Monday, 20 April 2015

Southwell Sprint Review.

First race review of 2015 then. The Southwell Sprint Tri. Part of the 3 race Midland Sprint Series hosted by OneStepBeyond Events, they have a reputation as a professional and well run set of events, with fierce competition and a friendly atmosphere. One not to be missed to kick off the season.

I had been reliably informed on several occasions from Friday onwards that I was becoming obsessive (and annoying), only able to talk of Sundays race, and not taking heed of anything else.

By Saturday either the comments had stopped and the family had accepted the current vibe being generated in the home, or I had totally stopped listening.... besides, there was a box to pack and bike to prepare. It is always therapeutic to pack the box, finding things hidden away from the previous season. Visualising the event it came from, each part of the race, conjuring up the sights, smells and sounds. The feeling.

The kit sorted, and tea was a tasty helping of whole wheat pasta, broccoli, kale and thick slice of fresh raw tuna. Perfect.

Later I took a steady ride to my mates so he could put the bike in the car rack ready for the morning, then a run home of a few miles to warm the legs before an early night.
Sunday morning I woke at around 4:30am and laid talking to Sarah in bed. She seemed less enthusiastic about discussing wind factor, the fore's and against's of concrete or grass transition pits & cycling cadence than me, even after I offered her a cup of tea. Strange. By 5:15am I was up and dressing, lots of layers on as it was cold out with a northerly wind that looked settled in for the day already. Downstairs the dogs didn't seem amused to see me either, and neither of them was about to move from their bed. A big bowl of porridge  along with a cup of tea to keep me going - I hate feeling full on a race, way better to feel empty I always think, but it was 7hrs until I began so it was important to get some energy in me.

After that there was time for the early morning pre race poo. It probably seems un-necessary to mention that to anyone who doesn't compete, but race day nerves, and the body building in anticipation of the event always results in a series of monster pre race logs that are as much part of the whole triathlon experience as the swim the bike or the run.

6am. Picked up by fellow Louth Triathlete Oli, and his soon to be wife Lucy. We were both racing nearer to 12pm than 11am, but Oli had friends setting off early to cheer, and I had roped my Dad into his first ever Triathlon back at Christmas. With an 08:10am start time for him I wanted to be there to cheer him on.

By just after 7 we were registered and setting up. Plenty of the club were already on site and the ever growing sea of yellow hoodies was present in abundance. Dumping the bike in the rack I found time for a round of hellos from the multitude of friendly familiar faces all coming out of hibernation to begin their 2015 season. Some with sparkly new kit, some with the look of determination on their faces that suggested they had spent the winter training hard for this first race of the series and the stress was starting to show.
It was a pleasant change not to have the bother of this being an A race. I could enjoy the atmosphere and take in the joy of racing for the sake of it. We went and set Martin Ball (Snr) off, and he held a good even pace through the swim and out on to the bike. Checking out his set up it made me smile to see where the Working Class Triathlete ethos has maybe at least in part come from when I spotted a Tommy Tippy baby cup stuffed in his bottle holder. 'It does the job'.

The Tommy Tippy School of Nutrition.
Martin Ball Woodhall Spa
 First Time Tri at 65. Exiting the Swim.

Once he was out I went back to my station and began rigging up the shoes to the bike, a last minute spray of WD40 where necessary, picking the tyres clean of any spots of grass, mud and debris, and then 1/2hr stood repeating my transition routine on a loop.

Transition is the one place you can get free seconds for no effort, and going over and over it to imprint it in my brain like a muscle memory really helps. It's time well spent being constructive while you wait. Satisfied it wouldn't rain I spread out my towel, talcum powdered the bike shoes, and spend time carefully rigging them to bands to hold them in place ready for the run out of T1 for a quick mount. Repeating the 'Bike, Belt, Helmet, GO' Mantra, practicing, visualising, encouraging people to talk to me and distract me while I do it, to make it more realistic. Another quick break to cheer in and out fellow club members, including my sister in law who was aiming for an AG win, and who massively improved her bike with an 18.5mph average.
During this time I had a bit of a run in with a supposed Race Official who got it in his head that my tri belt and attached number was somehow in fact 'A Device' used to deliberately mark out my spot & give me unfair advantage (words he took great glee in repeating as he fingered the print on his stupid laminated rules sheet while telling me).

