps was well down on what I had targeted. Still, investigating the results later suggests that I had the fastest bike split of the day, so I guess everyone was having the same experience. At some point on lap five or six, I overtook Geoff (who it turns out had done the 750m swim in just over nine minutes!).
Despite nearly coming in after six laps instead of seven (don’t ask me to count beyond five!), I eventually brought the bike back into transition (didn’t enjoy the dismount straight after a 90-degree bend!) and headed out onto the run.
Despite my average power being low (and opting to not wear an HR strap for the race), I knew I’d been working hard on the bike, so the run was going to be a slog. And so it was, especially as the run course headed back down to the lake before climbing again (in a less direct route) and going through transition between laps.
At about 1km into the run, Geoff came steaming past me again. Dammit. He’d obviously got his run legs with him, unlike the last time we raced each other at Westonbirt where I managed to stay ahead after catching him on the bike.
As we started the climb back up the hill, Geoff had maybe 200 metres on me, but suddenly he stopped. Had he blown up? A glance back at me seemed to be the motivation he needed to start running again! I tried to focus on ‘running uphill 101’ and go for short, fast strides. I closed a little, but not enough. Back through transition and he’d pulled out a bit more of a lead, which he held as we descended down to the lake and around the waterfall and temple features.
Again on the climb, he slowed to a walk for a moment, had a look behind (I’m sure he was teasing me!) and started running again once I was within 200 metres. And so we remained to the finish line.
We crossed the line first and second in our wave, which in the end translated to fourth and sixth overall on the day; good enough for both of us to claim our respective Age Group wins (the top spots being claimed by the young guns).
I was chuffed to take the Age Group win for the 45-49 Age Group, particularly as I had done no taper or specific short-distance preparation. I was pleased with my swim (I think holding the feet was ultimately a better choice than exerting an extra 20-30% effort for a few seconds saved); my bike was strong (fastest of the day, and not all down to expensive kit and aero trickery). And my run was what it was. If anything, at least I didn't hate it! I actually found myself during the run reminding myself that my feet weren't hurting, my Skechers GoMeb shoes felt good and my technique wasn't all bad. I just had no speed!
As usual, I find myself wondering why I can’t run off the bike (or run without a bike first, for that matter!). In my head, there’s no good reason why I can’t improve my running (well that’s not 100% true, the issues I’ve been having with my ankles and back might be contributing factors, albeit not wholly responsible). The question is whether I have the motivation and willpower (not to mention the understanding of the right training etc.) to improve my running. Or do I just accept it for what it is? Or do I just stop running and focus on the cycling?
Still unsure on that one. But definitely food for thought.
In the meantime, the ego boost of the AG win was very welcome.
Thanks as always to the volunteers and marshals on course (especially Howard who gave me a good shout of encouragement on every bike lap!).