We’re now under 2 weeks away from the big day. For those of you that don’t know – I’m doing an Ironman. Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to come into contact with me in the last 6 months, will of course already know this. You should just count yourself lucky that you’re not my long suffering girlfriend or family – they’re forced to hear about split times and aero bars, whereas everyone else can just attempt to avoid me in social situations or the office kitchen.
This weekend, I raced for the final time before Zurich, at the Norwich triathlon, an Olympic distance event. I’ve very much winged it in terms of following a training plan, but have turned to ‘Coach Bards’ for some wise words of wisdom every now and then. I’ve never actually met the guy (other than a weird, stalker like conversation at Challenge Weymouth), but he’s given me some solid advice on how to train. I asked him if racing 2 weeks out would be ok – he gave it the green light, so that was good enough for me.
The weekend wouldn’t be the weekend without parkrun, so I decided I’d ride alongside Katie while she got her long run in, which would end at Bushy Park for the 5km event. Bushy Park is the birthplace of parkrun, so it’s somewhere we’d always wanted to go, and with over 1000 other people taking part week in week out, it was certainly a different experience to any of my 91 previous parkruns.
With Sunday’s race in mind, I settled for a steady effort to loosen up the legs, running round in 19:29. We were both amazed at how the event ran like clockwork, with a prompt 9am start and excellent marshals and organisation at the finish line – it’s not easy to keep over 1000 runners in exact finishing order..
I packed up my mountain of kit and jumped on a train to Norwich on Saturday afternoon. My grandparents live around 40 minutes from the city centre, and very kindly put me up for the evening. They’d also agreed to come and watch the following morning, along with my number one fan (Mum), and it’d be their first experience of triathlon. After a delicious home cooked meal that only your Nan can provide, it was an early night with the alarm clock set for 5am.
The race is based at Whitlingham Country Park, on the outskirts of the city, and I arrived in plenty of time to get registered and rack my bike before the 8am start. Registration was seamless, with so many Tri Anglia (the club hosting the race) members around to help direct and answer any questions. I was set up in no time, and had 45 minutes to kill before the start – no problem for me, I prefer to get there a little early and eliminate any unnecessary pre-race stress from the situation.
The swim was in a large lake, and after a quick briefing beforehand, the hooter sounded and we were off haring (or in my case slowly swimming) towards the first buoy. I’d been working hard on my swim, and had decided to just go for it from the start today and see what happened. I tried to ‘draft’ off a couple of people early on, failing miserably and ended up in my own little bit of water.
The field thinned out quickly and I swam the majority of the 1500m alone, exiting the water in 28:22, a good 6 minutes quicker than I’ve ever swam before. At this point I was in 45th position. It was great to spot Mum and the grandparents as I was hauled out of the water, and I gave them a quick shout before running the 50m or so into transition.
After an uneventful transition (1 minute and 3 seconds), I was out onto my bike, sporting a pointy aero helmet kindly lent to me by George Bright. As usual, I had no real plan for the bike, just pedal hard and try to pass as many people as possible. We had a bit of a headwind for the first 10 miles, before getting a nice tailwind on the way back into Norwich.
The route wasn’t flat, with a few ups and downs to break up your rhythm and get the heart rate up. Normally on the bike I’m passed by as many people as I pass myself, but I seemed to be having a pretty good day, as I passed a steady stream of riders, whilst being passed just once during the entire 25 miles.
There were a huge number of marshals on the route, so it was impossible to get lost, and they were giving out heaps of support to everyone riding. The last 5 miles are net downhill and it felt like I was flying along, pushing the pace as much as I could. I popped my feet out of my shoes with a minute or so to go, and jumped off the bike as I hit the dismount line. My bike time was 1 hour and 4 minutes, the 15th fastest bike split of the day.
Again, I spent minimal time faffing in transition, taking a few extra seconds to put some socks on (I’d learnt my lesson after some pretty horrible blisters after Chester), before slipping into my trainers and heading out onto the run. I saw the family again, which was great and gave me a real boost for the opening part of the run. I spent 51 seconds in T2, although Grandad tells me I could have been quicker and it looked like I was messing around doing something..
I’m always a happy man once running, it’s always been my favourite discipline and usually where I make up time after a poor swim/bike combo. These are both getting better (although plenty of work is still required), and although I didn’t know it, I’d moved up to 24th position overall at the start of the run.
The run was two laps around the lake we’d swam in earlier in the day, and I set off chasing anyone and everyone in sight. I went hard for the first mile before starting to settle into more of a rhythm, focussing on catching and passing the person directly ahead of me before moving onto the next guy.
There was a sprint distance race going on at the same time, so it was hard to know if you were passing someone for position or not (you had to have a quick glance at their race number to work it out), but I just took everyone as fair game – they could be in my race.
Coming to the end of the first lap, the support crew were again waiting to give me a shout. At this point Mum told me I was 12th and 2 more guys were just ahead up the road. I couldn’t quite believe I was this near the front, which caused me to turn into the finishing chute instead of carry on for a second lap. After an embarrassing U-turn, I was back on course and hunting down those ahead of me.
It was getting much harder now, and I had the words of Bards in my ears; ‘Just don’t go too crazy on the run’. So obviously, I was absolutely smashing myself in an attempt to move into the top 10 of East Anglia’s premier triathlon event. I bet that’s one achievement Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t got on his list.
It was a lot more strung out by this point, but I edged past another couple of guys on the way round the lake, moving into 10th. I was hoping that was it and I could just cruise towards the finish, but unfortunately, I spotted another runner on the horizon. I set off in pursuit, catching him with about 800m to go before putting in a burst to make him think he wouldn’t be able to stay with me.
Before I knew it, I was turning into the finish and crossing the line with not much left in the tank. My run time for the 10km was 38:40, the 4th fastest run of the day which moved me up to 9th overall. My total finish time with transitions was 2 hours and 13 minutes. I’d made my way from 24th to 9th during the run.
After the race we all went for an enormous roast dinner which was amazing. It was great to have my grandparents out to watch, they had a great time (I think!) and as ever Mum was getting involved which was great. The event itself is a great one, excellent organisation and a picturesque venue. If I’m in the area next year I’ll definitely go back.
I’m ticking off the days now until I fly out to Zurich (next Thursday, the 21st). I’ll do another post on here with details on how to track me, in the highly unlikely event that people want to do so. Until then, I’ll try (and probably fail) to get some rest so I get to the start line as fresh as possible.