This post has a distinct feeling of déjà vu around it.
- There are just two weeks until I’m taking part in an ironman triathlon.
- It’s early July and thousands of spectators are descending upon Wimbledon, emptying the shelves of all my local supermarkets and leaving me to forage for food in the depths of Wandsworth.
- I’m getting extremely twitchy as I haven’t raced in nearly a month.
It must be time for the annual pilgrimage to Norfolk to take part in the quite brilliantly organised Norwich triathlon.
The weekend started as it always should, with a trip to parkrun. Wimbledon Common was the venue of choice this Saturday as it would allow me to dash back to catch the second half of the Lions game against the All Blacks. I like to stretch the legs out the day before a race, nothing too strenuous, just to remind them of what working slightly harder feels like, so I slowly eased into a nice tempo effort, running 18:43 for the 5km.
Katie decided to take it relatively easily after the previous days 15 mile run as her legs ‘felt toast’, so after a steady start finished 3rd lady with a new fastest ever 5km time of 20:47. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t even the highlight of her racing weekend, but you’ll have to read on for more information about her impending triathlon debut.
With two bikes to transport to a race, I decided the sensible decision would be to rent a little white van rather than a car; much more spacious/stylish and ideal given we only ever need two seats. What I didn’t take into consideration was that evidently van manufacturers have made the decision that users would never require air conditioning – a choice that led to a particularly sweaty and half-naked (only me – don’t get too excited) drive around the M25 and out east to Norwich.
One of the main reasons for taking part in this race is that my Nan and Grandad live just 40 minutes from the venue, meaning that we get to spend a great weekend with family catching up and relaxing in a familiar setting on the Saturday. Nan showed me where I may have got my love from endurance sport from, asking to take Katie and I out for a spin around the village – she’s quite the speed demon.
It was the obligatory early start on race morning, chomping down on a bowl of porridge at 5am before heading off in the van to Whitlingham Country Park. The main difference between this weekend and most of my normal races was that Katie was also competing – this actually made the whole experience a lot more fun as I had someone to hang with in transition and we just messed around which helped take the pressure off. Having forgotten to bring anything other than a t-shirt for the weekend I was modelling a 50 year-old sweater knitted by my great-grandmother – definitely the most stylish guy pre-race.
The time quickly ebbed away as we registered and I helped Katie set up her transition area after sorting my own, and I actually rocked up to the start slightly late with just a couple of minutes to throw on my wet-suit before we jumped in to a balmy lake en masse, sending the resident ducks scattering for safety.
After a quick splash around for 37 seconds which constitutes a warm-up for me in a triathlon, we were summoned to the starting line and set on our way. As usual, no real game plan for me in the swim, just swim hard and hope you’re not last at the end of it all. However, to my pleasant surprise, the many, many hours of drills given to me by Ray at Swim Canary Wharf seemed to be paying dividends, as I felt smooth in the water and after passing a number of other swimmers, settled into a nice rhythm and felt strong throughout.
The swim leg of a triathlon does always seem to drag a bit, but I tried to stay focused and concentrate on keeping good technique, whilst ensuring I wasn’t swimming in completely the wrong direction, something I managed with minor success. I was quite shocked to be told by my Mum (I think she may have shouted it 17 times, just to ensure I caught it) that I was in 15th place out of the water. 15th! This must be some sort of wind-up? I had to look at the results afterwards to confirm this was actually the case. After finishing the swim in 45th last year, maybe things are starting to trend upwards in the aqua department.
Swim time – 26:29 – 15th position
After blazing through transition (smashing my 2016 time by a full 7 seconds), I’d already overtaken 2 people who need more practice on how to get changed quickly, and moved up into 13th place. Luckily I knew (along with half of East Anglia) that I was 15th after the swim so was now in a position to be able to count my way through the field – not something I’ve been able to do before on account of being so bloody slow in the water.
This year I’ve started riding with a power meter, but still don’t have much experience with how to use it for pacing. I had it on during Sunday’s race, but with the bike leg being relatively short (25 miles), I’d planned to just pretty much go as hard as I can for an hour and hope I’ve got something left for the run.
I tucked into the aero position and tried to catch as many people in front of me as possible. Despite being held in Norfolk, the bike course can be best described as undulating, with plenty of up and down, especially in the first half. I pushed a big gear up the hills, trying to carry my speed over the top and back down the other side. I moved up into 7th pretty quickly before spending quite a while completely solo, wondering if I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere.
Spotting the next set of marshals on the bike course quickly quashed these fears. They were all fantastic, offering clear direction as well as very vocal support to everyone; you couldn’t help but grin as you saw them jumping up and down at the side of the road, and I always tried to give them a quick thumbs up. Eventually I saw a few more riders ahead in the distance on one of the long straights, but at this point I’d started suffering with cramping in both my calves and my quads – not something I’d experienced before in a race, and I had to free-wheel a couple of times to stretch out the legs.
An unexpected added bonus was passing Katie going the other way early on into her bike leg, and I gave her a shout – she looked like she always does; out for a Sunday stroll, making it look like the easiest thing in the world. I was just glad she’d successfully navigated the swim, as her pre-race nerves had been centred around that particular leg.
The closing stages of the bike are by far the fastest and I tried to keep the effort level high, passing a couple more guys on the way back to transition. One more bout of cramping as I tried to take my feet out of my shoes made me fearful that a flying dismount off the bike may end in complete humiliation, but thankfully when my feet landed on solid ground all seemed well.
