I did my first triathlon in September 2006 (a pool-based sprint) just a few weeks after a knee operation for a knee condition/injury that had the medical profession telling me that I should never run again. I think the triathlon was my way of proving that I *could* still run, whilst at the same time shifting some of the emphasis onto other sports. Considering the state of my health and fitness at that time, I did OK, but more importantly, I enjoyed the event and even purchased a cheap ex-hire wetsuit that same month anticipating that I would do more. Sadly, being the end of the season – and starting a Law degree a few weeks later – I didn’t do my next triathlon until August 2014 (London). I performed pretty well at London in 2014 – my first Olympic Distance event and my first ever swim in open water (I hadn’t even done any practise swims!) I promised that I would do more – but my work situation in 2015 saw me only enter one triathlon – another pool-based sprint close to home. Again, I performed reasonably well and I committed to making 2016 my first ‘proper’ season.
My goals for the season were simple (insofar as I had given them any thought before the season finished!):
Olympic distance PB and to be equal to or better than 115% of the Age Group winner in all of my events.
The short version of the season review is simply this: I achieved my goals!
The (much) more detailed review follows and my more detailed race reports/reviews can be found on the Race Check website – a fantastic resource that I thoroughly commend – by clicking HERE.
Although I did achieve my goals in their simple form, and although I did not have a great start to the season, what did become very evident is that I have a lot to learn and improve upon: I also need to set some more detailed goals going forward from here (providing I can fix my injuries and can stay with triathlon).
Anyway, onto a review of the season in numbers (and some words):
CASTLE SERIES: LOUGH CUTRA
- O/All Position: 25/253
- Age Group Position: 8/73
- Swim: 25:38
- T1: 1:50
- Bike: 1:16:32
- T2: 1:39
- Run: 42:55
- Total Time: 2:28:33 (113% of AG 1st)
Lough Cutra was the first event of the season. I had been suffering from a debilitating, persistent chest infection since just after Christmas and my struggle to get anywhere near sub-20 minutes at my local parkrun (PB of 18:54 and 3 consecutive sub 19 minute runs in December 2015) was an indicator of my respiratory condition since Christmas.
To make matters worse, I had suffered a serious gash on the base of my heel practising a flying mount a fortnight before the event.
I had taken advantage of an opportunity to attend a ‘transition workshop’ at the Leeds Triathlon Centre under the guidance of full-time coach Liam O’Neill. Transitions have been a weakness in my racing and what I learnt there in those short hours filled me with hope and confidence; that was until my foot slipped off my shoe practising the flying mount and my heel made contact with the chainring. As a result, it was several weeks before I was able to put any weight on my right heel without either opening the cut or searing pain. And so I wasn’t expecting to perform fantastically at Lough Cutra – but, as is always the case with me – I publicly express my reservations but inwardly harbour the hope that ‘everything will be ok’. Well, it was and it wasn’t: I didn’t do too badly.
I had a great swim and I felt like the bike went reasonably well; historically, I haven’t trained on the bike during late autumn and the winter months and 2015/16 had been no exception to that rule (although it will be different in this forthcoming close season!) As a result, my bike fitness and strength wasn’t yet fully race developed, but it was (unsurprisingly) the run that really let me down.
- O/All Position: 288/1579
- Age Group Position: 46/291
- Swim 25:52
- T1: 7:10
- Bike: 1:06:34
- T2: 2:08
- Run: 44:22
- Total Time: 2:26:05 (112% of AG 1st)
Both the triumph of the elite race and the debacle that was the age group are well documented. Naturally, it was my misfortune to be participating in the debacle. I had my reservations about this race when signing up to it (8 months or so before the event) – the split transition: how was that going to work? I just assumed that they knew what they were doing. There was a noticeable lack of communication from the organisers since sign-up – but regular visits to the website suggested they were on it; they weren’t.
Race numbers and wave times and some information was circulated a week in advance – but only a limited amount, and what was provided gave rise to significant concerns; the detailed stuff was promised ‘before the weekend’. It wasn’t published as promised. When it was eventually published it raised even more questions than it answered and I mentally withdrew from the race.
Following some Twitter activity, I was invited by the head of culture and sport at leeds City Council to raise my concerns directly with him. I did that and, to his credit, he very quickly acknowledged the shortcomings and promised to take it up with the organisers – Ironman UK. Supplementary information was promised – and delivered – but it still didn’t go far enough to fully alleviate my concerns.
