Wow – it’s been a while. I’m sitting here trying to work out whether or not I’ve actually done anything in the last 6 months, since my 2020 annual summary. The short answer revolves around that nasty little word beginning with an ‘i’ – injury.
In early January I was out on a fairly standard one hour run, when suddenly my left hamstring started to really hurt. I didn’t really think much of it, deciding to give it a bit of rest from running, hoping the problem would quickly disappear. How wrong I was.
The pain never really went away, despite seeing multiple physios and doing all the strengthening exercises under the sun. Most professionals had it pinned as some kind of hamstring tendinopathy, and it was causing me a lot of discomfort when doing any running at all. Thankfully, riding my bike gave me little to no pain, so I continued doing an awful lot of that to try and keep me fit and sane.
Months passed with no real improvement, until slowly but surely things started to feel a bit less hurty as I continued to strengthen the tendon. I got up to running 3 times a week, but all at a very steady effort, so as to not put any force or pressure through the muscle. With swimming pools still closed I threw all my energy into the bike and entered the dark, murky world of cycling time trials.
If you think you take yourself seriously, pop in to a village hall car park in the hours before a local time trial. The turbo trainers/rollers are out of people’s car boots, everyone’s got the flashiest bike you can imagine, full on skin suits, aero helemts, the works. I think I turned up to my first one with a drawstring bag on my back, immediately looking like the absolute noob that I was.
I’ve riden quite a ‘rolling’ 10 miler in 21:14 and a ‘not-flat’ 50 miler in 1:56, showing that I at least might have some form on the bike, especially after switching onto a Giant Trinity under the guidance of my new aerodynamics guru. Swimming was going as swimming always goes, and I’d just started to do a couple of tapered down run sessions in the build up to Holkham, so I was hoping that it wasn’t going to be a complete disaster.
Any race in and around the Norfolk area has to be combined with a short stay at my grandparents, which is always much more fun than the race itself, and we were finally able to have our ‘Christmas day’ with them in the days before the race, which was much missed last year. Other highlights included Katie going for a pre-race run in a cycling jersey, for reasons still unknown.
Katie is very much ramping up her triathlon journey this year, and she’d be racing Sunday as well. We had to shlep up to the race venue the day before, to rack the bikes at the beautiful Holkham Hall estate. After wrapping up my bike with 57 bin liners to try and keep it dry in the face of the incoming thunderstorm, we had a quick nosy around before heading across to our little hotel for the night.
I had the small matter of England v. Ukraine to negotiate that evening, making an early night ahead of the 3:15AM alarm a non-starter. We met a couple of lads, Ant and Martin, also racing the following day, whilst watching the game in the hotel pub/bar, and had a good chat sipping on a couple of cokes. Miraculously, England comfortably got the job done and I was able to slip away midway through the 2nd half to watch the rest in the room, before slipping into a restless few hours of sleep.
More sleep then Katie as it turned out, with a ropey bit of salmon keeping her up for most of the night. Thankfully, by the morning things seemed to have calmed down a bit. Most people wouldn’t look forward to eating porridge at 3:30 in the morning having just woke up. However, most people aren’t Mr Greedy over here – there’s no bad time to be eating.
We made the 30 minute drive over to Holkham, going through the standard faffing in transition, setting everything up for the day and queuing for the loo multiple times. It was brilliant to be back in a ‘racing’ environment, bumping into multiple friendly faces whilst wandering aimlessly around in a semi-state of panic before the start.
I was in the first age-group wave after the Pro’s and ‘Elites’ had started, and enjoyed the minutes before the swim catching up with Paul Lunn and Tom Van Rossum – I met them both on a Pacific Island whilst taking part in a very low-key, no frills triathlon event that I’ve never really mentioned to anyone.
Rolling starts are still very much the fashion post pandemic, with 2 people starting every 5 seconds. I’d massively oversold myself in a shameless attempt to start in the first wave (the annoying problem of being a crap swimmer but having a half decent bike-run combo is the later you start, the further up the road the main race is), but put myself at the back of this.
After the dive in and opening minute thrash, I was surprised that I wasn’t the absolute slowest swimmer in the first wave. I was also surprised to see that, as the bend in the river swung to the right, loads of people were taking a longer line around the corner, whereas I tried to hug the bank and take the most direct route. I had a momentary thought of actually getting up onto the bank and running down the river, but decided that probably wouldn’t be in the spirit of things.
The first half to the turn seemed to pass fairly quickly, but the return leg home really dragged, as I started to get passed by a few of the swimmers starting in the wave behind. I tried my best to jump on some feet and get a bit of a tow, which was successful for a small amount of time, but never lasted that long.
You always spot the exit pontoon way before you get out, and it then fails to get any bigger for seemingly hours as you swim towards it. Eventually I hauled myself out, flapping around like a seal on the floor before springing into a run towards transition.
Swim – 34:04 (180/1423 overall, 24/134 AG)
Despite numerous conflicting advice, I always charge like madman out of the water, determined to immediately start making up time lost in the water. Imagine my surprise then, when someone shot past me as we headed towards the bikes. Realising that this was in fact the real race of the day, I managed to get back around him by the time we reached the bikes. Champion.
What followed was a refreshingly uneventful transition – minimal issues, wetsuit off, shoes on, helmet on – let’s go.
T1 – 1:52 (118/1423 overall, 6/134 AG)
Time to go to work – I was interested to see how fast the new bike and position really was. There was a long draggy climb out of the Holkham estate, before we hit the main roads proper where you could really get your head down. We flicked through Wells where there was a small pockets of people supporting, before heading out into the Norfolk country lanes.
