ITU Age-Group Triathlon World Champs, London – Race Report

The day was upon us, Friday the 13th and it was grey and drizzly. We were in London for the ITU Age-Group World Triathlon Championships and I was racing in the 40-44 year old Sprint Distance race. Training had been going well and I had managed a whole season of good quality, consistent training. I hadn’t raced much though with my last race being the European Championships in Turkey about 3 months ago. I wasn’t sure therefore how fast I’d be, nor how well I would stack up against the competition which was particularly tough this year.

Actually this was the biggest Age-Group World Triathlon Championships ever and the calibre of the athletes was probably the highest it had ever been as well. Especially in my Age-Group as I would be up against several very fast Brits, some fast athletes from elsewhere around the world and in particular Andy Tarry, an ex-professional athlete who would probably win in our age-group by quite a way. I didn’t have a chance against the likes of him but I was still hoping to do fairly well and knew that I wouldn’t be at the back of the field. At least, I hoped that was the case.

Maybe it was the fact that I knew I couldn’t win, or maybe it was just that I knew I’d been training well, but for some reason I just wasn’t as psyched up for this race as usual and wasn’t as nervous beforehand either. I’m not sure that this is a good thing, but despite the fact that the build up to the event was as hectic as ever with registration a couple of days before, bike racking the day before and all the rest of the carnival that is a World Championships, I still wasn’t too worried about the race itself.

Transition closed at 7:30am so after my usual pre-race breakfast in the hotel I headed to Hyde Park with Anna and Morgan in their full supporters kit to get ready.

Morgan in Supporting Kit

Morgan in Supporting Kit

My bike was already racked, along with thousands of others in the wet and muddy transition area so there wasn’t much to do other than remove the rain cover I’d put on it overnight, check the tyre pressures, clip my shoes into the pedals and leave my helmet and running shoes. We weren’t allowed anything else in transition anyway so I was soon ready to go. I chatted to a few fellow competitors and checked out the transition entry and exit points and then headed off to find Anna and Morgan.

There was very little for me to do now other than wait around in the rain for a few hours until my start time of 9:50am. We decided to sit in the grandstand and watch the first few waves off, and even the first finisher return after his race. Finally, the nerves started to kick in, but I’m not sure if they were nerves for the race itself or just the fact that I wasn’t really in the right frame of mind to put myself through and hour or so of intense effort.

The time went by fairly quickly though so it was soon time for me to get my Team GB trisuit, race number and wetsuit on and head towards the holding pens for each swim wave start. We were gradually moved forwards in our respective waves towards the pontoon and then lined up on the pontoon ready to go. The race itself was based around Hyde Park with the swim taking place in the Serpentine. I hadn’t managed to get in to test the waters so as we sat down on the pontoon I had my first chance to gauge the temperature. It felt fine, but I was glad I was wearing a wetsuit, the water temperature was around 16°C.

The Swim

We were soon told to slip into the water and then we were off. The start wasn’t too frantic. It is often mayhem but I was off to one side a little, got a good start and was soon out of the way of trouble towards the front right of the pack.

I seem to struggle to swim in a straight line at the moment and always bear to the right. I was aware of this so had decided to sight often in order to keep online. I’m glad I did as every time that I looked up I was indeed too far to the right. I had to keep correcting to stay on line but didn’t go too far off course at any point.

I was swimming well and putting in a good measured effort. I wasn’t at the front as a small pack had got away, but I was probably leading the next group most of the way so didn’t get much help from a tow, but that was partly because I was too far off to the right on my own as well. It did mean that I had a nice clear swim without too much bumping and barging and could see where I was going pretty well too.

I kept the pace up well for the whole swim and exited onto the jetty after the 750m swim in a time of 10:33 which put me in about 5th out of the water from our wave. The 40-44 year age-group was however spit over 2 waves so it was impossible to tell where this put me in the age-group. Looking at the results though I had the 9th fastest swim in the age-group. Andy Tarry was first out of the water and miles ahead of everyone already at this stage with an amazing swim split of 9:29.

