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.

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