Big Cow Triathlon 2012 – Race Report

May 27th 2012, Big Cow Triathlon, one of my ‘A Priority’ races this year and something I’d been working hard towards for months. I’m still relatively new to this triathlon malarky having only started last year and this was my first big, higher profile race. Not only were there close to 1000 competitors, many more than any other race I’d done, but it was my first proper mass start.

The Big Cow Triathlon

Big Cow Triathlon

Big Cow Triathlon

The Big Cow Triathlon was also the British Age Group Sprint Championships, and a qualifier for the ITU Worlds championships that take place later this year in Auckland. This meant that there would be some very fast people here and competition would be tough. Having only done about 5 races until now I didn’t really know what to expect. My previous races had all been fairly small affairs. There had been one or two fast people at the pointy end and I’d usually been up there as well. This however was a completely different ball game. The ‘pointy end’ was very pointy, and almost everyone was fast. The best age-groupers in the UK were here and I had no idea how I’d fare in against such competition. I didn’t know if I’d enjoy it at this level either but was pleased to see that most people were still friendly and helpful and there was something of a party atmosphere to the whole day.

Expectations were High

My training had been going well, I was fit, getting faster and feeling good. I had very little race experience so didn’t really know how I’d go on the day but that was really the only unknown. It’s always difficult to know what sort of time you’ll do as the course and conditions change from race to race and my lack of racing didn’t help with this, but I’d predicted a finish time of somewhere between 1:05 and 1:10. If it was 1:10 I’d be satisfied but a little disappointed. If I could do it in 1:05 I’d be over the moon as I was pretty sure I was capable of that, but only if everything went as well as it could possibly go.

That was until the day before the race when all my training and preparation suddenly seemed to have been in vain when I ended up in the local A&E Department. I managed to recover well from that little incident though and went to bed on Saturday planning on doing the race as long as things didn’t take a turn for the worse again.

I woke at 1:53am on Sunday, a little earlier than the 4:30 I had planned but it did at least mean there was no rushing. I lay awake in bed for a bit then got up and had some coffee and porridge and headed off to Emberton Park to get set up. The organisation was excellent as would be expected from such an event but I soon had my transition area set up, checked out the ins and outs of transition and got myself ready.

Mass Start Swim

Mass Start Swim

Anna, Morgan and my parents arrived to watch, I said hello to them had a little chat and then it was time to go. My wave was off at 7:40am, a mass start of Male 40-44 year olds. We all had our category marked on our calves so had been branded with an ‘H’. It was a big category and one of the more competitive ones. I lowered myself into the water of the lake and was pleased to find that it was lovely in there. Not only was it not cold, but it was actually warm. I did a few little warm up sprints then lined up ready for the start. I’d heard horror stories about mass starts with kicking and punching and all sorts of argy bargy but wasn’t too worried about that as I’m fairly confident in open water. With 10 seconds to go I started my watch. 5,4,3,2,1… The whistle sounded and we were off.

The Swim

Me at the end of the swim

Me at the end of the swim

I made a bit of a sprint start as planned in order to get out towards the front and stay out of trouble. It seemed to work as there was no bashing and barging and no issues whatsoever. I couldn’t really tell how many people were ahead of me as I was concentrating on sighting for the yellow buoy but as I rounded the first buoy I eased off the pace a little, settled into a rhythm and thought that I was probably in about 8th place. I kept my stroke clean and steady and had a fairly easy swim. I didn’t push too hard, just kept up a steady effort and had an enjoyable swim around the lake. I put on a little bit of a spurt towards the end and climbed out of the lake. Graham shouted something about a ‘good swim’ from the sideline as I passed him. I pressed the lap button on my Garmin 910XT as I crossed the timing mat and saw a time of 11:04 for the 750m swim. I thought I was probably in about 7th place but I didn’t care if I was 7th or 70th I was happy with that time, especially as I’d started my watch early. My official time was 10:49.


Transitions were a bit of an achilles heel for me in my last race in Pwllheli. In comparison to my positions in the swim bike and run, I was well down the order in transition so have been trying to improve in this area over the past month or so. As well as new ‘speedy transition shoes‘ I been thinking quite a bit about it, had decided to try leaving my shoes on the bike and would put them on whilst cycling and had practised getting my feet in and out a few times. I came into T1 focussed and concentrating, I was out of my wetsuit in no time, helmet on, grabbed my bike and went. I mounted my bike without stopping and started slipping my feet into my shoes, strapped them up and was off and riding well. There were a couple of tricky gates to negotiate before getting onto the road but I took these calmly and cooly and that was that, T1 had gone well. My official time for T1 was 43 seconds, up there with the fastest of the day so I’m pleased with that.

Out on the bike - That's me at the bottom right - Nice photo Anna!

Out on the bike - That's me at the bottom right - Nice photo Anna!

