My big challenge for the year was the Challenge Weymouth Half Triathlon. Having only competed in sprint distance triathlons, this was quite a big step up from what I was used to.
This is the first of a 2 part post about the event. I’ve written it at about 2am so please excuse and typos etc as I’ve not checked it yet. I’ve also borrowed some photos from friends that were also at the event. Hope that’s ok!!
My training for the event fell apart after about 8 weeks due to my back injury, work and any other excuse I can think of sharing. I did my best to get my training back on track but really didn’t do the training justice. Before I knew it, the weekend had arrived and there was no turning back.
Fortunately, several triathlon friends were competing (Tamsyn, Stuart, Gary, Roelie, James, Liz, Suzanne, Dean, Jan and Paul to name as many as I can currently remember!)
I had found a Premier Inn which I hoped was close to the race venue, Lodmoor Park, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the hotel was adjacent to the park.
As Denise was surfing in Devon for the weekend, I dropped the boys off at their grandparents on the way down to Weymouth. My plan was to drive down, park in the local ‘Park and Ride’, take the bus to the seafront and then register at the Pavilion before heading back to the car to then drive to Lodmoor Park to rack my bike.
All went to plan and it was good meet Tamsyn, Stuart and Dean near the Pavillion before I registered.
Registration was a breeze although I’d accidentally taken my old BTF Licence and ended up paying £5. D’oh.
Once I’d signed in, picked up the multitude of transition bags and signed my name alongside the signatures of many other competitors, consumed a pint of Erdinger along the seafront, I headed back to catch the bus back to the park and ride where I picked up the car and drove to the hotel. My room overlooked the bike racking area which was empty at the time.
Having checked in, paid for a breakfast and checked out my room, which had a great view onto the transition area and bike racking, I went down to rack my bike amongst the millions of £s of other competitor’s bikes in the knowledge that the saddle on some of the bikes cost more than my bike.
Having racked I spotted Tamsyn and Stuart and we attended an informal overview of the changing and transition procedure. It was all a little confusing. As with lots of mass participation events (or so I was told), transition between each of the disciplines involved bags. Each was coloured and we had a red cycle bag which we placed our cycling clothing in, a blue run bag and a green street-wear bag. These were to be left in designated areas and then picked up as we entered T1 and T2 where we then proceeded to the changing tent to swap clothing as required. I’ll explain more as I detail the day itself.
So, that was racking done. Stuart and Tamsyn very kindly offered me a lift back to the centre so that we could attend the race briefing which was held in the Pavilion building where we’d already registered. I hadn’t given this much thought and expected a small percentage of participants to attend and for it to consequently be held in a small room. How wrong was I?
As we entered the door, it turned out that registration was being held in a theatre and it must have been attended by every participant. There was no room for spouses, other family members or children. It was full to bursting.
The briefing was given by the Race Director, Alan, and the Chief Technical Official whose name escapes me (and would add little to this post should I recall it!)
The briefing was excellent. Very informative and amusing in many places. It lasted over an hour but didn’t seem too long and was pitched very well. At the end, there were lots of questions raised which we waited to hear about. The only unwelcome information was than the run distance had crept up to 25km (it should really be 21km)! OMG!
Having received that bombshell, we left the theatre to drown out the bad news with another Erdinger. Before doing so, we joined a few of the others for a chat and a group photo.
© Photo by Janice Goble
Having discussed the over-lengthening run course, everyone disappeared to their various hotels and I walked the mile or so along the seafront back to my hotel.
As I walked, I looked out at the sea and saw it was a little choppy. This bought back memories of two sea-related incidents from my past. One was as a child when my twin brother and I were in a rubber dinghy which got overturned and I thought I was drowning before being rescued by my dad and the other episode was on a holiday in Greece where I was windsurfing and the wind picked up and I got swept out and tried desperately to get back into shore before resorting to trying to swim back with the board dragging behind me. Rather than get back safely under my own steam, I was rescued in a safety boat. Oh happy days!
As I got close to the hotel, I checked out the swim course, admired the waves, prayed that the sea would look like a mirror in the morning and received a text message from Eleanore who was camping out in the Brewers Fayre whilst waiting for Gary (her partner), Roelie and James to rack their bikes.
