Right then sports fans – we’ve got an actual race to report on! None of this, 5,000 laps of Eton Dorney where your pedal falls off and there only ends up being 4 finishers in your age category. Instead, an actual big event, stacked field, can’t sleep the night before because of nerves kind of race.
Even better, I don’t need to launch into some tedious and incredibly boring pre-amble, as I’ve already done that in the report linked above, so we can get straight to juicy detail.
For reasons known to absolutely no-one, instead of staying in our nice London flat in the build up to the race, we decided to spend Wednesday night onwards in the rather glamorous outer suburbs of Mansfield (apologies to all Mansfield readers – but it’s a dive).
In the current WFH climate (work from home, but go to the office, but work from home), we diligently plugged away at our spreadsheets by day, taking the opportunity in the evenings to scope out parts of the bike course.
When I say we, I of course mean myself and my wonderful fiancée, who rather excitingly, would be taking on her first ‘proper’ triathlon (apparently the super-sprint at Hever Castle doesn’t count here). A proven runner, she’s spent a summer of lockdown developing some bike prowess, and been dragged kicking and screaming a few times each week to the pool.
On Friday evening we were joined by triathlon power couple ‘Triathlon’ Ross Harper (now preferring to go by the name of Rosco), and Amy Clark, who would be sharing our Mansfield pad. We went out for a cracking pub dinner, enjoying a bit of light banter, but of course making sure we left by 10pm (I wasn’t even aware 10pm was a time, until it recently came up in the news – I’m usually asleep for hours by that point).
Saturday was the classic day of triatha-faff, as we cobbled together all of our kit (half of it very kindly donated by Rosco and Amy), before heading across to Thoresby Hall to rack our bikes the day before the race. The organisers had set us up with a challenging 20 minute off-road hike from parking to transition, with some even opting to throw their bikes over their shoulders – I’m not that precious (or strong).
Arriving at transition, I think it finally dawned on Katie that she was actually doing a half-ironman triathlon (until that point, she’d decided just not to tell anyone and hope for the best), and nerves well and truly set in. Luckily, yours truly was on hand to guide her smoothly through the racking process, even if having temperature checks and wearing face-masks in transition was a first for everyone.
The rest of the day was spent lollygagging around – we had a luxury Tesco café lunch with my Auntie and Uncle, before driving around parts of the bike course we’d not yet seen. That evening, paparazzi to the triathlon stars Jack Schofield joined our merry entourage for some dinner, a bit of ‘Alpine’ chat and an early bed ahead of a 4am alarm (to clarify – Jack went to a different bed).
Race morning brought the tragic news that the swim would be shortened from 1900m to 750m, due to the freezing cold conditions. With tears in my eyes, I shook Katie awake, delivering the news which proved to be a devastating mental blow to the both of us. Being closely related to Michael Phelps, this would remove one of my key weapons in the race. Still – keep calm and carry on.
We arrived at the event site in the pitch darkness, this time having to negotiate the cross country schlep under torchlight, the girls and I trying to contain Rosco and Jack’s excitement of being at a triathlon event and the upcoming opportunity to schmooze as many other athletes as possible during the day.
As always, once we arrived in transition, someone pressed fast-forward on the remote control, and after sorting my own stuff and helping Katie make sure she had everything she needed, it was time to wetsuit up and head down to the swim start.
One thing I was absolutely loving, was the presence of quite a few familiar faces, and it was great to catch up with friends, some that I hadn’t seen for a long, long time. I ended up queuing up for the swim start with Matt Chipping (we ran about 13 miles side by side at Ironman Wales back in 2017) and his mate Pat, who seemed like an absolute geezer.
We shared a few gags, which helped take my mind off the fact that it was currently colder than the North Pole. Not so bad if you’re about to run a hard 5km or go for a quick sauna at your local spa. Not as good, if you’re about to jump in a freezing cold lake. Joy.
The main debate was how to get in the water – do we go swallow dive? Slowly ease yourself off the pontoon? Maybe even a bomb? I decided not to swallow dive, purely for the reason that I write a blog, and disaster always strikes for everyone to have a good laugh about, and quite obviously my goggles would immediately fall off. Only idiots would swallow dive.
