British Sprint Triathlon Championships – Race Report
St Neots, in Cambridgeshire, and the British Sprint Triathlon Championships were in town. Once again we found ourselves getting up early in a Premier Inn Hotel room ready to head off to do a fairly high profile race. Not only was it the British Championships, but it was also a qualifier for the World Championships and for next years European Championships.
I haven’t been taken things quite so seriously this year as far as Triathlon is concerned. I’ve still be training, but I’ve had no training plan. Instead I’ve just been swimming and biking when I felt like it and when I could fit it in around the rest of my busy life. As far as running goes, well, I hadn’t done any for about 4 weeks since my last race in portland. During that race I developed what I have self-diagnosed as plantar fasciitis. I have therefore been a good boy by resting it and not running on it at all. I was simply hoping that I could wing it on race day for the British Champs in St. Neots and all would be OK.
I haven’t been very disciplined with my diet either. Eating far too much, and although not unhealthy in general, there have been plenty of sweets and chocolates consumed too. I was about 6kg over what I’d consider to be ideal race weight for a sprint and therefore not feeling the best prepared. None of this bothered me as doing well in triathlons wasn’t necessarily my primary aim this year, I still wanted to enjoy doing them, but competing for podium places wasn’t really in the plan, so a slight lack of proper preparation was OK.
Or at least, I thought it was until race day when I turned up in St Neots, a couple of miles from our hotel room and started getting ready. All of a sudden, the lack of preparation hit me and I started feeling out of my depth and not necessarily looking forward to having to go hard. I wasn’t ‘race-ready’, but a race was looming so ready or not, I was going to have to race.
The main race arena was taking place in the Riverside Park, an area of parkland right alongside the Great Ouse River. This is the largest and longest of several British rivers called “Ouse”. At 143 miles long it is the fourth longest river in Britain and flows from Syresham in central England, through East Anglia and out into the wash. Riverside park in St Neots was a pretty area of grassland with some large trees alongside the Great Ouse. We were directed to our parking spot, at the furthest possible point away from the main arena where I put the wheels on my bike, pumped up the tyres and then wandered over to the main arena. I hadn’t been given a velcro strap for my timing chip when I registered the day before, and the number they’d written on my hand had washed off, so I headed to the registration tent to sort this out before setting up in transition.
I didn’t have much to do as far as setting up was concerned; put my shoes on my bike, rack my bike, put my helmet on my bars and put my running shoes next to my bike. Keep it simple essentially. So after doing that I had a walk through the transition area, practising the route I’d take in T1 and T2 and getting familiar with the location of my bike. It was then back to the car to get semi-changed and with half an hour to go before the 7:50am race-briefing it was off to the portaloos for a final pre-race visit. On approaching the portaloos though the queue was as long as I’d ever seen. There is usually a queue, but this was ridiculous. As we joined it was clear that we weren’t going to make the race-briefing, I only hoped we’d get to the front of the queue in time for my wave start at 8:20am.
We did and it was then on with my wetsuit and off to the start line where we watched a couple of waves go. It was a little chilly on the riverbank and everyone looked cold in the water, the commentator kept going on about it being cold, and I have to say it didn’t look too inviting, but 8:15 soon rolled around and it was time for me to get in the water and see what I could do.
The water was supposed to be 13ºC , but it felt fairly warm to me. No problem there then as I lined up with a hundred or so other orange clad guys. My wave consisted of my age-group, the 45-49’s and the age-group below us, the 40-44’s. We had 5 minutes in the water to acclimatise and warm up and then lined up in line with a green buoy.
As usual there were a few people determined to be in front of the green buoy at the start, but I was just a little way behind it and fiddling with my watch. I’ve noticed one little annoyance with my new Garmin Fenix 3. If you set it to an activity, in this case ‘Triathlon’ and then don’t press the start button within a few minutes, it reverts back to the main watch screen. I can sort of see why it does this as more often than not after looking at certain screens within the watch you do want it to return to the home screen, but not so at the beginning of a race. I usually make sure it is all set up and ready to go in the correct mode before getting in the water so that when the countdown from 10 seconds starts, I can start my watch, put my wetsuit over the top of it and be ready to go when the claxon sounds. As we were ‘warming up’ though I noticed that it had reverted to the home screen so I was floating there fiddling with my watch and getting it back to the screen ready to start a Triathlon activity. As I was, the claxon sounded – no count down, no warning, we were off!! I pressed the start button and swam!
