Cotswold Triathlon – Race Report

Having missed my first race of the year I’d been looking forward to the Cotswold Sprint Triathlon for quite a while. Looking forward to it maybe, but although it wasn’t an important race there were still the usual pre-race doubts. These weren’t helped by the fact that I didn’t sleep a single wink  the night before the race, and the previous two nights before that I’d only managed an hour of sleep each. Not ideal final preparations but there was little I could do about that now, and a couple of cups of coffee would have to do.

I drove to the Cotswold Water Park with Mike (my sisters Boyfriend) who was also racing and having registered the day before started the usual race preparations; race numbers, bike and transition set up, checking out the course, getting into my tri-suit and wetsuit all interspersed with a few ‘portaloo procedures’ thanks to the pre-race nerves.

As well as Mike, my brother Brad was racing too, so not long before the race Anna and Morgan arrived along with my Mum, Dad and other brother and sister who were there to support us all. The first wave set off, I was in the third wave along with all the other Male 40-44 year old’s and the 17-19 year old’s. With just 5 minutes or so between waves it was soon time to line up and get ready to enter the lake. The water temperature was a not too chilly 13°C.

I may have been looking forward to it but stood there in my wetsuit before the race feeling tired from lack of sleep and not really ready for it the thoughts of ‘why am I doing this?, ‘am I really ready to go this hard?’ and ‘this is going to hurt’ started going through my mind. No time for that though we were in the water, doing a few quick strokes to warm up and then lining up ready for the off.

The Swim

The claxon sounded and we were off. I put in my usual 50m sprint start which usually gets me out of trouble at the front and off to a good start, but today it felt hard and as I started to ease into my usual swim speed there were still people all around me. I had to ease off a bit so did so and as I looked up there were at least a few people already quite a way ahead of me. There was no way I could swim at that sort of pace so left them to it and resigned myself with swimming my own race. Around the first buoy and the group ahead were off into the distance, but there were still quite a few people with me. I made a good turn and ended up leading this group – not ideal as the others could now draft behind me gaining an advantage and saving their energy, but that’s how it was and despite the constant tapping of my toes from behind I continued on my way leading the group.

Around the next turn and we were already heading for the bank and the end of the short 400m swim. One of the guys who had been drafting behind me pulled up alongside me but with a final spurt towards the bank as we overtook a few people from the previous wave and a fast exit from the water and I was out just in front of him and off running towards T1 whilst stripping off my goggles, swim hats and wetsuit. My official swim time was 6:25 but that included a run along the bank to T1 and according to the GPS track from my Forerunner 910XT my actual time in the water for 400m was 5:30 which is about what I’d expect from a wetsuit swim.

T1

Transition 1 went perfectly. I’d walked the transition area a couple of times whilst setting up as I always do, but I still usually manage to have trouble finding my bike. However, despite being right in the middle of the transition area I found it straight away, put my helmet on as I took my wetsuit off in a perfectly choreographed display of multi-tasking and that was it, I was on my way. It was so slick in fact that I had to pause before running off for just a split second thinking that I’d forgotten to do something – I hadn’t so off I ran.

There was quite a long 400m carpeted run from T1 to the bike mount point and I sprinted along it. Most people from earlier waves were jogging along but I was flying, making up time and running flat out. I jumped onto my bike at the mount point, powered up to speed and started getting my feet into my shoes. That went well too and they slipped on without any problems. Someone did overtake me as I put my shoes on, but as soon as we turned onto the open road and I got into my aero position I flew back past him.

The Bike – and the Competition.

Heading out on the bike ride and I was flying along. Each time I looked at my speedo I was up around 27-28 mph and I was passing people all the time and feeling good. The course is flat and fast and I was going well.

When racing at the pointy end of your age-group you get to know the names of people who you race against, and especially the names of those that have beaten you in the past. Before the race, I’d looked at the names of the other entrants and had expected a tough race. The top three people from last years event were racing and were probably out of my league, thankfully they were also in different categories to me, but another name that stood out was that of Andrew Shipton who was in my Age Group category. I’d raced him before twice in the past. First in the Hardwick Triathlon in 2011 where he beat me by over 7 minutes, a huge margin. Then again in the 2012 British Championships at the Big Cow Triathlon where I posted a time that I was over the moon with and a couple of minutes faster than I though I was capable of, but despite this he still beat me by around 3 and a half minutes.

I knew he was racing today and therefore expected him to beat me, so thought I was probably racing for 2nd place in my age-group at best. I wasn’t surprised then when the inevitable happened and he passed me about half way around the bike course. Actually I was a little surprised as I had assumed that he was in the lead group of swimmers and was already ahead of me. I was therefore pleased to have held him off this long. As he passed me I was hammering along at 28mph but he still went by (on his Giant Trinity Time Trial Bike clad with a rear disk wheel and deep section aero front wheel) with enough pace that I didn’t even give a thought to putting up a chase and left him to it.

The course then headed up a slight incline, around a few twisty bendy bits for a mile or two and up a couple of little inclines and then it levelled off again and straightened out. It was at this point that I started cursing the fact that I can’t afford aero kit such as a time trial bike and aero wheels. It’s well known that such aerodynamic kit only comes into its own at speeds of 23, 24 or 25 mph and above. If you are travelling along at 20 mph then the aero advantage from such kit is negligible but as speed increase, the wind resistance increases and the faster you go the more advantage it provides. Andrew Shipton had flown past me whilst I was travelling at 28mph but once we slowed down for the twists and turns and started a few little inclines I pegged the gap between us. I kept him in sight 5-10 seconds ahead of me but as soon as the course levelled out and our speed increased that all changed again. As we accelerated, I got to around 23mph and couldn’t go any faster. I felt strong, was going well, but this was my top speed. Andrew however kept increasing his speed and consequently started pulling away from me, first 15 seconds, then 20, 30 and before I knew it he was out of sight and off on his way.. Out of sight maybe, but not out of mind. There was still a run to do and if I could limit my losses maybe I’d keep the gap small and keep it to less than the 3 minutes or so that he’d beaten me before last time.

