BRAT Birmingham Standard Distance Triathlon

Very long overdue blog update but I wrote this and thought it should be uploaded here. Might even start writing some more entries!

I entered this one at the beginning of July having just completed Cosmeston Sprint Tri just before going away on holiday for two weeks. A friend and I had done it and both agreed we hadn’t really trained up for it sufficiently and so would find a late season race to try to pick up an improvement.

* Please skip the next 4 paragraphs if you just want the event weekend and no background*

Prior to this summer I’d always run more than anything else and never really done masses of cycling. After following some of the sufferfest training videos I started to find that a high cadence style of around 95-100 suits me far more than my previous 80-85 grinding efforts and this in turn has made cycling for me far more enjoyable. I am also an awful swimmer, just can’t make myself breathe out underwater for more than a few strokes so I swim with my head up far too much. My previous open water swim was at Tuska Tri a few years back and that was a choppy sea and really put me right off but Cosmeston, where I finished the swim feeling pretty fresh showed to me that with the wet suit buoyancy I’m actually much better in OW than in a pool.

So back to the event, with this crazy new found confidence, and a hankering to always go longer but with the fear of the swim stopping me, I put my name down for the Oly distance with the organisers saying it was no issue if I wanted to downgrade to the sprint (only £3 in it) nearer the time. So for the last 6 weeks I’ve upped my cycling significantly, doing my first ever 50 mile ride (solo) and lots more besides. Always keeping in my mind that I would only get fitter and not forget how to run.

Two weeks ago and I’ve realised that I should probably swim some seeing as how I’ve not swum a stroke since Cosmeston. I’m thinking that maybe I’m doing the sprint after all. Check the local, schedules which are dominated by summer holiday sessions and end up finding a block on a Wednesday evening at 8pm where I tell myself if I can swim 1K in one go then I’m ok for the Oly (wet suit supported). Much huffing and puffing later I get to 1000m, which is 250m further than I’ve ever swum. A 2 minute break and I do another 250, a minute break and the final 250. All this in a less than stellar time of 49 minutes (46 swimming). I wasn’t to know at the time that would be the last time I swum before race day.

Last weekend I thought I’d better try a 10K run, set out hoping for anything under 55 minutes and surprised myself by going through 5K in under 24:30; faded a bit towards the end as I live up a hill but happy with the time of 50:30. Only a couple of minutes outside my 2 year old PB when I was doing a lot more running.

******* The Weekend ********

The event had been moved to an earlier start time so I’d booked a B&B nearby but it had no parking and was on a main road – not the best planning – and my friend had subsequently dropped out of doing the sprint event so it was just wife (hence force referred to as K) and myself. Saturday morning was spent meticulously preparing everything I needed, checklist after checklist being followed, bike cleaned and set up before we left for Birmingham around 2pm. Got to the event centre for 4:30 where they had opened preregistration so did that bit (decent goodie bag, nice t-shirt and lots of USN products) and then drove the bike course. Seemed a little more undulating than I expected but it was pretty flat.

Off to the B&B where I was allowed to lock my bike to the stairs in the shared hallway, not ideal but leaving it in the car wasn’t an option given where it was parked. Taking the necessary items out of the car I find that my neatly packed lunchbox of race nutrition is not there. For all the checking and double checking it had managed to elude the car and remained sat in the kitchen. K stepped up to the plate and did some online searching, found a stockist locally (Waitrose), rang to confirm they had stock and we drive the 15 mile round trip to buy them. They were on offer too! Back from that drama it was around 8pm so we went to the pub nearby and I ordered the obligatory pasta meal. Back to the B&B and I settled down to sleep at 10:30 with a 5:15 alarm. Sadly my usual pre event anxiousness kicked in and I’m still awake until around 2am. I wasn’t even worried about the race as much as the fact that I wasn’t getting to sleep. I know at 1:30am I almost woke K to tell her we’d skip the race and maybe go to Drayton Manor or something!

As it was we left the B&B at 6am and arrived at the venue where I started prepping the bike, taping gels to the top tube, a first for me but one that worked really well. K was mixing drinks, one bottle for transition, one for the bike. Had a trip to the loo as soon as I arrived but just when we were due to wetsuit up I felt I’d better try again. A bit of a queue wasn’t helped by the number of out of order cubicles and I ended up listening to the majority of briefing sat on a portaloo.