T1

I climbed up the pontoon, ripped off my hat and goggles and started getting out of my wetsuit as I ran towards Transition 1.

Off to T1

Off to T1

It was a long 400m run to the transition area and then a wet, muddy and very slippery dash across to our bikes. I was quite tentative on the mud as I didn’t want to fall and lost a bit of time to others here, but I was soon out of my wetsuit, had my helmet on and was off onto the bike without any drama. My T1 time of 2:54 was the 15th fastest in the age-group, with the fastest being 2:25 by Andy Tarry, and I was still in 9th position after T1.

The Bike

It was now raining quite hard and the roads were looking slippery and treacherous. The course was a 1.25km dash towards Hyde Park Corner, followed by three laps of a twisty circuit that went along South Carriage Drive, up over the Serpentine Bridge and then along North Carriage Drive. There was a slight incline up to the  northern end, a very tight 180° hairpin at the top and then a slight decline all the way back to Hyde Park Corner where there was another tight 180° hairpin. On top of this, there were nasty speed bumps along much of the course. After 3 laps of this we headed back through Hyde Park to the transition area.

Anna and Morgan moved from the grandstand towards the Serpentine Bridge where they could see me and could also see plenty of people crashing out. I witnessed a number of people crash on the slippery roads too. From my point of view though everything seemed to be well organised  There were marshalls everywhere and the event seemed to be running smoothly. There were people out waving red and yellow flags to warm of the danger areas and plenty of spectators lining the course. With so many people competing on such a short course it could have been a nightmare but although it was a little congested at points it didn’t seem too bad.

I was cycling OK but thinking about it now I lost concentration really and was rarely pushing quite as hard as I should have. I was enjoying it though, weaving in and out of slower riders from previous waves (of which there were plenty). Many weren’t great at cornering so I was warning them of my presence as I overtook with calls of ‘On Your Right’ as I passed so as not to get taken out by them. I saw a number of people slide off all the same. I was well within my bike handling capabilities though, cornering fast, but never at any point was there any risk of coming off. I made the bends easily and was going well.

As I started my third lap of the bike course I was passed by a few guys who seemed much faster than me. They were all from the 40-45 age-group though so not in my race and therefore nothing too much to worry about. However, after a while I caught them back up and passed them anyway. I think they had just come out of T1 and therefore had some momentum going onto South Carriage Drive whereas I had just negotiated the tight hairpin bend and wasn’t yet back up to speed when they passed me. That explains why they went by so easily, and why I was able to catch them back up later. A few other people did overtake me on the bike, but only a few and I was passing people (mainly from other age-groups) the whole way around.

The three laps were soon over and done with and I headed back towards the transition area. I wasn’t 100% sure where the dismount line was from this direction and wasted a little time getting out of my shoes too early, but I was soon off the bike and running over the wet slippery grass around the transition area once again.

The bike course was a wet, slippery, twisty 22.5km and my split was 35:51 which was only 38th in our age-group – Told you I lost concentration during it and didn’t push as hard as I should have and I was now down to 17th place. They hadn’t all passed me on the road though as many of the people ahead of me on time were in the previous wave. The fastest cycle split in our age-group was 33:38 by Andy Tarry.

T2

The conditions underfoot were terrible now and the marshalls were shouting at us to stay in single file. This meant that I got held up behind a fairly large chap from an early wave for a while. This lost me another few seconds in transition, but my slip-sliding through the mud wasn’t very fast anyway. I wasted a bit more time attaching my helmet to my bike in T2 as well. We weren’t allowed boxes in transition and I didn’t want it rolling around all over the place getting lost or broken so I clipped it to my bike. It may have lost a second or two, but that’s better than a £150 bill for a new helmet that I can’t afford!

Alan Harris, who I have raced before and had spoken to whilst racking overtook me in T2 and headed out onto the run ahead of me. He had been over a minute down on me after the swim, but had gained some time on the bike and in both T1 and T2 so was now ahead of me.  No need to panic though as I was soon off out of T2 and after him.

