I don’t think I’ve raced a sprint triathlon in about 5 years but because we were involved as a sponsor race director Anthony suggested that seeing as we were going to be onsite anyway that I should race.
That was a week ago. Because of that and probably because I’m focused on long course racing I’m not particularly nervous before the start. There’s an excitement and buzz in my belly, but no real nervousness.
I am what I think of as a bike/run triathlete. I have had a relatively weak swim, the bike has always been my strength and over the years, particularly at Ironman I developed a respectable run. So when I’m racing I’m used to racing through the field after the swim.
Today however there was a part of me that thought that I might have an ok swim too. I’ve been swimming a lot and while I’m not yet as strong as I have been in previous seasons I’m not too far off.
So when I was in the water warming up and getting ready for the start I was confident and placed myself right at the front. As soon as the gun went I started hard and I was reminded just how physical a triathlon swim start can be as I got several kicks and punches. But thanks to the open water training I’ve done with Patrick where he will often whack my feet and legs just for fun it didn’t bother me at all. I just pushed through looking for clear water and a set of feet to follow.
Things settled quickly and as I was sighting I could see the first pack about 10 meters ahead of me. As I sighted again and again I realised that the gap wasn’t growing and I started to think I might be able to bridge across. I pushed hard thinking that if I caught them and could recover at the back of the group I’d be on for a really good swim. I’d never stayed this close to the first pack this long before so I took a lot of confidence from it.
Much sooner than I expected I could see a swimmer just ahead and I slotted in behind him but as I sighted again I realised he was after getting dropped from the lead pack and again I decided to push to see if I could bridge the rest of the way. My effort was high and my arms and shoulders were burning but I thought I could hold on to my pace. As we approached the first buoy I’d nearly caught them.
As we made the turn I went really wide and completely lost the pack. As I readjusted I could see them off to my left and ahead and knew that it would take a massive effort to try to close that gap again. I resigned myself to a solo swim but kept the effort high and to my surprise I mostly held the same gap to them. As we rounded the last buoy I was sighting off a big tower stack, a local guy had told me not to bother looking for the exit because the tower was exactly in line and much easier to sight off.
As I came into the last 100 meters of the swim I couldn’t see anyone exiting ahead of me and I thought that it must have been one of my best executed swims ever. I was guessing I was going to exit in the top ten at least.
My Garmin had me down as doing a 12:44 swim and 749 meters. Well done to PJ for the super accurate swim course measurement!
Being more accustomed to Ironman paced transitions I was worried that I would be very rusty and lose a bunch of time but despite feeling like I was fumbling a bit I managed to limit my losses here to about 10 seconds on the faster transitioners.
As I was exiting the T1 I saw Sean Farrell. Sean would normally be well ahead of me out of the swim and I’d be a while catching him on the bike. As it was I passed him after 1k. I thought I might well be on for a good race.
On the bike I normally take a couple of minutes to settle then start to move up through the field but almost immediately I was being caught and passed by multiple riders. One after another they rode past me while I continued to push hard but there just wasn’t any power there. The legs were burning as badly as was my pride was as I dropped further and further back. I had always thought of myself as a strong biker and here I was getting my arse handed to me.
I noted my average speed for the first 10k was 33.5kph. As we turned back into a strong headwind I reckoned it would drop further. On the way back I was passed by much less riders and I figured that most of the faster athletes had gone through. But when I checked the numbers later my average for the return leg was 36.5kph. I guess all of the long steady training didn’t really do much to prepare me to ride a hard 20k from the gun but there is some fitness there and I got gradually stronger the longer the bike went on.
T2 actually went ok again, I was far from the quickest but I also wasn’t too far off the fastest times. I had no idea what to expect from the legs after the bike, I haven’t tried to run fast like this off a hard ride in years. The first 400 meters is on a really nice trail which dragged uphill to the road where after the initial climb we were promised a flat, fast run.
My pace felt good and controlled until about half way up the hill at which point I felt comfortable pushing harder. As we turned onto the road I pushed harder again and was happy to see a 4:20 buzz on the Garmin for the first kilometre. I had hoped that I might break 20 minutes for the run and that was a good start, as long as the rest of the course was as flat as we were promised.
My effort and breathing were up to the maximum that I thought I could sustain for the 5k. I’ve had lots of practice racing this distance with at least one or two Parkrun’s most months so far this year. I was catching runners ahead and moving through steadily and no one had gone by me yet. The second kilometre clicked off in 4:03. Sub 20 would be hard now but the downhill finish might just be enough I thought to myself.
I tried to push harder after the turn to steal back some seconds and my lungs and legs were screaming at me. It seemed I was already on my limit and there wasn’t much more there as the third kilometre clicked off in 3:58. I was also passed for the first time and I surged to try to stay with him and lasted all of 30 seconds before having to back off or blow up.
I struggled a little to maintain the pace for the fourth k and used the runners ahead to keep me pushing constantly telling myself that I could ease off a little if I caught just one more runner. But of course as soon as I did I had to push on harder as the fear of losing the place I’d just gained. After what seemed like an eternity the Garmin beeped to tell me my pace had dropped to 4:05 for the fourth ‘k.
I gave one last push knowing I was less than four minutes from the end and every bit of me protested. Legs, lungs, arms, heart all screamed at me to stop. I turned down onto the last section of downhill trail to the finish and arms pinwheeling and legs flying I gave one last surge hoping to run a decent time. The Garmin buzzed for the fifth kilometre and it said I gone through it in 3:40. But I was still nowhere near the finish line. It was another 200 meters and 37 seconds before I hit the stop button. Going by the Garmin I ran a 20:08 for the 5k and 20:45 for the full run which it measured at 5.2k.
Takeaways from the race.
My swim is in great shape considering I’ve only got 2.5 months of decent, consistent training done so far. Patrick has to take a lot of the credit for this.
I found the bike very disappointing. I’ve never had so many people go by me before but as Ais said afterwards we haven’t trained to be strong or powerful on the bike yet. In fact the bike was the one area that we’d decided to sacrifice for the first couple of months because it would be so hard to get long, hard bikes done on top of the really heavy work schedule we knew I’d have for the summer. That’s starting to change now as my work load eases over the next two to three weeks.
I was happy with my running despite the fact that I missed going sub 20. I reckon I could have held on to close to 4 minute kilometres for double the distance if I had to. Of course it’s easy to say that from the comfort of a keyboard a couple of days later when the pain of the run is mostly forgotten.
Races like this are a great way to assess where we actually are fitness wise as opposed to how I feel I am doing just based on training. Racing exposes any weaknesses but also highlights strengths so despite the disappointing bike it’s actually good to learn those lessons now rather than in three months.
Thanks to Anthony, Andrea, PJ and all the gang at Lanesboro triathlon club for putting one of the best run and most enjoyable races I’ve done.