Dexter wanted to do this event as the bike course promised to be very flat. When we entered at the start of 2016, it didn’t occur to us that it was a British Triathlon Age-Group Championships event, so the field in the Olympic distance would be distinctly lacking in mountain bikes, fancy dress and newbies.
Having opted to make a weekend of it, we went to register on the Saturday and were surprised to learn that the transition area was inside the Echo Arena on Albert Dock, with no public information about whether there was to be a bag drop anywhere nearby (although later it turned out there was one and it seemed secure). The swim start also seemed to be quite a walk away and we encountered a few triathletes who, like us, were trying to figure out how the swim could possibly end up anywhere near T1. The swim, which is in the salt-water dock, looked quite big and scary, with the start taking you away from the eventual finish, looping round, under a couple of bridges before you turn left down a channel to exit via wide steps. Having heard about the dreaded jelly-fish, I did spot them near to the entry pontoon, but resolved to be brave and ignore them. There was the facility to rack our bikes Saturday night, but we decided to wait until Sunday morning so we could ride from our hotel, which was about 20 mins walk away.
Sunday morning dawned dull but not raining and a pleasant temperature and the ride to the Echo Arena would have been pleasant if I hadn’t started having the usual pre-triathlon “why am I doing this” thoughts. However, whilst racking my bike I started to get a feel for the over-50’s competition I was up against. Talking to a really nice lady who seemed as angst-ridden as me, but then turned round and she had a GB top on and a really whizzy Giant bike a bit like Anne Johnson’s so I got an inkling of what was to come. As they’d ordered the swim starts via gender then age-group, Dex was off an hour before me, so I had the inevitable hour of nervous waiting by the swim start, talking to anyone who’d listen. Again, met a few of my fellow ‘red hats’, most of whom seemed a lot more prepared than me, and looked very fit. I’d thought with my wave being all the over 50’s “ladies”, we’d get in, do breast-stroke, chat about baking and crochet, and generally have a polite time of it. Couldn’t have been more wrong. These girls meant business and the 60+ year old I’d been chatting to in the water at the start quickly pulled away from me, giving me a hefty kick and she sped off. On the plus side, definitely spurred on by the marauding jelly-fish up the final channel, I did my best ever swim time, and was soon out of the water cursing about the jelly-fish as I exited.
Ever such a long run to T1, then I have to stop and put my wetsuit in a red bag handed to me by a steward before I enter the Arena. What I didn’t need to do was carefully remove my earplugs, noseclip and goggles, and place them in my swim bonnet, then in the bag. Once inside the arena, the concrete had gotten very slippery so it was too risky to actually run so I kind of pootled along as fast as I could, in fact, I got so into it that I walked right past my bike (well, I did approach from a different angle) and did another half circuit of the arena. Yes, back to my usual transition antics. Anyway, red plastic bag duly knotted (why did I waste time doing that?), and cycle kit on, I walk-ran towards Bike out, then up a long concrete slope out into the daylight. This is definitely one where you need to have your shoes on your bike – lots of running and sliding about on cleats – not graceful at all.
The bike route’s 4 circuits and has a bit of a slope at both ends, so, flat, if you’re from Calderdale. Having done Salford a couple of weeks earlier with lots of practice at hairpin turns definitely helped me maintain speed on the switch round. Quite disappointed at the lack of crowd support, especially towards the end of the bike ride. Starting in in the last wave did mean, though, that I only had to suffer 20 minutes or so of Exocet-missile type noises as time-trial bikes whizzed past me, but I did get a bit discouraged when passed by my peers, and wrote-off any chance of being placed (3rd in my age-group at Salford, which had obviously taken place when the whizzy people were on holiday or doing another race!). Lost my water-bottle on lap 2 in a strange juggling manoeuvre, so resigned myself to eating energy-bar flapjack with nothing to wash it down with – gritty!
Did another lap of honour at T2, so much so that an official suggested that perhaps I might like to stop circumventing the transition and pop back to my spot. Chuntering to myself, got trainers on, swore a bit because I’d got disorientated and couldn’t spot the Run Exit, found it and trotted off. The run was 2 circuits, pretty bereft of any support, and I decided to entertain myself by reminiscing about the time I’d spent living in Liverpool and working in one of the Albert Dock buildings. Legs felt OK, but I was disappointed that the energy levels I’d experienced at Salford just weren’t there, so 55 minutes later I crossed the finishing line, in circa 3Hrs01, just outside the magic 3 hours (damn those transitions!)
Dex’s take on the event was one of astonishment at the number of expensive serious-looking bikes in transition clearly being ridden by competent accomplished athletes (not much “all the gear no idea” going on). However, he’s well impressed that on the bike he managed to pass a lady with GB kit on, who later on in the lap decided to return the favour. Crowd support less than other events, but, having his Calderdale top with his name on elicited bits of encouragement during the run. The inital 200m of his swim was fine, but then felt a bit lonely after the first buoy when all his peers disappeared off, and continued in the same vein until caught up by the next ‘yellow’ wave. Dex enjoyed the course and is definitely up for doing the event in 2017.
In summary, a well-organised race with a nice flat route in an iconic city, but for me, I found being so far down the field a little discouraging. Will I be doing it next year? Of course, if only so I can conquer the transitions and beat my time. Having dreaded the swim (as I usually do), I found it the most enjoyable part of the race. The lesson I think we have both learned is that we need to train properly rather than just do a spot of swimming, running and biking when we feel like it. In conclusion, if you want to do your best, then you have to be prepared to not just put in the hours, but put in the quality. It’s taken my 5-6 years to realise this, but I do believe, the penny has finally dropped. 2017 – bring it on!