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.