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.