British Middle Distance Triathlon Championships
“Grafman”, Grafham Water, Cambridgeshire, on Sunday 22nd May 2016
I don’t mind admitting I was a little anxious before my first middle distance (half ironman) race of 2016. Firstly, there was this ‘difficult second album’ feeling: how could I follow 2015’s record of six firsts in six triathlons, including wins at European and Scottish Champs? I couldn’t shake the thought that that had been a bizarre lucky streak. Then there were the two sprint triathlons I’d raced in March and April (Tranent and Galashiels) that hadn’t exactly gone to plan. And lastly there was the fact that I was now more invested in my training than ever, having started working with coach Joel Enoch (Tri Scotland’s Performance Development Coach of the Year 2015) and his squad of performance athletes: the HBC JETS.
It might have been better for my nerves had my first middle distance tri of 2016 not been the British Championships, but never mind. I arrived in Cambridgeshire after a week’s holiday in Cornwall, feeling very rested, reasonably well prepared, but potentially overfed (damn those lovely cream teas, ice creams and fish suppers). Race day dawned and conditions couldn’t have been better: dry, calm, and warmer than most UK tris I’ve raced. But as ever I ran out of time for a warm up. One day I’ll learn.
The 1.9 km swim in Grafham Water felt great – thanks to a combination of my training and my superb Aqua Sphere Phantom wetsuit (see earlier blog post). I’d never felt so comfortable and strong in an open water swim. Very happy with a 30:33 swim (including ‘Australian Exit’ – compulsory visit to dry land in between laps).
Then on to the bike leg. Uncharacteristically for me this was the bit I was most looking forward to. Why? Well, I now had a specific triathlon/time trial bike (a Trek Speed Concept), rather than the road bike (Ricky) that I’d used previously. She’d been christened ‘Rinny’ by her previous owner after the Australian three-times Ironman World Champion Mirinda Carfrae, and in a few test rides had already shown that she was going to be a very speedy machine. So I was intrigued to see how we’d get on on this pretty flat and fast course. Could a bike really make that much difference? I was hoping for an affirmative answer that would justify why my flat was starting to resemble a bike shed more than a home. (More about this nervous newbie’s experience of getting used to a TT bike in a subsequent blog post: watch this space). The guys at Leith Cycle Co had got Rinny tuned up and ready to roll, so now it was up to me.
I was also trying to speed up my transition on to the bike, using the elites’ trick of attaching my bike shoes to the bike and then inserting my feet once I’d mounted and was moving. Great idea in theory. In practice: cross mount line, get on bike, realise one shoe has fallen off the bike, stop to go back and pick up shoe, put on shoe but realise something doesn’t feel right, take shoe off and put back on, something still doesn’t feel right, get on bike and cycle off regardless hoping to sort out discomfort while on the move, fail. I think that cost me about 30 seconds. More practice needed, and new shoes (new shoes, yay!).
The cycle (91 km in 2:41:32) was a delight – through lush countryside under blue skies with barely a breath of wind. I was so comfortable in the compact aerodynamic position the bike was designed for that the bike felt like an extension of me. It was so odd for me to feel so good on a 90 km cycle. I loved it. But how did Rinny compare with Ricky? Hard to tell for sure because Ricky hadn’t done this course, and I’m better trained and probably more powerful this year. But I think the best comparison is with the flat cycle at Bamburgh Middle Distance tri (Castles Challenge) last July. At Grafman, with Rinny, I maintained an 8% faster average speed, on a course that was 2% longer and with 30% more elevation gain, at a 6% lower average heart rate. As a stats geek I am very impressed with those numbers! Rinny is a keeper (don’t tell Ricky). (Another input into this equation that I should mention is the ‘altitude training’ I’ve been doing with the Altium-i10 hypoxia device, leading to increased aerobic efficiency).
Back into transition I was so relieved to be able to take my painful bike shoes off (post-race I was able to work out that a hard plastic part of the strap had somehow become folded and had been pressing into my foot the whole time). Putting on my trainers I was blissfully unaware that my feet were about to become a whole lot more painful. I started out on the run, buoyed up by the great cycle, and endeavoured to work out my race position. My age group (40-44) were numbered 99 to 146 so I wasn’t too bothered about other women. As I ran out to the first turn point I counted seven women coming back the way (i.e., in front of me), of whom I think two were in my age group. Could I hold onto 3rd for the whole 13 mile/21 km run? My legs were suffering from the cycle, and the running was already hard going, so I wasn’t sure. Checking my watch, I realised that a sub-1:45 run would give me my first sub-5 hour finish time in a middle distance tri with a full length swim, so that gave me a secondary goal to focus on. (But I still really wanted to hang on to that podium!)
After about 30 minutes of running I felt my right heel beginning to rub. Oh dear. I’d not had blisters during my previous six half ironman triathlons, despite running most of them without socks (as I was doing at Grafman). Twenty minutes later my left heel started rubbing too. What was going on? Whatever had caused my heels to object to this particular run and shoe combo wasn’t important really – I just had to concentrate on getting through to the end. Meanwhile number 104 had overtaken me (boo!) but I’d managed to overtake number 108 (yay!) so I thought I was just about clinging to the podium (although by this time it was difficult to work out who was in front and who was behind). This run was really hard going – my legs felt like lead weights and my heels were steadily being grated off by my trainers (hey: maybe I’d be a smaller shoe size by the end, that’d be a bonus) – and made me question for a moment why I was doing this for fun. (Though the soul-searching did not plummet to the depths encountered at Aberfeldy last year!). Crossing the finish line was a joy – I whipped my bloody trainers off and enjoyed walking bare foot on the grass. My run time was 1:36:50, giving me a total time of 4:51:09. I’d gone sub 5 hours!!!
I won silver in the F40-44 category, only 1 minute and 21 seconds behind gold (Susan Fairfax). I had lost it on the run: I was in the lead off the bike, but she was 3 minutes quicker than me on the run. How much I can put down to my blistered heels I don’t know – my run time was not too bad for me. All in all, this was a great race, and I was chuffed with silver. There are definitely things I can improve on for next time though…