As race day approached – my informal withdrawal began to bother me: what example was I setting to my nephew – the indomitable #BeMoreBailey? I had to see it through – especially as he had fronted the campaign to sign-up volunteers and he was due to present me with my finisher’s medal. And so at the 11th Hour – I set out to Leeds to register and set up my 2 transitions. I had trained very hard in the week leading lead up to the race when I should have been on reduced volume. My training had been extra-intense partly because of my anger and frustration with the organisation. I was very concerned about the swim – 200 or so triathletes introduced into the water every 3 minutes – not on predicted times or in age-group – just randomly generated waves. I predicted a bloodbath and a complete inability to put in a decent swim. And so I made the very clear decision that I would take part but that I would treat it as nothing more than a swim, a bike and a run: a bit of training. And that was precisely how I ‘raced’ the event: not as a race but as race specific training.
The swim was as bad as I anticipated it would be and T1 was a joke. What I hadn’t anticipated was the knock on effect that the volume of swimmers released into the water in rapid succession would have on the bike course; there were riders EVERYWHERE: novices and poor discipline was very evident and it was absolutely clear to me that there was no way you could ‘put the hammer down’.
Issues with T2 are well documented and the run was uninspiring laps – with considerable confusion about exactly how many times you had to go through the gantry before you cross the finish line (the number of laps on the day was different to what was advertised in the race documentation).
I finished the race – and on reviewing the results – there were some pretty good times; some people had clearly raced the event and had done well. As it transpired, my performance relative to the AG winner wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated it would be, which gave me cause to be satisfied with my performance given that I genuinely had not put a race effort in.
CASTLE SERIES: CHOLMONDELEY CASTLE.
- O/All Position: 27/191
- Age Group Position: 3/54
- Swim 29:09
- T1: 1:26
- Bike: 1:16:48
- T2: 1:21
- Run: 40:21
- Total Time: 2:29:05 (102% of AG 1st
I was expecting to put a good performance in at Cholmondeley Castle; my heel injury had healed (no pun intended), although walking on my toes for a few weeks had caused some tightness and soreness in my achilles tendon (which prevailed all season).
The swim involved an Australian exit – 2 laps of an out and back course. The swim start was in fairly shallow water and the bottom had been stirred up – the water was not particularly attractive. I had a poor swim; I didn’t get free from the fracas until the first turn – about 400m. I took a full-fist punch in the back of my head at one point and it was an absolute free for all with arms and legs. I think I’d had such a disturbing and stressful swim up to the turn-point that I never really got into a settled rhythm.
The bike felt really tough once out onto the open road – even the flat bit right at the beginning – there were a couple of really tough hills, but on the whole it was a steady ride. I was running a road bike with a compact chainset (50-34); on reflection, this was a course suited to a TT-setup; whilst the 2 hills were pretty brutal, they were short and sharp. I made good progress through the field – on the climbs, on the flat and going downhill.
T2 went reasonably well and it was out onto a run course that – for a Castle Triathlon – featured a fair bit more in the way of road. It was largely a flat run apart from a long (off-road) section up to the castle, followed by a downhill. The run was a 2-lap course (for the Olympic) and shared the course with the Gauntlet (half-iron distance) save that they did an additional out and back section midway through the lap.
I passed Bailey’s dad shortly after starting the 2nd lap, and based on the fact that he had started in the wave before me, this confirmed my feeling that I was going well and gave me some extra-zip. I then got a pull up the hill on the second lap when the (eventual) women’s Gauntlet winner came past me with such freshness and such a spring in her step that I resolved to dig in a little bit more. I managed to stay on her shoulder as we crested the hill – and then, as I started to sense the finish line, she looked over her shoulder and invited me to pass saying ‘go on, I’ve got another 13Km to go!’ – that invitation gave me another kick and I finished the event strong.
Although I felt like it had been a good race for me – I didn’t for a minute think that I’d done enough to podium – however, when I went to print my results I noticed that it said that I was 3rd in my category and my first ever visit to the podium duly followed!
JENSON BUTTON TRIATHLON: ELIMINATOR ROUND.
