Be careful what you wish for.
I got the shorter run I’d asked for at The Norwich Triathlon, unfortunately, it came as a result of my first DNF to date. A real shame because the event and the day was fantastic, a real credit to Tri-Anglia and the race organisers and one I would have liked to be a full part of.
Following its announcement as The Eastern Regional Championships, the introduction of the business relay competition and the appearance of pro-triathlete Tamsin Lewis it was bigger and better than ever. And the weather held out.
I met up with Ben and James on the Saturday evening as the Tri Harder stand was going up, feeling a little sorry for myself after a week of man flu, but looking forward to race day none the less. The set up and the course for the event is well established now, even the Tri Harder tent seems to have its own patch overlooking the finishing chute.
Race morning came after a good nights sleep and I certainly felt fine to race if not quite 100%. Conditions were pretty darn good, slightly blustery, but I wasn’t going let that put me off using my new wheels for the second successive race (well, that and the fact I’d destroyed the screws on the brake pads so couldn’t change them even if I’d wanted to!). I kick started the day with a shot of “Beet it”, which is meant to improve ones oxygen carrying capacity and in my head went some way to countering the effects of the previous week. I’m sure Dr Tamsin Lewis would have appreciated the psychosomatic approach to nutrition choice!
Anyway I headed off to the start with purple teeth and this weeks race plan; just to take it steady and play things by ear. Not very exciting I’m afraid, but what I didn’t want was to blow out and not finish. How ironic!
The swim start was much less of a bunfight than I was expecting given the wave was based on predicted times and involved 100 competitors crammed into the width the Outdoor Centre decking. I got out into a lead group just behind a solo lead swimmer, Alfie Chapman, and reached the usual decision making point of the first leg; to stick or twist? To settle in with the group and try and conserve some energy, or to swim hard and try and close the gap to first. Now the rising sun directly ahead was making sighting pretty tricky, but even I could see that the Alfie “the fish” Chapman was set to cover closer to 2 miles than 1, with his innate sat-nav playing up even more than my own. So I opted to stick and settled in to a comfortable rhythm with three other swimmers. At least it was meant to be comfortable, but there was rather a lot of elbows and foot tapping for my liking and with my shoulders tiring already I was getting a little twitchy. Still, I exited the water in second, further behind Alfie than I would have liked and ran to my bike to find my helmet rolling around in the grass. Something so small, but it sent my oxygen deprived brain into overdrive whilst I tried to figure out how to adapt my T1 routine. Honestly, I was like Wayne Rooney at the Euros, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Well, that’s how it felt, in reality it only cost me a couple of seconds and I found myself leaving transition with Dr Tamsin Lewis, pro triathlete and the clubs guest speaker the previous Friday. I thought it only gentlemanly to ask how things had gone at her talk, which seemed to bemuse her a little, before trying to put some distance between us so as not to get “chicked”.
Out on the bike leg I settled into a steady rhythm working to close the gap down to first and hopefully keep a lead over those behind, namely racing snake Iain Robertson who I knew would be flying once on dry land and Steve Norris who I suspected I hadn’t put much time into on the swim. By 4 miles I had moved into the lead and was experiencing riding behind a lead motorbike for the very first time. I found it made me very conscious of by bike handling and felt the need to try and explain that I wasn’t purposefully hogging the road I was just fighting the crosswinds threatening to blow me off my bike. He probably also watched an unfortunate slip with my energy gel that resulted in handlebars and tri-bars smeared in QNT, which if you’re ever short on glue would probably double up quite nicely. Anyway, I didn’t have to suffer it for too long as mile 18 saw Mr Robertson move in to the lead, which woke me up with a start. I gave him the required gap, due to my sporting good nature (and the event motorbike directly ahead) and upped the effort with the intention of losing no more time over the last few miles back into transition. About a mile later I heard a sharp “Psssssst” shortly followed by the “thump – thump – thump” of a flat back wheel. And that was that.
I’ve always maintained that if I got a flat tyre it was race over no questions asked, but climbing off the bike that far into a race is pretty gutting and although Steve passed me by less than a minute later the gap through to 4th would have given me a fair chance of finding a solution and getting back into the race. Anyway, you make your bed and you lie in it. To be fair I don’t think any amount of sealant would have fixed the slash in the tyre although I think I may be carrying some from now on.
The next thing that crossed my mind, and hasn’t before, was “what to do next?” The short walk to the nearest marshal is suddenly much longer when you realise quite how ridiculous a tri-suit, bike shoes and aero helmet are when you’re walking down a main road on a Sunday morning! I took the helmet and shoes off for good measure, only to tread in more broken glass, I suppose I should be grateful I didn’t get hit in the head by a passing stone as well!
Many thanks to the marshal at the Gulf garage who lent me his phone to call Rob Lines and thanks to Rob and the minibus driver who subsequently picked me up in time to get back for the race finish.
Although I wasn’t having a great race I had been confident of claiming a podium finish for Team Tri Harder and disappointed to be limping home with a DNF, but these things are unfortunately part and parcel of triathlon racing and something I think we’ll all have to deal with at some point. Iain was already enroute to a much deserved victory by the time he passed me on the bike. I’d hoped to stay clear until the run, but his bike leg was storming and his run on an altogether different level. We travelled to Beijing together along with Chris Beck for the World Championships last September where he finished in the top third of his age group despite an incessant calf injury. Unfortunately for the rest of us he’s solved that issue and is getting close to the potential those of us who’ve trained with him have known about for ages. Only one person to date had gone under 43 minutes for the over-distance run at the end of the Norwich Triathlon (and that was elite triathlete Matt Ellis), so it puts things into perspective when you consider Iain ran 39.58 without another competitor in sight.
So it was an unfortunate end to my own race, but for Tri-Anglia the day was a huge success. Tamsin Lewis managed to chick all but 4 of the mens field and Iain won the race in its entirety by a considerable margin. The saving grace for me was that my skinless toes lived to fight another day and have a whole week to heal a bit more before my next race at Gosfield.