The Cotswold 226 Iron-distance tri near Malmsbury had long been in my calendar as my full distance tri of the year. However there is a considerable difference between intending to do a race, and actually getting round to booking it. The race was Sunday, so a flurry of emails, phone calls, coercing Annie to come with me, and hot-footing it down to the Cotswold Water Park having packed my kit and bike in record time on Saturday afternoon saw me safely paid up and ready to compete as No. 127 (Late Entry), the last number issued for the course.
A friend who lives 15 mins from the start line was on hand to provide accommodation and curry, so all was going well for a good final night of preparation before the 3:30 am wake up for the 5:30 am gun time. I had planned on using a spare wetsuit, as I had left mine at my parent’s house – a ten second check had shown that I could at least get into it, but I thought it prudent to double check, and disaster! It was waaay too tight. An emergency phone call, and a halfway meeting 25 miles away at Burford at 20:15 (thanks Dad!) and my usual wetsuit was in my possession, so I retired to sleep, at least knowing that I had the right kit with me. I always am a bit restive before a big race, so I was up at 2:15, and 2:45, before falling back to sleep again. I woke up, and the alarm had failed! It was 4:38 (the exact time is now shockingly emblazoned on my memory) and racking shut at 5:10. No breakfast, no coffee, everything grabbed any old how, into the car and we got to the race at 5:00, and into racking. Actually once it was clear I would be able to start I calmed down and was actually pretty unfazed by the hectic start to the morning. I had plenty of time to rack up, lay out my kit, put the wetsuit on and be briefed.
We were let into the water at the start of the two lap swim course a good 10 minutes before the gun, so had a pleasant swim warm up in the 21.5 degree water, which was absolutely perfect, made sure the suit was well adjusted, and not about to trap various parts of the anatomy, and get to the edge of the pack – my preferred position, as I value a clean and longer route, over the direct and punchy one – for the one wave mass start.
5:30am: Off we go! I was on the left hand side of the cluster of swimmers, keeping out of trouble, and thankfully the leg up to the first buoy was fairly long, allowing everyone to spread out a bit, and there was not too much of a melee at the first turn. I got into a good spot about a quarter of the way down the field, and, after that first turn, had clear water for almost all the swim, I’d fallen back from the leaders and, but was well ahead of the main group, with perhaps three people in sight near me. The water quality is great there, visibility good, and the only real thing of note was that the early morning sun was low, which made sighting tricky on the second half of the lap. The swim went quickly, and I covered the 2.4 miles in 1:13.49, for 29th place.
I’ve never been very quick in the water, but I was happy with that, as I was feeling remarkably fresh as I removed wetsuit, goggles and hat and donned helmet and number belt. I really like the smaller, more friendly and easygoing events (113 Events are run by a husband and wife team) as Annie was able to lean on the fence and have a brief chat whilst I made transition. I was not hurrying, as making a mistake for the sake of a couple of seconds, can mean a huge problem later over the one hundred and twelve miles of biking, nevertheless I was still the 6th fastest in transition. Up to and over the mount line, into the saddle: Pedal.
The bike is usually the strongest part of my race, but previous races at all distances, and weekly time trials, have shown that I have a tendency to go off too hard, so I concentrated hard on keeping a steady, even pace – riding to my powermeter. The two lap course is notoriously fast, and although I dropped off a little bit (about 20 watts) on the second lap I was reasonably pleased with the overall pacing, as the end of the first lap and beginning of the second saw a slightly blustery day turn to full-on wind and cold rain.
A note on equipment and setup: for the long course events (and indeed general riding in the relatively hilly area in which I live) I would argue that the most important piece of kit other than the basic frame and wheels that I have is the powermeter. My efficiency and economy has increased dramatically since I started using one a couple of years ago. My trusty Felt TT bike is customised with a deep section carbon front wheel, and a carbon disk rear wheel, (both clincher tyres in case of punctures at the wrong end of an iron-distance bike course) which I was pleasantly surprised to find was very manageable in the strong winds, and I didn’t have any gust-related wobbles. I have, alas, no electronic shifting on the bike, but a careful tune and indexing of gears on Saturday morning meant that I didn’t drop my chain or have any mechanical problems of that nature. Hydration and energy is delivered via a front mounted refillable aero bottle, with a spare bottle in a rear saddle rack, the other side of the rack holding a mech kit and spare tubes. I usually have gels taped to the top tube, which can be ripped off and immediately consumed, however, this time I had a tube of blocks, which proved tricky to get at, so I only started taking on nutrition on the second lap of the course, having transferred the energy blocks to the rear pocket of my trisuit. I use a two-prong ISM tri saddle, and this was its first iron-distance outing. For anyone who has not encountered these weird-looking seats before the theory is whilst a traditional saddle starts off comfortable and gets progressively more agonising, a two prong saddle starts a little bit uncomfortable, but stays only a little bit uncomfortable. It worked well for me, and I had none of the chafing and general soreness that had plagued my lower regions at Ironman Mallorca in 2016.
