London Triathlon. Perfect Preparation for South Africa

London Triathlon is a huge event. Such a contrast to the old school, low key, local race at Porthcawl from a few weeks ago. Thousands of competitors, tens of thousands of supporters, closed roads, air conditioned transition zone….whats not to like? And the Olympic Plus race would hopefully make the perfect preparation for South Africa. The 80km bike leg with a 10km run off should provide a good test with the added bonus of hot and steamy conditions.

London Tri bike focus

4:15am            Alarm goes off. I jump out of bed. Eat. Oats, yoghurt, fruit, nuts. Lovely. Given how hot its expected to be later, this is one day where I’m grateful for such an early start.

5am                 I head out of the flat and out onto the road. I’m cycling over to ExCel Centre in East London and the sun is just getting up. I’m astonished at just how many people are around. I must live a very sheltered life as didn’t expect to see just so many people going strong on their Saturday nights out and here’s me kick-starting Sunday.

5:30am            I arrive at ExCel. Its nice and quiet so easy to get through registration, into transition and set up kit for the race. The word is that it will be a wetsuit swim and this is exactly the news I was hoping to hear. When the race organisers sent around a late Friday email warning that the water temp in the dock was over the cut-off of 25 degrees it created a bit of panic in my head (that old chimp of mine causing havoc again!). I don’t think I’ve ever done 1500m without a wetsuit. Even in the pool I do all my long reps with pull buoy and paddles so early Saturday morning I was in the River Usk with only my trunks on to do a bit of confidence boosting swimming. I only did 15 minutes but that was enough to reassure me that I’d be ok if wetsuits were banned.

6.45am            Race briefing. It is indeed a wetsuit swim. The water temperature is an alleged 22 degrees so shouldn’t create any overheating issues. I’m happy.

7am                 The race starts. I get away well, smash it hard for about a minute to get clear of the crowds and then settle down, accepting that a few really fast swimmers will come over the top of me. I find a few feet to swim on and simply focus on following these, trusting that they can navigate their way up the dock in a straight line. With it being early morning and the swim heading east, we are going straight into the sun so being able to spot what seem like very small red bouys in the shape of a pig is not easy. So I don’t worry about it and just follow the feet in front. So far so good. I get around the first two pigs at the top of the course and then start to head back west. I must have drifted a bit off line as I lost feet on the way back but could see a big red shape in the distance so didn’t worry about. I remembered hearing at the briefing that the route was basically to turn right at each of the four red pigs so kept focussed on the big red shape I could see ahead. As I got to it I had a bit of a collision with a few swimmers (as I soon discovered that they were heading straight on and I was turning right around the pig). I looked up and couldn’t see anyone and started to doubt my move. So I stopped momentarily and looked around to see the rest of the field continuing to head on down the dock. I realised id gone wrong, so had to turn around and rejoin the route. The last phase seemed to go on forever after this mistake so I was really happy to reach the pontoon and exit the water. Unusually, this race insists that wetsuits are removed immediately on exiting the water and then carrying it in a bag back to transition.

Out onto the bike I went and quickly settled down into a relaxed aero position. The bike leg was 80km and 3 laps of a route upto Westminster. It was a very straightforward course and lap one was about navigating the manhole covers that seem to be everywhere and finding the smoothest sections of tarmac. Lap two I went a bit quicker and then on lap three I was starting to tire and get a bit bored. With a  course that was all about riding in a straight line apart from dead turns at each end there was little to keep interest high and generate a distraction from the pain of pushing the pedals around.

