Race Report - Stratford Triathlon
Well here we are - my race is run, and having been so giddy with excitement, both I and Tall Friend managed to forget to start our stopwatches at the ‘off’. So neither of us have any idea of out total times, splits, or which of us clocked the fastest time. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the official results’ times.
Anyway, here goes for my race report . . . a thrilling tale of triumph in the water and disaster on the road . . .
As a pool event, this race had a staggered start, with 15 second start intervals from 07:30 to some time in the early afternoon. Tall Friend’s was at 08:44, and mine (with a slower predicted swim) at 09:22. Naturally we got to the car park with over an hour to spare, and I’m not sure, but I think Tall Friend may even have slept in his race suit (photo below). But at least we had lots of time to register, collect our goody bags, check out the transition area, and cheer the first cyclist back to T2 (even allowing for the fact that they were handing out free samples of Red Bull, I’m sure this guy had wings - he was absolutely flying).
The weather forecast was for an overcast start to the day, light drizzle / rain in the morning, and then some serious rain (3 inches) in the afternoon. So I was really glad we were racing in the morning.
We had a little trouble getting my bike into transition at the same time as Tall Friend’s - this is a big event, and they weren’t keen on letting my rack my bike over an hour before my start, but the marshall relented in the end, and I got a good spot which was going to be really easy to find. I’ve done the headless chicken looking for my bike thing before, and didn’t want to repeat it!
Before we knew it, Tall Friend was in the queue along the side of the pool . . . which moved forward surprisingly quickly . . . and then in the pool cruising up and down. Even though Stratford is a 33m pool, and they’d set it up as only 3 lanes (you do four lengths of each), the 15 second start intervals made it look pretty crowded. Maybe not the kind of swimming in a washing machine crowded that you get with open water mass starts, but definitely not genteel either. Worrying!
As he started his last length, I jogged back through the leisure centre to cheer Tall Friend out of T1. Seemed to take him ages to put his shoes on, which if I’ve beaten him, may well be the deciding factor. Maybe the light rain that had just started had put him off?
And then it was my time to go. The usual nervous chat in the line was over almost before it started, and I was in the water and . . . off. New Orca race suit fitting like a dream, goggles comfortable, front crawl nice and easy, even overtaking a couple of people (!!). In fact almost before I’d started, it was over, and I was climbing out of the pool, having swam the whole distance in front crawl. OK, it was only 400m, but bearing in mind that less than a week previously, the best I could have managed was 150m, this is something I’m really proud of, and absolute proof that swimming lessons work.
Jogging through to T1, I noticed that it was still raining lightly, and struggled a bit to get my socks on. Also, despite my practising, I’d not left my shoes wide open and ready to receive my feet, AND this was the first time I’d done a transition in which I put gloves on. Yeah, I know that race day isn’t really supposed to be for trying out new things, but I’d read something in the last week or so that gloves are essential equipment for saving your hands in the event of a fall, and (style over substace) wanted to dress like a proper triathlete / cyclist.
But it was still an OK transition, and included proof positive that front crawl was the right swim stroke. In pulling my bike backwards off the rack, the crank rotated 180 degrees, putting the wrong pedal in the ‘go’ position. As I was running to the mounting line, carrying the bike with its saddle hooked over my right shoulder, I realised this, and corrected the situation as I ran. So I was awake enough to think, which for me is a big plus.
The bike mount was pretty smooth, and then I was heading off along the 150 yard service road from the car park that had been set up for transition. The marshall manning the entry onto the public road waved me through, and then . . . . . . . disaster.
I hit the left hand turn onto the road too fast. With the fresh rain lifting the oil film off the road surface, the bike went right out from under me, and I went from vertical to horizontal, banging my head on the road and using my left ankle, calf, knee, thigh, hip, hand, forearm, elbow and shoulder to slow my progress as I skidded across two lanes of the one-way system.
Thankfully the marshall stepped out into the road behind me to stop the traffic as I bounced back to upright, and re-mounted. The saddle had been twisted to about 45 degrees out of line (but Hah! It missed BOTH my legs!), which was a problem easily rectified. Other than that everything seemed in working order. No alarming rattles or wobbles, no horrible grinding from the transmission, and the steering apparently true and straight.
So I took the first half mile fairly easy, helped myself to a glug of my Funky Rehydration Race Mix, while I settled my nerves down and checked out my body. Apart from my left side stinging like hell, nothing else was hurting, my vision clear, and no unusual tastes or sensations:
“OK, enough messing about. Now it’s time to race. Head down, and let’s go!“
The bike route at Stratford is a triangle, and for the first two sides, there was a gentle headwind. But once my nerves had calmed, everything seemed to work perfectly, and I was pretty soon zipping past other cyclists like a man possessed / out for revenge / with a mistake to put behind me. The third side of the triangle begins with the course’s only climb (nothing to write home about), and going up this, it was as if the other cyclists were sitting on turbo trainers. And all this while holding my HR in the 130-140 bpm zone.
The last four miles of the course is largely down hill, and I pushed hard, lifting my average speed for the bike from 18 to 19.9 mph by the time I dismounted. Allowing for the fact that this includes some time laying down on the job, re-grouping, taking all the corners after the first one really slowly, and the externalised elements of T2 (taking my shoes off while still on the bike), I’m pretty pleased.
T2 went well (not quite Zappoman’s nine seconds, but not a million miles from it), and then out onto the run. Stratford’s not a brilliant run course - two circuits of a mainly grass route, which ends up being quite muddy, slippy, and uneven. But only 5K, and over soon enough, for a welcome bucket of Gatorade.
One of the marshalls at the finish line urged me toward the first aid station, where the medics flushed my (many) wounds with saline, while cheerfully telling me all about how much they were all going to hurt, especially if I took their advised bath in hot salt water. So rather than showering & changing on site, we decided to head back to Tall Friend’s house for me to experience this torture. He looked rather shocked, and even volunteered to go and get my clothes from the locker, while I went to thank the marshall who’d stepped into the traffic to give me time to get up, and to get my bike back from transition.
The bike’s pretty much un-damaged as I appear to have taken the brunt of the impact - a missing bar-end plug, a few scratches on the brake lever, a little torn tape, some scuffs on one pedal, and a polished end to the rear skewer. My helmet had a fairly convincing dent on the left side, so we took my wallet for a tour round the expo in the registration hall to pick up a replacement before heading off.
And now? The salt water bath wasn’t half as bad as it’d been built up to be, but everything’s still pretty sore, especially my hip - I went without a dressing on it today to try and speed up the healing - a BIG mistake, as my tarmac allergy’s obviously more severe than I thought! My neck’s also feeling a bit strained on the right hand side, where the muscles took the tension as my head was whipped onto the road.
We still don’t know whether or not I’ve finally managed to catch Tall Friend, but that’s really not the point. The fact is that I’m now, once more, a triathlete. I have the painting on my arms and legs, AND the scars to prove it:
So what’s next?
Tall Friend picked up a leaflet for the BananaMan Triathlon at Eaton on July. 800m open water swim (no tides, and no current), 30km bike, and 7.5km run. Looks like the obvious next step on the ladder towards the you-know-what in Nice in June 2008.
Right now my only problem is that my skin’s still too raw for cycling or running (believe me, I wanted to today), and too unsightly for swimming. But I will repair, and (sorry for this - there’s a Governator film on at the moment), I will be back!