A small thing I would have changed would have been the setup of my tri bars. I use the bike both for triathlons and timetrialling and the position was just a little bit too aggressive for the longer course. I’m writing this two days later, and whilst my legs feel fine (after a couple of days of walking ‘John Wayne’ style) my shoulders still feel tight from being pulled in for so long, as I was pretty disciplined with myself, and only rarely broke aero position. I will probably mark up two different positions for my bars – aggressive for the TTs and a more relaxed one for longer races.
Annie, having nothing better to do, had volunteered to marshal, and had been posted to around 40/90 miles into the bike course, so it was nice to get a boost going past her, and she could see I was not flagging, despite the chaotic beginning to the day. She later told me that the mother of another competitor lived next to her marshal station, so she was well supplied with tea, chairs, umbrellas and a convenient toilet. My parents and uncle came down to watch as well, and actually manged to turn the second half of the bike (they had quite reasonably declined to turn out for the 5:30 start) and the run into a spectator sport, by working out my splits and getting to the next probable point where I would appear if I was sticking to the schedule that they had worked out I was on, so the occasional cheer from various unexpected (to me) points, kept morale high, despite the wind and rain that characterised the mid-section of the bike.
I had survived well so far through the race nutritionally speaking, considering that I had not eaten since curry the night before, and my only hydration had been plain water, and the gel blocks had only been taken from mile 60 onwards, at about 20 minute intervals. I had half a banana at the last feed station, as by that point my stomach had started to growl a little bit, and the solid food settled my stomach, and this poor nutrition strategy at least meant that I did not have anything heavy sloshing round my guts for the run.
I moved up to 11th place on the bike course after doing what I felt was quite a well-paced ride of 5:27.41, so I was still feeling good as I ran my bike into transition, paused to put socks and sunglasses on in addition to my trainers, (again valuing comfort in the long-term over speed in transition – although I was still the 4th fastest through T2) and set off on the run.
I was feeling, if not tip top, then at least OK, the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. The sun peeping out from behind a cloud quickly turned, over the first lap of the 5 lap course, into scorching rays beating down. Very nice, I’m sure, for the weekend visitors to the watery cool attractions of the Water Park, playing on the inflatables and sipping cold beer next to their barbeques. Not so attractive to the sweaty athlete who was contemplating over 20 more miles of slog. There were four feed stations on the course, and at the first one I slowed down to take on some jaffa cakes and a banana, to get some solid food into me, and some coke and water to stay hydrated. The liquids at the feed stations came in cups, so I always made sure to walk through the feed stations, to make drinking easier.
The course was very flat, with only a few metres of variation across it, but by lap two I was getting pretty severe stomach cramps – probably from going from an empty stomach to quickly eaten solid food and my pace had dropped right off. Luckily at the end of the lap there were some loos, and a quick break sorted me out. I picked up the pace again, the only residual effect was that for about five minutes after every feed station (regardless of if I was taking on food or only liquid) I would get cramps, but nowhere near as painful as the second lap, and I knew that they would pass. One of the organisers was on the microphone near transition, and it was a welcome distraction to have some banter as the lap marker was passed.
The run was fairly uneventful. I overtook a few people, and a few people overtook me. I had a bit of a slump on lap 4, just through general fatigue, but with the finish getting ever nearer I dug deep for the final lap, my Dad having worked out that if I kept my pace up I was on for a sub 10:30 overall time. I was sceptical when he shouted this to me, as I was not feeling brilliant, but it gave me the push I needed to stick with it for the final lap, and not to give in and walk and I even went for a sprint finish for my 3:42.11 marathon, to give me an iron distance PB (admittedly taking advantage of a very fast course, although the conditions had not always been perfect) of 10:26.57.
I had managed to snatch a PB and placed 15/127 (I was vaguely irritated that the printout said I was one place lower – the one relay team having ‘beaten’ me) but getting to this finale, from my various catastrophes in the 24 hours preceding the race meant this was really the best possible outcome. I was (physically) in good shape at the start, mainly thanks to Coach Brian (Natural Ability Performance Coaching) who somehow managed to do this in spite of all my efforts to not register… not arrive at registration… not turn up to the actual start on time… so he should take a lot of the credit.
A shout out should also go to 113 and DBMax events who together organise the Cotswold 226 – As I mentioned earlier in the article it is nice to see small, local, companies doing such a fantastic job of organising really quite large-scale events well. Nice touches like giving you free (low res, but perfectly fine for social media) make it a good value for money event as well. My next race is also run by 113 events – the Cotswold Classic on 13 August 2017, so I’m now looking forward to working with Coach BB to put in a good performance there (Don’t worry Brian, I’ve already registered!) and rumour has it that is a pretty fast course too… let’s see how it goes…
Full results at the link: