So, sports fans. I left you all on tenterhooks right at the very end of my Challenge Roth report (assuming anyone made it that far), when I finished with; ‘With that in mind, I definitely won’t be doing a half-ironman in 2 weeks’ time…’
It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out that this could well have been a jokey comment, and in fact I was most definitely already signed up for a race just 2 weeks after a gruelling ironman.
In my defence, the blame falls squarely with school friends Dom and Brownie (previous guest writer on this blog) – they’d signed up for a race, and being the ‘triathlon guy’, my attendance was seen as compulsory. I was bribed with the promise of beer and BBQ afterwards, so duly signed up, thinking it’d be a ‘bit of fun’ post Roth.
We headed off towards the Kent coast on Saturday morning, with the obligatory parkrun taken in en route – Malling was the one we opted for. Brownie, concerned about peaking for the race the following day, faked a missed alarm, leaving just Dom and I to tackle the monster 5km distance.
In pretty damp conditions, we ran the first of the two laps together, before it was mutually decided that I was being annoying and should therefore run ahead. Getting slightly carried away, I increased the pace, passing a few people, before stacking it completely in a muddy puddle.
With all the grace of a pig at an all you can eat buffet, I attempted a barrel roll to carry my momentum through the fall, cutting up my elbow, leg and back in the process. Spraggins you fool. I sheepishly made my way to the finish, assessing what thankfully weren’t going to be life-threatening injuries.
We arrived at our cracking beach house after loading up with supplies, before taking a spin over to race HQ to get registered and complete all the triatha-faff. Apparently it’s pretty windy on the Kent coast, and I nearly got blown off my bike on several occasions. The lake in which the swim was taking place was chopping all over the place, making the following days dip an inviting prospect.
Feet up with the Tour de France on TV was how we spent the remainder of the day, before an early night, being soothed to sleep by the comforting sounds of YMCA being played a few doors down the road at the social club. Thankfully, the rather annoying parrot owned by the neighbours was on the other side of the house, so Brownie had to deal with that one. Squawk.
The alarm went off at stupid o’clock, and in a departure from tradition, I went for a little jog to ‘wake up’ – something I’d heard that other, better athletes do. After coaxing me into signing up to the half distance race, Brownie was in for the Olympic and Dom the Sprint, so not only were they doing less than me, they didn’t have to wake up as early. Scandalous.
I was therefore on the road before they’d even got out of bed, and parking up in the field by HQ and trying to avoid stepping in an immense amount of cow manure while they were tucking into a leisurely breakfast. As the Owler is a ‘slightly’ smaller event than Challenge Roth, the atmosphere in transition was a lot more chilled out, and I went about setting up my gear and making some friends.
After that, I even had time to plug in some motivational tunes and stare seriously over the lake, looking to others like I was getting in the zone, when in reality I was trying to work out if we’d put enough beer in the fridge for the post-race celebrations, and whether I’d eat my cookies or ice-cream first.
After a short delay we were ushered towards the water, with no sign of the lads turning up to see me off – heartbreaking. Apparently I’d turned into Michael Phelps overnight, positioning myself front and centre on the start line, despite being a trout amongst dolphins. I figured I may as well give it a bash, every second counts and all that.
Whisper it quietly, but I’m starting to enjoy my swimming. A switch seems to have flipped in the past month or so, and I’m feeling much more comfortable in the water. The trend continued here, and while I was never going to be first into transition, after the initial lunatic start, I settled in and started to pass people one at a time.
Two laps of 950m to be negotiated, and for the first time in my life I seemed to be swimming in a straight line from buoy to buoy, and I appeared to be moving fairly swiftly (for me). I even managed to hop on someones feet for the 2nd lap, and really felt like I was getting into a good groove. Who are you, and what have you done with the real Flat Cap Spraggz ©?
I hauled myself onto dry land, tearing off my hat and goggles and dashing towards my bike like someone was about to steal it. I didn’t know it at the time, as I don’t wear a watch in the swim, but I’d swam 31:27, which is a decent PB. Another shocking fact – I was in 4th overall, but was completely in the dark re; that as well.
A minute and 20 seconds in transition wasn’t a bad showing, especially with my lack of a flying mount (much to Graeme Acheson’s disgust), and I hopped on my ride ready to give it some beans.
Since I hadn’t really targeted this race in any way, and didn’t have any real goals for it, I’d given myself the pass to just have ‘fun’. I decided the definition of fun would be, bike really hard and see if I can get to the front of the race before the start of the run. What’s the worst that can happen?
So I got my head down, put the bike in a big gear, and span my stumpy legs around as fast as I could. I passed a couple of guys, but had a feeling I wasn’t quite there yet. We did a little 4 minute loop at the the bottom of an out and back, and since I hadn’t see anyone come the other way, I knew I was within 4 minutes of the lead.
After a couple of failed attempts at conversations with marshals whilst whistling past at high speed, I got the info that I was in 2nd – still some work to do then. The bike, like the swim, was 2 laps of 28 miles, mostly on flat roads. Most of the road surfaces were pretty good, apart from one diabolical stretch which literally shook me to the core.
My heart rate was still higher than usual after the swim, but I knew I was rolling the dice and taking a chance. Finishing the first lap there was still no sign of the leader, and I accepted that he may well be growing the gap and putting time into me. During the ride I took on 2 big bottles of tailwind, which I’ve started using and really like – the first liquid calories I’ve actually enjoyed the taste of.
