Rother Valley Triathlon – Race Report
I wasn’t really sure how this race was going to go. It was quite a big race being my one and only chance to qualify for the 2013 European Championships, but preparations hadn’t been great. I’d been training well but hadn’t necessarily peaked for this race, and I’d been struggling with injuries.
The Injury List
First my left ankle had been getting worse. It’s never been completely right since I tore some ligaments in it about 18 months ago but it had been getting progressively more sore over the past few weeks. It hadn’t held me back at all but it was always in the back of my mind.
Secondly my right leg had been suffering. I damaged my knee a month or so ago so stopped running for a while. Once that was feeling better I started running again but probably didn’t ease back into enough. I therefore started getting shin splint type pains that again prevented me from running. I’d tried a few little runs in the week preceding the race but after about 15-20 minutes the pain became too much and I had to abort the run sessions and hobble home.
Thirdly I had a weird shoulder pain after trying out my new wetsuit, but that did seem to subside quite quickly so I don’t think it was anything too sinister.
On top of all of this, my new wetsuit had rubbed my neck quite badly so that was going to be sore during the swim as well. It’s actually healed up quite a bit now but whilst typing this I grabbed my camera and took a photo of the back of my head just to show you the rubbing – I hadn’t seen it myself before as I’m not really in the habit of looking at the back of my head! In actual fact if I saw the back of my head I don’t think I’d even recognise it – It doesn’t look too bad as backs of heads go I suppose.
So, things weren’t ideal preparation wise and I had no idea how I’d cope on the day, especially with the run.
Pre Race Prep
I arrived in Rotherham on Friday evening after a slightly frantic afternoon dealing with a dying Guinea Pig. The drive there took quite a while but I was soon settled in at a nearby Premier Inn. I ate at the adjacent Beefeater restaurant but was a little disappointed as it was very busy, very expensive and didn’t have a great choice of ‘healthier’ options. It didn’t help that meals came with ‘bottomless’ chips so despite the fact that I wanted something healthy having paid so much for it I felt obliged to have a second helping. I regretted this when I looked up the nutritional info on my diet tracking app later in the evening.
On Saturday I had an easy ride around the bike route which didn’t really have a flat section in it. Undulating was the word. I then registered for the race, collected my race number, swim hat and timing chip and then wandered around the Rother Valley Country Park in the glorious sunshine and did a few geocaches. Walking up the hill to one of them did make my shin hurt a little though so I just lazed around for the rest of the day. There were lots of things going on as part of the Rother Valley Triathlon festival on Saturday, including a Womens Only Triathlon, A 1 mile swim and a kids triathlon. I wished Anna and Morgan had been there with me, but they weren’t, so maybe next time.
On the way back to the Premier Inn I decided to shun the Beefeater Restaurant for dinner this evening and popped into Morrisons for some supplies instead. Although I must admit I was also tempted by the sign outside a pub next to the Country Park. It read:
“The Colossal Burger – If you can eat this monster, you eat for free”
Probably not the sort of challenge I should accept the evening before a big race though. Instead I had a huge 400g bag of salad (the photo only shows a tiny portion of it), a tin of tuna, some savoury seeds leftover from a Graze Box (You can get a free Graze box from graze.com using the following code – 5Y8JWZD Try it, they are lush!), half a cucumber, some wholemeal pitta breads and some mild chilli rice cakes. I also had some cherries which are supposed to be a good anti-inflammatory food, some live natural yoghurt and a glass of Beet-It Beetroot juice, my ‘purple power potion‘. The Premier Inn let me use a plate and some cutlery that I got from the restaurant and they even gave me some free mayonnaise as well. It was actually a huge dinner and I felt pretty stuffed afterwards but it was fairly healthy so I didn’t feel too guilty about eating so much. I did manage to squeeze in some hot chocolate and cookies afterwards as well.
I then took myself off to bed relatively early at about 10:30 and actually went to sleep. I was up again at 3:30am though and ate a breakfast of porridge with golden syrup and a couple of mugs of coffee at 5am. The Premier Inn was actually quite lively by 6am with loads of other triathletes loading up their cars ready for the race. I joined them and there was even a queue to get out of the door as we all took our bikes from our rooms. I hadn’t realised there were so many other competitors staying in the hotel.
Getting Kitted Up.
Once at the Rother Valley Country Park which was only a 15 minute drive away, I parked and once again checked out the swim route from the lakeside and re-familiarised myself with the entry and exit points into and out of transition. I found Karen from my Tri Club and had a chat with her, then went off to get my kit ready and set up my transition stall. Wheels on, tyres pumped up, quick mechanical check. Attach cycling shoes to bike with elastic bands, set up box for wetsuit, lay out my running shoes, helmet ready to go. That was it, all ready for the off so I headed back to the car to get changed.
Race briefing was at 8:10 and despite having been at the park for 1.5 hours I’d been pretty busy getting everything ready the whole time and it was now a rush to get to the briefing. Thankfully it was fairly brief with the usual safety notices etc. but it’s always worth attending these just in case there are any last minute changes. The race director was particularly keen to point out that although this was an important race for many with European Qualification places up for grabs, it still wasn’t worth taking any risks on the technical parts of the bike course just to save a second or two.
