Be prepared for another epic race report…. it wasn’t meant to be but I’ve written this during a long train journey on Monday afternoon as I head off to North Wales as part of my job.
So, after the Bala Triathlon in June when I thought I was never going to do something like that again I was back on the Runners World forums within days thinking about what to do next. There was plenty of talk about another pirate “outing” to the Vitruvian Triathlon (the National Long Distance Triathlon Championships) being held in September and although it was the same day as a couple of other races that I’m fond of, the appeal of yet another half Ironman distance race and wearing yellow & black lycra with a skull and crossbones on it was a clear winner!
After spending money on entering the race the next thing to sort out was accommodation. There was talk of a group of people camping on site, which sounded convenient as the race starts literally 10 minutes after sunrise. We decided that this would be a great idea and although I almost booked a small travelodge type hotel that was 20 miles away, I decided that whatever the weather we should just get on with and go camping – something Sharon and I have not done for well over 20 years.
As race-week approached the weather forecast worsened – there were severe weather advisories from the Met Office of torrential rain, flooding, strong winds, etc. etc. In fact, anything that you don’t want to hear when you’re going camping. There’s nothing you can do about the weather so it was a case of just get on with it. We’d borrowed a selection of camping gear from Kirsty, Mikee and Stuart and on Friday afternoon were racing (well, stuck in a traffic jam in the pouring rain) up the A1 towards Rutland Water in Leicestershire.
We arrived about 4:30pm, found the field we were parking in, selected a spot near some other ‘pirates’ and set the tent up. The rain was coming down but only very lightly.
After getting the tent setup we took my bike to the race registration marquee and got the bike racked in the transition area (racking the bike the night before the race was a nice idea and one less thing to worry about on race day). Normally you have to rack your bike in a designated spot but because of the rain the stickers on the racks wouldn’t stick so it was a case of rack where you wanted to.
Sharon and I had booked a table for dinner at a local pub and went along for a lovely pasta dinner with a bottle of their finest water. We returned in the rain to the tent and tried to get as good a nights sleep as possible, as Saturday was going to be a long day.
Well, in the middle of the night (probably between 12-2) the heavens opened. Although the rain kept me awake a bit it was enjoyable – this is what camping is all about eh?
The alarm was set for 4:30am (yes, 4:30am on a Saturday) although we woke up at 4am. It wasn’t raining (phew) and all around us in the camping field there were people getting up and preparing breakfast, bikes and transition boxes (the gear you need when changing from swim to bike to run).
Shortly after 5am I was clad in lycra and heading with Sharon to the transition area to drop off my box (shoes, helmet, glasses, etc.). It was pitch black as we headed to transition but the bike area was floodlit which was handy. Apparently in previous years you had to setup your transition area in the dark! We met up with a few other people who we’d met at Bala and the banter was good (even though it was very early!).
After a 6am race briefing I joined a rather long queue for the toilets (just to get one last visit in as it was going to be a busy morning). The ‘wave’ that I was starting in (male aged 35-39) was due to start at 6:40am and I was on the ‘beach’ ready with about 5 minutes to spare. I waded into the water with another 130 or so people (there were meant to be 190 in my start but the numbers were generally down by about 20 percent – probably because of the weather forecast) and found myself in a lot of weed! There was tons of the stuff and I just about managed to escape the most of it before the start.
Now, I’m not the best at mass swims but I needed the practice so I chose to start near the front and in the middle of the pack. Just before 6:45am the start signal went and away we went. They say the start of a triathlon swim makes the water like a washing machine and they were spot on! It was windy and although we were in a lake (actually the largest man-made reservoir in northern Europe) the water was pretty choppy which didn’t help matter. The first couple of hundred metres out to the first turning buoy was pretty tough going – because of the people everywhere and the state of the water. I had trouble settling into a decent rhythm and it wasn’t until after the turn that I was able to properly relax.
The swim (1900 metres total) consisted of two laps. At the end of the first lap you return to the beach, come out of the water and then run for about 50 metres along the beach and then return to the water. This was just like some of the triathlons I’ve been watching on TV recently. I came out feeling good, ran along the beach (there were lots of spectators cheering, loud music playing and Sharon shouting lots of support) and went back to the water. I’d never tried this ‘beach start’ before and as I went back into the water I dived in like a pro! I was straight back into my stroke and headed off for the second lap – which I was pleased with.
The following times/positions are based on detailed analysis of the provisional results as published after the event. The actual provisional results include some mistakes but I have tried to correct these as much as possible.
Looking at the photos I believe my first lap took around 16:20 and the second lap 17:45 – giving a total swim time of 34:05. Position wise I was 145th in the swim (out of 699 who finished the swim), giving me a percentage position of 20.7%. The fastest swim was 23:56 and the slowest 1:17:05. The average swim time was 38:02. Swim times do not include transition.
