Shrewsbury Quadrathlon – Race Report

At last, after my first ever Quadrathlon at Brigg back in May, I was toeing the line again at the Shrewsbury Quadrathlon. Injury and illness had kept me from competing at a number of other events throughout the year which was a shame as I had hoped to do all of the trophy series races, but it was better safe than sorry and at least I was in action once again.

Race Number

Race Number

The Shrewsbury Quadrathlon runs alongside the Shrewsbury Triathlon, a triathlon I did back in 2011 when it was first run. It was also one of my first triathlons and since then I had gotten much faster, and then eased back off again so it would be interesting to see how my splits compared. You can read my 2011 Shrewsbury Triathlon Race Report here.

Preparation

Preparation had been OK for this race, but not great. The recurrence of pericarditis following a big windsurf crash had kept me away from any hard training for a while earlier in the year and I had only just started doing anything at all strenuous a few weeks before the race. I hadn’t really been swimming at all for quite a while as that seemed to aggravate my chest more than anything. But I had been ticking over a little on the bike, going for an occasional run and practising staying on my surf ski. However, I hadn’t planned to do any proper training this year anyway. Don’t get me wrong I was still exercising and keeping active, but it was all in the spirit of having fun. I certainly wasn’t following a structured training plan with the aim of performing my best at any races.

The time off due to illness/injury wasn’t planned, but the emphasis on just having fun rather than training properly was. It was refreshing not to be tied to a training plan, nice not to be worrying about times, distances and intervals and quite a relief not to be working hard to meet certain targets. On top of that I was getting out windsurfing more, I was playing in the waves and running in the hills just for the fun of it, I was able to spend more time relaxing with Anna and Morgan and I was learning a new sport in the form of Surf Skiing.

None of it was ideal preparation for the Shrewsbury Quadrathlon but I was fit and well and looking forward to the race without too much in the way of expectation. Although saying that, having looked at the previous years results and having some idea what my swim, bike and run times would be I knew I’d be up at the pointy end as far as they were concerned. If I didn’t lose too much time on the kayak section then I could be up at the front. It was nice however not to be worrying too much about that. The fact that my kayaking had so far proved fairly uncompetitive meant that no one had particularly high expectations for me.

Setting up

We camped over at the Showground on Friday evening had a day in Shrewsbury with my parents on Saturday and then got ready for the race on Sunday morning.

Sunrise over the Shrewsbury Showground

Sunrise over the Shrewsbury Showground

With Quadrathlons being new to me and the whole sport and terminology of kayaking still a bit of a mystery I still feel a bit of a newbie at the swim to kayak transition. I’m not really sure how it all works nor what needs to be where so I had to ask a few questions here and there. It does seem as though the rules / best practice vary a little from race to race anyway.

Swim to Kayak Transition

Swim to Kayak Transition

In the end I left my surf ski and paddles alongside lots of fast looking K1 kayaks on a little gravel beach beside the River Severn. Our buoyancy aids went into a little transition area at the top of a grassy bank. The rules stated that buoyancy aids were mandatory unless you were a Division 6 paddler – I didn’t know what that meant so assumed I wasn’t one of those and would have to wear a buoyancy aid. One extra thing for me to do in the swim to kayak transition over those that were Division 6 paddlers, and an extra thing to do in the kayak to bike transition too.

The rest was similar to a triathlon so I left my bike, number belt, helmet and cycling shoes in the main transition area along with my running shoes. I then headed back to the campervan to get ready for the swim. It started to rain and the wind picked up as I did. Such a shame it was going to be a wet, windy and cold day as the previous day had been glorious.

The Swim

We met my parents just before the race started and then met my Uncle (Paul), along with his wife Anne-Helen as we wandered over to the swim start. Paul was racing in the over 60’s category of the triathlon so was starting an hour or so later than me. I was in the second wave which started at 9:10am. There were 50 quadrathletes taking part in the quadrathlon today so there were two waves with the faster categories in the second wave. I chatted to Julian who I had met at Brigg and who had finished just a few seconds behind me there. We were soon goggled and hatted and heading into the chilly waters of the River Severn. We were told the water temperature was 15ºC but it felt a little colder than that to me. The swim is very short and goes downstream with the current. I’m usually up at the front in the swim and manage to gain some time in it, but today it was only going to take around 6 minutes so there was little to be gained.

