Quest for Qualification: Final Hurdle – Dambuster

Dambuster Triathlon. The last of the qualification races for the September World Championships in Chicago. Probably my only chance taking into account how average my Nottingham attempt was. Given the importance of the event, I needed to make sure I was well prepared and that all the knowns were controlled, leaving plenty of time to think about, and deal with, the unknowns.

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Braking is unnecessary.

However, planning for this event had been at best poor, and at worst, seriously negligent. My long struggle with an incompatible deep rim wheel and hub had miraculously failed to fix itself, and despite having new time trial bike to test out this weekend, I had not managed to get the bike shop to sort it out. In fact, the bike shop staff had only presented new issues. What brake pads were to be used with my wheel? What size Alan key do you need to get them out? Why do none of my THREE Alan keys have the required size? F*** it. Let’s just stick everything on and wing it. Changing gear or braking is unnecessary.

Having made peace with this idea or more accurately, the consequences, I then ‘worked’ from home on Friday in order to fully  rest up before the event. This was only interrupted by a moment of blind panic at 1657 when I realised I actually hadn’t registered my intention to qualify with British Triathlon, the deadline being 1700. Some fast computer work and a 4G internet connection thankfully meant I managed to enter on time.

Saturday itself began badly. The race was to start at 0700, which is much earlier than strictly necessary. This meant the alarm  was set for 0430. Lovely. We broke our fast, and prepared to leave. Holly was the designated driver for the trip to Rutland Water  and she was keen to get on the road. I however, had lost my wallet. Knowing full well that written in block capitals across all race instructions to every triathlon ever entered were the words:

NO PHOTO ID = NO RACE

I realised the severity of the issue. We turned the house upside down, but to no avail. We were now seriously past the absolute  latest we could leave in order to make it on time by driving legally. I remembered I had a picture of my passport on my phone, and deciding that I’d have to chance it with that, we drove north at breakneck speed.

Except we didn’t. My poor navigation and panicked state meant I gave the incorrect directions and we drove for 5 minutes in a southerly direction. We stopped, turned round, and, with some choice words, drove in the correct direction. Holly was now gripping the steering wheel with an intensity that I have rarely seen, eyes narrowed and concentrating fiercely, lips pursed. I checked Google Maps. Our arrival time was estimated at 0639. I checked the race instructions. Registration closes at 0630. I informed Holly of the situation. She didn’t flinch, instead pressing the accelerator harder into the floor. Our speed increased dramatically.

Average speed cameras passed in a blur. What of them? Do they actually work? Has anyone ever been caught by them? At the time of writing, I am not aware of any fines, but it could well be that Holly has lost her license. Ah well.

Our estimated arrival time crept down, and my pulse with it. We eventually arrived at 0627. I leapt from the car and dashed across the car park. Holly remained in the car, still gripping the steering wheel and breathing heavily. Predictably, there was an enormous queue at registration and there had been no reason to rush. After nervously queuing and trying to think up excuses for why I had no ID, my turn came. I gave my number and awaited my fate.

The race number lady did not look up, did not see my shaking hand showing my photo of my photographic ID, and issued my number and chip without fuss. All that panic for nothing. I grabbed some more gels, and headed back to the car to get my bike and head to transition. After learning my lesson from Nottingham, I also put my chip on my left ankle for safe keeping.

I began to relax as I racked my bike and, pausing only for the brief obligatory, disappointing, pre-race loo trip, I headed to the start line for the briefing. Plenty of time. I realised I had forgotten my HR monitor. All that data that now would not exist! I had also not laid out any gels for the bike. I stuffed two under my wetsuit instead. It was race time.

I had forgotten Dambuster is a beach start, so you have a melee of people running and diving right at the beginning. I  picked my spot slightly left of centre and decided to go for it in the first hundred in order to try and miss the chaos. I  would then settle for being passed later on in the swim, but hopefully without losing my goggles in a battle for some clean water.

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Like a walrus.

The horn went. People ran. People dived. A clear spot opened up in front of me and, like a walrus through a hole in the  ice, I dove for it headfirst. The distance from the first buoy had looked reasonable from the beach, but now from the water it looked positively miles away. In fact if possible, it actually seemed to be receding. After despairing for 10 strokes, I realised that instead it was my goggles that were steaming up, and that I was slowly losing vision. How would I guide myself? I remembered my usual swim routine, which is to find someone to swim next to, and bump into them for the entirety of the first leg. As Sammon will testify, I am well practiced at this technique, and it works brilliantly.

The rest of the swim was uneventful. My goggles were well and truly fogged, and I couldn’t see anything. I was genuinely navigating through touch alone, but perhaps that helped. Perhaps the lack of sense of distance to the next buoy helped settle me into a routine. My swim times have been disappointing this year, so I decided to go easy on the swim, then nail it on the bike and run, rather than bust a gut knackering myself to gain a minute early on.

I rounded the last buoy and ran up the swim exit, doing the standard post swim wiggle dance to remove the wetsuit. I glanced at my watch, 24 minutes! Surely not. I ran under the race timer. It agreed! A miracle. A PB on the swim. I glowed with pride in T1, strapped my helmet on and ran out to begin the bike leg.

Again, this usually follows a well-established routine. I set off rather exuberantly, and overtake a few people. Then I tire, slow down, watch people pass me for an hour or so and play the game of guess the age. Again however, this wasn’t following the script. I was overtaking like crazy! This was more reminiscent of Blenheim when you have rather rotund people on mountain bikes, not a hard core qualification event with aerodynamic speed machines. How was this possible? I glanced down. Ah yes. I forgot. My new bike…

I will try to keep this to just one paragraph, as this has already gone on far too long. But this bike. Wow. Sleek, slippery and black. I speed on like a wet walrus in the night. After coming to terms with my new found speed, the bike was fairly standard on mostly nice roads with a few reasonable hills. There was drafting, but I certainly wasn’t innocent either.

So, off the bike and onto the run. I hadn’t done an Olympic distance since last year, so I tried to remain calm and not get carried away too early. I think the phrase is, “keep it in your pants”. Inevitably, this plan failed. The Dambuster run is an out and back, so you can see your enemies coming back and gauge the respective distances and times between. I tried to count them, and therefore my position, but I was mainly focussing on the chaffing my crappy tri suit was inflicting on my thighs. WHEN ARE THE NEW SEXY WALRUS TRI-SUITS COMING?

Round the 5k marker, estimated 25th position. The pain in the thighs is now muscular, as well as chaffed. It is endurance to the finish. I get passed by an old man, but he cannot be in my age group so I don’t care. Hard for the last kilometer and across the line to make sure of a suitably horrendous finish line picture. My watch gives me a time of  2:12. A PB on a relatively hilly course, and massive improvements on last year. Exhausted satisfaction is the immediate emotion.

The times for the event are online fairly quickly, and I check as soon as I can gain access to my phone. I am 7th in age  group with only the top 4 qualifying for the Worlds. However, as the top 3 are ineligible due to having already  qualified, or being elites, I scrape in as Q4. Victory! I’m in! A truly remarkable set of events to experience before 9:30am on a  Saturday morning, and we head for home at a more leisurely pace and in much higher spirits than before.

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Result.

P.s. As many are no doubt concerned, the offending wallet was found shortly after returning home.

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