- O/All Position:53/374
- Age Group Position: 15/85
- Swim 4:04
- T1: 1:16
- Bike: 18:08
- T2: 0:48
- Run: 9:49
- Total Time: 34:04 (111% of AG 1st)
The Jenson Button Triathlon is – as far as I am aware – a rather unique event. It starts in the morning with an ‘Eliminator’ round – or a qualifying round. Everybody races over a super-sprint course: a 200m swim, a 10km bike and a 2.5km run. The top 50 men and top 50 women will then race in a ‘final’ over double the distance – a sprint (400m swim, 20km bike and a 5Km run).
The distance was, perhaps, on the short side for me. In my experience, the older athletes are more suited to the longer events that require a bot of stamina and endurance; the younger athletes tend to have the speed but lack a bit of the endurance and stamina of the older athletes – but I don’t know whether the science would support that!
I hoped that I would ‘make the cut’ but I wasn’t altogether confident. I had looked at the results from the previous year and thought that I was capable (on the past results), but it always depends upon who turns up on the day.
The swim was fast and frantic – and I didn’t enjoy it; the bike involved a relatively steady climb once out on the open road up to a turn point, which saw you come back on yourself and an opportunity to enjoy some speed. The bike took place on closed roads and was relatively flat with a run into the city centre and a short technical loop before heading back on the wide closed roads and into the park. It was a course suited to a TT set-up and I was riding the compact chainset on my road bike – so I think I missed out on some free time there. The run was through the park – again, fairly flat – with a little bit of a hill through a wooded section. I finished with a time that would have seen me scrape through in the previous year, but I had my doubts that I had done enough. As it happened – I had done just enough – and by just enough, I mean JUST enough. I scraped through as the 50th male (3 females had gone quicker than me).
JENSON BUTTON TRIATHLON: GRAND FINAL.
- O/All Position:41/48
- Age Group Position: 11/15
- Swim 5:53
- T1: 0:59
- Bike: 33:11
- T2: 0:53
- Run: 20:35
- Total Time: 1:01:30 (108% of AG 1st)
Having just scraped into the Grand Final by the skin of my teeth, I was gravely concerned that I was going to be humiliated. The weather on the day of the event was superb; gloriously sunny and hot – but that also had its disadvantages: there was quite a long period between the qualifier and the final and very little shade. I did my best to stay hydrated and worried about the impending humiliation. The top-50 women raced before the men and on the conclusion of their race, it was our turn.
The swim was just as frantic as it had been in the eliminator: least said about it the better. As for the bike – well, if there was any doubt about a TT setup being an advantage in the eliminator, that doubt was eliminated in the grand final. The flattish course with long straight sections – over 2-laps for the grand final – was TT heaven: I didn’t have the TT bike advantage and I put every ounce of effort in to compensate. When I started on the run, the effort that I had put into the bike was immediately evident. As I completed my first lap of the run, I was lapped by the 3 lead runners – Dijkstra, Willis and Bishop – no shame in that, I suppose… I managed to improve my overall position from the eliminator round and when the women’s race results are added into the mix, I was only beaten by 2 ladies – Emma Pallant and Katie Synge – so again, no shame there either! All in all – I was reasonably happy with my performance over the shorter distance (with a less than ideal bike set-up).
CASTLE SERIES: CASTLE HOWARD.
- Overall Position: 33/325
- Age Group Position: 6/76
- Swim: 28:39
- T1: 1:29
- Bike: 1:21:54
- T2: 1:13
- Run: 44:29
- Total: 2:37:42 (105% of AG 1st)
Castle Howard – I recall driving up the long uphill drag onto the estate in 2015 to watch my nephew #BeMoreBailey take part in his first triathlon (little did I – or anybody – know would flow from that) and I vividly recall thinking to myself ‘I’m glad I’m not cycling up here’. And so I approached my first Castle Howard triathlon with some trepidation. Brian (Race Director) had tried telling me that Castle Howard wasn’t as tough as Hever, and wasn’t actually ‘that bad’. Castle Triathlon series stalwart, Steve Berry had also suggested the same… but I was yet to be convinced.
And after completing Castle Howard – I can say that the though of taking on the Hever course terrified me! Castle Howard was – without any doubt – the toughest triathlon I have ever taken on.
Castle Howard – the estate and the surrounding countryside – is breathtakingly beautiful, but the bike and run course are brutal! Long, sometimes steep and sometimes steeper and very occasionally a bit shallower, hills abound – both on the bike and on the run. I tackled the course on the road bike set-up (50-34 with a 11-28) and really attacked the course. The bike course is on decent quiet roads – I don’t recall much traffic at all, but if there was any, I tend to recall the roads being wide enough (and with sufficient visibility) to allow traffic to pass with ease. I was passed on the long uphill climb back into the estate by the first 3 Gauntlet riders. I have to say that the ‘whoosh’ and whistling noise as Elliot Smales – Gauntlet lead – flew past me on the uphill section lifted me somewhat – I thought “just how is THAT possible” – and “if he can go that fast, then I’m sure I can lift it that little bit” – and I did. I was happy with my bike – but it took a huge amount out of me.
The run was equally brutal. The first bit is downhill – the first mile or so – downhill or flat… but then you start climbing. I was passed by a girl in a blue trisuit. I thought it was Hana Kolarova. Now, Hanna is a great athlete – get swimmer and a super-strong biker, but I saw how much Alice Jenkins had taken out of her on the Gauntlet in July at Hever (I had helped out at the Bastion held at Hever Castle in July). And having held onto Alice at Cholmondeley on the uphill section (and her letting me pass her on the downhill section), I had it in mind that I should be able to match Hana. But the girl in the blue trisuit left me standing. I could not match her stride pattern and my head dropped. The last 1Km seemed to take forever and I have never been happier to see the finish line.
When I came to look at the results – I realised that the girl in the blue trisuit wasn’t Hana after all (probably Dionne Allen); and so that was a lesson learned! I had actually put a better time in on the run than Hana (consistent with what I had thought should have been the case) – but I had nevertheless let my spirit be broken by an inaccurate belief. If I had stayed positive, kept my chin up, there is a chance that I might have taken half a minute off my actual finish time; I definitely dropped off the pace when I realised the blue trisuit had broken me.
My finish time at Castle Howard was (initially) a personal disappointment – but in the days afterwards – after seeing the results and the times of other athletes, I was less disappointed. Castle Howard is a tough, tough course – the toughest I had completed to date (and, spoiler alert: in my mind, it remains the toughest I have ever done), but as tough and as brutal as it is – it is rewarding to take on such a challenging course.
- Overall Position: 38/3363
- Age Group Position: 5/269
- Swim: 26:24
- T1: 2:55
- Bike: 58:27
- T2: 2:34
- Run: 42:59
- Total: 2:13:17 (105% of AG 1st)
London 2014 was my first Olympic Distance triathlon – and remained my PB. In my mind – London was a fast bike and a ‘short’ 10Km (in 2014 – I really don’t think it was an accurate 10km, but difficult to say because the route takes 3 trips inside the Exel arena where GPS is lost). And so I was filled with confidence that I would beat my 2014 Olympic Distance PB of 2:20:[…..].
The conditions for the race were not perfect – quite unlike 2014 when they really couldn’t have been any better. Having said that, the conditions could have been far worse – the only real issue was the wind, which obviously impacted on the bike course, but also had an impact on the swim.
My first open water triathlon (indeed first ever open water, wetsuit swim) had been London 2014. I was taken by surprise by the chaotic start and I’ve never been comfortable in the water since. The plan here was to go out hard and try to get into clean water early. In 2014 I had started at the back and found myself (much to my surprise) to be much faster than most of the rest and found myself trying to make my way through the chaos of thrashing arms and legs. Bailey’s dad and I watched proceedings on Saturday and I noticed that the bulk of the masses were going to the outsides of the start line – the middle section being rather thin on the ground. So my plan was to start in the middle – hit the front and hang on in there. Sadly, that didn’t work out – I found myself in the thick of it all the way down to the first turn (about 500m). I was being buffeted from both sides and had someone, not just clipping my toes, but clawing at my calves. It was as disturbing as it was annoying. When it came to the first turn, I found myself on top of the person in front, who had naturally slowed to make the 90 degree right turn and I took a hefty kick under the chin: my own fault for not anticipating that the pace would slow. That was the last straw: I eased off and let the pack I was swimming with go and tried to find some space. When I made the next turn, I was hit with the wind. The wind was causing a considerable chop on the water and it was as if every other breath that I took was met with a face full of water. It was then that I saw two swimmers just ahead of me literally swimming side-by-side. I have read about the benefits of drafting and decided that I would give it a go: I moved up and tucked in behind them. It worked a treat; the ‘chop’ on the water disappeared and I swam comfortably in their wake and settled into a rhythm. Once I settled into that rhythm, however, I soon realised that I was capable of swimming much quicker than my wind-break. I had to occasionally take a check-stroke to maintain my position but decided to stay where I was but when we hit the next turn, I left the protection of the duo and made towards the finish on my own.
In 2014, I thought it was a long trek to T1 – well, by now being a bit of a veteran – I can say that it isn’t a particularly long trek at all, and apart from the staircase up to the exhibition hall, it’s an easy trek. T1 went well, and I was out on the bike.
I remembered the London course being flat – very flat – and this was the first outing (race outing) on my TT set-up. I’d spent a couple of weeks training on it since Castle Howard and I was confident that I had developed sufficient strength to handle the 53-39. I wasn’t quite prepared for the wind; and the wind was pretty strong. It is also fair to say that it wasn’t quite as flat as I recalled – partly because I was doing the Tower Hill route this time rather than the Westminster route that I did last time. The run from Tower Hill down to Westminster (and back) is extremely fast and completely flat. The Tower Hill route misses that bit out and as a result you do a bit more of the (very slightly) lumpier bit to make up for the missing distance. Despite everything, I put in a bike performance that I was very happy with.
T2 went well and I was off out on the run. In 2014, I was sure it was closer to 9Km rather than 10Km (possibly even less) – the same in 2015 (told to me by other). The route, however, had changed for 2016 and – although it came back into Exel and so there was GPS dropout – I had put a footpod on my shoe – and there is no doubt that this was a full 10Km. My run wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either. I was a good couple of minutes down on what I would have hoped for, but I had put a very strong performance in on the bike – very possibly overcooking it – and I think I paid for it on that run.
I did, however, finish with a massive PB – taking 7 minutes off my 2014 time (despite my belief that the Tower Hill bike route is tougher). I was also pleased with my overall finish position and Age Group finish position.
CASTLE SERIES: THE GAUNTLET AT CHATEAU DE CHANTILLY.
- Overall Position: 47/353
- Age Group Position: 13/296
- Swim: 34:54
- T1: 2:31
- Bike: 2:36:56
- T2: 3:03
- Run: 1:45:08
- Total: 5:03:21 (106% of AG 1st)
This was to be my first attempt at the longer Middle Distance event. As soon as London was done – what I think I had in mind as my goal race for the year – I realised that I hadn’t really thought this through. Firstly, this was a significant step up in distance, and secondly, at the hottest time of the year (and in France – hotter than UK). Suddenly, I began to panic a little.
I had less than 3 weeks to get race ready. Of course, I was olympic distance ‘fit’, but I’d never (at any time in my training) done a bike ride over 25 miles – ever. I also hadn’t run a half marathon since February – I hadn’t run anything longer than 6 miles for several months.
I had no concerns about the swim – apart from that mass start – but 400m extra was neither here nor there. I regularly swam 3000m plus in one hit in my open water sessions – at a consistent pace not much less than my 1500m race pace.
I kept bike training at around 20 miles but did get in one ride of 50 miles – and had no problems. I even coupled it with a 4 mile run as brick session: this was the week prior to the race. I had also thrown in a 10 mile road race (which was over a fairly hilly course on a hot day). I’d managed a negative split and ran quicker than a 7 minute/mile average pace. I did a 10Km road race the week after – again, a negative split and again, keeping some in the tank (and on a very windy day) – and I finished in a few seconds over 40minutes. All was looking pretty good, although I would have liked to have done a bit more, I was now only really concerned about the heat.
It was hot in France – very hot. Chateau de Chantilly is a beautiful place and it looked as though the reports of a fairly flat course were right. On the day of the race, we all lined up – all 400 of us – across the width of the Grand Canal. On the hooter we all headed towards a fairly narrow gate; the swim was (for someone who doesn’t like close proximity swimming) horrendous. I never settled at all and had swimming fisticuffs pretty much the whole way around the course until the final turn down to the exit ramp.
Out on the bike, I was struck by how considerate the French drivers were. The roads were quiet, the route had fantastic traffic control and filter lanes – but my abiding memory is how considerate the drivers were – what few of them there were. The cars were seemingly content to be held-up by slow cyclists for miles – and when you drew up behind them, because they were held up by a slower cyclist in front, they’d move out towards the centre line and invite you to pass them on the inside. It is fair to say that I had been concerned about the ride – worried about how I’d get on riding on the opposite side of the road and deal with junctions and French drivers – but it was the most pleasurable 50 miles I’ve ever ridden. It was a little windy on an exposed section of the course – but I felt as though I;d had a really good bike. Again, I put plenty of effort in. This was also the first time that I’d adopted a nutrition strategy. For Olympic distance races – I hadn’t used gels or energy drinks – happy to drink just water. I have never been able to stomach the rich, syrupy gels – but I’d recently found High-5 isogels (with Caffeine) and in my one and only long ride (I’d adopted a ‘isogel every 30-45 minutes’ strategy – in line with what the very helpful High-5 literature suggests). I’ve since started using isogels for my olympic distance races (immediately getting on the bike – then every 30-45 minutes).
I came into T2 feeling strong. Yes, I’d worked very hard on the bike but I felt great. I started the run and felt good. Bailey’s dad told me what position I was and how many places I’d made up on the field from the swim. This was going better than I could have hoped for.
I was running comfortably at 7:10-7:30 min/mile. I had a couple of isogels and a bottle of Lucozade sport in my hand. It was getting warm but the first part of the course is quite shaded. Drinking the Lucozade – I realised I’d made a mistake – it was too rich, far too rich – I think in retrospect, I should have watered it down. The isogels were fine – although by the second one – which probably added up to 6 taken in total – I could feel my stomach churning a little; I think 6 is probably my limit and in future, I will probably replace 1 or 2 of the isogels with some solid nutrition on the bike (what am I saying: in the future???!). I ended the first lap at or around 50 minutes – this was looking good and I was feeling strong still – although I was feeling the heat and the sun from the exposed the second half of the lap. As I rounded the fountain to start my second lap – Bailey’s dad shouted encouragement and told me that I was ‘having a stormer’ or words to that effect. But that was when it all started to go wrong.
You joined the main lap by running up a very steep ramp. I headed out into the woods and soon afterwards the Garmin vibrated to signal that I’d clocked up another mile: in 9 minutes! 9 MINUTES! Surely that was some mistake? GPS must have been lost or something… but when it vibrated again – over 10 minutes – despite thinking that – and feeling that – I was running at the same pace and intensity, I clearly wasn’t; I’d fallen off a cliff and I have no idea why – even to this day. I sipped at the Lucozade, I took water at the water stops every 2Km – what actually went wrong, I just don’t know – but I was losing time with every mile. I rallied after a volunteer gave me a 4-cup-shower at a water station – I put in an 8 minute/mile – but then I slipped back to the 10 minute/miles.
Brian, the Race Director, had asked me prior to the race what time I was aiming for: I told him that I didn’t have a time in mind but I was expecting to be closer to 6 hours rather than 5 hours – Brian predicted that I’d do 5 hrs. His prediction was slightly better than mine – I was 3 minutes over the 5hr mark. I was disappointed though – at the halfway mark on the run, I could have been closer to the 4:45 mark and, in all honesty, that is probably where I should be.
On reflection: as I write this season review – I can perhaps pull two things from the last 2 races (Chantilly and London) – I underperformed on the run. I faded. I accept that I haven’t run well this year – but I do wonder if this is because I have put too much in on the bike; that I haven’t got the balance right yet – that or that I’m maybe not properly adjusted to the 53-39 yet? Maybe I need to adopt power?
- Overall Position: 20/216
- Age Group Position: 1/33
- Swim: 29:20
- T1: 1:04
- Bike: 1:20:01
- T2: 1:06
- Run: 34:56
- Total: 2:26:26 AG 1st place
Leeds was a last minute addition into my race diary. I was very disappointed at how I’d fallen apart in the run at Chantilly. Soon after arriving back on UK soil I was looking for a local (ish) race and Leeds was the obvious choice.