The Bike

The 20km bike course follows an undulating loop and I was soon up to speed. I thought there were probably about 7 or 8 people in my category ahead of me, but there were also lots of other people from categories that had started earlier in the day out on the course. I was overtaking lots of these, but none of them had and ‘H’ on their calf so I was holding station in my race. I wasn’t that long though before a few people overtook me and these guys were branded with an ‘H’. They also all seemed massive as they sped past me on their aero bikes with disk wheels and pointy hats. I felt tiny in comparison and a little out of place up to these guys, I lost a few places but only a few and I was going well.

My heart and lungs were fine, in fact, I had plenty more to give but my right hamstring was twinging a little and I didn’t want it to cramp so there was no point trying to pick up the pace to stay with these guys and I actually eased off a little. I’d told myself that I would have to leave T2 in 45 minutes if I was going to be on target for a 1:05 finish and as I approached Emberton Park it looked as though I was on target.


Sprinting into T2

Sprinting into T2

Time to concentrate again as there were some tricky gates to negotiate, I had to get my feet out of my shoes, dismount at the right place and focus on T2. I got my feet out a little too early really but wouldn’t have lost much because of it. I swung my leg over my bike as I approached the dismount line and got off the bike at speed. It took a few frantic paces running barefoot on the tarmac for my legs to catch up with the speed and my calves cramped a little with the sudden change from cycling to sprinting but they did what I asked of them and I arrived at my transition stall, racked my bike, removed my helmet and slipped my running shoes on. I had to pfaff a little with them as the side and tongue turned in on themselves as I put them on but I sorted them out and headed off on the run.

As I crossed the timing mat I pressed the lap button and saw a time of 44 minutes something – I was on target for the 1:05 ‘best possible’ time.

  • Had I gone out too fast?
  • Could I keep the pace up?
  • Would those twinges in my hamstrings and calves turn into full blown cramp?

Only one way to find out and that was to run….

The Run

Big Cow Run Course

Big Cow Run Course

The 5.5km run consists of two laps around the lake, as you can see from the photo it’s a lovely location for a race. In Pwllheli I had managed a new PB and an average pace of 5:55 minutes per mile. I’d been wondering if I could get that down to 5:50 mins/mile so that was what I was aiming for. I have my Garmin set to beep at me every mile on the run so that I can check my pace. I’m not sure why really because if it was slower than I was hoping for I’m not sure what I’d do about it, but after the first mile of what felt like a hard but maintainable pace it read 5:48 – just inside my target and a good start. I’d also overtaken a couple of people branded with an ‘H’ so was clawing back some places. No one had overtaken me.

Mile two included the section through the main event arena and included some uneven track, some twists and turns, and a narrow little path as well. I was overtaking loads of people from earlier categories so was having to run wide on the corners to overtake them. I also caught and overtook another person in my category but he was going well and I could hear him on my shoulder after this keeping up with me. Beep Beep, that was mile two done 5:56 this time, too slow, but the twists and turns through the arena may have accounted for some of this.

Time to push and see what I could do. I gradually turned the screw and dropped the guy on my shoulder. That was the boost I needed and I continued to pile on the pressure getting faster and faster. As I rounded the top of the lake it began to hurt but there was no giving up now, I kept pushing harder and harder and was flying. Beep Beep, mile three already and this time it was in 5:40, now I was motoring! I was weaving in and out of people from other categories as if they were standing still and getting faster and faster all the time. I was overtaking plenty of people branded with an ‘H’ as well, but many of these were only on their first lap of the run. As I got onto the uneven track I was flat out sprinting, I was barely touching the ground so didn’t feel the lumps and bumps but kept pushing as hard as I could, around the corner  where I heard Anna, Morgan and my parents cheering my across the finish line. That last bit was fast but I felt OK. I stopped my watch and it read 1:03 – I couldn’t see the seconds but 1:03 was amazing.


I’d forgotten all about my position in the race long ago and to be honest I didn’t really care. There’s not much I can do about my competitors and as this was the British Championship I was expecting to be quite a way down the standings, but the fact that I’d gone over a minute faster than I thought I could do was good enough for me. I saw Graham and Sharon at the finish line and they were more interested in my position than my time. The results were available immediately and as with everything at this race were well organised. I’d come 6th in my category – amazing, little old me had just come 6th in the British Championships – all the hard work had paid off. OK, it’s not that prestigious and it wasn’t a podium but considering the competition, the years of experience most of them have and the fact that I’m new to all of this I was pretty pleased with myself.

It couldn’t have gone better, my official finish time was 1:03:27, a whole minute and a half better than I thought I was capable of, to say I’m stoked would be an understatement!

Here are my splits and positions within my category:

750m Swim: 10:49, 4th

T1: 0:43, 2nd

20km Bike: 32:19, 19th

T2: 0:41, 13th

5.5km Run: 18:53, 5th

Overall: 1:03:27, 6th

Click here for the Official Results.

