Sunday, 21 June 2015

Dambuster 2015.

Dambuster Triathlon being an Olympic distance ITU World Qualifier race means it always attracts the cream of amateur competition, and is a great test of current form against the best fellow athletes in the Country. With getting on for a few thousand entrants it's one not to miss.
I have to say that this race is fast becoming one of my favourites of the calendar, and this year didn't disappoint.
It's got a great swim, a hilly bike and a picturesque run. Thrown into the mix this year was the last minute update of an alien & invasive shrimp species present in Rutland Water, causing a few waves between club members, do they bite? don't they? I did my best t warn them all but until confirmation at the race briefing it seemed many thought I was pulling their leg. All good fun, I just wish I had remembered to take my very apt run hat.

I never expected the hat to work on so many levels!

We ate early and well on Friday night and headed off to register.
(I've been thinking lately of the best term for a collection of club members, because every event is a sea of bright yellow Louth Tri hoodies, generally pooling together en masse ready to cheer and shout as the athletes pass.)
On arrival I was pleased to hear the parking was free that evening. That had saved me a fiver, and made a pleasant surprise from the usual casual greed places seize the opportunity to operate.
Ambling over to the tent I ran straight into a Blunder (decision made) of Club mates, excited & hyped for the race. We had a chat, got signed up and I headed back to the family who had stretched their legs in the park, and we took the final 5 miles to the hotel.
On arrival we checked in without bother, and it was good to see the rest of the hotel filling with bods lugging bikes up the stairs. The room was clean and tidy, nothing fancy, but the staff had assured us that they were prepared to do breakfast early at 5am instead of the usual 6.
I met briefly with Oliver who passed me a wedding invite which was a nice surprise, and bonus to the evening, and had a quick chat about what would be his first Open Water and Olympic distance event. I was kind of envious of the first time feeling, remembering my own trepidation.
I sat and faffed with my registration pack, putting stickers on the bike and the helmet, setting the number on the belt, and writing my splits on my hand. After that, with everyone washed and ready for bed I took the children down to the car, and locked them in it for the night so they could sleep, and tucked the bike up in bed. It looked beautiful snoozing away in its new wheels kindly lent to me by a friend after the prang buckling the back wheel the week before.
The bike got tucked in for a good secure nights sleep in the hotel family room.
By 4:40am the following morning it was apparent we were all laid there waiting to get up. Well I was anyway, so by 4:45am all the Balls were up and getting ready began. A quick pot of porridge & honey while the family went down and enjoyed cereal and toast. I mixed my home made concoction into a bottle for energy on the bike, packed the car and racked the bike. The family, by now fully resigned to their fate at my hands are used to the preposterously early mornings, and took it with good grace, and were ready and willing to cheer from the early hours.
We arrived at Rutland Water just before 6am. It was busy, but the site was efficient, and the cars moved smoothly to park.

Pre race Pre Amblers
We unpacked, I pumped the tyres, unloaded the box and set off for transition. It was filling up nicely. This year, where as the year before we were on the tarmac, I was further through the transition pit and on the grass. It was a fair bit further to run, but I was actually quite pleased, because it would mean there was no rush to unzip and pull down the wetsuit before reaching the bike. I set everything up and remembered to leave my number belt on under the wetsuit. (For info - that worked really well, I never felt it on the swim and it was done and ready to go as soon as the wetsuit was off.) I practiced the run to the bike, and out, and then back through T2 and onto the run.
Once everything was set  there was time for the round of enthusiastic hellos with a multitude of familiar faces. Everyone excited and focused. The weather was perfect, no wind and high light cloud, neither hot or cold. No low sun to blind us in the swim.
After race briefing it was down the water, and a chance to watch the first wave consisting of  team swimmers and men under 35. Toes to the waters edge, the crowds went silent and the tension mounted awaiting the horn. The air horn pierces the air and the masses charge for the water. The fun has begun. I get a tingle of excitement from the adrenalin that is now pumping,  knowing that in a few minutes that will be me, as I watch and cheer club mates thrash out into the lake.
The Madness begins
Straight down to a quick acclimatisation swim, I'm out again and ready. Stood with a friend on the waters edge, sure of the best start, we discussed the best line and the official stated '10 seconds'. I started the watch. What seemed like an age passed, not a murmur around me. A few coughs from the spectators on lakeside in the background.
'HURRRRRRRRRRR' of the horn. Charging for the water I have to sprint hell for leather to the waters edge. Being shorter than the average man I am diving earlier and swimming sooner than the masses behind who can stride out deeper before they have to take the plunge. I have to get ahead to avoid being trampled. Everything went smoothly, and soon enough I shook off the athlete trying to swim on my back behind me and settled into the tow of some slightly quicker feet, and got to work on the swim.
After the usual jumbled 200m I settled in and paced off my breathing, figuring this was a good opportunity to test the 'Iron pace'. After trading off some feet to just before the first buoy I decided this guy was easing off slightly. I pulled aside him as we rounded the buoy and made the break for the next group in front. The next set of feet were perfect. Soon enough I was gliding along and catching my breath after working hard a few seconds before. The power of the draft is incredible, extra speed for less effort is an opportunity not to be wasted. I stretched out and touched the guys feet. It must have surprised him because his legs jerked into life and he kicked out in fury. The water frothed in front of me.
After that it was simple, like herding a beast. Every time I felt he wasn't providing the draft I felt he was capable of I tickled his feet (like a jockey whipping the horse) and again he would kick out in fury and up his pace. After about 800m of this he got cheesed off and sat up in the water, turned about and swore at me. That made me smile so I flogged him some more with a playful tug or 2 of the ankle.  I moved up his hip and tucked under his pit for a bit. His ample draft had served me well and I turned it up for the last 400m, kicked my way clear on fresh legs to warm them up ready for the bike.
Out the water and into the cheers of the crowd. I spotted the family straight away on my right, and sprinted to the bike with their encouragement in my ears.
The family making me smile as I run to T1.

A glance at the watch confirmed the swim as 22minutes. That put me squarely on a dead 6:00 per 400m pace. I was certainly comfortable enough to have held that for double if I had saved the kick at the end until needed at the end of the 140.6 next month. It's good to see things coming together.
Transition was smooth except for having to help one heel out of the suit with the flick of a finger. Otherwise fine. Grabbing the seat post, driving the bike forward I hit the ground and headed for the exit.
As I mounted I felt that I had taken my time, almost cautious, as I just wanted to get my feet comfy and settled without any issue. Talking to a team mate after it seems like it was the sensible thing to do with a lot of apparent carnage as people went to saddle up. Chains & people off, accidents and mishaps galore. 1 man by all accounts even managing to have his shoes on the wrong way round and having to stop to swap them over. I just didn't want a repeat of the week before out of T1.
That said, I settled into the bike quick, and took a quick drink to wet my whistle as I left the park and headed out onto the main road. The upside (trying to find one) of last week was that I took T1 calmly and it paid off, but also the buckle in the wheel had led to me borrowing a pretty slick pair of carbon tubulars off a friend. I have to be honest and say they felt good from the off. With no wind and some  undulating beginning miles to warm up on I was soon in my stride.
Around this point I decided that Triathlons are a bit of a weird way of time travelling. Here I was at 07:45am pedalling for all I was worth, cars passing, thinking about the swim before. Yet it had the feel of 2 in the afternoon with so many people around. Normally, training at this time of day the roads are bereft of anything but wildlife at the weekend, especially on back roads.
At the mile 7 marker I could see I was a minute up on the splits etched on the back of my hand.
Heading South off the west side of Rutland Water everything felt good, I felt strong and I grinned happily at myself. he bike felt strong, the weather was good and I was eating up the competition. I was really enjoying this.
Mile 11, and I had taken in a steep long climb, but the gap on my splits held firm. At the half way marker I hadn't been passed, and had ticked a lot off the wave before me. The back half of the course being the hillier I took on plenty of fluid and a couple of gels before getting my head back down for some good solid consistent effort. Still feeling strong.
Coming down into 1 village off a hill I smiled as I tripped the sad face on the speed display thing you sometimes get, it registered 31mph. Thankfully it wasn't a speed camera. This was around the 18 mile marker, and again I checked my times. I was now about 2 minutes up on what I had expected, and it crossed my mind that the trusty Casio F-91W 1980's original model had stopped or paused then re-started without me noticing. This thought panicked me, and suddenly worrying I might be down on what I thought I decided to give the final 8 miles of mostly up hill everything I could to be safe.
Taking on the rest of my juice and the last gel at around mile 22 I had 4 and a bit miles for it to settle, and then into T2. Assessing the bike as I began to think about the run and I realised I was still feeling fresher than usual for this point. I couldn't help but smile and take it all in as I rounded the bend to all the cheering supporters and had time to take on board plenty of shouts aimed at me from family and club members alike as I dismounted and dumped the bike ready for the run. The splits after confirmed the 26.25 miles were done in 1hr 08minutes. Just a tiny bit shy of a 23mph average through out the ride. Pleased with that, and admittedly with help from Glenns beautiful wheels.
Trainers on quick. Hurtling down the racking I passed a mate who had bagged the events fastest swim time as part of a relay with 18min 30secs. A properly great effort, but I remembered passing his team mate in the back half of the ride. Before hand he was adamant they could hold me off, and a friendly wager said otherwise. Their 10 minute head-start on the wave and then then additional 4 he had put on the swim on me gone, and more, as he stood looking hopefully for his team mate to pass the baton to their runner. I grimaced as I passed, and he eye balled me and shouted 'Run man, faster'. This drove me to find my feet quicker and I stomped past the trip mat, more cheers from the family and out on the run.
Once into my stride I felt pretty comfy early on. I passed a good slog of runners, and at about 2 miles in passed the lead athlete coming the other way. I started counting the wave 1 runners as they whipped passed, looking out for a good friend who is using the event to warm up for his slot in Team GB in Geneva later in the summer. As we passed I motioned he was in 7th, and through the agony of his efforts he nodded an understanding.
I'd heard breathing off my shoulder for a while around this point, aware a strong runner was pacing off me while he caught his breath and got ready to pass. Then I noticed another guy I know running towards me. Just as we were about to pass the runner behind me stepped up a gear and slipped past, as he did so saying "Morning Sean" as casually as possible, cool as a cucumber to the guy we clearly both knew coming the other way. A truly class move that made me smile 
At half way I had managed to hang on to his coat tails, and was a good way up on my times now. All I had to do was hold it.
Round the cone at half way and a simple retrace of the steps. It's a good flat run and I was settled until the last 2km. At that point it undulates, goes through woods and over grass with some climbs that sap your strength at the end. I passed some team mates and traded high 5s before the final push for home.