Despite not being right at the front for the start I managed to avoid any bumping and barging and soon found myself in clear water. The swim was a simple route, downstream with the very light flow, passing first one yellow buoy on your right and then turning right at the next buoy where we swam 20m or so across across the river before heading back upstream to pass another buoy on your right and then turn right at the final buoy to swim across the river and up out of the narrow exit ramp.
I had clear water all the way really. No one to get a tow from and no one near to me so I just swam my own race. Hard to start with and then eased into a nice pace for the downstream leg. The upstream leg was about twice as long as the downstream leg so seemed quite a way but I went out wide so as not to be in the main flow of the river and caught the back of the previous wave up. I’m not sure where I was in relation to the other people in my age-group, but I was in the top ten of our entire wave and swimming well. I emerged from the water with an official time of 11:36.
As I ran into T1 I took off my goggles and got my arms out of my wetsuit. I found my bike with no problem at all, stripped off my wetsuit, put on my helmet and sprinted off to the bike mount line. I jumped onto my bike and turned left out of the park and onto the road where I slipped my feet into my shoes and headed off on the bike. All was going well, I was up near the front and feeling good.
After turning left out of the park the bike course went a couple of hundred yards to a roundabout that we went all the way around before heading back up past the Riverside Park and out of St Neots onto the single lap anti-clockwise loop bike course. As I started putting down the power and picking up speed, there was a constant stream of cyclists from previous waves so I spent the entire ride out wide overtaking people. It always feels good to be overtaking people, even if they aren’t in your age-group and it felt as though I was going well anyway so I just kept up the pace and ploughed on. The course turned left into a bit of a head-wind. Nothing too major, but a little more windy that I thought it was.
I’d already ridden around the course the day before, so knew what to expect and didn’t get too distracted by the scenery as I made my way around. I did maybe lose concentration a little at one point and may have eased off the pressure slightly but as this happened, the first person to pass me rumbled past on his tri-specific time-trial bike with disk wheel. This helped focus my mind a little again and just after he passed me we hit a little climb during which he slowed quite a bit and I went back past him.
A few other guys passed me a little later on as well. 3 of them went past in fairly quick succession. The drafting rules are such that if you get passed, it is your responsibility to drop back out of the drafting zone, so as they overtook me I had to ease off a little so as not to be penalised for drafting. Easing off never feels quite right but those are the rules so that’s what I did. The trouble is with 3 people passing me I had to ease up a fair bit for what felt like quite a way so when I started applying the power again I’d had a short rest and actually felt good and therefore started to catch them again. I wasn’t going to be able to pass them though so I had to ease up just a touch and gradually let them get away a bit, hoping that they were in the 40-44 Age Group and not mine.
As we came back into town I got held up by cars on a couple of the mini-roundabouts, I didn’t lose much time but I did lose some momentum. I was soon on the final stretch back to the main race arena, so took my feet out of my shoes and prepared for T2. I was still doing well and had felt good on the bike. The bike course was a little longer than the usual 12 mile sprint distance at just under 15 miles and my official time was 39:23
I dismounted from my bike and sprinted to my racking position, racked my bike, took off my helmet, slipped into my running shoes and sprinted off onto the run. What more can I say, T2 was slick, T2 was fast and I was now feeling good.
Having not run for a month or so thanks to suspected plantar fasciitis, the run was always going to be a bit of an unknown. I’d done this before though thanks to time off due to other injuries and had always been OK in previous races despite no run training. Although I was ‘winging it’ a little, I did have a game plan.
I usually ease into my run to a certain extent, starting off fast but controlled and then picking up the pace throughout the run to finish with a negative split. This always works, but also leaves me feeling as though I could have gone faster to start with and therefore could have gone faster overall. I’ve also noticed that if I start off hard and fast I tend to be able to simply keep going hard and fast, whereas if I start off relatively easy I still only end up either staying at the ‘relatively easy’ pace, or maybe picking it up to hard and fast by the end. Maybe hard and fast to start would be better? At least that way I could keep it hard and fast all the way around and who knows, maybe in the heat of a race, hard and fast to start with might end up being ‘harder and even faster’ towards the end. So, with that plan in mind I started off – yep, you’ve guessed it – ‘hard and fast’.
