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  • Writer's pictureMatt Fisher

Westonbirt Sprint Triathlon 2018 (Race Report)

Updated: Jun 1, 2018

I first raced Westonbirt in 2015 and then again in 2017. It’s “only” a local sprint triathlon, but it’s always well-organized by DB Max and has a nice feel to it (some pretty good athletes turn up, but it’s not uber-competitive, with a lot of first-timers as well).

The format is a nice simple 400m pool swim, a 20km (actually more like 23km) bike and then a 5km run. Usual sprint triathlon fare.

As a sub six-minute swimmer, I was placed in the last wave of the day, a luxurious 1:15pm start time!

A week in Australia and New Zealand was hardly ideal preparation (or in the original plan), but jetlag or no, it would be a fun race.

The swim

There’s not much to report here. If you’ve done a pool-based triathlon, you know the water quickly becomes more like a washing machine and that the odd gulp of water rather than air is par for the course. I’d chosen to wear my normal Huub long course suit with short sleeves. In hindsight, a mistake as this suit really isn’t designed to be swum in (at least, not without a swim skin or a wetsuit over the top). I probably would have been better off in one of my older-but-less-fancy trisuits.

Exiting the water, I was a good 15 seconds off my normal 400m time, due I expect in part to the washing machine effect and the extra drag of the sleeved suit.

At Westonbirt, there’s the small matter of a 500m (no exaggeration) run from the swimming pool to the main transition area. As such, I usually put an old pair of trainers outside the door of the pool and slip them on for the short run (running barefoot cripples me), wrapping my race belt around my waist as I run.

The bike

For once, my transition felt pretty good and I was on the bike without too much issue. Fiddling with the Boa dials on my S-Works trivent shoes reminded me that these really are designed for long-course racing. The Trivent is a great shoe for long-distance racing where comfort becomes more important. But a simple Velcro strap to close the shoe would be much, much faster.

Out onto the main road and I was conscious to try to push a little harder than I had at the last race, where I came away feeling that I had under-performed on the bike. After the short, sharp swim and run to T1, my heart rate was noticeably higher than it had been coming out of the water at the Cotswold #51Fiver race.

I have, unfortunately, lost confidence in my Parcours wheels recently, after what feels like a lot of pinch punctures. This week alone I wrecked three inner tubes trying to retyre the front wheel, but I’m damned if I can find what I’m doing wrong (I’ve been riding for 10+ years, hopefully I know how to change a tyre…). So today I was racing on my second-hand set of Enve 8.9 tubulars. Not exactly a hardship, although I believe a disc rear wheel would have been marginally faster on the mostly-flat course.

The conditions on the bike course were good, if a little blowy and I made a few passes in the first 10km or so, before settling down for what became a pretty lonely ride into T2. I don’t mind that (in fact, I much prefer it to a super-busy course where you get tons of drafting), but it is more fun having the odd target to hunt down. I figured that either I was in the lead of the wave, or the fast guys really were fast and out of sight.

In fact, I later discovered that I had the second-fastest (by a few seconds, only the overall race winner was faster) bike split of the day. Something went right, at least! And I didn’t puncture, yay!

The run

Out onto the run and I was determined to make up for the poor performance (can you spot the thread…?) at the #51Fiver race. But it seems I just can’t run off the bike. Okay, so the 24 hours on two planes in the preceding 36 hours probably didn’t help, but I feel like that’s too easy an excuse to call on. Similarly, I’ve had a groin strain lately. More excuses.

The simple fact is that I just don’t seem to be able to get the leg speed off the bike. It’s like I come off the bike and I’m stuck in one gear (about 4:14/km pace) regardless of the run distance. I can’t explain it. Maybe I need to do more brick sessions. Maybe I need to switch my brain off. Maybe I need to, oh I don’t know. I’m at a loss!

As I started the second of three laps, passing transition, a younger chap came out of T2 and overtook me. I resolved to stay close to him, using him as a pacer. And so it was for the next two laps, until I sensed I was maybe 400m from the finish and surged past (he still had another lap to go).

As usual, the surge took me by surprise, leaving me questioning whether I really should have been pushing harder for the full run.

Across the line and that was that. I didn’t know where I’d come but was hoping for a top-five in the veteran (40-49) category. After a minute or so I made my way over to the results computer and typed my number in. The result – 8th overall (out of 450-odd) and 2nd in the veteran category. Not too shabby!

Although I had won the veteran race in previous years, I was conscious that I’m not currently in great shape, so I could hardly complain at coming second.

So, I waited for the awards and gladly accepted my second-place plaque (and bottle of vino!). Only to find that the guy who won the veteran race beat me two seconds. Just TWO SECONDS! It turns out he had started later in the staggered pool start and had had me in his sights for the full run course.

A bit unfair, really, but I guess it’s unavoidable with that kind of racing where you’re not only in waves, but with staggered starts to boot. I wish it had been a proper head-to-head sprint for the line. At least I would have made him work damned hard for the win!

Thankfully, Charlie Pennington (you might have heard of him, he’s a bit good) put things into perspective when he reminded me later on Facebook that he had missed an AG win at Kona by just six seconds. Fair play Charlie, I’ll quit whinging!

Thanks as always to the DB Max race organisers, marshals and volunteers who were, without exception, supportive and encouraging. It’s difficult to over-emphasise what a difference it makes to the competitors when the course staff are so vocal in their support. I do try to say ‘thank you’ as many times as I can as I go round. If I didn’t give you my thanks in person, please accept them now.

As for what’ next, I’m not entirely sure. I deliberately decided that this would be a low-key year, so there’s no real A race that I’m aiming for. Maybe I’ll have a scout around and see if I can get a late entry at any races over Summer…

A final little whinge. When I got back to transition to collect my kit after the race I found my bike leaned against a wall. It seems athlete 497 (you know who you are) decided to rack his bike in my spot (after I'd already parked mine there!) and knocked my bike off the rack in the process, scratching the handlebars and the rear mech as the bike hit the concrete. C'mon guys, it doesn't take much care or courtesy to avoid damaging other athletes' kit.

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