Final effort, in the impeccable Delta Simons supplied Suit.

A sprint for the line and job done, run in 38min 03secs, meaning a 6:03 minute mile average. I had hoped for under 6, but with a total time of 2hrs 11min, 36th overall in the race, and 10th in my age group, but less than 3 minutes from the 1st placed 35-39'r at a national qualifier I was well happy.
The congratulations after, cheering in other friends. The atmosphere was great. For Louth Tri it was a great day. Our Chairman took 2nd in his age group of 60+, we bagged the fastest swim time from our relay team member, and another 2nd place from our GB man in the 30 to 34 category. That and several personal bests and some great results from first time standard distance athletes there was nothing bad to report. As usual the club were the most prevalent in their support of the team.
Packed up, and home in time for lunch. It felt like evening and we all slobbed on our beds until being roused by my parents who had popped round with some beer to congratulate me on earning Q2 of the automatic qualification spot for my age group to represent GB at Chicago in September.
An early night, and where as normally I would be tired the next day I woke early and was treated to a fathers day sausage sandwich and fresh coffee in bed. After that I felt motivated to squeeze in  a 30mile ride and a 6mile brick run. A hopeful invite text to a few friends who also completed yesterday got short shift. Fresh as a daisy. This Iron training certainly gives you stamina!

 I can honestly say I have seldom enjoyed an event more. Seamless organisation getting there and setting up, good weather, great company, great racing with some pb's and a GB qualification thrown in for good measure, and all before 10am.
Team Ball. The best support squad in the World.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Woodhall Spa Sprint and the crash to Victory.

I am intent on brevity this week to share The Woodhall Sprint before heading to Dambuster tonight to compete in the Olympic Distance National Qualifiers tomorrow.

Looking down the start list in the weeks running up to it I could see my nearest rival in the series hadn’t entered, so knew I was in with a good shout. Off the back of that it was hard to not train specifically for it, and keep the focus on the longer distance.
Technically this is my home race – being a local lad growing up in Woodhall, spending plenty of time on the course and in the pool as a kid also made me keen to do well. Looking at my previous sprint form in the year and the competitors in the mix I decided a top 10 wasn’t out of reach, and would be a good way to end the series.
About 10 days before the race I pulled a muscle in my groin in training, and that slowly spread across my stomach. For the full week running up to the race I had to implement an unexpected rest period and hope it healed.  I had planned on entering an Aquathon event over the swim and run section of the sprint race the Thursday before, and having done 3 previously in the last couple of months for a bit of friendly race pace training had found they helped familiarise with the course. That had to get dropped as my stomach was getting worse. I was starting to worry I was getting a hernia, especially as it hurt when I coughed.
Sunday came round soon enough. I was up at 5am and bouncing off the walls as normal so drove over early to just support, mingle and just enjoy the sport, as is normally the case.