I let Matt and Pat (the new Ant and Dec?) go first, as they’d only swim past me after 100m anyway. We were being set off at clear, 6 second intervals, with a 10 meter run down the ramp before jumping straight in. Matt went first. Swallow dive. He turns around immediately to face us. Goggles gone. Classic.
I would’ve collapsed with laughter if I didn’t have 7 seconds before it was my turn. Here we go – this is going to be cold. I ‘penciled in’ before getting straight into my stroke. The cold felt like it was crushing my lungs, and the pure shock had me gasping for breath. Don’t think – just swing your arms around as quickly as possible.
Once the shock had worn off, the swim was actually quite uneventful. We were pretty spread out – a couple came past me and, quite unbelievably, I passed a couple. One big loop, it seemed to measure just longer than 750m, and I hit the last turn dreaming of roaring fires and hot chocolate. Pulling myself up the ramp, I was buffeted by a chilly gust of wind – a sign of things to come.
Swim – 13:55 (244/1202 overall, 41/126 AG)
Thankfully, there was a 500m run from the lake to transition. I say thankfully, as I saw this as an opportunity to try and generate as much heat as possible, so I used my well renowned, blistering turn of pace to cruise past at least 3 people.
Clearly I needed to make up time here, as once in transition I’d decided I was going to sit down for a little picnic (at least it looks that way from my time). The main issue was, I couldn’t get any of my clothes on, having lost all feeling in my hands.
I’d made the call to put on a thermal top and gloves, and took an absolute eternity doing so. Have you ever had that dream, where you try and run, but are frozen still and can’t move? This was like that, but just with my hands. I was asking them to move, but it wasn’t happening.
A full SIX minutes and 56 seconds after exiting the lake, I was over the dismount line and onto the ride.
T1 – 6:56 (345 (!!!)/1202 overall, 52/126 AG)
Did I mention it was cold? After safely negotiating the bumpy paths of Thoresby Hall, we were out on the main road – time to get the head and power down. At this point faster = warmer in my opinion, so screw the pacing for now, I just needed some heat.
Around 5 miles in we went through the little village of Walesby, just before the only significant climb on the course. I knew my Uncle would be out on the hill somewhere, and sure enough he popped up, giving me a nice mental push up towards the summit.
By this point I was already passing plenty of people, with my lower swim seeding (and therefore later start time) resulting in anyone I’d be riding at a similar pace to being about half an hour up the road. The whole ride was a completely solo effort, and at times, I started to forget I was even in a race!
I had a carefully formulated nutrition strategy, which consisted of a load of gels, in a bottle, mixed with some water. All eggs, one basket. It always makes me laugh, when I read about these people that drop bottles or lose their food. How hard can it be? Just make sure it’s secured to your bike, you dumbo.
At about mile 20 I heard a thud – my bottle had fallen off my bike. Excellent. Thankfully I’d already managed to chug through half of it, and I still had some water in another bottle, so that’d have to do.
The elements had well and truly come out to play, with the wind seemingly blowing from all directions. I frequently found my mind drifting to Katie on the bike. Weighing about as much as a small shrew, I was worried she might be getting blown about a bit. I certainly was, with Rosco’s borrowed disc wheel catching a gust or two from the side which nearly saw me end up in a hedge.
I actually started to feel stronger as the ride went on, and there were some lovely long, straight roads where you could really push on and generate some speed. As my biggest fear in life is being hungry, I’d shoved an emergency Clif bar into my jacket, which I successfully managed to inhale in one bite at some point near the end of the bike.
I found my spirits soaring as I approached the end, knowing that on the run I’d finally have a chance to try and get warm. I actually didn’t get passed once on the bike during the entire 57 miles, and I’d ridden myself from 267th to 49th.