At the end of the swim I ran off into T1 (transition 1) to get out of my wetsuit and onto the bike. The transition went pretty smoothly and although before the race I was thinking of wearing a windproof jacket for the bike I chose not to (a decision I was glad of). I headed off onto the 85km bike course feeling good.
I have to say that I really enjoyed the bike course. It was windy in some places but never too tough. The road surface was good to ride on. There were marshalls at all the important road junctions and because of the number of competitors (about 800 on the day) there were always other bikes in sight.
In the first lap I gained a few places and very few people got past me. There were a couple of notable hills. One called the “Rutland Ripple”, which is a long downhill straight into a tough uphill. At the top of the hill there was some excellent support from people from the TriTalk.co.uk forums. They made lots of noise and it was most appreciated. A little later on the course was a second hill. This was on a small country lane and I think it was probably tougher than the ‘ripple’. The hills were nothing like the ones at Bala and much easier than riding up Box Hill, which was one of the hills I’d trained on in the run up to the race.
As I finished the first lap Sharon and Mrs Gom were cheering me on and I heard Sharon shout “awsome ride” to me. I felt it was a good lap and she wasn’t wrong. Much better than at Bala.
The second lap was a fair bit tougher and there was quite a lot of ‘cat and mouse’ between myself and a few other riders. I did lose a few positions in the second lap – perhaps I hadn’t paced myself well enough on the bike – but overall I was happy. About a mile or so from the end of the bike route whilst changing down gears my chain came off! This was the first time it had ever come off on me, and what timing – at the start of a hill in a race. I pulled over, jumped off the bike and managed to get the chain back on. This cost me some valuable time and quite a few riders got past me here but I knew it was almost run time – my favourite discipline – so I should be able to take back some of those places.
Bike times… 2:43:03 total time on the bike. The first lap took 1:18:21 (average 19.4 mph) and the second lap was 1:24:42 (average of 18 mph). The second lap time also includes about 90 seconds delay because of my chain coming off. Heart rate wise, my average HR was 144 on lap one and 143 on lap 2. It maxed out at 160 bpm.
Position wise I was 297th on the bike (out of 687 who finished the bike leg), giving me a percentage position of 43.2%. The fastest bike was 2:04:09 (wow!) and the slowest was just over 4 hours 23. The average bike time was just under 2 hours 51.
Transition 2 (bike to run) should have been easy…. As I ran into transition with my bike I made the utterly stupid mistake of unbuckling my cycle helmet early. As soon as I did it I thought “Why!”. My mistake was immediately spotted by a marshall and I stopped where I was straight away, stood still and buckled up again. I then carried on running with the bike to my racking spot. Thankfully I didn’t get a time penalty (or worse) for this and I just don’t understand why I did it. It’s not as if it was my first ever triathlon.
The bike shoes were off, I then transferred my GPS watch from the bike and onto my wrist and then put my running shoes on. Once I’d one of my shoes on and laced up (in a double-knot) something wasn’t right. I’d forgotten to take my carbohydrate/energy gel out of my shoe before putting it on! Doh. The idea was to have the gel in my shoe so I wouldn’t forget about it. Well in one respect the plan was perfect! I then had to untie my shoelaces, get the gel out and tie it back again. At the end of it all as I headed onto the run I’d forgotten the bloody thing anyway!
The run course is mostly flat and almost all on a decent surface (only a couple of small stretches of grass). It’s a two lap out-and-back route so plenty of opportunity to cheer on other pirates and there was lots of crowd support. The pirates always get a pretty good reception at events and today was no exception. There was lots of “aaarrrrgggghh” shouts (in a pirate style) both from supporters and myself!! It really made the whole run more enjoyable.
On the second lap of the run it was quite windy on one part and I was fortunate enough to have just been overaken by a tall man – who I promptly stuck on the back off like glue and drafted him till the final turnaround point. Cheeky maybe – no, just good race tactics. On the way back towards the finish I pushed past him.
During the run very few people overook me (maybe 5-10 max) and I probably overtook about 40 or 50 people. There was plenty of pirate support out there and great support from the TriTalk racers. Most appreciated. Its great to be part of a group that gives (and gets) plenty of support. The run had the most ‘feed-stations’ (drinks and food – bananas and jaffa cakes!) I’d ever seen in a race and they were most appreciated (and I made the most of the drinks on offer).
As I entered the final km I could hear the cheers, music and general noise from the finishing area and I pushed hard – overtaking yet more people. I saw Sharon a few seconds before the finish – gave a smile, and then heard over the PA system “…and here comes number 367, a pirate, David Rowe….You Are A Vitruvian!”. I crossed the line exhausted by really happy. My overall time was 5 hours and 57 seconds. I was so close to being sub-5 hours – and with better transitions, a more relaxed swim and no bike chain problems I would have had no trouble at all getting under 5 hours. This is great to know and I know what I can do to improve. Practice makes perfect eh.