I’d ridden my way through into 3rd place off the bike, posting the 3rd fastest bike split of the day in the process. This was probably the most satisfying part of Sundays effort, as I’ve spent a lot of time in the saddle over the past 6 months and it’s nice to see the hard work turn into tangible results, with my ride being 3 minutes faster than the previous year.
Bike time – 1:01:31. Average Power – 263 watts. Normalised Power – 270 watts.
I came barrelling into transition, nearly falling over my bike in the process and unbeknown to me at the time, slicing my leg open on my front cassette which led to a quick trip to see the paramedics post race. Being a brave little soldier/completely unaware, I threw my bike on the racking and struggled with my trainers.
I was under pressure after my grandads post-race analysis of last years transition revealed a ‘room for improvement’ verdict. I felt his gaze firmly fixed on me from the transition exit and promptly panicked, nearly toppling over before grabbing the racking to keep me on two feet. I’m sure a 3 second improvement from 51 to 48 seconds won’t have gone unnoticed, but there’s always time to be found!
As I exited onto the run course, the unofficial race commentator (with no megaphone required) promptly told me I was in 7th place. 7th?! I thought I was slightly further ahead than that. As I overtook the first person on what was at the time a pretty empty run course, I realised a few of the guys taking part in the sprint distance had also made it back and onto the run, and I’d failed to tell Mum this could be the case. So I was now slightly confused as to what place I was actually in.
The route takes you on two 5-kilometre laps of the lake we swam in earlier that morning, and I pushed hard from the start, keen to try and catch the 6 (or is it 2?) people in front of me. Our good friends Jen and Adam Woolgar had come out to support for the morning. I’d like to say they were the loudest support on the route, but Mum always takes that title hands down at any event she attends. However, these guys took a close second and they knew exactly what to say, trying to coax me to run as fast as I possibly could – it was so great to see them multiple times.
I was holding a pace just under 6 minutes per mile, and as I came through the first lap the family support crew were there waiting. A position update – 2nd! Right. Excellent. It’s going well. How far up the road is first? 4 minutes. Bugger. I knew 4 minutes was probably an insurmountable deficit to make up in 3 miles, but I kept pushing wanting to keep whoever it was at the front honest.
A mile later I again saw the Woolgars, with Adam telling me that first was only ‘a minute ahead’. His ploy to kick me into gear may have worked if the comment hadn’t been followed by all the other spectators around him chuckling away. That combined with the news of the 4 minute gap led me to make the decision not to absolute ruin myself with the Outlaw just two weeks away, so I enjoyed the rest of the lap, realising I was about to secure my first podium position in a triathlon.
It was great coming into the finish area and I allowed myself a little fist pump in celebration, as my Mum seemed only to be able to shout one word ‘SECOND! SECOND! SECOND! SECOND!’. Thankfully I’d already worked that out by this point, as I’m not sure there is much I could’ve done to change things this late in the day.
I ran 37:08 for the 10-kilometre run, which was the fastest run split of the day by a good minute and a half. After a brief period of composing myself, I felt pretty good afterwards, sharing a few sweaty hugs with my family & the Woolgars. I was still quite shocked and completed stoked that I’d managed to finish on the podium.
Overall time – 2:07:08. 2nd overall, 1st in the Male 25-29 age group.
Immediately after finishing my attention turned to seeing how Katie was getting on. She was competing in the sprint distance race, which consisted of a 750m swim, a 20km bike and a 5km run. I didn’t have long to wait as she came haring around the corner into the finishing area, absolutely flying past everyone.
After she’d finished I gave her a massive hug and we loaded up the results on my phone. She’d finished 8th female (60th overall) and won her age group (female 25-29) by 5 minutes! Not only that, her run split was the fastest of the day by any female (20:25 for 5km) and she missed out on the all-time course record by 1 second! It was safe to say I was the proudest person in the whole of Suffolk on Sunday morning.
The most ridiculous part was that she’d shaved another 20 seconds off her best ever 5km time AFTER swimming and biking for nearly an hour beforehand, clearly highlighting she’s obviously not trying hard enough when she’s fresh (haha!). Finally, 8th overall was achieved after swimming just twice in the last 12 months and cycling to and from work few times in the build up. I’ve told her if she actually does some training in the build up she could be rather good at this triathlon lark..
After a quick trip to the paramedics to patch up my leg, we had to hang around for a while afterwards to attend the awards ceremony, which was a nice problem to have for once! After both collecting our prizes we headed off for a humongous Sunday lunch at the local carvery; it was incredible. Having the family present on the day made it so much more enjoyable for both of us and I hope they enjoyed it as much as we did – they all seemed to be having a good time. The Woolgars were also brilliant, even managing to spot me as I rolled out of transition on my bike as they were arriving in the car. They’re just two of the great friends we’ve made since joining the Clapham Chasers.
To add a closing note about the race, Tri-Anglia put on an absolutely brilliant event. The atmosphere is really friendly and relaxed, so the race is perfect for first timers and seasoned triathletes alike. All the marshals and officials are so helpful, and they seem to think of all the small details which makes it all the more enjoyable. The course is a beautiful one, and having the choice of sprint or olympic distance means that the event really is accessible to pretty much anyone.
For myself, it’s time to get the cotton wool out and cover myself with it. I’ll be significantly reducing my training volume between now and the 23rd of July, training most days but for shorter periods to let my body recover and make sure I’m fresh for the big day. I’ve got a feeling the next 12 days are going to drag in a big way..