Last of the Summer Tri – How not to prepare for a race

2017 had been a year off cycling and sport in general following a herniated disc which required surgery. So I entered 2018 unsure if I would even get back to cycling and did not enter any events, instead concentrating on the longer runs which I was finding very therapeutic.

Fast forward to the summer of 2018 and I’m now back to cycling to work, and missing the buzz of Tri so I did a bit of research as to what was available and saw the season finale, Last of the Summer Tri in Holmfirth. I remember Chairman P once telling me “It’s very hilly, it would suit you,” so I sat on the comfy sofa and entered the race from my phone

Is it really as easy as that? Enter, turn up, race? Well with my main aim being the Yorkshireman Marathon I wasn’t going to let tri training mess up my marathon training so I was going to find out how an underprepared competitor can manage. (I did have a week for training before taper week so did manage to fit in a brick session then, but other than that I was winging it)

Oh tapering, yes well I sort of might have also promised to support a brand new local fell race. Must check my calendar more carefully. The day before my triathlon sees me taking on 15 miles and 2600 feet of climb. I loved this race – my legs did not love it quite as much and spent most of the night reminding me of this.

Fortunately one bit of preparation has gone well, my bike has been kept well serviced as it serves as my trusty commuter. This commute of up to 60 miles a week has also served as my training for the bike section.

The organisers have successfully altered the weather for us, with Storm Bronagh sent on her merry way so that the race is actually safe to put on. They haven’t managed to get the nice sunshine for us though. As I stand in the cold car park of Holmfirth Pool ready to register I am struggling to picture how I might cope with cycling at speed in a wet swimming cossie. I decide that my cycling jersey and gloves are going to be waiting in transition, it may delay T1 but it will keep me comfortable.

With the bike safely racked and everything (hopefully) set out correctly I make my way to the pool. It is a relief to be in the warm reception and I relish my time here, but we’ve all come here for something else so it’s through to poolside.

The pool here looks tiny, like a bathtub. With the still surface the deep end looks to be only a metre or so deep, and the lengths look like you could push off one end and reach the other. It’s actually slightly short at 20m not 25m. This means you do sets of 5 for 100m, oh how will my brain cope with the maths? More on that later.

The first swimmers get into the pool and, soon after this, a whistle announces the start of their individual races. Amongst the next wave is Calderdale Tri Club’s Jamie Fradgley, alongside Holmfirth’s Ben Humphreys and Wakefield’s Jason Broadley. These 3 would jostle for the podium positions over the next hour and a bit, but we only saw the opening stages in the water.

Some 15 long minutes later I get to my own turn. Its lovely and warm in the water as I wait for the whistle but there is a chill breeze coming through the exit to warn me of what is ahead.

This lane is all very well matched and no overtaking seems to be taking place, though towards the end I did seem to find a conga of swimmers happy to relax and swim in my wake.

I very soon lost count of the lengths, is this the set of 4 that ends at 12 or that starts at 12? Oh dear my maths does not work well when I’m going all out. Fortunately the counters in this race have a board that they put up for 2 lengths to go. On length 18 this is flashed up at me. After a quick second look to confirm that this is aimed at me, and not one of my lane pals, I set off on the last 40m with my legs kicking away hard to get some life back in to them.

This is it, this is why I love tri. I’d forgotten about the excitement that builds as you get ready to move from one discipline to the next.

Out of the water, check. Cap off, check. Let Garmin know that I’m off to T1, check. (It won’t count if it doesn’t reach Strava)

The run to T1 is very quiet. A couple of marshalls to direct you, but no crowds to speak of. Not that I notice whats around me anyway, I’ve got other things to think about.