I arrived at the venue very early; one of the first to arrive. I took my time setting up transition. Fellow competitors, who were steadily arriving, were relaxed and easy to talk to and I had the good fortune to strike up conversation with an athlete who had competed in this event since inception. He was the sourced of excellent intelligence on the bike course in particular – all of which proved to be highly accurate and incredibly helpful.
Briefing took place in transition and there were a number of last minute changes to format – notably the swim, which would now be a 2 lap affair mirroring the swim that the elites had undertaken at the WTS event earlier in the year.
The swim got underway from with waves comprised in age-groups. The wave was relatively sparse compared to most of my events this year – I would estimate around 60 competitors in my wave. I had a reasonably comfortable swim as a consequence of the numbers involved. The run up to transition was on a par with that at Castle Howard – a long uphill trek that seemed to go on forever. It was a relatively uneventful T1 and it was clear that my swim had been a good one; I was one of the first from my wave into T1.
The bike started with a tough uphill climb that tested the legs and made the quads burn, but that long, steady climb was followed by a lengthy downhill straight that saw what was up until that point a disappointing average speed soon climb to a very respectable number: sadly, I wasn’t able to hold onto that respectable number as the miles rolled by. The section before the turnaround is poor quality road surface and its a tough ride. Whilst you initially retrace the route from the turnaround, the route breaks off and heads up through East Keswick and Wike – I’d been warned that there was a tough climb through East Keswick, and when I hit a tough climb taking in East Keswick, I mentally ticked it off. It came as a surprise to find that there was an even tougher climb just afterwards (going into Wike, I think) – which in retrospect, must have been the one that I was warned about! The route back to Roundhay was on narrower country roads and I was held up behind a delivery lorry for quite a long period – which was very frustrating as I felt that I had been having a decent ride up until that point.
The run was a 3-lap affair, mostly off-road, but not what I would call ‘cross-country’ type train; it was flat parkland/sports-field. The most notable feature was an extremely steep hill; extremely steep. It wasn’t a full 10km (nor was it advertised as such) – it was just over 9Km. I had a very good run and was very happy with my performance given that I had struggled with my run all season – especially after falling apart on the second half of the run in Chantilly. I had plenty of energy going up the steep hill and I finished strong – especially after a tough bike.
Soon after finishing, I lined up to print off my results, which revealed that I was (at that point) first in Age Group – it took a while for it to be confirmed that all my age group had started in the same wave and therefore it was a confirmed result. I was, naturally, over-joyed to get my first ever AG victory and it was a real confidence boost going into Hever. The bike course here had been tough, and whilst the run was shorter than 10Km, it wasn’t an easy run with it being three (relatively uninspiring) laps with a big, steep hill involved: I was race ready for Hever!
CASTLE SERIES: HEVER CASTLE.
- Overall Position: 74/777
- Age Group Position: 17/221
- Swim: 26:16
- T1: 1:47
- Bike: 1:13:57
- T2: 1:33
- Run: 56:50
- Total: 2:40:22 (110% of AG 1st)
Although I should have been coming into this race feeling positive after Leeds – my last triathlon – I was anything but positive.
So where did it all go wrong?
I had taken part in a 24Hr ultra-race the previous week (as part of a team). I ran a total of 60Km in 24 hours (6 x 10km largely off-road laps as a relay) and so it is fair to say that, with only 7 days rest, I wasn’t exactly fully recovered. However, it was much worse than that.
The night prior to the 24hr run, I had jarred my hip when I failed to spot a depression in the ground as I was running around the field on which we were camping – my left foot found the ‘hole’ – and being unprepared for the extra distance before my foot made contact with the ground – I felt the shock and pain shoot up my body. I ran it off and thought no more about it until I laid down that night to (try to) sleep: I was in agony however I tried to get comfortable – on my back, on my side or on my front. I managed to run my first 10km lap at just over 40 minutes, the next one at about 45 minutes – but I was already telling the team that I was struggling. I soldiered on, but by my 6th and final lap – I was reduced to walking the steep downhill sections as each foot strike felt like a dagger being driven into my hip/lower back.
I had some treatment immediately after the event and then saw Richard of SixPhysios on the Saturday before the triathlon. Following a short consultation, he identified something in the middle of my back and after some further investigation came to the conclusion that my 12th rib was displaced. I had some treatment and actually slept very well. It was the first night for a week that I had not been in pain whilst laid down. On getting up on the morning of the race, my hip/lower back still felt stiff and sore, but I was hopeful that I would be ok. And largely, I was!
