This morning I competed in my first triathlon of the year… the Cotswold Super Sprint. A little lax I know, but it’s been a little hectic over the last few months and rather than sign up for too many events, I’ve focused on a handful.
Rather than get up before 5am, Chris Stocks and I decided to go up to Cirencester yesterday (Saturday), stay over in a Premier Inn (Swindon North) and then have a slightly longer lie-in before the event. It was a plan that worked well.
Having got all my stuff together, I needed to tune my bike a little as on the last few rides, the gears have been a little jumpy and clattery (is that a word?!) I left this until Friday afternoon for some unknown reason and was worried that would mean that if I messed the re-indexing up, I may have to ride a bike with one (inappropriate) gear. However, having reacquainted myself with the simple art of indexing gears, I got my road bike out onto my workstand and went through the process.
The fact that I’d left it so late meant that I didn’t have chance to ride the bike to check them but I was fairly confident they’d be ok… Gulp!
On Saturday morning, I’d hoped to go to Eastleigh parkrun‘s 4th Anniversary but a combination of needing to spend some time with the family and having more to do before I picked up Chris meant the anniversary celebrations would have to be missed by me 😦
Anyway… at 12:30pm I left home, filled the car with diesel before picking Chris up. I arrived a little early to find him protein loading with steak whilst he, Ali, George and Molly watched Sherlock.
Having got Chris’ kit in the car, we started our journey up to the Cotswold Water Park and Beach, the venue for the triathlon.
After about 80 minutes on the road, we arrived, parked up and headed to registration which had opened.
Once we’d picked up our timing chips, race numbers, assorted flyers for local events and services and a tech T-shirt we went to recce the course.
The swim was 400m and having spoken to a few other competitors, we believed we knew the swim route (we’d been given duff info and been told the 200m swim course instead which explains why the course we believed to be 400m looked rather short).
Having looked at swim entry and exit (the latter required quite a climb up a steep bank), we went off to check out transition and also the cycle mount and dismount areas.
As the ground was mostly gravel from transition to the mount line, the organisers had kindly laid carpet down to run on. There was some discussion about whether to keep cycle shoes on the bike and run barefoot but the consensus was to wear the cycle shoes from transition (T1) to the mount line and back from the dismount to transition (T2).
On our recce of the mount/dismount area, we checked out a bit of the run route and decided that with the recent wet weather and rain forecast overnight that trail shoes would be best for the run.
As well as sussing things out ourselves, we provided some advice to some first time triathletes.
Once we were happy that we knew as much about the venue, transition, cycle mount/dismount as we were likely to find out we headed back to the car and decided to check out the cycle route.
As we drove the course, we worked out where we’d get battered by the gusty winds that rocked the MPV as we drove along.
Fortunately, the road surface looked mostly good and there were long sections which were well-sheltered by tree. There were a few sections that were more exposed that could prove a challenge if the forecast gusts joined us for the morning.
Having obtained a good knowledge of the course and worried a little about a lack of signs, signs blowing around 180 degrees and one crossroads with limited visibility in any direction, we headed to the Premier Inn.
After unloaded all our kit into the room and got organised for the following morning, we decided to retire to the restaurant/bar for a coffee and meal.
As we ate, we talked about running, triathlon, family, fellow parkrunners, etc etc. For our meal, we tried to choose the healthiest option, Mediterranean Chicken, but then went for the crumble with custard as a reward for, um, er choosing a healthy main course!!
As we finished our meal, we started to communicate with Ben and Chris (from Try Tri) and Ian Boshier who were asking about conditions and the course.
At about 9pm, we headed back to the room ready for a (hopeful) good night’s sleep.
After a (fairly) good night’s sleep which involved a fair amount of listening to the wind outside, our alarms woke us up at 5:30am. We had a quick breakfast of fruit and yoghurt (thanks Chris), took an energy gel and then headed to the lake.
It was a 15-20 minute drive and we arrived to find the car park we’d hoped to park in full so got shepherded to an area further away. It wasn’t too much of a problem though particularly as I’d reduced my gear to a small rucksack and bucket.
We unloaded our bikes and headed for the transition area to set up. Time flies when you’re setting up so it’s good to arrive early. As the racking was numbered, our bike positions were set and we didn’t have the luxury of finding an optimal spot close to the exit of transition. This wasn’t a major problem though as, although there was racking for about 500 bikes, the transition area was fairly small.
Once we’d set up, we spotted Ben, Chris and Ian and had a chat. 3 great blokes and a pleasure to spend time at an event with them.
With time ticking, we headed back to the car to get our wetsuits on and pay a last minute visit to the toilets. Not the first visit of course.