The jersey in T1 was a poor choice, I’d forgotten just how difficult the zip is and after several failed attempts I stripped my jersey back off and shoved it on the floor in disgust. “What a waste of 30 seconds that was” I comment to the Rochdale athlete beside me. As we had started in the same wave this gave her the chance to sneak out of T1 just ahead of me, though we were both leapfrogging throughout the ensuing ride. The hills that had been promised were living up to everything that I’d expected and many of the riders were struggling to get any speed going. This course therefore suited both me and my bike. Me because I love climbing hills and claimed a whole load of scalps along the way. My bike was dutiful in delivering the power I put through the pedals and this was all it had to do. Yes a light weight bike would have made this easier, but it certainly wasn’t the sort of course where an expensive time trial bike might give you a major advantage. This isn’t a fast and flat guaranteed PB affair.

The only real difficulty on this course for some riders looked to be that the hills caused a lot of grouping and its hard to keep the 10m non drafting clearance. There were several bunches crawling up the hill together, though drafting doesn’t offer much help at those speeds. I took these groups as an added incentive to wind my speed up slightly for a short spell to push past them and into the next clear section.

So it was that we quickly completed all 3 laps and I managed to clock up the 15th fastest bike time out of 140 entrants, definitely a PB there.

T2 seemed to go smoothly, though the clock would disagree. Perhaps it was my keeping my shoes on till transition that made the difference, I totally forgot about dismounting barefoot. Perhaps I was too careful to keep everything neat. Or perhaps I was just dreading the run.

You start off flat across a field and my quads immediately began to complain, I was now doubting the sense of yesterdays run. But there is nothing to do now except race. Then my old friend returns in the form of Bridge lane. We met this 3 times on the bike and now have to climb it once more right at the start of the run. Once at the top of this it doesn’t relent, you simply turn a corner and carry on climbing, though the next hill is not quite as steep.

There is now no competition for me to see so it gets hard to keep motivated, but I know I put all these people behind me on the bike section and I’m determined not to let them catch me so I keep on pushing. It is here that I realise the answer to my puzzle from earlier in the week. A colleague had asked “Why? What keeps you going and stops you from just jogging or walking?” The experience would be the same, I could still say I did it, and no one will see me on this side of the course. But now I know the answer. I put so much work into the early stages that it would be a waste not to keep pushing now. I am certainly not going as fast as I might have done with fresh legs, but nor am I going to let my pace drop off to anything less than the best that I can manage right now.

Not many hills left now. At the half way point we turn a left hand hairpin and the mountain rescue guy cheerfully announces that it is all downhill now. I know this is not true, but I think it might be mostly downhill. Keep those fast feet turning over and let gravity do the work, well what could be easier?

After the final climb it is just a little further up the hill to the finish line, the crowds, and most importantly the family, are out in good force by now. As on the previous bike laps there is plenty of encouragement around this stretch of road, and moreso when they see that you are coming in to finish. Downhill, yes one last downhill leading to the finish line. Ignore what you read on the route info and just follow the marshalls instructions to go straight on and there you find the lovely community that is the finish funnel. Surrounded by people that have just been on the same journey as you. A chance to rest. A chance to help yourself to the free fruit. A chance to dream of going home and lying on the sofa and not booking anything else, well not just yet…

Results

Personally I was ecstatic to get 20th overall with 15th on the bike. Having previously worked myself up from top 33% to top 25% in the field, this was another world. Maybe there was something in my training methods after all.

Other Calderdale Tri Club results were Jamie Fradgley first overall and Steven Crowther first in his age group.

Name                        AG         Finish    Pos   Swim      T1        Bike      T2        Run

Jamie Fradgley    25-29       1:15:26        1        06:40      01:01    45:49    00:48    21:08

Andrew Wright      40-44       1:32:37      20     08:12       01:55    52:11     01:18      29:01

Steven  Crowther   50-54       1:36:46      35     08:33       01:45    53:45    01:00     31:43

 

Rank                     Swim rank     T1 rank    Bike rank      T2 rank    Run

Jamie Fradgley                3                    2                   3                    16                  1

Andrew Wright               20                  27                 15                   69                 42

Steven Crowther             32                  16                 25                   36                 67