I went to join Eleanore and we chatted over a drink. Gary, Roelie and James arrived and we chatted some more. I haven’t really spoken to James that much in the past but he’s a legend. Really friendly, funny and good company. Roelie is too. As are Gary and Eleanore. And Tamsyn and Stuart. And Liz! Do I need to go on?!
The time was flying by and the others all headed back to their hotels and I returned to my room to try and work out what to put in each transition bag and then headed back to the Brewers Fayre for a meal. It was surprisingly quiet and I chose a pasta option to find that they’d run out. I decided on Tikka Masala instead and then subsequently hoped that it would not be a mistake the following day (it wasn’t).
Once I’d eaten, I decided to recce the eastern part of the run course along the promenade. It was quite breezy and as I’d not run for a few days, I decided to run/walk the mile or so to the turnaround point and then do the same on the way back. I was quite pleasantly surprised that the out wasn’t as far out as I’d thought but did Google map my position and compare it to the course map just to be sure.
I headed back to my room, once again looked out at the spectacle of 1800 bikes racked and ready for the following morning.
It was time to get my transition bags sorted once and for all. As I’ve mentioned before, we had 3 bags. For those with too much time on your hands, this is what I packed:
Cycle bag – cycle shoes, gloves, race belt with race numbers, sunglasses, gels, energy bars and a cycle top
Run bag – running shoes, socks, gels and a cap
Street bag – swim goggles, cap, trousers, T-shirt, hoodie, sun cream
I also put my numerous water bottles in the bathroom ready for filling the following morning.
Having packed everything else I had bought but didn’t need, I decided that it was time to relax, climbed into bed and took a look through the race booklet and turned off the light at 9pm in the hope of getting some sleep.
As it turned out, I slept like a baby. By that I mean waking every hour crying! Ok, so maybe there were no tears or screaming but it was certainly not a great night’s sleep. However, I know I did get some sleep as I dreamt about waking up, looking down at bike racking to see half the bikes missing and the thieves pretending to do star jumps to elude my expecting it was them involved with loading lorries with their two-wheeled lot.
During the night, I contemplated how long it would take to complete the challenge. With a 1.9 swim, I estimated that bad on my previous weekends lake swim that this would take the same time of 45 minutes. For the cycle, I estimated 4 hours. This was entirely based on the time it had taken Chris and I the first 90km of our 83 mile ride from Southampton to Weymouth a couple of weekends before.
My PB for a half marathon is 2 hours plus a number of seconds. I estimated that as I’d have a couple more miles to run that I’d add 20 minutes in and then add 10% on to account for the fact that I’d not be running on fresh legs. In fact, my legs might be completely mashed. Give or take a minute, that meant 2:30 for the 25km. Adding on 10 minutes for transitions that came to 7 hours and 30 minutes. I’d read that the average time to complete a half Ironman distance event was 6 hours so my estimate looked very sedate. In fact, it matched the average time for someone in their 80s :-S
My alarm woke me up at 5am. Yes, woke me up! I snoozed for another 10 minutes and then got up and showered. I then self-applied my race number tattoos to each arm (they are used primarily for identification if hauled unconscious out of the sea), put on my STC tri suit and t-shirt and shorts and then checked all my transition bags. In the process I struggled to remember where I’d left my keys and wallet so ended up going through the bags again.
Just before 6am, I went to drop off the transition bags and check out my bike.
© Photo from Liz Carter
On the way down to hotel reception, I spoke to another competitor who asked whether I’d heard the announcement that the swim course was being shortened for the full distance competitors due to rough conditions and that there was a possibility that the swim leg might be cancelled completely. A decision would be made later about the swim for the half distance event once a better idea of the conditions had been established from seeing the full distance competitors struggle. This didn’t sound good. I didn’t want to see the severity of the conditions and hoped that the sea would calm down before my wave set off. As well as the course adjustment, all start times were delayed by 30 minutes.
Having heard the good news, I headed to transition.
