Demons at Deva

I walk into transition and look around. There are sleek, black superbikes everywhere. I look down. I have an old steel framed bike that I use to commute to work. Hmm.

Shaven legs, deep section wheels and aero-helmets are rife. I have none of these. Hmm.

The swim is rumoured to be difficult, mostly upstream. My weakness is swimming. This is not good news. It is cold too. My confidence, whilst not high to begin, is taking severe knocks from all angles.

The race begins. I start swimming and immediately swallow a mouthful of the Dee water. Spluttering, I spit it out and try to find some rhythm. Come on Graeme. I exit the water and look back. Very few hats are left in the water. Hmm. Not a good start. 

The cycle is hard work. My heavy, heavy bike is being cut to ribbons by the aerodynamic speed machines, my ears constantly fill with the whum-whum-whum of the carbon wheels as yet another competitor from the start wave behind slices past. Cycling back into transition I can already see runners out on the course finishing lap 1, more than 5km and 20 minutes, ahead of me. Hmm. Qualification seems unlikely.

Finishing the race is a struggle. A decent run, but I am miles off the pace. I had expected to come to compete, but have finished so far down the field that it isn’t even noteworthy. Hmm.

A dream? The usual night-before-a-race nightmare some might say. Legs running through treacle. Can’t move. But this was no dream. This was Deva 2013, my first attempt at qualification, and a distinctly humdrum one at that.

This year was hopefully to be different. I was coming back to Deva triathlon to put some demons to rest. In theory that should not have been difficult. 2013 Deva encompassed a 32 minute swim, 1:12 bike and 40 minute run, which including transitions gave 2:27. Generally speaking, not bad for a first time triathlon, but nowhere near the pointy end. I was hoping for some drastic improvements in times for 2017. My flippers were crossed.

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Far better prepared

Wandering around transition I saw the same carbon bikes, shaved legs and aero helmets of yesteryear, but this time I had come similarly prepared. I had, as Murphy would say, gone full chopper. I had also done a lot of swimming since then. A maybe once-a-week event had turned into 4-5 times a week and I felt much more confident of my abilities in the water.

Bumping into Edward Castro, super swimmer extraordinaire, before the start line I even joked about the possibility of drafting him in the swim, light years from where I was 4 years hence. My exact words may have conveyed slightly more aggression that simple tomfoolery, but I hope it was well received.

“Ed, I am going to man-mark you out the game mate. Watch your back.”

For someone who, upon a quick google image search, turns up images such as this, this and this; these were possibly unwise words. However, upon entering the water I made sure to position myself beside him, planning to sit on his hip for as long as possible and hopefully to be pulled along in his wake, free from the rest of the plebs in the field. What a plan.

The hooter went. I put my head down and started swimming. I took my first breath to my left, to see where Ed was and reposition myself accordingly, but saw nothing but foam and the vaguest after-image of a wetsuit. I looked ahead and, no word of a lie, he was already 3 lengths clear. ‘As long as possible’ had turned out to be somewhere between 0 and 3 seconds. Lesson one of the day: yet more work was required in the pool.

However, this was not unexpected. Ed had just missed out the London 2012 Olympic swim team, and had swum a 16:47 at Deva 2 years ago (the eagle eyed amongst you will notice this is almost twice as fast as my effort in 2013). A highlight reel from the 2015 race shows some of his exploits, along with some rather amusing, and almost insulting, commentary. Particular favourites include:

“There is everything to gain from a strong swimmer breaking away from the pack, and this is exactly what is happening in the 25-29 category. Edward Castro, putting in a mighty 16:47, is a full minute clear of the rest of the pack. However, the strain is showing as he huffs and puffs his way into transition 1 to get his bike.”

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Ed – alright on the bike

“And here is the man they are all chasing, Edward Castro. He’s brilliant in the water. Alright on the bike. Not so strong on the run.”

So I contented myself with swimming with the rest of the plebs and tried to settle into a rhythm. If the 2015 race commentary was anything to go by I was confident I’d catch Ed later in the race, probably at some point during his bog-standard bike, or godawful run. I was happy to let him go for now.

The swim was fairly chaotic and I had some regular elbows and feet to the face, along with facefuls of water when I tried to breathe. However, it went relatively well, a 21:50, which seemed to be reasonably high up the field on the day. Swim times across the board seemed to be a little slower so it wasn’t too bad.

Running up the incline into T1, I grinned at the thought of Ed huffing and puffing laboriously through here a few minutes earlier. He’d be out on the bike now, doing ‘alright’. Bless his cotton socks.

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Heading out on the bike

The cycle was fairly uneventful. The course was pretty flat, with only a slight incline around 15km and a very fast long descent the other side. I felt I put in a decent stint, however the effort was telling towards the end and I felt a little empty. It was a decent split comparatively, but not great. Bewilderingly, there had been no sign of Ed. He must have been practicing his cycling.

As an aside, the marshalls at Deva were great. Usually, you are confronted by a fairly glum person pointing the way – and this is perfectly understandable. These are volunteers who have dragged themselves from the depths of their beds at some godforsaken hour of the morning to stand, 20km away from the excitement of the race hub at the farthest point of the cycle course, sometimes in the pouring rain, to give directions to a group of amateur prima donnas dressed in lycra. It is a fairly thankless task. At Deva however, every marshal gave you a cheer and a wave of encouragement. Marvellous work from every one of them. Thank you.

Heading out onto the run I could already tell that this was not going to be an enjoyable day. Too much water swallowed on the swim was contributing to a stitch and the legs were empty. Surely, surely, however, the small saving grace was that I would catch Ed at some point here. Convinced I’d eventually see him ahead, limbs flailing wildly, I ploughed onwards. Confusingly, he never hove into view, and I struggled to the finish line and crossed, completely spent.

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Sadly, I had not caught Ed.

“You absolutely must have one gel every 10 minutes and two during each transition.” – Sexy Walrus athlete

Post race analysis would indicate a better nutrition strategy is required to avoid this bonking on the run. (One gel every 10 minutes and two during each transition I have since heard). Lesson 2 of the day. However, the demons of 2013 had been laid to rest. I was a full 21 minutes faster than then. 10 minutes faster on the swim, 10 minutes faster on the bike and a minute or so on the run. Huge improvements over 4 years, and a nice dose of perspective given that I didn’t feel it had gone that well. A satisfactorily solid effort, 2:06 in total, but one that definitely be improved upon. Demons put to rest, but perhaps another goblin or two raised.

Bumping into Ed post race, we compared times. He had swum a 19:45, biked 1:00 and run 37:57 to add up to a 1:59:43, beating me soundly by 2 minutes in every discipline. He even beat me in T2, usually a specialty of mine. How odd. Hmm. Perhaps the commentary had been a little harsh on our multiple European and World Age Group Champion, Edward Castro.

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