A very rushed wet-suiting and I only got to the water on time because I had K to assist. However I was to regret not putting on quite enough Bodyglide.

2 minutes later we were underway and I was quickly spat out the back of the main group. The swim was basically up to the far end of the lake, around a buoy and back again with a sprint distance buoy half way along the same route. My Garmin was attached to the bike ready to go and I always wear a cheap watch in the swim and to time the whole race. At the first buoy I check the watch and realised the screen was completely blank so I have no idea if I’m going too fast, slow or whatever. However this relaxed me in a way where I knew there was no point worrying about time so just carried on. It was a long and quiet swim until the first few people from the next wave started to pass me but I was surprised when in the last 100m or so I’d only seen a handful of the sprint distance swimmers come past. At the time I assumed they’d started late as I had guessed that the majority of the sprint field would be finishing when I did if I was on around 45-50 minute pace.

In Cosmeston I’d been a little wobbly getting out of the water and there was an incline to get up so I took my time in T1, taking on a gel, a few big sips of drink and chewing down half a flapjack before a bit more drink. I was about to ditch the faulty watch when I realised the screen was back on and the time was reading 43 minutes. By that point I knew I’d been out of the water for at least a minute so knowing I’d smashed my PB in the swim was a boost. Out onto the bike and I took it easy to start while I got my bearings but after a couple of minutes I settled onto the aerobars and into a steady pace. I did have a guy on a disc wheeled TT bike come past me from the Sprinters way too close and I actually grazed the kerb with my front wheel but managed to keep upright. Lucky for him he was way too fast for me to do much about it and I knew I had to stay relaxed. There was a one car only red light section on the course but the marshals had an excellent system going which allowed us to ride straight through if it was clear and here, re-joining a main road and a stop sign were all driven straight through on some excellent marshal guidance. I made a point of saying thanks every time but from what I could tell was probably in the minority.

There was quite a lot of bikes on the course during my first lap with the over 40 Oly racers and the Male Sprinters all being on the road at around the same time and there was definitely a lot of drafting going on with some Kona-esque pace lines (albeit with less than a bike gap) and at one point I watched a girl on a Giant TCR come past me inches from the wheel of a male bike and stay there until I could no longer see them in the distance.

We had a brief shower on the second lap but I was surprised when I kept checking my watch and it was saying I’d be back at T2 before 2 hours had elapsed. As it was T2 arrived quicker than expected as the bike course came up a little short so when I arrived into T2 with K cheering me on at the dismount line and shouting that I could go sub 3 hour. I’d guess-timated that I’d do 3:05 to 3:10 but secretly wondered if the flat course would give me what I needed on the bike to go under 3. I’d never done a sprint in under 1:30 so it was an ask.

I’d followed my plan of taking a gel every 10K on the bike and another bite of flap jack and drink in T2 as I put on my shoes stuffing a gel in my tri suit. The route was a 2.5K circuit but this included a bit of ITU-esque zigzagging albeit on slippery grass and a pretty nasty run up the ridge line that was energy sapping. I ran it the first time and resolved to take my gel on it while walking the second time round.

Completing lap one in 12 minutes something meant I was well on course for the 58 minute time I needed to break 3 hours. In my heart I knew at this point that the wheels would have to really fall off for me not to break 3 hours but I just kept plugging away and while I was slowing a bit was still on target. Due to the number of laps it was a good spectator course but it was getting quieter and quieter every lap as competitors in both events were finishing. I started the last lap full of excitement that I’d break 3 hours but then had the realisation that actually 2:55 was on the cards, if my Garmin was accurate, possibly not due to the zigzags, the run was going to come up short from what my watch was reporting. I knew that if I could keep a decent pace for the whole lap that I could make it but the ridge line slope was not going to make it easy and for the first time in the race my calves were starting to cramp – they’d been in bits duri8ng the whole run in Cosmeston – so this was an improvement. In the end I decided to power walk the slope as hard as I could without running it and then kick from the top for home. I ran the last km in well under 5 minutes and crossed the line stopping my watch at 2:54:50 but then the official results came in at 2:54:44 care of a nice little result printing service provided at the finish.

We packed up; I drank a well-earned coke from a vending machine and then stayed for the presentation ceremony. My first Oly distance completed and I now look forward to 2013 with the plan to move up to middle distance.

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