Brighton Triathlon – 16/09/2018

The weeks are flying by, with now just under 4 weeks until I line up against the best in the world at the Ironman World Championships, in Kona, Hawaii. Operation ‘don’t come last’ is very much underway, as I try and make up for my total lack of sporting genes with some good old fashioned hard graft and determination.

When putting together a plan for Kona I mentioned to Sporting Director Paul Burton that I’d like to do at least one race in the build up. After all, what’s the point of training 20+ hours a week if you can’t do the racing part; that’s the fun bit right? As the Brighton Triathlon was going to be the Clapham Chasers ‘club championship’ this year, it made sense to pack the bucket and spade and head to the seaside.

This event was going to be an olympic distance race (1.5km swim/40km bike/10km), which arguably doesn’t suit my strengths as an endurance athlete; I’ve always had more of a diesel engine than a Ferrari. But it promised to be a fun weekend and a good little hit-out without requiring a lengthy taper or a large portion of recovery time afterwards.

I trained as normal during the week, setting a 400m PB in the pool on Tuesday (6:39 – still not a shark), followed by a tasty 16×800 track session on Wednesday. After this we backed it off a bit, having a couple of easier days to give the body a chance to recover before the race.

The event required you to register and rack your bikes the day before, so myself and Ross Williams (‘Triathlon Ross’ to all his fans), drove down early Saturday morning as a Chaser contingent were heading to Brighton and Hove parkrun. Ross was teaming up with the boss (Katie, not Paul) and another Chaser, Danica, to form a relay team on race day. I’ll excuse him from not entering the whole race himself, as 7 days ago he’d dragged himself around Ironman Wales; fair play.

Unsurprisingly, the legs were feeling rather fresh at parkrun, but being the sensible, dedicated athlete that I am, I’d already reliably told everyone that I’d be taking it easy and going around at a steady pace. Running the first mile in 5:48 was clearly not part of the plan then. Moron. In the end I just felt good, and ran what I considered to be a ‘controlled’ effort, finishing in 18:33. It was actually a nice little confidence boost, as I’d started to lose faith (probably rather too hastily) in my running ability.

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Packed the wrong vest didn’t I

After a quick spin on the bikes up and down Brighton seafront, we racked them in transition and then joined everyone else for a spot of brunch, before heading back to the big smoke. I thoroughly enjoyed putting my feet up for the rest of the day at home and watching a bit of triathlon on the TV.

Race morning dawned and it was de-ja vu as I headed over to pick up Ross and then onwards to the south coast. Thankfully, we had Katie in the car this time, so the entire journey didn’t consist of triathlon chat (driven by me just as much as Ross), and before I knew it we were parking up and heading to the race venue on Hove lawns.

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The wind had picked up considerably since yesterday, and as a result the sea was seriously choppy; there were a number of worried faces as people stared out, surveying the scene. Having had zero experience of sea swimming, I was going in clueless, adopting my standard positive outlook; how bad could it be?

As it turns out, bad enough that the organisers were concerned about athletes safety, and it was announced in the build up to the start that the swim was being shortened to 400m. With the swim being my weakest discipline, this was an absolute result for me in terms of the context of the race, but I was disappointed that I wouldn’t have a chance to put all my swim training into practice and see how much I’d improved. Still; get in!!!!!

I still didn’t actually have any clothes to race in at this point, after my tri-suit was ripped to shreds during the crash in Bolton. Good friend George Bright had very kindly offered up the use of his, which was delivered by Jo Muddle just in time for me to whip off my undies and pull it on before we were being ushered to the start area.

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Swim

There was a lot of reluctant dragging of feet as we made our way over the stony beach down to the waters edge. We were offered the opportunity to quickly get in the water for a little splash before the start. I declined this chance; it looked cold and I had no plans to get in until I actually had to. Despite not being the strongest swimmer, it was clear that it was going to be more of a boxing match than a swim, so I positioned myself front and centre, giving me the shortest line to the first turn buoy.

We were sent off, charging towards the sea, and I think I was actually first to hit the water, trying to dolphin dive through the waves until the water got deep enough to actually swim in. Cue mass carnage as we went around the first turn, with arms and legs flying everywhere, as everyone tried their best not to drown as the waves came crashing over us.

There was absolutely zero chance to get into any kind of rhythm, or in fact even try and spot where the next buoy was to head towards. Whenever I took my head out of the water to breathe, there was an 8 foot wave waiting to land on me. It was just a case of thrashing your way through and hoping you were taking the shortest line.

Thankfully, it was all over rather quickly as I made the final turn and tried to surf a couple of waves back to shore. One final wave deposited me in a heap on the beach, and I hauled myself up, feeling like I’d just gone 5 rounds with Mike Tyson, having also swallowed enough sea-water to get my weekly recommended salt quota in 7 minutes.

Swim; 7:02

My spirits were quickly lifted when I saw that there were only a handful of people ahead of me and I could see the leader running towards transition! Hang on a minute; I’m not used to this. Usually the faster swimmers have had a cup of tea before the bike and are 3 miles down the road by the time I’m stripping off my wetsuit. So this is what it’d be like if I was good at swimming!

With renewed vigour, I charged up the beach, ignoring the fact that the sharp stones were probably cutting my feet to pieces. I always see any running that comes as part of a triathlon as time to make some gains, and I passed 5 people on the run to the bikes.

I made a bit of a hash of transition, struggling to get my shoes on and fiddling around with my race number for far too long, but then I was away and the chase was on.

T1; 1:23 (Fastest was 00:55)

The bike course was pretty empty as I rolled out onto it, so I could quickly spot where the competition was at. This was really easy to do, as the route was 8 laps of 5km, heading 2.5km down the seafront, before making the turn and heading back to transition, meaning you could see everyone coming the other way as you neared the turn point.

