Monday, September 07, 2015

Bala Triathlon 2015 European Qualifier

12 months ago after the insanity of my PE had ebbed, I asked myself, “What could I achieve if I apply the consistency of Ironman training to shorter, faster races.

Yesterday I believe I partly answered that question.  Not only because I took 11 minutes off my PB time but also because I got back from the race so exhausted that I slept for 17 hours with a short waking moment for dinner.

Registration day saw me up at 5am in Sheffield and on the road by 7.  Partly to beat the traffic and partly because I was woken by the kitten punching me in the face.  As TSK usually shuts them in the kitchen they were quite surprised by me getting up and giving them food.  They promptly went back to sleep so weren’t worried about me going away.

By the time I set my tent up in Wales and drove into Bala the sun was high in the sky and the lake was looking – and feeling – beautiful.  15 degrees was the official water temperature on the day.

I was really chuffed with my freebie towel in the race pack. I set off to the Eco Café for lunch quite happy, before getting my bike out at the campsite for a wash.  With a shiny bike I decided to take it for a spin to check for any issues.  The first being that I had brought odd shoes.  Fortunately as an only child I always bring something to do wherever I go so I spent a few minutes putting cleats on the new shoes that I had with me before heading off up the hill to discover an out of true wheel and toed-in brake block.  Back at camp I checked every bolt for tightness.

I went to bed at around 8:30pm, tired out by my day and lulled to sleep by the bloke in the next door tent singing his daughter to sleep and the stream, gurgling about 4 metres away from my head.

I woke up with the dawn, shortly before my 6:45 alarm call.  So nothing like an ironman race sleep then.  Camping in Wales in September though – even if it is just September.  Once awake I had to get up in order to get the breakfast on and get some heat in the tent.  The fog outside threatened ground frost but had only laid a thick layer of dew.

As I drove down the hill, the view over the lake showed that the icy fog was not only clinging to nooks in the valley side but also sitting ominously over the lake surface.  My ambitions for a warmer swim started to fade.

I was racked up and in transition early.  Still much faffing seemed to be required.  Walking back to the car to get my flip flops for the walk to the lake, I pittied the queue of people waiting to get into transition.  Everything was going well for me.

I finally had a proper entry into the water this year.  Every race I have been to seems to have involved the cold-shock-go! approach , or a short swim followed by a long cold wait.  This time I actually had the chance to get my face wet and swim up and down before the start in amongst the other swimmers.
It was a good swim, though as I write this I still don’t know how fast it was (33 minutes) .  I stuck with the group for the first quarter even though I swam my own stroke.  As I felt like I was being dropped, I still managed to find some feet to follow and as we went around the first turn buoy I realised there was still quite a melee of people around me.  I worked hard to stay with them.  So much so that I didn’t sight once and only realised we were at the second turn buoy when people started swimming over me at 90 degrees to my direction of travel.

I found the perfect feet to follow down to the finish of the swim.  She made me increase my pace just enough and when someone else tried to butt in I fought for those feet.

Swimming in Lynn Tegid is like swimming in beer.  It’s a dark, Peaty Brown colour but beautifully clear and the bubbles from hand and feet appear white, and sparkling from the depths.

To my delight I exited the water at the back of the group although it took quite some time to walk over the sharp stones to the temporary exit jetty which wasn’t really long enough.  I could hear my mum shouting for me and gave her a wave.

But that was all I could manage as my useless arms failed to propel me any further and my brain moved from “Ow my feet” to “You should be unzipping your wetsuit – IDIOT”.  I also missed my turning into transition, having to duck under a row of (thankfully) vacant bike racks from the men's race ahead of us.

I was straight into shoes and on the bike before I realised I bravely wasn’t wearing my gloves.  After the crash at Chester I promised not to ride without gloves again.  I did ditch the excess water bottle I didn’t need.  My only thought about riding sock-less on the whole ride was experiencing cold toes on the first few hundred metres while my feet were still wet and the breeze was blowing through the mesh of my shoes.

The bike was so painfully enjoyably fast.  It rose and fell twice – vaguely.  Not really worthy of unseating, though I did on the return leg just for a change of position, until the headwind (what there was) resumed briefly.  I blatted.  Just like I had done at the relays, but this time I made it last 1 hour.  At the turnaround I was in a mixed group of slow male swimmers (10 minutes head start on the women) and proficient female riders.  We all slotted fairly comfortably into our space then resumed a game of cat and mouse between myself, a woman from team GB named Pfab and a Felt sponsored rider.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses and between the uphill, downhill, flat and absence of corners I managed to keep them all at bay until Pfab pulled away on the last climb and Felt came past whilst I was loosening my shoes on the last downhill.  I was sorry for the guy who mistook the turnaround point on the run for transition and took his feet out of his shoes and pulled in before being turned away by the marshalls.  We all rode past feeling vaguely uncomfortable whilst he put his feet in his shoes again as he tried to start the hill climb.

