St Neots Olympic distance triathlon – race report

Getting there

I wasn’t sure about taking my place up on this event as I was laid up with an Achilles problem for most of the first three months of this year (off the back of a lackadaisical pre-Christmas training regime). With an expanded waistline and a general lack of fitness I’ve only been starting to train again since late March, and I had already decided to pull out of the Grafman half iron distance later this month. I only noticed about three weeks ago I had booked this in (having forgotten since I signed up in the autumn), and my initial thinking was I would just have to forgo the entry fee for this one too.

But with a couple of morale-boosting sessions in the last 10 days (54 mins for a 10k and a 1km swim in the lake a few days ago), I decided to just turn up and enjoy it. I may be some way off my best, especially running-wise, but with the new confidence I wouldn’t drown in the swim I thought I’d give it a go.

The event had been moved from being a river swim in St Neots to a lake swim at Grafham Water a couple of weeks ago, due to a water-logged event field at the original venue. This was also a bit of a boost as I have not swum in a river yet, but am used to lakes / reservoirs.

On the day

Being an event close to home it only took me 25 mins to drive to the venue and I was soon making my way to transition to load up my bike and set out my kit. I kept an eye out for the only other Bedford Harrier competing today, George, but I failed to see him amongst the more than 600 competitors. Transition was an easy set-up, with named / numbered racking positions for our bikes (not like the London Triathlon where it was a bun fight). I sorted myself out, got in my wetsuit and made my way to race briefing.

The briefing was efficient, with enough information to ensure you knew what you were doing, but not so much that you forgot it all. The slight wobble was when the British Triathlon technical official told us it would be the full 1500m swim, even though the temperature was only just warm enough to allow it without shortening the route. The minimum temperature for a 1500m swim is 12.5 degrees so it was going to be a cold one. As it was my Garmin tells me it was 10 degrees out there, which is below the minimum for swimming at all, but I’ll take the official’s word for it 🙂

The swim

Anyway, once the briefing was over, we were pretty swiftly in the water, which was as flat as a mill-pond. I was in the second wave, the 35-49 male age group, and they were sending us off in 5 minute intervals. The water was bloody Baltic, but I had time to acclimatise by letting water into my suit and immersing my face a number of times. (I also warmed myself up a bit but I won’t dwell on that).

Once the klaxon went I concentrated on just getting into a rhythm, I know from experience now that I tend to struggle with my breathing at the start, basically over-thinking it. But I didn’t struggle too much and starting at the back I was out of the main turbulence. I soon found myself making my way past a lot of breast-strokers and slower competitors and was getting into it. My main problem is always sighting. The buoys are big but I still struggle to make them out as I am short-sighted and I don’t wear prescription goggles. The added problem was that we were all wearing red caps in our wave and the buoys were red as well – as Father Ted might say, these swimming caps are very small, but the red buoys are far away…

Once I managed to make out the first buoy I did realise I had been a bit wonky on the run-in, but hoped I hadn’t added too much onto the distance. Round the first buoy I really was in my stride, although the next wave was already on us and so we started to have the faster swimmers go past us. At one point I think a boat must have gone past as we had quite a few waves, but I just remembered Weymouth and laughed it off!

Round the second buoy and the longest stretch ahead, meaning more guesswork on where the buoy was. Looking at my Garmin map afterwards I seemed to do OK on this leg, but we also had the final wave on us, again the faster ones swimming past and into us.

The final buoy came and I was feeling pretty happy with my swim, but this is where I had a bit of a problem. The sighting was the gantry at the edge of the water – blue, with the sponsor logo on it. However, as there was a backdrop  of trees I could not for the life of me make it out. But I remembered there being some big red flags at the exit area and I could make out two of them so I sighted on them. I carried on, but found the faster swimmers really started to swim right over me. I was a bit confused – why was this happening so frequently? I was really put off my stroke as I couldn’t get into a rhythm and kept having to look up to adjust my direction to head for those flags. After about five mins however I realised that the faster swimmers had not been swimming over me – rather I had been swimming under them! As I was nearer the shore I could now see the gantry over the exit and it was clearly about 20 metres to the left of the flags I was heading for! Basically I was swimming across the competitors at about 45 degree angle! Bloody eejit.

Once I adjusted myself and headed in I found I wasn’t getting anywhere near as much over-swimming going on. I even remember that as I came out of the water I felt a little disappointed to have to stop swimming as I was enjoying it!

Well, I actually swam 1700 meters, not 1500, because of my wonky sighting, so I was quite pleased with 37:31.

Transition 1

I am determined to get faster at my transitions so I made a concerted effort to make this as simple as possible. I had proper road cleats now on my bike (last year I had been using MTB ones), so I could attach my shoes directly to the pedals and put my feet in them when I got on the bike. I had also bought some tri-specific shoes so they had no fastenings to fiddle with, just one big velcro strap. I also decided to not put socks on for the bike, so I didn’t have to worry about wet feet.