I then rushed back to the car, discarded my jacket, put my wetsuit on fully and headed back to the start area as my wave – the 40-44 year old male age-group – was off in a few minutes time. I put my hats and goggles on and composed myself ready for the swim. No need to worry about the injuries and the run now, just concentrate on the task at hand.
2 minutes to go and we were allowed into the water. I don’t remember it being cold or warm, I didn’t really notice it so it must have been pretty comfortable. I wanted to get a fast start and try to lead the swim so I positioned myself front and middle of the pack in the start area.
30 seconds to go… I was ready. The claxon sounded and we were off. I sprinted hard for the first 50-100m. There was a little bit of jostling from both sides but nothing too bad and I had clear water in front of me. After the first 5om I had clear water to either side as well so I kept pushing hard to move out into the front. I eased off into my usual 750m pace and was leading the race. There was a left turn around a buoy at about 200m so I did a little spiral backstroke as I turned which gave me a chance to see who was behind.
There were a couple of people, maybe more, right on my feet getting a nice free ride slip-streaming behind me. I decided it was time to lose then so put in another sprint which dropped them off my feet. It probably cost me a bit of time overall on the swim as I had to ease off the gas quite a bit to recover from the sprint but at least it meant the people behind weren’t going to have an easy swim courtesy of me towing them. I then started catching the tail-enders from the previous swim wave so had to weave in and out of them and take a wide line around the second buoy which came at about 650m. It was then a quick sprint to the swim finish gantry where I exited in P1.
I struggled a bit with my wetsuit, first getting hold of the zip cord and then getting it off over my ankle. As I pushed my finger into it to ease it over my ankle I also caught the strap holding my timing chip on so accidentally pulled the timing chip off as well. I had to re-attach this before grabbing my helmet. For some reason this seemed back to front as well, it wasn’t that way when I left it and your brain doesn’t work properly in such situations, turning it around to get it on the right way around seemed more difficult than it should have been. I didn’t rush though as T1 is certainly a case where ‘less haste, more speed’ rings true.
I grabbed my bike, ran across the gravelly tarmac of the transition area to the bike mount and jumped on. My bike mount and subsequent entry into my shoes wasn’t the most graceful, but what do you expect from a 41 year old man – it worked and I was soon on my way around the hilly bike course.
The 15.4 mile course heads out of the Country Park, turns right onto the main road, across a roundabout, left at another roundabout and then up a steep little hill followed by a gentle climb to a loop that you do twice. First time around the loop I overtook loads of people from the earlier waves and seemed to be going well. Depsite this, my average speed on completion of the first loop was only 20 mph. I told myself that was fine and it was due to the first climb, the wind and the undulating nature of the course.
Once onto the second circumnavigation of the loop there were now loads of people to overtake. No doubt I was still catching people from earlier waves, but these were now joined by people from my wave on their first loop and probably people from later waves as well. At times we were 4 or 5 abreast and I had to slow down a couple of times in order to make a safe over-take. Cars were held up by riders as well, so overtaking these was also a little tricky. The road-surface around the back of the loop was fairly poor and the descent into the village of Harthill was fairly technical thanks to potholes, speed ramps and a tight left hand turn. I got overtaken by one person who had a number close to mine. I guessed that he was from my age-group so I was now down into 2nd place. No one else overtook me though and after the second time around the loop it was a fast descent back to the roundabout and then a mile along the road through the country park.
Transition 2 went smoothly enough. I dismounted steadily as the surface was covered in farily sharp bits of gravel, jogged to my stall, racked my bike, took off my helmet and put on my running shoes. I did wipe my feet off quite well before putting on my shoes as they were covered in gravel and I didn’t really feel like taking that along for the ride.
I had no idea how my legs would hold up for this. On recent runs after about 15- 20 minute the shin pain had set in preventing me from running so my tactic was to go at it hard and hopefully finish close to a PB so that I wasn’t running for too much more then 17 minutes – Who knows, maybe I’d be able to finish the 5km run before my leg started hurting. Maybe not the most sensible of tactics but it was all I had and that was my plan.
I was soon overtaking people and although there is no way of telling who is in your age-group I was fairly certain that I’d overtaken the person who passed me on the bike and had therefore moved back into 1st place. I kept up a strong pace averaging 5:53 mins/mile for the 5km run and didn’t even have as much as a twinge in my leg. I didn’t have much left for a sprint finish mind you but did cross the line feeling good.
ONce across the finish line I handed my timing chip in and headed to the timing tent to check my times. My total time was 1:13:41 which did indeed put me in 1st place within my age-group. I was of course happy with that and it means I’ve qualified for the 2013 European Championships which take place in Alanya, Turkey next June.
I headed off to get changed, washed under a bottle of spring water, collected my bike and packed up and then waited around for the prize-giving ceremony where I collected my trophy.
It was then a long drive home but I did stop off and reward myself with a Whopper meal from Burger King. Once home it was more rewards in the form of a delicious roast gammon dinner, sticky toffee pudding, chocolates and biscuits!
All in all a successful race and an enjoyable day. Race organisation and marshalling was top-notch and everything seemed to go to plan and run smoothly and as usual the atmosphere was good with plenty of smiling faces all round.