Once registered it became apparent the racking was in short supply, so the later waves couldn’t rack until 10:45am. I had to park the bike at the side, but after that got time to cheer on my Dad as he competed through out, other club members, and talk to spectators and competitors alike.

Lookie Likie - It was good to spot another white Felt with a homemade
disc (courtesy of  my previous blog) getting its first outing
with a fellow Louth Tri Club Athlete. 2nd best looking bike in the rack! 
Race time came round soon enough, everything was set, and as ever, once you are in the pool waiting for the gun, then all the anxiety /adrenalin and nervous energy dissipates and you simply focus on the job in hand.

Into the swim, and a friend filmed me. Looking back after was interesting. I’ve complained about my swim on the blog this season, and the snippet of footage highlighted a few things.  I held a great pace for the first 100m, and then I can see that’s where I die. It seems like I settle into the ‘Iron Pace’.  Not much I can do about that now, because that’s what I want to happen, but frustrating in a sprint when everyone around you pulls away a bit in the last half. That said, come any open water event that tactic proves useful – put some power down early to get away from the masses and the fighting then settle in behind  slightly quicker feet. It just doesn’t translate well to the pool. No matter, I climbed out and glanced at the watch to see 5:53. That would have to do.
A quick sprint into transition. No issues, just Helmet, Belt, Bike & Go. An off the shelf T1 just the right side of 40 seconds.

Over the mount line, and I have been making an effort to apply more haste & less speed into my shoes. Trying too hard seems to snap the bands and wastes time. They went on no bother, taking my time doing them up and settling in to get some power down for the ride.  This was a relief, because the year before I had crashed here. A stupid incident, totally my own fault. So busy looking down at my feet in my shoes while doing them up I didn’t notice I’d veered off line and rode into the fence and went clean over the handle bars at low speed. Embarrassing. In front of family and friends too like a right muppet. Thank goodness that hadn’t happened again......
So, recalling that incident briefly in my mind I smiled and headed out round the first corner of the course. As I approached and leaned over to the left the marshal on the verge of the path stepped back. He hadn't seen me and had his back to the road, talking to a spectator. At the last second where I previously had clean road ahead of me it was suddenly filled with the luminous vest clad body of a safety official.
There was no time to do anything. No time to shout. No time to swerve. Nothing. In a split second I just rode into him. It was never going to be good. The bike stopped dead against him, and he made a funny noise at the shock and realisation of what had happened as it knocked him back. The inertia projected me over the handle bars, as I face planted into his side. Fortunately he was a pretty well padded chap, and it cushioned me a bit. I then felt the aerobars digging into my stomach. That already injured area (of course) now felt like it had been punched. Away, down I went to the side and skidding over the ground.  The ‘ohhhs’, and ‘ahhhhs’ of the spectators all around. So much for not crashing again.
I picked myself up, ran my tongue around my mouth, convinced my caps had been knocked off my front teeth. Fortunately there was just a bit of blood from a fat lip and some grazing on the front lip and knees. The marshal apologised. The spectators cheered and I picked myself up and got on with the job in hand. I was annoyed it had happened solely because he wasn’t paying attention, but it had happened, so no point worrying now until after the race.
A fellow competitor I have a friendly rivalry with was next to me in the swim, and having been stood in T1 together, it took what seemed an age to wind him back in on the bike. It’s amazing what a difference an unexpected stop can make, the gains he had made. I’ll add that he’s 10yrs older than me, and that was the only reason I suspect I finally passed him around mile 8. He has won his age group for the year, and represented his Country, so winding him in is no easy affair.
Through-out the bike my legs were burning as I pushed what felt much harder than usual to try and make up ground. Looking at the expected splits on the back of my hand I could see I was down on what I wanted to achieve, and it was frustrating in the extreme.
Hurtling into T2 at the end, the rider in front stopped suddenly, and the front brake had to go on sharpish to avoid a bang. Nearly going over the handle bars once again, I jumped clear, grabbed the seat stem quick and salvaged it by sheer luck rather than judgement. 2 crashes in 1 day right in front of the home crowd avoided. Just.
T2 was good. Just over 30 seconds, and out hard on the run. There was time to make up now, and as we headed out onto the main road I passed all the family en masse cheering and shouting which always makes me smile. This time that included 3 of my 4 nieces waving a sign ‘Go Uncle Dangerous’. A great motivator in my bruised state.

Superior Spectator Signage at its Best.