Now here’s my main issue with being not a good swimmer. A lot of people riding my speed, are already 3-4 minutes up the road, and I never see them again. They’re probably riding together – I’m not for a second saying they’re doing it illegally, but there’s a huge mental benefit when riding in a group of other guys – it encourages you to keep pushing during the bike. I find when you’re on your own in no mans land, your mind can wander, and with no one in sight to keep you honest, you let your guard drop every now and then. Maybe I’m just weak.
So there I was, in no mans land. I passed around 60 people in the opening 10km of the bike, before hitting open roads and alone with my thoughts. I did actually catch one chap from Total Tri Training, who I assumed I’d also passed and left behind, but when I turned back 5 minutes later, he was still there. I had no issue with this, he was far enough back, and I suggested we work together. Unfortunately, I felt that I was slightly stronger, and so for the 40km or so that we were together, I probably spent about 35 of them at the front, before pulling away towards the end.
At the 50km point we turned onto a busier A road, which was absolutely awesome. There was a strong tailwind and nice flat wide road – people were absolutely flying along this section. I was still picking people off every now and then, but again mostly on my own.
It was nice to make the turn north at Fakenham, knowing that the end of the bike was in sight. I rode hard all the way to transition, passing two guys from the same triathlon team back in Holkham estate, so close to each other that one’s nose was practically touching the other guys saddle. They got a few choice words (I don’t like to mince my words when I’m angry..)
Feet out of shoes, bomb it down the hill, yell at Ruth Astle coming the other way on the run, and launch myself off the bike just before the line.
Bike – 34:04 (25/1423 overall, 1/134 AG)
Only averaged 260w on the bike, which is definitely below target. However, if I can average that and still travel at 25mph (40kmph), that says to me that I’m pretty happy with my position on the bike, and I’ve hopefully got more to come there.
I’d moved up from 180th to 39th overall and up to 3rd in my age group, but obviously didn’t know that at the time. What I did know was that I needed to put my shoes on as quickly as possible. T2 was surprisingly uneventful, and I actually got in and out in pretty quick time, opting to sit to put on my shoes off the back of something Katie mentioned to me the day before.
T2 – 1:41 (141/1423 overall, 11/134 AG)
As mentioned above, with the injury, the run was a bit of a step into the unknown. I knew it wasn’t going to be as fast as I’ve run previously, but just wanted to give it my best shot. I got a nice boost immediately out of transition, with Mum, Dave and the grandparents giving me a big shout.
It was so great to be back at a supported event, with actual crowds. Nat and Al Scott as well as Ben Webeck and the ABC Pure gang were also out on the run course, and it was awesome to see some friendly faces coming through the finish area each lap.
Onto the first lap of 3, a solid group of 5/6 of us all left transition together and slogged up the main hill on the course. I found myself in step with a nice chap called Tim, and after the initial bravado of trying to smash each other up the hill with another 20km still to go, the others fell away and left Tim and I to run up the road. We had a quick chat, worked out that neither of us were a dickhead (up for debate), and so decided we’d run together.
We also established that we were in the same age group, and it would later materialise that we were fighting for 3rd, but at the time agreed that we weren’t really that bothered anyway and assumed there would be loads of guys up the road.
The lap around the Hollham estate was a fairly undulating one, mostly off-road on some gravelly paths/roads. Coming through the start/finish area at the end of the first lap, I felt like I’d be transported back to the old days of SW19, with many, many shouts of ‘COME ON TIM’. Of course, I had my own support as well, as I warned Tim; ‘My mum’s somewhere around here – you’ll hear her before you see her’.
Into lap 2, and my leg hadn’t fallen off yet, which I was counting as a real win. The course started to get busier with other people starting their runs, and a couple of the pro guys flew past me, a full lap ahead. At some point I drifted away from Tim, completely unintentionally, which quite surprised me as I was convinced he was looking a lot stronger.
I spent most of the run wondering where Katie was/asking about her whereabouts/desperately wanting it to be over. The parts around the transition and finish area were great, with loads of support and good vibes, but when you went back out onto the lap, you were pretty much alone with your own thoughts.
I slowed slightly on the final lap, picking it back up once I’d crested the final hill at the far end of the course, knowing we were in the final 15 minutes. As is always the way at the moment with the rolling starts, you have no idea how far ahead/behind people are so it’s just a case of throwing the kitchen sink at it and hoping for the best.
I passed Kim Morrison just before the finish (2nd pro female), immediately mortified that I might ruin her finishing moment, so kept kicking on just to try and get out of the way! After nearly having to hurdle Tom Sargeant, who’d decided to have a little lie down on the final corner (he still managed to get up and sprint past me – just about highlights how good my final kick really is), I finally stumbled my way across the line. Job done.
Run – 1:27:36 (43/1423 overall, 3/134 AG)
Everyone seemed to measure the run a fair way over the 13.1 mile distance, which probably would’ve given me around 1:25 – so I’ll take that. Not my best ever run, but I wasn’t expecting that. I bumped into Ruth straight after the finish, who’d taken the win in convincing style – her first pro win. Awesome.
Overall – 4:22:54 (31/1423 overall, 3/134 AG)
I milled around the finish area briefly, also bumping into Ben Redman, who I’d not quite manage to catch on the run, but just pipped him by one place on chip time. I’m sure he’ll have me next time.
I then rushed out onto the course to see if I could spot Katie. Chief triathlon VIP Jack Schofield had told me she was doing well and running her way onto the podium, so I wanted to give her some encouragement and make sure she wasn’t about to collapse.
She was doing OK until the final lap, when I’m sure she won’t mind me saying, was feeling a bit worse for wear. But she battled home, securing 3rd in her age group and 25th female overall including the pros – a really awesome result.
It was great to be able to hang out with the family after the race, and catch up with some other triathlon friends as well – it’s been far too long.
Next up, is Ironman Estonia, which as I sit here writing this, is tomorrow (!!).