It all went OK, apart from the fact that I had weirdly decided to put gloves on and I forgot, so as I was running out of transition I realised I still had them in my hand. I had to stop to try to get them on, but they were so fiddly I gave up and shoved them in my top-tube bag. I was fine without them – lesson for the future.

2:16 in T1, not great, but I am getting faster!

The bike

The bike didn’t start great – I got in my shoes OK, using the elastic band method to hold them on (although one was a bit long and I had to grab it to snap it off, rather than the rotation doing it for me). But as it was quite a flat start we were all quickly going up the gears and I could not get the front derailleur to shift me to the big ring. I was cursing and yanking on the shifter but it just would not go. I recently got a new chainset, chain and cranks, so I was annoyed this had happened. One for the shop to fix for me I think. I decided I’d have to just use a fast cadence for the race, but then I gave it one last go and up it went. I then thought I’d try to stay in the big ring for as long as I could, but there was a lovely steep incline at 4 miles in and I had to drop down. Bum.

Luckily, when I got back on the flat the front shifted straight away into the big ring again. Maybe just gremlins?

Anyway, I settled into a good high average speed, hitting 20-25 mph consistently on the flat. I was enjoying this, and I was finding it much easier to stay in the aero position, having had more practice. Sadly once the course got a bit more undulating and I needed to use my full gear range again, the problem came back. It took me ages each time to shift into the big ring – losing me momentum and getting on my nerves!

About 11 miles in the course doubled back on itself and as I headed back to transition I saw George from the Harriers on the other side, not that far behind me. Of course the friendly rivalry kicks in then – we were the only two Harriers there, so we were obviously racing each other (well in my head!) So I knuckled down and got some big miles in for the next 3-4, keeping in a high gear. Then disaster. I changed down to go up a hill and my chain went straight over the small ring and off the cog. Arse. I had to stop and put the chain back on, losing precious seconds and getting oil all over my hands. Plus, George sailed past.

Oh well, back on I got and chased. For the next five miles or so I trailed George, not quite making the gap any smaller. I also saw a group of Harriers at one point going the other way – on a training ride for the big Grafman in a few weeks.

After a while I caught George and went past him (drafting isn’t allowed at this distance outside the professional circuit so you have to go round someone or drop back to more than 10 metres from their front wheel). I motored on, figuring I had to put some distance between us. About a mile or so from the end he powered past me though – damn he was fast on the bike!

As we came into transition again I had another little mishap. As my shoes have big cleats on them I can’t run in them, so I need to slip my feet out with them still attached and pedal on top of them, ready to dismount and run in bare feet. The left one came out fine and I put my foot on top of the shoe. The right one however I missed the shoe as I started to pedal and the shoe went underneath, catching the road and flying off! Thankfully a lovely marshal ran after it and got it for me. I then just got off the bike and ran with it in my hand as I pushed the bike back to the rack.

1:14:55 – 30 miles

Transition 2

This transition went to plan. I racked the bike, I quickly pulled on my socks to dry feet (revelation!) and then my shoes and a visor for the sun and was off. I noticed George was still sorting himself out, having come in before me, so it really brings home the value of practising quick transitions.

OK still 1:15, but getting better!

The run

The run started much better than the bike had. I got into a rhythm and a pace I was happy with and set off across the reservoir dam. The biggest problem was the heat, boy it was hot! My Garmin tells me it got up to 30 degrees at one point – hell of a contrast to the swim! I was so glad of my visor as, although I had sunglasses on, it kept the sun off my face.

The run was pretty uneventful, apart from the phantom stone I had in my shoe. Could I find it? Not a chance. I could feel it under my right heel, but although I stopped 3 times to get it out I could not see it. Even more bizarrely after about 3 miles it just disappeared and I have no blister or any marks there! Weird.

I saw George a couple of times as we were doing an out and back each way (left and right from transition). He seemed to be struggling a bit but it was great to give each other a couple of high fives on the way!

The course was a bit undulating, but no major hills. Just a really nice run along the reservoir and back. The only issue was the heat, it was so hot and you could see people wilting.

Soon enough though, the finish line came into view and I did my 10k in 56:10. Not bad considering I did a standalone 10k in 54 mins last week, although some way off my usual mid-40s for a 10k.

Overall my time was 2:52:08 – 347th overall and 51st in my age group (lets gloss over the fact only three people were slower than me in my age group – Gill Fullen I am not!

Great day today – really recommend it as an event. Would love to see what its like in the river so I may enter again next year.

Beautiful weather, great organisation, fantastic course. Great way to spend a Sunday.