I had my best swim of the season (the swim course at Hever Castle – incorporating a swim down a section of the River Eden – is both interesting and unique) and despite being held up several times by traffic on the bike course, I came off the bike in pretty good shape. As I racked my bike in T2, I was feeling extremely positive. Going on my typical run time – having looked at my watch in T2 – I realistically believed I was on for completing the race in under 2hrs 30mins; considerably better than I could have anticipated.
Things were going well! Although I had been publicly expressing reservations about my ability to even complete the event during the previous week, I had been secretly harbouring the hope that it all might just work out – and it was! Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.
Soon after starting the run, I could feel the stabbing pain in my hip and lower back; I also noticed that my respirations were far shallower than usual; I didn’t have the usual zip going up the first long hill, and my pace over the first mile was circa 8 min/mile; I was disappointed to see this displayed on the Garmin – but I reminded myself that the first mile had been largely uphill. Despite the breathing problem and the painful hip/back – I was making forward progress through the field and I kept at the forefront of my mind, as I passed the halfway mark, that I had only been passed by 2 runners and I was passing dozens: I was still going strong. Sadly, that wasn’t to last and I broke down on the run with 3Km left to go.
As I trotted up the hill just before 7Km, the stabbing pain in my hip/lower back increased exponentially and I was reduced to a walk. Almost as soon as I stopped running, I became angry with myself for ‘giving in’ to the pain and after just half a dozen strides, I started to run again – but it was futile. Again – I stopped, and again I felt angry and ashamed: #BeMoreBailey – I told myself – and again, I started to run, but again, I faltered and reluctantly gave up the fight.
I was passed by plenty as I made my way to the finish line; of course – I mustered a run up the finish straight, but it was a disappointing time and a disappointing end to the season.
Having worked out the AG percentage for this race – I am genuinely stunned: this was not a good race for me: it was the worst by a significant and substantial margin – which perhaps just goes to show how much progress I had made over the season.
The only positive I can take from the race (apart from a great weekend in a great atmosphere shared with wonderful people) is that I maintained my 100% record of staying within 115% of the Age Group winner – though quite how I managed that here is beyond me!
–Post-Hever recovery (06.10.16)–
When I had been seen by Richard of SixPhysio at Hever the day before my race – after addressing the rib issue – he had suggested that there was still a skeletal issue that needed to be addressed. He thought that something appeared to be ‘locked’ and it was outside of his experience/competence/professional field and he had suggested that I probably needed to see a chiropractor or osteopath.
I had a very easy few days after Hever and hoped that things might begin to settle down and resolve itself. Unfortunately, the injury was not resolving and if anything, issues were increasing – painful abdominals, pain radiating to my groin, pain down the inside of my leg and in my hamstring. I therefore sought out recommendations for an osteopath/chiropractor and the same name repeatedly came forward – Kevin Beckwith.
I am incredibly relieved to say that – in very quick time – the osteopath was able to diagnose the issue as ‘anterior subluxation of the sacroiliac joint’ (I think I have recalled it correctly). Apparently a difficult and unusual injury that is quite uncommon; telling me that it was more usual to suffer a posterior subluxation. I understand – in simple terms – this is a dislocation. The Osteopath expressed surprise that I had managed to continue to function at a relatively high level in spite of this injury, stating that the main difference between the posterior and anterior variant is that the anterior dislocation is ‘acutely painful’.
The relocation of the joint was swift and (almost?) pain-free; there might have been a split second of pain – I can’t really recall because what really struck me dumb were the rapid fire ‘cracks’ – about 3 of them, I think. I laid there thinking that my back had just been broken! He had, of course, warned me that I would hear a crack – but I was still taken by surprise. It all happened extremely quickly and the relief from some of the pain/symptoms was instantaneous.
I was advised that the prognosis was very good and that I could probably resume normal training within a couple of weeks; I obviously needed to let things settle down – for the muscles to release etc. Apparently, most of my left side had gone into spasm to protect the injury site.
A day later and I’m feeling 100% better but there is still some stiffness and soreness that feels like muscle soreness/fatigue.
And so now I can start thinking about 2017…