The end of the bike ride loomed, I got my feet out of my shoes, jumped off at the dismount line and ran into T2. My official bike time was 29:45 but that included the run out of T1 and into T2, my actual time on the road was 27:30 with an average speed of around 24 mph.

T2

As I came into T2 I passed Anna and the others who were shouting encouragement from the sidelines. Anna also shouted out that I was 30 seconds behind Andrew Shipton. Only 30 seconds, that was fine If I could keep it like that on the run I’d be happy. Anna has since admitted that she guessed this and made it up and that the gap was actually closer to a minute, but telling me it was 30 seconds was just what I needed. If she had said it was a minute then I might have given up any hope of catching him. The run was a slightly short 5km that judging by previous years results I was expecting to take me somewhere between 16 and 18 minutes. Andrew Shipton is a fast runner and there’s no way I could make up a minute on him, but maybe, just maybe 30 seconds was possible.

T2 wasn’t great, my hands were too cold to undo the buckle on my helmet and I struggled for a while to get it off. I then struggled getting my shoes on, but got there in the end and headed off on the run.

The Run

I headed off onto the run pushing hard and going for it. It was a flat run with just one tiny little 5m long dip and rise but when putting in this much effort even the smallest rise is felt. Despite being flat it wasn’t the fastest run course ever as it was on mixed surfaces; wet grass, muddy tracks, loose gravel and even one small patch of soft sand. There were also lots of other people out on the course so lots of weaving in and out of them as I overtook them along with the occasional polite ‘ on your left’, ‘on your right’ as I came up behind them so that they knew I was trying to pass on the narrow tracks. There were a few twists and turns on the course as well which slowed things down a little but even so the first mile seemed to take ages. My watch beeps at me every mile so that I can check my pace but I was looking at it before it did so, wondering how far I’d been. The first mile eventually came around after 6:03, not too bad for the surfaces but quite a way off the 5:45 pace I’ve ran in races in the past.

The run was two laps so I was soon passing back through the transition area where Anna shouted that I was still 30 seconds behind. This time it was accurate so I’d actually made up 30 seconds on the first lap. I didn’t know this at the time though so thought I was now just trying to hold that gap. The next mile was up, my watched beeped and this one had been in 6:01. Time to pick up the pace, start turning the screw and finishing strong for the final mile. I was weaving in and out of people and overtaking them. One guy overtook me and gradually pulled out a few metres on me but I hoped he was in a different age-group. As we came into the gravelled car park towards the finished I picked up the pace even more. I was at my limit and still overtaking loads of people. I didn’t know what Andrew Shipton looked like and wouldn’t know if I was catching him, but my race number had spun around onto my back so if I passed him he’d see it, would know I was in the same category as me and would presumably put up a fight. I didn’t have the energy to pull it back around at this speed and didn’t expect to catch him anyway so left it as it was and pushed on as hard as I could.

Around the final bend and into a sprint finish for 20m still overtaking people and across the finish line having given it my all.

I received my finishers medal, handed in my timing chip and then saw Anna with a big grin on her face saying, you beat him!!! I didn’t quite believe it but sure enough I’d overtaken him a little while back and he crossed the line just 5 seconds after me. He came over and congratulated me having seen me beat him and we headed off to the timing tent to see how we had done.

We had come 1st and 2nd in our age-group so we were happy with that. I hadn’t met Andrew before so we had a little chat and as is usually the case, he seems like a nice guy. That’s one of the many positive things about triathlon, everyone seems to be nice and even though it is a race and winning is the aim, it’s not the reason we are there. We all enjoy doing the races and do them for fun and the real race is between us and the clock. As long as we put in a performance that we are pleased with then we are happy regardless of how we stack up against other people. Winning is of course an amazing feeling but there’s nothing we can do about the people we race against. I had Andrew in my sights today as I’d raced him before so the difference between our times was a good benchmark to judge myself against, but it was just a way to help analyse my performance.

Overall

Needless to say I was more than happy with my performance. The swim didn’t feel great but the time was spot on. Despite being overtaken on the bike I was really pleased with my speed and have gained quite a bit over my bike splits from last year. The run went well and I felt quite strong. It wasn’t that fast but I think the surface I was running on contributed to that a little. I also haven’t done any speed work yet this year so shouldn’t be quite up to speed. If I actually get faster once I start some speed work then things are looking good.

As well as coming 1st in my age-group in a time of 54:20 I was 6th overall.

We obviously stayed for the prize-giving where I was given a trophy along with a bag of goodies for winning my age-group. We didn’t have to wait long for this though as along with the rest of the race it was really well organised. Anna commented a few times on how well everything was timed and how efficiently things ran without too much hanging about or too much congestion at any point of the race. Sign-posting and marshalling on the course was top-notch and I thanked as many of the volunteers as I could as I went past them, but it’s not always easy to do, so here’s a big thanks to all those who helped make it a great morning of triathlon racing. The venue is really nice as well, not only for the competitors but for spectators too, so certainly a race worth doing if you get the chance.

 

Full results are here – Those guys at the top are ‘fast fast fast!!!’

I’ll post some photos as soon as I get some from My Dad and Brother.

 

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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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