The run course comprised of two laps around the Riverside Park, weaving its way along the grass and paths and over a few little single-file bridges. It was flat with a few twists and turns. It was also quite congested out there. It was a fairly fast course, but the twist and turns and occasional weaving or slowing to pass people or file across the bridges slowed the pace a little.
I felt as though I was running well though, overtaking plenty of people from previous waves, and I overtook some of the people who had passed me on the bike. There were a couple of people I passed who’s names I recognised from my age-group too, so I was going well. By the end of the first lap I think I was up into about 3rd position in my Age-Group and Anna and Morgan tried to tell me this as I went past them and out onto lap two. I was feeling good, so now was the time to pick up the pace a little. I looked at my watch and had been averaging around 6:03 per mile so far. Not that fast, but OK for the course and I felt as though I had plenty left to give so it was time to pick it up to 5:45 pace, and then build for a fast finish. However, as I headed out onto lap two I started to feel a bit of pain in the bottom of my foot. The same plantar fasciitis pain I’d been suffering with since my last race. As I headed away from the main race arena the pain increased and by the time I reached the far end of loop it was pretty bad. I was slowing because of it and a couple of people I had passed on the run earlier went back past me.
The pain was now pretty bad and I was hobbling rather than running. If it had been this painful as I’d passed through the main event arena at the end of the first lap I would have pulled out, but I was now on my way back to the arena and if I stopped I would have had to walk back anyway. Running / hobbling was going to be the fastest way back so I carried on regardless. Slower than I had been but with plenty left in the tank to pick things up if my foot hadn’t collapsed on me. I made it back, crossed the finish line and let the pain wash over me. I soon found Anna and Morgan and then headed straight to the first aid tent to get an ice-pack. And that’s where I sat for a while.
I’d felt surprisingly good on the run and my first lap was done in 8:23. I usually negative split and was ready to pick up the pace so would have expected the second lap to have been quicker, but as it was, my foot held me back and the second lap was just over 30 seconds slower at 8:55. My official run time for the 5k course was 17:32
Aftermath and Results
I sat by the first aid tent in the sunshine for a while with an ice-pack on my foot, while Anna queued to get my timing printout. I’d come 6th in my age-group, only 36 seconds behind the winner of the British Championships. I’d been up into at least 3rd place by the end of the first lap of the run, but my foot had let me down. Now, you shouldn’t say “if only”, “I could have”, or even “but I reckon”…. But I reckon if only my foot hadn’t been injured, I could have been at least on the podium, and who knows where exactly. However, my foot injury is all part and parcel of it. My foot is part of me, and it’s part of me that wasn’t quite up to the job on the day. There’s always something that limits your performance and today it was my foot. 6th in the British Championships is still pretty good and at least I was still up there at the pointy end despite not really training seriously this year.
As I sat there, another guy turned up for First Aid having crashed on the bike course – he wasn’t too badly battered and bruised and nor was his bike so he was in fairly good spirits even if he hadn’t managed to finish. I also had a chat with Gareth Sylvester-Bradley who said he knew me from reading this blog – so here’s a shout out to him if he’s read this far through this post – Hi Gareth! Looks from the results as though you had a good race.
Once the transition area opened, I hobbled over to get my bike and wetsuit and then hobbled off to the car, wishing it had been parked a little closer. We then headed back to our Premier Inn for a quick shower before starting the 5 hour drive home. I was at least able to drive despite the pain in my foot, but walking is now very painful and running feels as though it will be out of the question for many weeks to come. I think it’s time to make an appointment with the a Sports Injury specialist to see if there’s anything that can be done to speed the recovery and prevent recurrence.
As always, a big thanks to NiceTri events for organising the race and to all the volunteers and marshalls out there on the course and behind the scenes and a well-done to all those competing. I’ve never been to St Neots before, but enjoyed my time there, and enjoyed the race too, as I hope did Anna and Morgan.