Within a couple of minutes I had moved into 2nd place, with just fellow Chaser Alex Lake about 40 seconds up the road. I started taking time gaps on him, and despite pushing pretty hard the deficit was staying constant and I wasn’t gaining any ground. I just concentrated on getting my head down, staying aero, and keeping the power above 300 watts throughout.

Seeing so many Clapham Chasers also on the course was great fun, and I’d shout greetings as we passed each other; suffering as a team is much better than suffering on your own! The wind seemed to be completely random, so at times it felt like we were riding directly into it when heading in either direction – I really couldn’t work it out.

I was putting out a consistent power output and during lap 4 I notice the gap was getting smaller, and I ended up taking the lead just after the halfway point. I asked Alex if we were riding in 1st and 2nd, and he confirmed. This was the first time I’d ever been in the lead of a triathlon – crazy scenes. Don’t cock it up now, Spraggins.

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I worked hard throughout the bike to increase the lead, as I didn’t know Alex’s running credentials and I was also unaware how close everyone else behind was. I distracted myself by cheering on the other Chasers and focussing on staying as tightly tucked in the aero position as possible.

I leapt off the bike at the dismount line with a 37 second lead (I didn’t know this at the time, but knew I had a bit of a buffer), so it was still all to play for. I was really happy to duck under the hour for the first time in an olympic distance race, averaging just over 25mph for the 59 minutes I was riding. This was the fastest bike split of the day by a minute and a half or so.

It’s probably not the fastest course, with the 16 dead-turns meaning you have to completely kill your speed to zero at each end, so all in all, things are looking good on two wheels leading into Kona.

Bike; 59:21. Average power – 300w. Normalised Power – 306w. Average HR – 168bpm. 

I charged in between the bike racks, nearly wiping out a couple who had decided that holding hands and going for a romantic walk in transition was a great idea. With the lovebirds safely negotiated, I slung my bike on the rack and slipped my trainers on. I suddenly realised, to my horror, that I’d forgotten to pause my Garmin on the bike so wasted a few extra seconds sorting that out.

At this point I was absolutely buzzing as I’d heard the announcer say over the PA system that the ‘leader’ had just come back into transition, and all the Chaser relay runners were in there (including Katie), waiting to start their run legs and all gave me a massive cheer. So, obviously, I tried to run out of transition the wrong way, looking like an absolute knob, before various people shouted at me to turn around and head in the correct direction. That’ll be a few precious seconds lost then.

T2; 00:59. (Fastest was 44 seconds)

Starting the run in the lead of a triathlon isn’t something I’ve experienced before, and I was a bit like a rabbit in headlights; I just didn’t know what to do. Luckily, I didn’t stop and freeze, but instead introduced myself to the lead biker (Steve), who told me he’d be looking after me ‘until the end of the race’. I told him that I’d try my very best to stay with him until the end, but couldn’t give any guarantees.

It was great fun heading out on to an empty run course and I got some amazing cheers from all the marshals as well as other passers by that had stopped to watch. The route was very similar to the bike – 4 laps of 2.5km, heading out to a turn-around point along the prom before a 180 degree turn sent you back towards the finish.

Like the bike course, the advantage of this layout would be that I could take time gaps on those behind me, to monitor the race situation. I decided I may as well go out pretty hard and reassess after the first lap, so I got my head down and pretended I wasn’t tired. On my way back for the first time I saw that Alex was pretty close behind, so I had plenty of work to do.

The support out on the course was amazing, with the Chasers being out in force and really giving me that extra edge when I ran past on each lap – it was such good fun. I tried to smile and acknowledge as much as possible, whilst at the same time trying to keep my foot on the gas with those behind still on the charge.

I hit halfway in around 18:45; just two laps to go now. I felt relatively in control of my running and the gap had grown to over a minute, and I started to enjoy myself a bit more and take in the surroundings. It was great getting to run with other Chasers on the course and say hello. The best bit was that Katie was also out running, and we crossed a few times and even swapped a high 5 on the last lap – she was absolutely smashing it as always.

Starting the last lap I thought that, barring disaster, I’d done enough to take the win which still sounds quite ridiculous when I write it. Coming towards the finish, I was dishing out a few more high 5’s when I suddenly panicked as I realised I didn’t have a clue how I should react crossing the line, having never considered this might be a position I might find myself in. This is one area that Paul has really let me down in, and I’ll be seeking his advice urgently for what to do when I win in Kona.

I spotted the race director on the other side of the finish line wildly beckoning me to at least raise my arms in the air in celebration, so I went for that and quite probably looked like an utter tool. Still, I had a massive grin on my face; I’d won a triathlon (quite possibly for the first and last time)!

Run; 37:58. 2nd fastest run split by 2 seconds..

Overall; 1:46:43. 1st/349.

I really enjoyed the run, as I was able to back it off in the final couple of miles and not absolutely ruin myself with the big one always looming in the back of my mind. It also allowed me to enjoy myself a bit more and make the most of a situation I may not find myself in again.

After the photographer got me to do some incredibly cringeworthy photos, Alex came over the line and I congratulated him on a great race. I didn’t have long to wait to see Katie charging towards the finish line, another controlled run on the road to Chicago.

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I got back out onto the course to cheer on all the other Chasers and everyone else for that matter; the Brighton Tri have got a great little set-up and it’s a really easy race to spectate at – I’d definitely consider going back again next year. Having a closed roads bike course is a rarity these days in our sport, and it really makes everyone taking part much more at ease.

I’ve got a few easy days now before hitting the last big block of training before Hawaii. The plan now is to just stay injury free and don’t do anything stupid. Surely I can handle that, right?

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