I hit the run hard and tried to keep it up. Struggling to breath about a mile in, my stomach injury was twinging and stabbing, but I found pushing it hard with my hand helped ease it a bit, just enough to take away the worst of the stitch and let me push on. Round the course in 17:29 and a good even finish, making for a 5:43 min mile split, which I was more than happy with given the serious cramps in the gut.
I had to settle for 13th overall, and only 44 seconds faster than last year, rather than the 2 minutes I could have realistically expected, but it was enough to claim the Age Group win for the series. Job done.  A comfortable win in calamitous circumstances to become the 2015 35-39 Age group East Midland Sprint Champion in the year I trained for the polar opposite.
The Working Class Triathlete - Round the final bend
to claim the 2015 35-39 East Midlands Sprint Title.
Just as great though, if not more so, I am proud to report that my fellow athlete and friend Katie Gilbert who has worked hard under the Working Class Triathlete Training Program since last winter also took her age group series win. Going from her first season last year and  being a mid table contender to winning the Female 20 -24 Age group. A fantastic Result, and well deserved for all the hard work she has put in for the last 10 months. Well done Katie.

Working Class Triathlete Katie Gilbert attacking the bike...
but still got time for a smile.
Afterwards I submitted a complaint about the crash, which the Operations Manager initially dodged and passed on to his superior who I am still awaiting a final decision back on after constructive dialogue. 
In the interim the Operations Manager has decided to get re-involved in a public conversation via FaceBook of all places, where he has given his personal/professional?? 2p worth randomly, and publicly stated:
 Martin as you well know if it wasn't for volunteer marshals that help out at not only our events but at all events all over the world, you wouldn't have events to take part in. As you know it was an accident and as I understand an apology was made and you were then given every assistance to get you back up and going. Unfortunately accidents happen, it wouldn't hurt to thank people that give up their time free of charge to enable you to race. Case closed, this is my one and only comment on the matter
As it happened I had sent an email to The MD of One Step Beyond an hour earlier stating that while I was unhappy about the single incident I appreciated the ongoing professional and efficient job that they did of the events they organised. Particularly their junior events which are brilliantly run, but elsewhere in the Country are often a shocking affair.  
I am disappointed in the unprofessional attitude displayed by the individual above. I understand that accidents happen, I accepted the apology, and haven’t taken it personally, but, what I do firmly believe is that as a paying competitor I am expected to act within the rules, and take care to ensure the safety of myself and others. Failure to do that would (rightly) see me penalised or more likely DQ’d. The marshal’s lack of concentration has :
1.Cost me valuable time in the race.
2. Injured me physically, and,
3. Damaged my equipment.
After the race it became clear my bike had been so difficult after the knock because of a big buckle in the rear wheel. I had gone the distance with it rubbing against the brake block, seriously hampering speed and increasing effort. That at least explains the 2 minute drop in time against expectation.
I do not think it is acceptable to simply dismiss (and quite curtly at that) a legitimate & polite request for a possible time credit to make amends for this incident. I am assuming if I am ever awarded a time penalty in future for any percieved infringement I can just say ‘sorry mate’ and refuse the penalty.  After all, applying the logic quoted above, I’m not a professional athlete, and without me and the many others paying plenty to race, the likes of the Operations Manager wouldn’t have a job. What I think he needs to think about is that it is about mutual respect, and that things likethis should work both ways.
That said this is the attitude of 1 individual, not the organisers and volunteers as a whole, and knowing many of them personally all I can continue to say is that they make the races a more pleasant and personal affair, doing a great job in the process. As I said, I have no problem with the marshal, accidents do happen, but an arrogant attitude towards a legitimate athletes complaint isn’t clever.
I still haven’t heard officially of any outcome, so my overall judgement remains reserved.
 I am genuinely interested in my fellow athlete’s opinions on this, so please feel free to comment on with your thoughts. It would be good to read what you think.
IOn a side note - I also want to say that I have been chuffed by the number of international readers I have to my Blog. Especially Canada & The USA, Ireland, Switzerland, France, Germany, Ukraine and Netherlands & all of the rest of Europe, it seems I even have regular readers in Thailand and Australia. 
I would love to hear from you, and any thoughts, opinions and improvements you have for my blog. How it compares to your own experiences and what I can do to make it more interesting for you to read? Thank you for the support and please feel free to get in touch.
And so tomorrow, we venture to Rutland and the Dambuster Olympic Distance, ITU Qualifier. A great test against the Nations best in beautiful surroundings, and one of my favourite swims. Talking fo the swim I read today there is an invasive shrimp infestation, and all athletes need to be extra vigilent to avoid contaimnating other UK waterways as a consequence of entering this event. Random and exciting!!!
We travel tonight, a family room of all 4 Balls before an early rise, just hoping the weather stays fair.
Whatever event you are in this weekend, enjoy.