After a week of cold weather, high winds and heavy rain the prospect of swimming in a Cambridgshire river was even less appealing that its name- The Great Ouse. The St Neot’s series are great events, but with a river swim and transition and parking set up on the flood plain it looked quite possible the race would be cancelled. Now, no matter how miserable the conditions there aren’t many of us who would rather not race than endure the worst that mother nature can throw at us. Fortunately, water temperature remained a fraction above the 11.5C cut off and there were no signs of flooding. Despite this I still only narrowly missed a DNS by cutting it rather fine and arriving as transition was closing. Very kindly I was allowed to quickly set up, but despite doing this Triathlon lark for a few years now I still managed to forget most of what I needed to do!
It was a two lap course with an open water start mid-river and half a dozen of us reached the first buoy already 25metres or so behind a lone front swimmer. I’ve not been swimming much this season so was fairly pleased to make the turn in 3rd and soon moved into 2nd and settled into a decent rhythm well behind the leader but extending the gap to 3rd. It stayed that way for what seemed like a rather long time (but then I always find the first open water swim of the years seems the longest) and I exited the water without hypothermia, but well behind the lead swimmer.
Into transition to find my sunglasses on the floor, my helmet straps all tied up and my bike shoes attached, but not hooked up with elastic bands. I got my helmet on at the third attempt and hopped on to my bike just after the mount line only to knock my shoe off! Back off the bike, grabbed my shoe and finally onto the course only to notice I hadn’t attached my gels properly and I was left with one small, lonely gel. New, reduced nutritional strategy, but I figured I’d be OK as it was sufficiently cold out on the bike I couldn’t imagine sweating much over the next hour!
With the Super Sprint and Sprint competitors already on the bike route (the Standard race is run over two laps), there was plenty of overtaking to be done, creating congestion at various points on the course. Generally the bike route is great, a rolling course on fast roads, but with a horrible last couple of miles that involves 7 or 8 mini roundabouts. This always means you are at the mercy of others and lady luck needs to be on your side to get a clear passage back into town. I’d say I had fair fortune, only stopping a couple of times and never for more than a few seconds. I was trying to ride on perceived effort rather than speed as the cold, windy conditions with wind gusts of 35mph+ meant nobody was going to be breaking any records. I was hopeful that I wasn’t going to lose any places on the bike and keen to see signs of the lead athlete. This never happened and I came back into T2 on my lonesome with no idea of the gap to 1st or 3rd. I’d averaged a shade under 24 mph and will aim to nudge that up on the next race over the same course.
T2 was fortunately less eventful than the first and I started the run grateful that I’d worn toe covers on my bike shoes, but still with painfully cold feet. I settled in to a pace a shade under 6 min/miles, which felt comfortable without blowing a gasket but strong enough to make headway into the leader. The bonus of a 4 lap course is working out how others are doing and although the course was busy I figured out I was around 3 mins behind the leader on the first lap, a bridge to far to close. I’ve been aiming to run sub 6min/mile pace for 10km off the bike this season so I kept ticking over at that pace until the last lap when I eased up a little to try and preserve my aching feet as much as possible as it was clear I was firmly in second.
Overall I was pleased with the race and I don’t think I suffered too much for my last minute nutritional strategy change! Although with a long swim (approx 1750m courtesy of the strong winds moving the buoys!) and a 45km bike it was a long Olympic distance race and I’ll definitely make sure I’ve got plenty of fuel for the next race. I’d left myself far too much to do coming out of the water with a 2 minute deficit, I’m hoping to upgrade my wetsuit before the next race following a trip to the TriHarder shop, but I can’t shy away from the fact that I need to spend some time in the pool if I’m going to get my swim back to previous years levels. The bike was OK, but again there’s room for improvement before the second race in the series and I felt OK on the run for this early stage of the season. Enough to be positive about going into the next race and it was a strong turnout for the TriHarder athletes with Becky winning the Womens Sprint Race and Iain Robertson coming second in the Mens Sprint Race.
My racing calendar is purposefully quieter this year and I’m hopeful that longer breaks between races will allow me to get in decent blocks of training that I usually miss out on with constant tapering and recovering from regular racing. Hopefully that will enable me to see a better progression through the next 3 months (providing I can stay relatively injury free . . . . . .)