Having looked at the start list I was fairly certain that a guy called Steve King would win the race overall and that my swim time would be about the same as his. Sure enough, as soon as we were off there was one person swimming alongside me which turned out to be Steve King. We swam side by side for much of the swim but rather than waste energy trying to come out of the water ahead of him I decided to drop back to his feet and get a nice tow from him instead. We were swimming at the same pace so there was little to be gained by racing at this point and instead I’d save a little for the kayak where I knew he’d disappear off into the distance anyway. Around 6 minutes later we emerged from the river together with only a small gap over those behind us.

Swim Exit

Swim Exit

T1

There was no timing mat at the swim to Kayak transition so we shouted our numbers to an official at a table by our transition area. I’ve yet to see the individual swim / kayak splits as the official timing that was released on race day was based on our timing chips.  The first timing mat was at the main transition area after the kayak. So, swim and kayak times are combined in the official results.

Talking of timing chips, I got my finger hooked into mine as I tried to take my wetsuit off which cost me a few seconds. My wetsuit is quite old and not as supple as it used to be (a bit like me really) so it took longer than it should to take off. I then had to put my buoyancy aid on and make my way back down to my surf ski and man-handle it into the water.

Buoyancy aid on ready for the kayak

Buoyancy aid on ready for the kayak

Donning a buoyancy aid and jumping into my ski aren’t things I’ve practised in race conditions so I’m probably not the best at it. Steve King ahead of me meanwhile was out of his wetsuit in no time, didn’t have to wear a buoyancy aid and is clearly better at getting into a kayak than I am. As expected therefore he now had a little bit of a lead over me as I headed off down the River Severn once more, this time aboard my surf ski.

The Kayak

I was under no illusions of maintaining my position on the kayak leg. In the Brigg Bomber Quadrathlon I went into the kayak section with a 2 minute lead but was then duly passed by more than half the field. I therefore expected Steve King to disappear from sight in no time and people to start streaming past me. I had bought a new surf ski since the Brigg Bomber, and I had been out in it quite a bit, but it was very unstable for me and any practise I’d done in it had been aimed at getting more comfortable in it and not falling out rather than getting faster. However, I had decided to at least try a little harder in the kayak leg this time and was pleasantly surprised that although Steve King was pulling away from me he wasn’t disappearing as fast as I had expected.

The kayak route took us downstream into Shrewsbury, around a few bends, under several bridges at right through the centre of town before turning around and heading back into the current to where we started.

Part of the Kayak course the day before the race

Part of the Kayak course the day before the race

All of the faster kayakers use super sleek, speedy K1 kayaks. I was in my surf-ski. A surf-ski may not be the ideal craft for fast, calm river races but it is better for me on the sea. It’s all I have and although maybe not ideal for this sort of race it could still be fairly competitive. I was overtaken by another guy in a K1 kayak on the way into Shrewsbury and he too slowly pulled away from me putting me into 3rd place overall. I was soon overtaking people from the previous wave though and unlike in Brigg there was no steady stream of people effortlessly gliding past me. It seems as though I was holding them off this time.

I rounded the buoy a little tentatively as the surf-ski feels less stable when turning and started making my way back upstream overtaking people from the previous wave as I went. Conditions were good, a little bit of wind but not really noticeable down in the river where we were sheltered by the high banks. The current was a lazy one with water levels quite low and the wide sweeping bends of the Severn provided plenty of room for overtaking. It was a little drizzly and my hands were slipping on the paddle shaft quite a bit but I was going well and having fun. My lack of experiencing paddling does mean that I’m not too good at pacing myself yet. I don’t really know how far 4.3km in a kayak is, nor how long it takes. I therefore don’t really know how hard to go. It all took a little less time than I was expecting and I was soon heading back to the little beach ready for transition 2. Maybe I should have gone a little harder as it was a easier than I had expected.