World Championship Qualification

As I mentioned earlier as well as being the British Age Group Championships, it was also one of three qualifying races for the World Age Group Championships and I had registered my intent to qualify before the event. The official qualifying list won’t come out until later in the week once the BTF have had time to check and double check everything – I’m therefore trying not to get too excited yet, but from the lists of people who intend to qualify and the results from yesterday it looks as though I took the top qualifying place at Big Cow… If I have you’ll hear about it in a blog post later this week – and probably on Facebook, Twitter, in the gym, at the pool and anywhere else that I can tell people about it!!! Sorry, but I probably won’t shut up about it for a while! 🙂

The Aftermath

We hung around for a bit, had a burger even though it was only 9am and a chat with a few other competitors and soaked up the atmosphere on what was turning out to be a glorious day.

End of the Race

End of the Race

The whole event was really well organised and the marshalling was top notch. I did thank a few marshalls as I cycled past them but when you’re pushing hard you can’t always say thanks. Without them such events wouldn’t go ahead, so I’d like to thank them and the organisers and all other helpers now. It really was a great day out. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, I did as a competitor, and my ‘support’ team did as spectators. All the marshalls and officials were really friendly and helpful. As a marshall you have many roles to play, not only keeping people safe, making the day enjoyable for them but also watching for enfringements and enforcing the rules. Sometimes Marshalls can come across as though they are there just to police an event, but at Big Cow you always got the impression that they were there to help you and make sure you had the best race you could. Whether that was guiding you through transition, warning you about sharp bends, narrow gateways and pothoes or pointing out the dismount line, I didn’t feel as though they were herding and shouting at me but rather helping me to make sure I did the best I could. It really was well done. I doubt many of them will read this but hopefully some will and if you do I’d like you to know that your efforts really were appreciated – Thank You!

You can tell it was a good day as we talked about it all the way home to Wales!

18 Responses

  1. Avatar forComment Author Stu says:

    That’s incredible, well done!

    Hope the Saturday ‘bug’ left the system ok and best of luck for whats looking like a very successful season!

  2. Avatar forComment Author Graham Mackie says:

    Funnily enough the Big Cow marshalls are all triathletes in our own right and some of us are even tri-talkers. Glad you had a good race.

    That has to be one of the most serious bunch of racers I have seen in one place for a long time. My youngest son managed a 1:05 and only got 86th overall and 4th in his AG.

    The “narrow gateways and potholes” marshall for the day

  3. Avatar forComment Author Proud Mum and Dad says:

    We had a really good week-end (even hospital visit, which I made you go to) we are very proud of you Al, well done. Would also like to comment on Anna’s support for you, she was brilliant, knew all your expected times making it easier to pick you out. You got a good one there, make sure you appreciate her. Morgan was also very well behaved and recorded all your times correctly, what a star, fingers crossed for conformation of results, but fantastic personal results anyway.

  4. Avatar forComment Author Jevon says:

    Well done on your race. I’d echo what Graham said… we’re pretty much all triathletes at Big Cow and we understand your problems and what makes you tick. It’s always a pleasure to play a part in someone’s big day, especially at a National Championship. I’m on a break from tri after five consecutive Ironman years but Sunday re-affirmed how much I’d like to get back there.
    Well done again.
    J. (Transition marshall)

  5. Avatar forComment Author Alan says:

    Comments from Facebook – so that they end up in the printed version of ‘A Simple Life of Luxury’:

    Comments From Facebook

    Comments From Facebook

  6. Avatar forComment Author Alan says:

    Some Comments Via TriTalk:

    Fester61: “Well I can tell you many marshalls at the race have read your blog. I personally am well chuffed that my yelling and shouting was accepted as helpfull guidance rather than officious nonsense or bullying. Did end up with a bit of a sore throat though.”

  7. Avatar forComment Author Chris says:

    Well done. Great blog. I was also an ‘H’ in your group but had a bit of a disaster. I had the worst run up to the event and was just really competing to see what a national event would be like.
    I had an ok swim (it was brutal behind you!) and an ok bike (on a brand new bike) but got cramp in my leg at T2…the run was reduced to a hobble…that said I still had fun. You forgot to mention the cheerleaders at the finish…now that was a first for me!


    • Avatar forComment Author Alan says:

      Thanks Chris,
      This was my first ‘big’ event as well so I too was testing the waters to see what such an event was like. I had already decided that if I didn’t enjoy it I would stick to doing smaller, local events. However, I loved it. I was worried that the atmosphere would be different once the competition and seriousness was stepped up a notch but that wasn’t the case at all. Everyone was still friendly and welcoming – they were just faster! Mind you putting in a good performance always helps with the enjoyment.

      Shame you got cramp in T2, but I’m sure you’ll be back next time.

      As far as the cheerleaders go then I didn’t notice them until afterwards, but don’t you have cheerleaders out for all your training runs! 🙂


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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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