I collected my finishers t-shirt and was then presented with boxes of sweets and crisps – like a little sweet shop in a village. Awesome. I grabbed a handful of snacks and then met up with Sharon. After a couple of photos (of me looking rather exhausted) we wandered off to go cheer some of the others in. I chatted briefly to Grant and James – a couple of athletes (Ironmen) who run the Bushy Park Time Trial weekly 5k race frequently and also do some of their open water swim training at the same place I do. My finishing time was really close to James which I was very happy with.
Time wise – for the run it took me 1:38:13 to cover the half marathon distance (my GPS had it at 13.1 miles exactly), and this includes about 50 seconds for one of the most enjoyable (and longest) wees I’ve had in a long time. Next year I’m sure there will be a lovely big green healthy tree where ‘x’ marked the spot! My pace for the run was 7:30 miling (7:26 miling if you take out the toliet stop!) and my heart rate averaged 160 (and maxed at 172).
Position wise I was 143rd on the run (out of 686 who finished the leg). I’d be surprised if only one person pulled out of the run but that’s what the provisional results are reporting. My percentage position on the run was 20.8%.
For the next couple of hours we hung around watching and cheering in other competitors. There was loud dance music playing and the lady on the PA system giving people name-checks as they came in to finish was absolutely superb and really encouraging. This really gave the finishing a great atmosphere. We were really lucky with the weather. Although it was a little breezy there was no real rain as such during the race (at least for me), although there was a heavy downpour which caught some of the later finishers.
Most races that I take part in are held on a Sunday but this one – on a Saturday – was a great idea, as you can then hang around and spend Saturday evening socialising with friends rather than trying to get back home and get ready for the start of the new working week. On Saturday evening after having a few drinks in the camp site (er, field) with some of the others we headed to the finish area where a BBQ was being held. The weather wasn’t great and there were only 20 or so people there, with almost all of us being ‘pirates’. We headed off into the registration marquee (the only area that was sheltered from the rain), grabbed some drinks and food from the bar and had a good chatter for a few hours. It was a great evening.
There was no rain during the night and on Sunday morning we were up pretty early. We had breakfast on the camping cooker, then packed everything up, said our goodbyes and headed back to London.
My final (provisional) position was 200th overall (out of the 699 who finished the swim and made it onto the results list). This gives me a percentage position of 28.6%. Comparing this with the Bala triathlon in June, I was 157th out of 370, or 42.4% overall. This is a great improvement which I’m really happy with.
Shockingly, the stats here say that my swim was better than my run, and I believe my run is by far my best discipline. What does that mean! I wasn’t trying enough on the run….?
These races are amazing. As soon as you finish them you think “Never Again”, but before long you thing what next… It’s addictive I tell you. So what’s next I hear you ask. Well, the philosophy of the ‘pirates’ is that its for people who are training for or planning at some point to do an Ironman race (pretty much double what I did today). Well, that’s the idea and come July 2009 I plan to be lined up at the start for Ironman Switzerland 2009! Expect much more talk about this over the coming months.
The full set of photos that Sharon took can be found at flickr.com, and a smaller subset of photos from our weekend camping and my race (where many of the above photos come from) are at our personal gallery website.
Update – 11th September – The ‘final’ results are now in. so here’s a breakdown of my times:
- Swim: 34:05
- T1 (swim-bike): 3:15
- Bike: 2:42:13
- T2 (bike-run): 3:05
- Run: 1:38:16
- Overall time: 5 hours and 57 seconds (199th overall) out of 700.
Looking at transition times, the fastest was 58 seconds. My T1 time is always going to be a little slower as I put my socks and cycle shoes on at this time. The ‘pro’s’ will just grab their bike helmet, put it on and run with their bike onto the bike course. Their shoes will be attached to their pedals already and they won’t wear socks. I’m not ‘tough-enough’ to not wear socks on the bike (or run) and also don’t fancy the ‘fun’ of trying to get into cycle shoes whilst riding along. T1 at Bala was approx 2:57. I think this is comparable enough considering different sizes of transition area, route from the swim finish etc. to T1. A bit more practice and I should be able to get quicker at this.
Transition 2 is where things didn’t quite go to plan. It should be a case of rack bike, helmet off, shoes off, run shoes on, get running! I managed to take 3 minutes and 5 seconds doing this! I should easily be able to save a 60-90 seconds here. Many of the T2 times were slightly under 1 minute. I know what I did wrong and I’ll be making sure that doesn’t happen again!