The final leg of the bike, alongside oncoming runners seemed to take a long time.  5km – more or less.  The road seemed endless, Bala surrounding homesteads seemed to spread far out.  Finally we seemed to round a corner and transition was there, a blaze of colours and again I was surrounded by a group of people who managed to transition without a wobble. For once my flying dismount disappeared into what the commentator called a “flurry of activity”.  Clearly I was in some sort of thick of it.

In the middle of my own personal flurry of activity I was so busy I decided that "my feet are fine, I won’t put my socks on”.  I set off running with my helmet still on my head and had to retrace to dump it by my bike.  I had remembered to take a gel and wear my sweat band on my wrist which I always miss out on in hot events.

As usual I was slow setting off on the run though I have been practising my brick runs after Claire inspired me with fast runs off the bike.  So I wasn’t as slow as I have been in the past.  When we hit the road I had a few words with the bod and made it focus on speeding the hell up.  By the time I looked at my watch again it said 7.6 mph and I was running on an uphill gradient.

Anyone reading this may think that’s not fast but it is for me. The fact that I was running my target pace on an uphill slope made me happy.  The fact that I felt comfortable doing it gave me immense hope.  The fact that so many were passing me back gave pure testament to the fact that I had been punching above my weight on the bike, potentially on the swim and in transition.

Random Welsh Mountain (not on the course)

Then mini disaster struck.  Once I had gotten over the feeling of running with something (anything) stuck in my shoes, I began to realise that my sockless feet were starting to blister in the heat.  Talcum powder was insufficient and the rubbing had started.  I still had 400m to go to the turnaround tree with 5km to get back to the finish.  I tagged the tree and the marshal with a high five (well, he held his hand up) and set off on my uncomfortable journey back. Past the family I had considered asking for a borrow of a pair of socks and onto the scorching road.  Time for a drink, whilst avoiding getting any of it on my feet.

My average speed was holding at 7.5mph as I climbed the hill.  I stopped looking at actual speed as some incentive.  In fact I stopped looking at my watch at all and searched the horizon for a distraction.

That was the problem – heading North - no mountain to look at and not really any clear view of the lake.  Just oncoming runners and runners passing me and fewer and fewer runners for me to pass.  I found few pace-setting people – they were all going too fast for me to stick with.  My average speed was down to 7.4mph.  I didn’t know exactly what my swim / bike time was but 7.4mph made a 49, maybe 50 minute 10km run possible and a PB as well, if my guestimate of 1:47 so far was correct (looked at my watch in transition).

There was no point in slowing down, I had to keep running through the pain.  I was now enjoying the sprints (in the sunshine) in between the trees (glorious shade).  It didn’t matter whether I was going up hill or down, speed was directly proportional to sunlight.  Burn a match, revcover.  At the second water station I threw all the water over my head which gave me plenty of incentive to speed up.

That got more intense when I heard the finishing tannoy for the first time.  It really was all downhill and I hit a maximum effort which really was not that fast any more but hurting.  I flew around the corner thinking it was my last only to find some arbitrary loop had been taped onto the end of the course to make up the distance.

We had been advised to go and look at this but something in the Welsh to English translation lost the sense of urgency for me.  I thought I had understood where the finish was but I was wrong.  To be honest, I didn’t expect to be this exhausted when I got there.

I had no voice left to talk to that marshall and wasn’t feeling particularly complimentary to him (even though it wasn’t his fault).

There was no sprint for the line, even though an FV50 passed me in the closing metres, my tank was empty.

I was still furious to find a massive crowd of athletes standing around queuing for water or to get into transition or something.  I have never been home before the last cyclist has come in.  I don’t know how these things work but I did need to walk, not stand around.  I skipped the queue for water and picked up a much more readily available beer (non alcoholic Erdinger).  This made me unpopular when I went to sit by the turn into the finish to wait for mum and dad and had a few envious looks from athletes on their final exhausted, baked throes for the finish line.
I took it in turns to drink the Erdinger and use it as a wasp decoy.  Mum and dad arrived back at transition and set off for their walk after a cheery morning shouting or everyone.

Results remain unofficial but 33; 1:07; 50 seems to be the conclusion with 3 minute and 1 minute transitions.  I was 23rd FV40 in a really competitive field of 32 athletes.  I finished within 113% of the winners time – potentially a qualifying time for the European champs though there are most definitely 20 athletes ahead of me in the queue, with better results or guaranteed places.
Most astonishing is knowing that given perfect racing, I could take 5 minutes off without any more effort, making 109%.

With a 5 hour long cyclocross ride (hike) and 4 hour mountain run in the week following the race, it has been difficult to remember the glory of Bala in the sun.  The dawn of September weather and the cyclocross season beginning have put paid to that.

All effort has been absorbed by 3 Peaks planning and training and it feels so good to ride a wave of consistency without the crash and burn of previous ears.

I think I am going to like it here.

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