Oh hello there. Welcome back. How are you?
It’s been a long time since the last triathlon. New Year’s day – Edinburgh. It went well, and I felt that training had been going well since then too but then, how can you really tell? There are always the niggling voices in the back of your head telling you that you could have really done more.
“Well, I’ve been on holiday so I missed those weeks.”
“I felt awful the last time I tried to do a threshold run.”
“I’ve never yet completed a full training week according to plan.”
Hmm. Perhaps things won’t go well? What am I doing with my life? What a waste of time and money! Perhaps I should just retire to go live in Chile and become a monk. Hmm.
Well before I jack it all in, let’s get a race under the belt and see how things go. St Neots seems like a good one. Yes. Hmm.
Holly and I had just been on holiday in the Azores, where we had done a lot of swimming and running. I had had a chance to try out the new BlueSeventy Helix SuperWetsuit that I had bought with the help of a friend. It is quite a piece of kit, and I felt sleek and slippery in the water – not a usual occurrence given my swimming proficiency.
However, there was no bikes to be found on the island, so I had had to go the last week without a ride. Not really a big issue in the grand scheme of things, but it plays tricks with your mind. The last week is usually spent resisting the last-minute urge to cram in as much training as possible in the vain attempt to squeeze every last ounce of speed into your tired muscles. Conversely however, the last week should actually be spent in loose robes, drinking plenty of water. So actually the lack of riding was probably a help rather than hindrance, but it did little to alleviate the mental angst.
Anyway, as the first race of the season the goal was simply to compete. Get in. Have a go. See how it all goes. Try not to be too concerned about times and results. Just see what happens and then make adjustments as necessary. Simples.
Mood changes and attitude shifts were frequent in the lead up to the event, but the day arrived, the same as any other. It was cool, cloudy but dry. Crucial given my confidence in the wet was low. As the Velominati rules state:
Rule #64// Cornering confidence increases with time and experience.
This pattern continues until it falls sharply and suddenly.
A couple of events in the winter wet had unfortunately caused my confidence to drop sharply and suddenly. Luckily Nicetri had seen to it that this course hadn’t too many corners, so things should be fine.
My mother-in-law was to be the solitary supporter for the day. She was, I think, excited and had asked for instructions before the race as to whether she was allowed to cheer. I assured her that the more vocal her support, the better.
We arrived early. I went through the usual registering, stickering, plastering, racking and packing. I spoke to a lovely fellow Scot in the preamble who was making his first return to competition since having heart surgery, which really helped to put my own worries regarding race performance into perspective.
“Well yes, you see. I’m really worried about whether my swim time will be 21 or 22 minutes.”
“Ah yes, well I’m sure you’ll be fine laddie. I just hope that my heart doesn’t explode.”
The swim was to be conducted in the River Ouze (pronounce Ooze – an enticing sounding place to swim if ever there was one) and it was positively freezing. Hands and feet quickly went numb, and the usual jokes about “there being a warm patch over here lads!” were made. Classic triathlon toilet humour.
The race started and we all dove for the water, quickly forgetting that we had all urinated in it 20 seconds previously. The standard thrash of arms and legs occurred over the first 100m before it began to thin out. How unusual. Usually I am right in the melee until the bitter end, furiously fighting for my square meter of river space with another irate competitor. Unbelievably though, people were dropping away behind me. I could only see two competitors left, one each to my left and right. I observed them both, once every 3 strokes and then slipped in behind the one who looked like he knew where he was going. How incredible – the swim training had paid off! Either that or the wetsuit had an outboard motor in it. I kept pace with the chap in front until the end, and exited the water in 3rd place.
Thanking the Swim Gods for their mercy, I ran into T2 where I found second place. He was rolling on the ground trying to extricate himself from the grasps of his wetsuit looking for all the world like a man battling with a giant, neoprene octopus. I had made sure before the race to cover myself from head to foot in vaseline so stripped off with ease and ran, leaving him on the floor battling with the last of the legs, out onto the bike in 2nd place.
Settling into an easy rhythm I began tapping out the kilometers. I could see first ahead of me, and I seemed to be reeling him in quickly. Within 4km I made the pass, I was in 1st place. How ruddy marvelous.
However, 20 seconds later the man who I had just passed immediately came past me again. Hmm. How curious. Well aware of the drafting shenanigans that go on in most races this was not unexpected. However, as I felt I was clearly the stronger of the two riders, when the flip-flopping of positions occurred for the fifth time, I began to lose my patience.
I hung back and let him take a decent lead of around 20-30m. He visibly slowed down and I took the opportunity to rest a little as well, take on some water and a gel, plotting my strategy.
The opportunity soon presented itself. A slight incline cause him to sit up off the TT bars, and I attacked, pushing past him as hard as I could in order to break the draft zone. I heard the furious clicking of gears when I passed as he attempted to shift down and accelerate but it was too late. I was away!
The rest of the ride was pleasant, it was a two lap affair with not too many hills and some long sweeping sections to get up some real speed. It was well signposted and staffed, and there were no problems. I managed to keep what felt like a decent pace the whole way. There were a lot of the earlier sprint participants on the road so plenty of company and shouts as we went around.
Upon arriving back in T2, my mother-in-law Marjorie was extremely excited.
“You’re in first! You’re in first! You’re going to win!”
Well now Marjorie. Let’s not count our chickens, okay? Keep a close watch out for second, give me some decent splits times and then we’ll see.
(I thought this to myself of course. No one speaks to their mother-in-law like this. I instead gave a cheery smile and wave, and assured her that yes, I was indeed going to win.)
The run was to be a four lapped affair, my absolute nemesis. I hate 4 laps with a passion, with only greater hatred reserved for the 5 lapper. Happily I have yet to meet a 6 lap race, but I know there is one out there, waiting for me in the dark for when I least expect it.
As usual, I set off with great gusto, and immediately regretted the pace. I did not feel good. On the switchbacks I tried to look behind and guess who was who, but there were so many athletes on the course it was hard to tell who was in what race – super sprint, sprint, or standard. All I could do was try to hold on and not let anyone past.
I held on as best as I could, and only let 1 person go past. I was nervous that he may have been The Enemy, but happily, upon coming into the finish section I could see him heading out to do another lap.
Upon entering the finishing chute, I heard the usual consternation regarding the club over the tannoy.
“And here we have our first finisher. What on earth is a Sexy Walrus?”
I crossed the line in first, but of course spent the next 10 minutes worrying about the following wave. Would anyone from there pip me? It had happened before, twice. However, the following wave winner’s time came and went, and he eventually finished in 8th place. I had won the whole thing. Incredible.
Perhaps … perhaps… maybe just one more race until I retire to Chile … ?
Huge thanks to NiceTri for organising the race. The enthusiasm of all the volunteers at all points of the course was well received by competitors. Maybe work on heating the Ouze next time?
Thanks also to John at Fenland Runner who has sent a brand spanking new pair of AlphaWoolf Kona tribal running shoes – looking forward to giving them a run out in anger.