The Fritton Viking-
It was billed as “not a standard middle distance, but a double Olympic” and in hindsight it’s not a good idea if you’ve just become a dad! I’ve never raced a middle distance tri before and at the start of the season had eyed up a few just to test the water. I figured that as I was racing quite well at Olympic distance I should be fine to make the step up, and the Viking was only twice what I usually race so it can’t be that bad.
In the lead up to our daughter, Eva’s, arrival last month, training had somewhat tapered off and since her birth had been largely absent. I’d nipped out for a few 8 mile rides, hit the pool a couple of times and unfortunately had to hit running on the head completely. Still, I figured my muscles would be well rested, if a tad sleep deprived and so I signed up for the race and set about creating some perfectly unreasonable targets. Along with avidly checking the weather forecast to see if the remnants of hurricane Nadine would add insult to inevitable injury I managed to ignore what might happen after the 2 hour mark that I normally race for.
I moved into the spare room on the Saturday night and managed a full 4 hours of unbroken sleep, breaking my record for the previous 4 weeks and woke feeling distinctly apprehensive. This was compounded by the ice on the car windscreen and being told on arrival that the water temperature was a balmy 14.4 degrees! I headed down to the start with Matt Ellis, slightly hungover from a wedding the day before, but with a season of racing 70.3 on the pro circuit was still in a different league from the rest of us.
My warm up involve trying to stay out of the water for as long as possible and not for the last time in the day questioning whether racing was a good idea. Suprisingly enough the water was just about tolerable and I exited 2nd, in 46.09, a couple of minutes down on Matt. I left transition with just arm warmers in my back pocket and made a quick U-turn to grab a top before nearly crashing half a mile up the road trying to be clever putting it on whilst negotiating speed bumps! My plan for the bike had been to ride steady for the first lap, pick it up for the 2nd and 3rd and ease off a little on the last. I was fully stocked up with flapjack and QNT gels and quite looking forward to cruising along eating at will. By mile 40 I was so pleased that I hadn’t gone out all guns blazing as I was starting to fatigue and back spasms meant I had to stay off the aero bars for the remainder of the bike leg. I’d dropped into 3rd place mid way through the 2nd lap and then into 4th at the end of the last lap, finishing the bike leg in 2.09, averaging just under 22.5 mph, (having been hoping to go under 2.05). Back into transition I had another moment where I fortunately listened to my better judgement and grabbed the coke, jelly babies and gel I’d left out for the run, rather than ignoring them for a faster transition (I nearly was that stupid). Immediately I felt terrible and this was compounded by Simon Brierly telling me I had the “run of a suffering man” as shuffled past. Cheers Simon! Still, I was moving at about 6.45 min/mile pace out of the estate, quicker than I’d planned for the first 4 miles. I purposefully put the brakes on and went through the first 5K at 7.20 min/mile pace, telling myself I could always push on in the second half. A little way up the road Joe Skipper pulled up alongside, out on a training ride before his trip to Ironman Barcelona the following weekend. He kindly offered to nip up the road and check the time to 3rd, telling me people breakdown around the 8 mile mark so I was on for a podium spot. Unfortunately for me, I’m not Joe Skipper (who incidentally has just laid down an incredible mark for his first Ironman as a pro), but I am the man who broke down at 8 miles! I just completely lost it, despite huge encouragement from the marshals and friends dotted around the course I just wasn’t prepared for the distance and didn’t have enough endurance in the tank to help me out. I went through my second 5K at 7.42 pace, the 3rd 5K at 7.52 pace then started staggering around like an exhausted sleep deprived drunk/dad, ate all my sweets and gel and shuffled the final 5K at 8min/mile pace, only not giving up because it was the fastest way home! It occurred to me as every incline felt like a mountain that running 12 miles cumulatively in the last 2 months wasn’t going make this particular cross country half marathon any easier. I finished the run in 1.36, having looked back across one of the final fields to see 5th place closing me down and despite conceding defeat to my own goals I couldn’t face losing another place having spent over an hour and a half running completely on my own (quite a lonely experience when you’re suffering!). So I held onto 4th, posting a run split nearly 10mins slower than most of the athletes around me and putting myself in a hurt box I’ve never before visited. I finished in just over four and a half hours, which looking back at my training diary was only slightly less than the total training I’d managed in the 6 weeks leading up to the event! It was a lesson in what is required to race over middle distance and also in appreciation for those who make these their events. If you havn’t put the work in you get found out when you’re racing for that length of time so I definitely see middle distance and ironman finishers in a different light, and the likes of Matt Ellis who won by a country mile and Joe Skipper who has just posted an 8.23 Ironman are on a different planet.
As for whether I’ll race middle distance again, well that will depend entirely on the preparation I can manage. Fitting training around work, friends and family has meant most sessions I do are less than an hour in duration. Realistically I think this will only ever let me be competitive at Olympic Distance and shorter. Anyway, even training for an hour a day is now a pipe dream, unless changing nappies and picking up a baby has any aerobic benefit?
Still, a week on from the race and I’m now drawing the positives from it, I was competitive until towards the end of the bike leg and although the run was horrible, I’ve now finished a half marathon, which is a first. Oh, and the free T-shirt is always useful when you’re being vomited on every evening.
For now, I’m off to practice looking after a baby and training her to sleeping through the night so I can start preparing for next season. Maybe.