© Photo from Liz Carter
This gave me the opportunity to check my bike was in an ‘easy’ gear and add some gels to the top bar using elastic bands for easy removal on the go. I added my water bottles (containing water with High Five energy drink powder) and I was all done. As I headed to the Brewers Fayre for my continental breakfast, I saw and spoke to Mike from STC and his girlfriend who described the conditions. I then got a text from Eleanore to say that the group were camped out in the pub already.
I wandered around trying to find them but they’d gone back to their vehicle to do something so I grabbed breakfast after finding a large table with enough room for all of us to for around.
© Eleanore Coulthard
Within a few minutes, Eleanore arrived so we chatted whilst consuming breakfast which for me consisted of a croissant, fruit, yoghurt and a Costa Americano.
Before long, we were joined my the rest of the group and the table was full. We had about 90 minutes until our respective waves were due to enter the sea which gave ample time to worry about the swim and the rest of the event. I was getting worried about the fact that I’d not run long for several months and hadn’t run anywhere close to half marathon distance since the previous November and had never run further than 14 miles. Too late to worry about it now though.
At about 7:45am, we got into our wetsuits (after several toilet trips) and headed out to see to the swim start area. The area was very busy and we didn’t get to see the sea until about 8:15am shortly after a group photo, spraying all around me with sun cream and dropping our green ‘street wear’ bags off.
© Eleanore Coulthard
As we walked into the beach, we said our final goodbyes, shared some hugs, good luck wishes and tried not too look at the crashing waves. Hmmm.
© James Nicolas
This was going to be interesting.
The green wave were called forward and Suzanne, Roelie and I walked to the start line. We shared some anxious glances and waited for the start horn to go off…
I waded into the sea. It was difficult to keep upright. I imagined it would get easier once I was in the water but getting to a point deep enough to swim in was going to be challenge enough. At least whilst stood up I could see the buoys over the rolling sea. It became pretty obvious that sighting was going to get very difficult very quickly. Combined with the waves, current and lack of being competence in swimming in a straight line without lab ropes, there was a good chance I could be swimming much further than the 1.9km course (I forgot to mention that although the full-distance competitors had their course halved, the rest of us had to swim the full 1.9km).
As mentioned, sighting was very difficult. Not only were the buoys yellow and difficult to see anyway but only 1 in 5 attempted to sight the buoys gave a clear line of sight. More often than not, all I could see was a wall of water ahead of me. Fortunately, there were lots of kayaks out in the water and several of them were guiding swimmers back in course.
The first buoy was probably 400m from the shore. I’d estimate I swam an extra 50-75m to get there. Maybe more. The conditions didn’t get any easier and on many an occasion, I took a stroke to find I was lifted out of the water, catch and pulling in fresh air to be dumped back unceremoniously back into the sea.
I got to the first buoy eventually and tried to sight the next one. I had to stop and bob about for a couple of seconds before I spotted it and then ploughed on. Fortunately, there was only about 100m I swim to get to it. The conditions were not much better as the sea rolled threatening to take me off course.
Having rounded the 2nd buoy, it was time to head back to shore. There were a few things to use to sight and that made things a little easier. Shortly after I rounded the buoy, the lead swimmers from the following wave started swimming over me. I wasn’t concerned. I figured that I could follow them as they were clearly better swimmers than me having started 5 minutes after my wave.
This approach worked and I think my attempts to swim in a relatively straight line were quite successful.
As I got close to shore, the crashing waves made it difficult to get ashore. That was soon followed by the difficult of trying to stand up and get into the beach. Fortunately, assistance was on hand and I was hauled out to run along the beach to go through it all again. Oh joy!!
© Eleanore Coulthard
The second lap did seem slightly easier. I’d suffered it once and knew what to expect. I felt I swam a straighter course between buoys and used a little less energy. Shortly after the 2nd buoy someone swam over me at 90 degrees heading offshore. He stopped and I pointed towards to next buoys and told him that was the direction he was supposed to be swimming in.
There a great video of the sea conditions and our wave at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfMNhurT6W8
Once ashore, I peeled off the top half of my wetsuit and ran to T1. As I got there, I picked up my cycle bag and went into the changing tent, peeled off the rest of my wetsuit and sat down on an unstable bench and got ready for the 90km/56 mile cycle ride.
This post has gone on and on for more that either myself or you the reader can probably cope with so I’m turning this into a 2-parter.