london tri corneringI was glad to get to the end of lap 3 and quite happy with my time of 2:14:19 for the bike. Over the last couple of kilometres I was aware that I my quads were starting to cramp as I was pushing up the last few bridges. As I dismounted my legs went into cramp and I had to gingerly trot with straight legs back to my racking spot. Trying to put on my running shoes caused a full blown cramp through the quads and I had to stand completely still, breathe deep and slow and allow the tension to dissipate. After about 30 secs it eased and so I decided to try and jog it off rather than stretch. I headed out of the air conditioned ExCel building and back into the heat of the riverside. I could sense tightness in my lower quads but it wasn’t getting any worse so felt I was ok to press on. I relaxed, got into a comfortable rhythm and was soon at the first aid station. I needed to drink lots of water. So on the first lap I stopped and downed a couple of cups and threw some over my head before continuing. There were two water staions on each lap so I decided that at each id drink one cup and throw one cup over my head to cool me down. This worked well and as the 4 laps went by I felt more and more comfortable. I felt that I was running pretty well, and was getting lots of positive feedback from Coach Annie who was out on the course. At the end of each lap we came back into the air conditioned building, did a complicated loop, past the finish line and then back out into the ever rising heat. As I passed the finish line each lap I couldn’t work out why it was taking so long. The laps were supposed to be 2.5km and given that I felt I was running well it didn’t make sense that it was taking approx. 13 minutes a lap. Im convinced the lap was long but it was the same for everyone so didn’t really matter ( I’ve asked the organisers for clarification).

I crossed the finish line in 3:43:48 feeling really satisfied with my mornings efforts. I knew I’d managed the whole race pretty well, handled the challenges sensibly and loved the sensation of racing on closed roads and on a beautiful sunny day in London. I’m almost ready for the big race of the year.

London Tri finish line 211am               There was only one thing to do next. Celebrate with a well earned pint of chilled Erdinger Alkoholfrei. Thanks Karl. It hardly touched the sides. The perfect end to a cracking morning. I wonder what those party-goers I saw earlier are upto now?

I later learnt that I’d been placed 2nd in my AG, 18th overall out of 220 finishers in this Olympic Plus event and in fact was 3rd out of all over 44’s. That’s definitely one more statistic to support my Faster After Fifty argument!

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Porthcawl Triathlon. Another big step forward

3 months ago we moved to Brecon Beacons. By chance, we found an old farmhouse with land and outbuildings in the most dreamy location. The views are spectacular, the house has tons of potential and the outbuildings are perfect for creating our new cycling business. Despite not knowing anything we about the area nor having any guarantees that we’d get planning permission to transform the smallholding we simply had to follow our hearts and buy the place.

Everyday since I’ve woken up with a smile on my face. This area is delightful and I still can’t quite believe its now home. Its an amazing place to be.

As a training environment its simply world class: Quiet roads with a multitude of choices for every conceivable type of training session on the bike. There are short punchy climbs, long steep ones, even longer steady ones. You name what you want for training and this area has it. Oh, unless you are looking for flat roads. There is a distinct shortage of these, which having moved from Cheshire is exactly what I was seeking!

For running, I’ve got the most beautiful canal tow path in the country for doing tempo intervals. I’ve got forest trails and the open Beacons for steady running. There are lakes and reservoirs to choose from and if time is tight I’ve always got the quiet undulating lane that winds its way to the head of our valley that is literally right outside our front door.

For swimming there are a choice of two pools for lap sessions and now that we have settled into our Mediterranean climate for the summer I can simply use the Usk and Wye for impromptu open water sessions. Less than an hour away I can be testing myself in the Ocean and this brings me to my latest race, Porthcawl Triathlon. I chose to take part for two reasons. Firstly it is now one of my local races and I’m keen to support  events in my new home area and secondly it involves an ocean swim. I’m not that experienced in sea swimming and given that the upcoming World Champs involves an ocean swim I wanted to build confidence ahead of this big race.

So at 5am on 1st July, literally the crack of dawn, I jumped in the car to take the one hour journey down to Porthcawl.  When I arrived the sea was nowhere to be seen. There was a magnificent expanse of golden sand and somewhere out in the distance lay the water. Given that race start was only an hour away I thought it needed to get a bit of a wiggle on. Clearly, like most non-triathletes, the sea likes to have a lie in on a Sunday morning and it wasn’t to be hurried. Much to the dismay of the race organisers they had to delay the start to give the tide a bit more time to do its magic (apparently the day before it had been 100 yards further up the beach by the same hour of the morning) and when the klaxon eventually sounded we still began the race with approximately 100metre run to the water. I, of course, wasn’t complaining as the more of the race that plays to my running strength the better!

