My first triathlon of the year. Not a short little pool swim followed by a 20km bike and a 5km trudge on some muddy rugby field. No, a ‘proper’ Olympic-distance triathlon with an open water lake swim, an honest 40km bike and an off-road (albeit mercifully flat) 10km run.
Having decided last year to step back (for a while, at least) from m-dot 70.3 racing, this is the type of racing I wanted to be doing in 2018. It was to be a rude awakening. And a race that I am still trying to process and digest in my head, days later.
The venue was the familiar ‘Waterland’ at Lake 32 in the Cotswold Water Park. A lake I’ve swum in many times, although I’ve never swum a clockwise circuit there before. For some strange reason, the very notion of turning right at most of the buoys, rather than left, really threw me!
The air was distinctly chilly as we prepared at 6am, which led to a clothing dilemma. In years gone by, I would wear a trisuit (in this case a Huub short-sleeve suit) with a Fusion Sport ‘Speed Top’ (a really tight-fitting long-sleeve top that can be worn over the trisuit but under a wetsuit and kept on for the bike leg) over the top. But since I last wore it at Weymouth 70.3 last year, I cannot for the life of me find it… So, I opted for a base layer under the trisuit and a pair of fleece-lined arm warmers (worn under the wetsuit).
It would turn out to be a questionable choice.
With three large waves (I was in Wave #1), the swim starts were always going to be crowded, especially as everyone fought for space in the rush to the first few buoys. It was one of the more ‘punchy’ swims I’ve had over the years and I saw a few people suffering. I got a few clouts, kicks and mouthfuls of water, but overall I just felt slow. It didn’t (and still doesn’t) make much sense given that my times in the pool are pretty good at the moment, but I could see I was way down on the leaders of my wave (to be fair, the first guy out of the water did the 1,500m swim in 20 minutes!).
I managed to ‘get some toes’ and draft a bit, which perhaps meant I actually took it a bit too easy, coming out of the water in my slowest-ever competition time (in a lake at least) for 1,500m.
I got to T1, which went fine, and out onto the bike.
Looking at my Garmin data later, I mounted the bike with a heart rate of only around 152bpm, a good 10bpm down on where I would normally be at the end of the swim leg.
Maybe I really didn’t swim hard enough.
I settled into the bike leg and just concentrated on riding to power. The plan was to ride to about 90% of FTP (I figured with it being a 40km course, it would take about an hour, and I wanted to run okay) and that seemed to be fine. In fact, looking again at my HR stats, it suggests my HR was quite low for the entire bike ride. Which makes me question the readings I was getting from the Garmin Vector 2 pedals/power meter.
I could see a gaggle of four riders up ahead who looked to be riding very close to one another. A motorbike marshal had several looks at them, though, and from I understand was happy enough. So fair dos.
The concern over my power and speed was amplified at about 30km when I was overtaken by Ben Bridewell, riding my old S-Works Shiv. I had not expected Ben to catch me on the bike (all credit to him!). And this reinforced my feeling that I was riding too conservatively.
I pushed on a little harder, but got my customary cramp in my right hip (still don’t know why I get this…) so had to back off again. Frustrating for me and no doubt frustrating for the guy I had just overtaken when the cramps hit.
I was being good and remembering to take regular sips of my Elivar Endure drink from the front bottle mounted between the tribars on the Giant Trinity. But I was cold, despite the base layer and arm warmers, and I was beginning to have troubles moving my fingers to shift gears.
Then at around 37 kilometers, with just three clicks left to run, I heard a loud bang. I recognized it immediately as a blown inner tube. “Bad luck for someone” I thought. Then I realized, it was me.
The tube in the rear disc hadn’t just punctured, it had exploded. I had a can of gunk on the bike, but I figured that a) it was a proper explosion and sealant was unlikely to work and b) I only had three kilometres left to ride.
So I stood up, got as much weight onto the front wheel as possible, and carried on.
I couldn’t believe it. Another frikkin’ puncture on the roads around the Cotswold Water Park.
Those roads just REALLY don’t like me (I punctured at last year’s Cotswold Classic, leading to a DNF). It turned out to be quite tiring riding the three kilometres back to T2 standing and with all my weight going through my arms onto the front wheel while still trying to keep the speed above 30kph with the rear disc thumping and banging along behind (can’t bear to investigate what damage I’ve done yet).
I got passed by maybe five or six competitors, none of who bothered to offer any condolences or encouragement (thanks…). But finally made it back to T2.
After racking the bike, I went to remove my helmet. But my fingers wouldn’t work. I literally could not unfasten the buckle. Maybe it was the cold, maybe the road vibration had made them go numb. Eventually, a marshal came over to help and I was able to get my trainers on.
I was deflated. Another frikkin’ bike leg ruined by a puncture. I feel like I’ve had more than my fair share of those in the last couple of years! Any fire in my belly had gone out and I basically jogged the 9.5km to the finish line at something like 4:29/km pace.
Again, my Garmin HR trace shows how low my heart rate was. I wasn’t racing. I was finishing. My run form on the race photos actually looks okay. Perhaps because I really wasn’t trying! One thing I definitely was doing was overheating. The base layer and arm warmers were now way too hot for the warming air temperatures.
I crossed the line for a pitiful 6th in Veteran age group (which I assume means 40-49, as technically I’m in the 45-49 AG now). The puncture cost me at least two minutes and I know I could have run at least two minutes faster. But that’s academic. I did what I did.
There are several questions left over from the race:
1. Why did I swim so slow? I was wearing a new wetsuit. Did I buy the wrong one? Did I not get the fit right? Did I just not try hard enough? Investigations are ongoing and hopefully will be the subject of a future blog.
2. Why was my HR and speed so low on the bike given the power meter was reading on-target? Are the Garmin Vector 2s once again proving to be inconsistent? Should I not ride to power when racing?
3. Why was my head not in the right place on the run? Why didn’t I have the mindset of making up the lost time from the bike, rather than giving up? Why was I just jogging when I should have been killing myself?
4. Could it be that the body was still fatigued from the training week in Mallorca the week before?
There are lots more questions to answer as well (like why the hell did I fit a latex inner tube to my disc wheel in the first place?! I don’t even remember doing that!). And I plan to address these over the coming weeks with people that can hopefully offer me some expert and impartial advice. Hopefully I might be able to share some lessons learned here in the near future.
As always, a big thank you to the marshals and volunteers at the race itself. Your support and encouragement is always greatly appreciated. I always try to say ‘thank you’ as I pass. If I didn't, please accept my thanks now.