My number was apparently somehow helping me unfairly mark out my transition spot. Of course my own bike, the towel on the floor, my trainers and my helmet on my tri bars were in no way helping me spot where I racked my bike. This bloke seemed 100% convinced you're not allowed to know where you are stationed. When I suggested we gouge my eyes out as I enter T1 to make it properly fair things deteriorated. The nail in the coffin came when he then ignored a bloke 2 down from me who had racked his bike the wrong way round. He found the time to chat with him and eventually agree that it didn't really matter. When it comes to which way your bike points on a busy rack - no worries mate. The biggest test of the day was tolerating this absolute moron who clearly had no understanding of the sport, but for some reason was policing the pit.

Fortunately rather than setting fire to him, I took a breath and went and found the race referee proper, the sun shined, and it became clear she has a brain in her head, moved the lads bike into the correct position and told me my number belt was fine.

Attention turned back to the race. At 10am I had another small pot of porridge, and a half a pint of Ball Juice freshly squeezed the day before.

Ball Juice
Race day juice stock (pre squeezed)
I took a bit more than the usual care over nutrition the day before (and that morning) because I had decided to do away with any fluid for the whole race. The bottle was extra weight and wind resistence I could do without over this short distance. 
5 minutes out to cheer in my Dad, and a chat with him and others around confirmed the wind was pretty chilly and with some decent gusts in it on the way back. That and a few short steep climbs to take the pace out the wheels stood to make it a more difficult bike. I wasn't feeling confident on it anyway, I haven't spent any time adding in pace at this stage so it stood to be an unknown. At least I knew to expect to be cold as I entered T2 and could prepare for it mentally.
I went back to the box and wrote last years times on my hand, and some marker times for where I expected to be at certain points on the course. That is a quick easy reference for me to help decide where to spend some extra energy if necessary. No need for a satellite or signal, just a good old fashioned stop watch on my wrist and some target times on the back of my hand. I stripped off to my suit and went poolside to keep warm. Watching a couple of team mates I enjoyed seeing them both bag a 400 pb swim time before exiting and clearing off. A great swim from both Oli and Glenn.

I spent the next 15 minutes trying to visualise each stage of the race, and stretching off ready to begin. Time to focus.
Soon enough I was in the water and the count down began. Starting the watch as I pushed off - I was into the swim. The first 100 felt comfortable and good. Spotting the other blue hats in my wave across the pool I could see I was heading the wave, and this lead continued to increase throughout.
I had submitted a 5:45 400m time for my wave start, and figured if I was leading it out and was with others on the same time it must be going well. I struggled with the turns because at 100m the left eye filled with water following a brush with another swimmer. After that it was hard to focus and spot the wall properly and in honesty the push offs were weak. I glanced at the watch at the final 25 and it already registered 5:55. That couldnt be right? Had I done too many? I exited on 6:14 and was gutted with an abysmal swim time. Properly embarrassed at myself, but no point worriyng now, just had to make it up.

As I exited I lobbed the hat toward the bucket and was pleased to see it go in. Shame that a slam dunk on the hat didn't win you a 10 second bonus. Running into T1, straight to my station, the belt whistled round my waist without issue, helmet on and out in 33 seconds. Pleased with that.
Over the mount line and onto the concrete I went to the saddle and the right laccy band snapped prematurely. The shoe rotated and faced the floor. I had been here before, and trying to keep pedalling last time brought me off. On that basis I stopped, shoved my foot in, and got going again. Another few seconds lost. Arrrggghhh...
Once on the main road the ride opens out into a climb, but soon enough I had settled into the bike, and after a few early climbs was steaming down the other side. I had been unsure of what kind of bike time I would bag, but it felt good enough once I had got into the rhythm. Checking the watch everything was about right.

The route is a simple out and back, hills in the first quarter, levelling out before a flat decent bit of tarmac to a roundabout, right round and then up the hills again before the end. The roundabout required a pause to let traffic through for around 6 seconds that felt like forever.

Getting my head down and my back flat I made the most of the straight. I passed a few athletes, but otherwise had a lonely ride for such a short circuit. A friend was in the last wave of the day, 12 minutes after me, and also in my age group. His run time has come on bucket loads over winter and with a good bike he stood to beat me with ease. Taking my time from the round about back in I knew that if we didn't cross for 6 minutes then he hadn't gained ground. We passed at around 5:45, but 15 seconds was OK given how much quicker a swimmer he is, and it spurred me to get my head down for home.

On the return leg it was good to see a few of the others in my wave still heading out, and as we passed it spurred me again to push harder and maximise the damage. All in all the bike was a solitary affair with very few competitors to chase down or hold off, and I wasn't passed once. Burning the legs up the hills and finally shooting back into T2. Bike done on a 22.3mph average. Given the wind and the short sharp climbs I was happy enough, although it was just a bit slower than last years effort.
In and out of T2 in 34 seconds, and out to the run.
As I exited I was hit by a wall of cheers and support from the club, from family, and friends. It's a great boost and spurs you on to dig a bit deeper while the muscles are throbbing to adapt to the new demands.

In testimony to the great atmosphere and camaraderie of the club here is a link to a bit of video that the club Chairman took of me coming into T2. The cow bells and cheers and the mass of yellow hoodies in the background are all Club members giving their all, having received their cheers earlier in the day. It is brilliant to think that we can all be bothered to get there early to support and stay when we are tired and ready for home to encourage other team members in. I also have to make a special mention to the Kyle and Lee on the microphones for their cracking summaries of me as I exited T2, including, if you listen carefully at the end of the video - a mention for this blog from Kyle, and Lee's description of me as the biggest lightweight he knows at the end. Thanks guys.

If you can't view it from the link then I encourage you to look up Louth Tri Club on FaceBook for a great set of photos and video of the day.
The run is a simple 2 loop climb up a decent incline, back down and round. The climb soon settled the legs and once I had my stride it was good to be around a lot more athletes, and fun picking the next target in front and reeling them in. Half way up the first climb I had settled in and as it levelled out I could feel the pace increase with every stride.

Along the springtime hedgerows, time to glance the top of the Cathedral in the distance, the wind felt  refreshing at that point, then round the cone and back. As the down hill approached I let the legs open, like depressing the clutch and free wheeling at top speed down to the bottom. Into the main area for a U turn, and again a barrage of cheers and encouragement. Tingles of appreciation as you motor past, properly motivating stuff. Back up the hill, round the cone again. At this point I glanced at my watch and checked the time against the scribble on the back of my hand. I was a good few minutes ahead of last years times. That was all I wanted. I was free to open the throttle now and dump every last drop of energy on the final sprint for home. The run had felt comfortable and good. Back down into the crowds, round the bend and the sprint for the line. The run was a pb at 16:57.

                                   Head down, sprinting the finish chute for home.
 Job done in a total of 54:41. All that fuss for less than an hour! Overall I had come 16th, and I'd taken a win for my Age Group in round 1 of the Midland Sprint Series. A good set up for round 2 in a few weeks. Even more of a result because it wasn't planned for. Now I just have to remember to keep focus on the 70.3 in a month, and not get distracted by the next sprint. Reminder to self. These are for fun (this year).

It dawned on me after laid on the sofa relaxing, watching the MotoGP, that the muscles that hurt the most were my cheeks from smiling all day.


Post race Team photo.
Finally, and catching up on what I said in my last post. I am now at 95'500 views on my blog. The 100'000th view is just around the corner and the special guest blogger is primed ready to write. So thank you again for supporting this rambling, and please keep reading for what promises to be a unique insight into the sport when we pass that magic number.