The swim was two laps with an Aussie exit at the end of the 1st lap. This means that you swim back to the beach, splash through the shallows onto the beach, then run up the beach around a couple of buoys and then back into the water. I was surprised at just how hard this was and my legs were really screaming as I struggled to get blood back into my legs after my upper body had been doing all the work during the swim. The swim itself was really good. I felt extremely comfortable in the water. Whilst it was definitely a calm day, the sea still creates a chop that is rarely found in lakes and so I was happy to be so relaxed in there. I was also encouraged by my growing ability and confidence to swim on the feet of others. Its not so long ago that I used to choose to swim away from the main pack as I was unsettled by the close proximity of other swimmers, even though I knew this was making life unnecessarily difficult for myself. But there is more. I clearly had a strong start as when I got to the first buoy where we needed to turn right it was carnage. There were arms, legs and bodies flying everywhere. I took confidence from the fact that I was right in the mix and ploughed straight into the middle of the action. I was intent on fighting for my position to get around the buoy as quickly as possible. Without any conscious thought, I instinctively flipped onto my back, completed a couple of back stroke strokes ( and I can’t even do back stroke!) and then flipped back onto my front turning right in the process. Remarkably, I was clear of the chaos at the buoy and back in relatively clear water. How this happened I have no idea but it certainly brought a smile to my face as I ploughed on.

After the 2nd lap it was back to the beach, up through the soft sand, a series of steps, past a few ice cream vendors, across a road and into transition. Good news. There were still most of the bikes in there. I’m definitely improving as a swimmer. Maybe it was that miraculous manoeuvre around the buoy!

Out onto the bike I went. Adrenalin got me through the first few miles and then I found that I needed a period of adjustment whilst my body was struggling to understand where to send my blood so that it can be useful in powering me for the next phase of the race. The bike course was two laps with the first half of each lap being largely uphill. The 1st time up was tough. I think my blood was still in my arms and so the legs felt dead. I couldn’t settle into any kind of rhythm nor find a comfortable aero position. This woke my chimp and he was niggling away at me telling me that my bike set up was all wrong and that I wasn’t as fit as I thought. Ignoring this internal voice whilst racing is not easy but I am becoming so much better at focussing on the process of what I’m trying to do, remaining in the present moment and not allowing these kind of negative thoughts to hijack my race. So, I think I realised that sitting up would help me to get up the climb and that once over the top I could recover and reassess. Much to my relief, the rest of the lap was either downhill or undulating. It was certainly quick and I was able to relax in a much better aero position. Lap two seemed much easier as I had a sense of how the terrain worked and cracked out a faster lap. On the 2nd half of the lap I started to think about the run.

The run was the main focus for this race. It was going to be the 1st 10k of the year and so I was excited to discover if the achilles was going to be happy and how I’d deal with the distance after a hard bike and swim. I took it out quite steadily, focussing on being relaxed. The achilles was good. My body was happy. My brain was happy, my chimp was happy too!

After the 1st lap I tried to increase pace slightly, reeled in a few more athletes ahead of me and finished with a final flourish to claim 19th place overall and 2nd over 50. This was a really satisfying performance and another positive step towards my main goal for the season. A 42 minute 10k after all the injury problems was really encouraging and I was buzzing for the next hour.

After the endorphins wore off my chimp woke up again. That little voice in my head started nagging me about my bike position. The first 15 minutes of the bike leg felt really uncomfortable but with the benefit of reflection I have concluded that I just need to be kinder to myself. My position is good, its just the transition from swim to bike that takes a bit of time for the body to adjust and on this course the toughest section was over the 1st 5 miles, so its no surprise that it hurt and was uncomfortable.

Chatting to my son after he also pointed out that I spend much more time riding my road bike than I do on the TT bike, especially since we’ve been in The Beacons. So the learning point is to train as I want to race and so I must put in lots more hours on the road on my TT bike. The more hours I put in , the more comfortable I’ll feel in the aero position.

Onwards and upwards towards South Africa.