I got to the out and back on the 2nd loop, and again with no sign of 1st, I knew I was still less than 4 minutes back. I’d now started picking off some of the olympic distance gang doing the singular lap, but by the speed they were travelling, I could tell they weren’t my guy.
Just when I was ready to accept he was probably motoring away into the distance, I turned a corner, and there he was! It took a fair while to close the gap, as I wanted to keep the effort levels consistent and not spend any more pennies than necessary. I pulled alongside, exchanging a few words before pressing on.
To my surprise, a minute or so later, he came straight back past. I sat behind (at a legal distance) for a while, before putting in a surge to try and get a gap. I looked behind a few minutes later, and there was just open road behind me. Result. Just a shame this wasn’t a swim-bike race, with a half-marathon still to be ticked off…
I rolled into transition having clocked 2:17:12 for the 56 miles. At an average speed of around 25mph and 264NP, this was probably one of the best bike legs I’ve had in a triathlon to date – just a shame those legs didn’t turn up 2 weeks ago.
I hustled through transition, confirming my assumed 1st position by the absence of any other bikes on the racks. I could already see the huge front page spread in the world famous ‘Rye & Battle Observer’ flashing in front of my eyes; ‘Flat cap wearing fool flies to first in local triathlon’. But I was getting ahead of myself – concentrate on putting your shoes on properly first.
I left transition with a 1:30 lead over 2nd. I heard him pulling in as I was plotting my escape, doing my best to run the wrong way out and straight back onto the bike course.
What is usually my strength in triathlon has been holding me back in recent times, with my weakness for any kind of food or drink that isn’t good for you causing me to be a few pounds (KG’s) heavier at the moment. However, I had the luxury of a small lead, and I’d decided to really ease into the first of the 3 laps, and just keep an eye on how things are playing out behind.
There were already plenty of people out on the run course, with the sprint and olympic races also taking place. Dom had already finished and had his feet up, whilst Brownie was still slogging his way through his run. It was a ridiculously straightforward route – impossible to get lost. Run along for 3.5km, reach the turn-around point, and come back the way you’ve came. Do that 3 times.
After about 3km, I was convinced I was lost, with no-one else around, and no sign of the turn-around point ahead. After accepting the fact that I’d blown it and I was a complete moron, the cone appeared around the corner and relief flooded into my veins.
This was the first chance to see the competition coming the other way, and I did my best impression of looking like I was out for a Sunday stroll, replacing my cheeky grin with a grimace as soon as they were out of sight. It was heating up nicely, and I’d already resorted to the default ‘douse myself my water at every opportunity’ tactic.
1st lap down, and miraculously I’d extended my lead to 2:30. I was Alistair Brownlee after all. This running lark isn’t too bad – maybe I’ll have time for a short break at halfway if anyone’s got a picnic basket?
I feel like I should probably say here, that’s definitely a joke. I’m not that much of a cocky g*t. I was feeling pretty rough, and just hoping that when the inevitable slow down happened, everyone else would slow down as well. I was distracting myself by offering out support and encouragement to all the other runners – positive vibes definitely makes everyone feel slightly better.
My classic strategy of not having a nutrition strategy for the run was, as usual, not working, as I started to feel a bit lethargic and sluggish. I switched from drinking just water, to taking on the energy drinks on offer at the aid stations, which seemed to steady the ship.
I negotiated my way through halfway and reached the end of lap 2, with my lead extended to 3:30. To the outside observer, only a muppet could mess it up from here. They probably hadn’t met me before though.
With the crowd (Brownie and Dom) going wild, I set off on my final lap, telling myself that as long as I didn’t employ my ‘walk, run, walk, walk’ strategy from Roth, I should just about make it home. It’s always nice ticking off the last lap of a course – the last time over ‘the bridge of doom’ and ‘see you later stupid puddle in the road that I have to swerve’.
I reached the turn for the final time, noting that the gap to 2nd was decreasing, but I should have enough in the bank. This didn’t stop me from turning around every 2 minutes, confirming the fact that there was definitely still no one there. With the finish arch in sight, I accepted the fact that I was actually going to win, and enjoyed the last few hundred meters.
Over the line to minimal fanfare, I was just glad I could stop running, now the owner of one very tired set of legs. I had a chat with the race director, before the guy in 2nd (nice chap) came home, in the end finishing around 2 minutes behind me. I’m just glad there wasn’t one more lap…
Run time: 1:27:39
Overall time: 4:18:46
I’ve run a fair bit faster in middle distance triathlons, but considering current fitness/Roth recovery/running to the race situation, it was a decent run and my heart rate shows I certainly worked hard enough.
It turns out I wasn’t the only winner of the day, with Dom scoring an age-group win, whilst Brownie came away empty handed. That’s what you get for missing the parkrun warm-up.
I demolished a bacon sandwich whilst waiting for the awards to be handed out. Unlike other events I’ve experienced, this was actually done really promptly. Actually, the whole event was really nicely done, with the team at Tri Spirit Events ensuring everything ran very smoothly. The marshals out on the course were excellent, supportive and really friendly – I wouldn’t hesitate in doing another event run by these guys.
After that, it was back home to fire up the BBQ, enjoy a few crisp, cold beers and eat all the food within a 10-mile radius. It is meant to be my off-season after all. The diet can wait until Monday.