Needless to say my 2nd transition wasn’t the best taking me 2:59 which was 33rd in the age-group. Mind you, that was still only 27 seconds slower than the fastest T2 which was made by – yep, you’ve guessed it, Andy Tarry!

The Run

I headed out onto the run feeling pretty good. I hadn’t gone as hard as I should have on the bike so still felt fairly fresh and soon overtook Alan Harris, regaining the position I had lost to him in T2. He shouted some encouragement (along the lines of ‘Go on Alan!”) as I went past and I concentrated on chasing other people down. It was hard to tell who was in which age-group though so I wasn’t sure who I was racing. There were however plenty of people running the two laps of the serpentine so I was overtaking people all the way around. I did get passed by one person, Noel Sutton, who I knew was in my age-group, but I couldn’t stay with him so just stuck to racing my own race.

Anna and Morgan had now moved back to the grandstand to watch the finish. if you look closely in the ‘Finishing Straight’ photo below you can see them cheering me on. I rarely get to see myself run, but it looks as though I have far too much vertical motion in one of these photos.

I like to negative split the run if I can so have my watch set to beep at me every mile so that I can check my progress. I was aiming to start at 5:45 min / mile pace and then see if I could improve on that for each mile. The first mile was ticked off right on target in a time of 5:44. The next mile seemed to be a very long one, but eventually came around and my watch told me I’d done it in 5:42, two seconds up on the first one and therefore right on target.

It felt hard to maintain the pace from here though let alone pick it up, but I managed to do so as the third mile was completed in 5:40, another 2 seconds faster. It was now just the final dash to the line and with no one around me all of a sudden I had to force myself to sprint finish, remembering that there were people in a previous wave and even a second gained here could make a difference to my position in the race.

Crossing the line

Crossing the line

I grabbed a flag and crossed the line waving it. My run time was 17:09, which was 10th fastest split and enough to get me back up to 9th in the race. The fastest run split of the day was an impressive 16:09, and it wasn’t by Andy Tarry, but by Chris Nicholl. Andy Tarry wasn’t far behind though with the 2nd fastest run split of 16:14.

Overall

Overall my time was 1:09:23 which put me in 9th place. That’s 9th place out of 112 of the fastest 40-44 year old guys in the world, which isn’t too bad and is better than my 11th place finish at last years World Championships. I’d say it was better than a gain of 2 places though as the level of competition was much higher this year. The swim was good, I lost concentration a little during the bike and T2 and lost some time here, but it did set me up for a really good run so overall it was a good race. I collected my finishers medal and have since been able to download a finishers certificate too.

Finishers Certificate

Finishers Certificate

The winner in our age-group was of course Andy Tarry in a time of 1:04:16, almost 3 minutes ahead of the 2nd place finisher and 5 minutes ahead of me. That time was enough to put him in 3rd place out of everyone across all age-groups. If you look at the top 15 finishers on the day, they are all under the age of 25, expect for Andy Tarry in 3rd place at the age of 43, just 2o seconds behind 1st place. I did speak to him afterwards and congratulated him on his win, to which he replied that he wasn’t  yet sure if he had. I told him he had as I had seen the results and that he was 3 minutes ahead of everyone else – he said something along the lines of “in the age-group yeah, but I’m not sure about the overall position yet”… Clearly he wasn’t interested in racing the likes of us older guys and was really only ever after the top spot overall!

The event itself was well organised and it was quite a privilege to be part of such a prestigious championships. Hyde Park was a great setting, right in the heart of London and the various organisers and sponsors put on a good show. It was a shame about the weather but that’s to be expected from London in September.

As always, there are loads of people to thank for helping me get to and compete in these events. Most of all Anna and Morgan for putting up with me during training and racing and for supporting me all the way – I couldn’t ask for better supporters. Also all of those people who have helped along the way, in particular Pete for my training plans, Michele for my strength and conditioning programs, Sharon for the use of her wheels and all of the people who have trained with me over the past year. Also of course all of my friends and family who sent good luck messages and congratulations messages via text, email, Facebook and Twitter both before and after the event. These may only be short messages but I do like getting them.

 

 

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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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