T2

I jumped out of my ski and marshalls were there to lift it out of the water for me so I jogged off into T2 taking my buoyancy aid off as I went. I then carried this across the field to the transition area, dropped it by my bike, put my helmet on, grabbed my bike and headed off to the mount point.

Out onto the bike

Out onto the bike

My feet were covered in grass as I stuffed them into my cycling shoes and the velcro wouldn’t fasten properly due to being clogged with grass as well, but they tightened up enough so off I headed onto the undulating bike course in the rain.

The Bike

It was pretty miserable weather by now with blustery winds and rain. My feet were a little cold too but I didn’t think about that much as I headed off overtaking a steady stream of people ahead of me. These were people not only from the first wave of quadrathletes but also the first few waves of triathletes who had started while we were kayaking. The bike route is a simple out and back to Baschurch. It’s slightly uphill on the way out and therefore faster coming back but undulates the whole way. The roads were wet and although we should have had a tailwind the on the way out wind was swirling around so it rarely seemed to help. I was going well though and my average speed was creeping up to around 22mph which was about right for me and I would be faster on the way back despite the wind.

One person overtook me on the bike just before the turn-around point. He was a quadrathlete too so I was down to 4th place overall. I decided to try to keep him in my sights and use him as a carrot to keep me pushing hard. I wasn’t going to be able to stay with him but if I could keep him in sight I might have a chance of overhauling him on the run – he was clearly a cyclist, maybe his running was his weak point!

My plans were scuppered though when a huge tractor with a hedge cutter on the back pulled out in front of me in Walford. I had to slow down behind it and then it got stuck behind the never-ending procession of slower cyclists in front of me. There was nothing he could do to overtake them on the winding roads and nothing I could do other than sit behind it at a slow pace. I could see my average speed gradually dropping off but could do nothing about it. Occasionally as the road straightened the tractor would overtake one of the cyclists, I secretly hoped that it would then be able to speed off and I would get a bit of a draft advantage from it but that never happened as it just tucked back in behind another slow cyclist. This went on for a couple of miles with me gradually losing more and more time. Eventually the tractor pulled over to the right hand side of the road to let me past and I could once again crank things up to a proper speed. I don’t know how much time I lost behind it but I was stuck behind it for a couple of miles and it felt like forever. My average speed had dropped from 22mph to 20mph and the guy I was going to use as a carrot was long gone.

I was now back up to speed though and my average speed could creep back up again. I was overtaking the steady stream of cyclists ahead of me again and going well. Not long after that some idiot in a car who had obviously been held up by other cyclists and the tractor decided to take exception to the fact that I was basically riding two abreast whilst overtaking slower riders and cut me up. He almost knocked me off my bike as he cut in front of me tooting his horn and shouting as he did so and then jammed on his brakes in front of me so that I had to skid to a halt. He then accelerated away and had to slow down for another cyclist in front of him only to jam on his brakes in front of me again as I caught him back up. I did hear later than someone had been knocked off their bike by a car during the cycle. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was by this same guy.

With that out of the way I was able to continued unhindered on the bike leg and soon sped back into the showground. The bike had taken me 39:48, a couple of minutes more than I had hoped for. I’d lost a fair bit of time but I was still upright and ready to run.

T3

The bike to run transition went smoothly. I leapt off my bike, ran across the grass, racked my bike. Took of my helmet and stuffed my grass covered feet into my running shoes. A few seconds later, 35 according to the timing chips, I was off on the run course.

The Run

The run consists of 3 fairly flat laps around the showground on grass or gravelly paths. I usually feel fine running after cycling, but then again I usually do quite a few brick sessions to practise. I hadn’t done any this year and the first lap felt a little like hard work. I don’t think the kayaking before the cycling helps much either. The time was OK though with an average pace of around 6:40mins/mile. Not fast but OK for the conditions and my current level of training.