Bike – 2:27:00 (43/1202 overall, 6/126 AG)
Running with a bike on a bumpy field is apparently harder than it looks, and it was trying to go flying off in all directions. I threw off my outer layers quicker than the girls at the Playboy mansion (but just as seductively), tried and failed to put my trainers on at speed, noted that my legs felt a bit ‘leggy’ and made a beeline for the transition exit.
T2 – 2:53 (276/1202 overall, 35/126 AG)
Time to unleash the pins and see what we’ve got. Not much, if the opening trudge around the field was a sign of things to come. Thankfully, the grass ended, and the slightly smoother paths at the start of the first of three laps made things easier going.
I tried to find a rhythm as I spotted chief paparazzi Jack Schofield with a long lens, forcing myself to look at least remotely capable for the insta snaps. Not too many on the run course at this stage, apart from one chap who flew past me, seemingly wearing some sort of rocket-propelled trainers.
Early on I tried to focus on eating and drinking (normally a specialist skill of mine), scoping out the off-road, twisty and slightly undulating lap. It had a bit of everything – farm tracks, woodland paths, a field full of cow manure. The Next %’s wouldn’t be coming home clean.
Just like the bike course, the marshals on the run were excellent and in full voice, just as determined as the athletes that this horrible virus wouldn’t dampen peoples spirits. We even had Mario and Luigi on Cow Pat corner, providing a situation where it was impossible not to smile.
At the end of each lap there was a nasty little climb up a field, before you doubled back and rolled back towards the finish area. Rosco and Amy were here, with the Milky Bar Kid telling me ‘everyone was dropping out’ (lies) – but I was more concerned about where Katie was. No news yet – so on we went.
Lap 2 and the course filling up a bit more. There were a few out and backs, and I spot legend and female pro Nikki Bartlett and give here a big shout. I was trying to shelter behind anyone to get out of the wind, but I was catching most people too quickly and went straight past them.
As always, questions start to surface around why the hell I’m doing this, when sitting at home and eating pizza would be much more fun. I then remind myself this is fun, just of the type 2 variety. Shared suffering with other like minded
Whenever thoughts of weakness occur Jack seems to appear again with that bloody camera, and I have to pretend it’s not hurting that much. Through the end of lap two, and I’ve slowed a bit, but not too much. I get the news that Katie has just reached transition. Halleluiah – music to my ears. I know she’ll be happy now she’s on the run.
I cram down a gel but throw up slightly in my mouth – won’t be having any more of them then. Only 4 miles to go, I can get by with water from here. Last laps are always satisfying – ‘last time up this stupid hill’ or ‘last time around that sharp corner where I’m convinced I’m going to stack it’.
I try and stay focused and up the pace as much as possible, but it’s so hard when you have no idea what position you are in when everyone has started at different times. The course is swamped by this point and I just concentrate on overtaking one person at a time.
Into the last mile usually gives me a surge of confidence, knowing I’m going to make it, barring a Callum Hawkins-esque total collapse, which thankfully I haven’t experienced (yet). I try and raise a sprint coming onto the finishing carpet, throwing myself over the line and into a heap.
Run – 1:22:02 (26/1202 overall, 3/126 AG)
A decent run for me all things considered. I don’t think you’d call it a ‘fast’ course, so that could be my best-ever run in a middle-distance triathlon. I later learned I’d done enough to take 3rd in my age group, which in a field that had some pretty fast guys, I’m happy about.
Overall – 4:12:46 (34/1202 overall, 3/126 AG)
Usually I take some time to collect myself post-race, but this time I was sprinting around, trying to work out where Katie was on the course and where I could see her. It was amazing to see her smiling on the run, and I was so happy to see she was safe.
She put in a stellar performance, capping off a solid bike with a 1:32 half-marathon, ending up 4th in her age group. Considering how ‘grippy’ conditions were on the bike, I was so proud of the way she executed on the day. More importantly, I think she’s got the triathlon bug…
We spent another hour or so hob-nobbing with the triathlon crowd before starting the long journey back down south. That’s the end of the ‘season’ – now just the small matter of cycling from John O’Groats to Lands End, starting this Monday (12th October).
I’m sure there’ll be a blog, don’t panic..