On the Run

On the Run

As I headed out onto lap 2 things came together though and I felt as though I was running much smoother and more comfortably. I was able to pick the pace up a little bit as I headed out onto lap 3. No one overtook me on the run and I passed plenty of people from other waves. I was catching the guys in 2nd and 3rd place but didn’t have the time to chase them down. I finished the run with an official time of 18:52 feeling fairly fresh, but I was still in 4th place overall.

Finish Line

Finish Line

The Results and Aftermath

I collected my finishers medal and then headed back to the camper with Anna before heading off for a shower.

Medal

Medal

I chatted to Steve King who had indeed won it and then headed back to cheer on a few other people. Paul was out on the course now and I saw Julian coming into the finish. I also found Steve and Biddy who were there supporting. Steve was supposed to be racing but had hurt his leg in a bike crash so couldn’t race. His nephew Steven was racing in the Triathlon though so we cheered him on as he came in to finish 2nd overall.

I came 4th overall in the Quadrathlon. Steve King was way out on front nearly 6 minutes ahead of me, most of which he gained in the kayak leg. The guys in 2nd and 3rd place were only 30 and 36 seconds ahead of me though, maybe if I hadn’t been held up behind the hedge-cutter tractor things would have been different. I was still pleased with my overall time of 1:32:07 though as my kayaking skills have clearly improved. You can see the full results here.

We all went back to the camper for cups of tea including Paul who had now finished and then headed over for the prize givings. I was just outside of the prizes in 4th place but if they do prizes for age-group wins as well that usually rolls down so I would have got that. There were no age-group prizes for the Quadrathlon today though. Not too worry, we ate brownies instead, said our goodbyes to everyone and then headed off to pack up camp and collect my surf ski from the riverbank before heading into Telford for an early dinner with Steve and Biddy.

It was nice to have done another Quadrathlon this year and good to catch up with so many people. The race itself has grown considerably since the first year back in 2011 when I last did it and it was really well organised. All seemed to go to plan and they had thought of everything. The marshalls were all top notch too, some of them were certainly enthusiastic with their support for the competitors despite the miserable wind and rain that they had to stand out in all day. I can’t wait to do it again and who knows, maybe I’ll train properly for a race or two again one day.

6 Responses

  1. Gill Otto (quad organiser in the Tri) says:

    Thanks for such a detailed account of your time in Shrewsbury Alan. It is really good to know what happens away from the river which is where I have most of my attention. So sorry you were so frustrated by traffic, that is something we have little control over short of asking for a road closure which would be financially unviable. It looks as if the top guys will have to watch their backs next year if you return (which I hope you will). The prize situation varies each year, depending on what we can get from sponsors so sorry you just missed out there. Most important is that you you continue to enjoy all sorts of sport. Well done.

    • Alan Cole says:

      Yeah, the traffic could have happened to anyone – for all I know the guys in front of me could have been held up as well or maybe there were people behind me who were held up who would have overtaken me as well… It’s all part of racing on open roads and staying safe whilst doing so. Closed road courses are good but as you say rarely viable financially. The races I’ve helped organise in the past have all been on open roads and it can be a bit of a nightmare.

      I’m sure I’ll be back next year, the idea to do Quads was to get away from the international age-group triathlon races for a while and enjoy the racing again. The added dimension of the kayak has proved perfect as it’s given me something to focus my improvements on. But who knows if I get good enough I might aim for Team GB again one day! 🙂

      Al.

  2. Mum says:

    Well done Al, it was ,as always a great atmosphere, with spectators all being friendly and chatting away, competitors even managing to say thank you at our cheering as they cycle/run past.
    I have the feeling coming 4th means next year you’ll be trying for a podium finish !

  3. David says:

    Wow Alan you are amazing what a wonderful example you set for Morgan who will probably starting the new school academic year tomorrow.
    Wish him all the best of luck and to you and Anna , congratulations , a great read
    David

    • Alan Cole says:

      Hmmm, I don’t know about that. I don’t know if middle aged men prancing around the british countryside in lycra is a good example to set but if it encourages him to enjoy life and make the most of it then that’s fine! 🙂

      Al.

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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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