We barely had time to get into our wetsuits before the announcements of the very imminent closure of transition over the tannoy so grabbed our goggles and swim hats and headed back at a jog. I dropped off my cycling jacket and we exited transition and headed for the swim start area to watch the first wave set off.
Although, Ian, Chris x 2, Ben and I were in different age categories, we were all in the same wave, the 3rd to set off. We were called into the lake a few minutes before our start time of 8:13am to warm up.
The water was cold (about 14 deg C) but not unduly so. I submerged myself to acclimatise. As the cold water reached the small of my back, I realised this was no bath. However, it wasn’t very long at all before I warmed up (nothing to do with Ben creating his own little warm spot in the lake – I avoided that area!)
The water was crystal-clear. Amazingly so. I swam looking at the bottom and could make out the plants at the bottom of the lake really clearly. This was an experience I’ve not encountered in a lake in the UK before! At Lakeside, you can’t see 10cm beneath the surface!
We were then called back to the edge of the lake ready for the start horn.
HONK! We were off. I wasn’t sure how well I’d swim having not races in a lake since the HOWSC 100. However, I got into a rhythm and stuck to it. It was pretty congested at the start with lots of flailing arms and legs.
The masts of the boats we were going to go around were easy to ‘sight’ and with that and the clarity of the water, swimming in a straight line was much easier than I’d been used to in previous lake swims.
I managed to keep up with the main pack round both ‘buoys’ before heading back to swim exit. I didn’t know how well as was doing but knew it wasn’t too bad as I wasn’t trailing too far behind the pack. As I approached the bank, being able to see the bottom made it far easier to work out when to stand up and walk to the edge.
As we had to negotiate the steep bank to get out, it was great to have 2 marshals to give us a hand out of the lake.
My swim including the stumble/run to T1 took 10 minutes and 51 seconds. for 400m, I’d expect to take about 8 minutes tops so why so much longer? Well, I can put it down to swimming further than 400m. In open water, although you feel that you’re swimming in a straight line, for many of us, this isn’t the case and 400m can soon become 500m, 600m etc! Also, the time taken to get up and out of the lake and from the swim exit to T1 clearly adds time. As the Garmin 910XT uses GPS in open water and it only has the chance to get a fix on the satellite when the wrist with the watch is on is out of the water, the GPS tracking can be very eratic. In a pool as long as you swim in a straight line, you know that you’re swimming 25m per length (but, most likely, losing momentum on every turn).
I ran into transition and passed Ian who had clearly had a good swim. I also spotted Chris S still preparing to get out on the bike. My swim clearly hadn’t been too shabby to see him in T1. However, due to the burst blister on my foot from last Saturday’s parkrun where I wore trail shoes with no socks, I wanted to put socks on before my cycle shoes. This would also help keep my feet warm. Unfortunately, in the rush, I didn’t put them on very well and that would cause me a problem later as you’ll (if I remember) read about that later.
I put on my sunglasses, helmet, race belt, socks, shoes and cycling jacket and that caused my T1 to be pretty slow. I’m hoping to need less and be far quicker for Blenheim.
I ran with my bike out of transition and off to the mount area. It was quite a distance but the ground was good (especially with the carpet).
Just before the mount area, the carpet ended short and this meant I got some grit or similar on the cleat on the bottom of my right shoe sole. This would cause a problem when I went to try and clip in.
I had a little trouble mounting the bike and even more trouble clipping in with my right foot due to the grit picked up on the run. Having tried a few times, I gave up and pedalled off having lost a few places.
I was off.
The choice of wearing the cycling jacket was definitely the wise one. It would have been pretty cold with the air temperature and chill from the blustery/gusty wind.
The cycle leg went fairly well. It’s not a discipline I’m very strong at and that’s definitely something I need to work on. The course was easy to follow, well signed (more signage had been added after our recce) and well marshalled. I couldn’t have faulted it actually.
It was great that the cycle course was one lap as it was gusty. Where Chris S and I had expected the gusts to cause a problem, they did. But, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d expected.
The section through the industrial estate was fine with one last kick uphill before the descent/flat section back to the finish.
Before very long, there was a green sign for ‘Cotswold Water Park and Beach’ and I knew that the dismount area wasn’t too much further past that. At said point, I dismounted, wheeled my bike through the narrow gateway back into the carpeted path back to transition.
In T2, I racked my bike, swapped my shoes, took of my jacket and finally removed my helmet before heading out on the 2-lap run.
Before 100m, I felt that my left foot was uncomfortable. This was the foot with the blister and it was clear that my hastily put on sock wasn’t on properly and likely to lead to discomfort around the 5km run course. I had to choose whether to stop and adjust or to carry on. I chose the latter.
Before very long, Chris S came past me. For a millisecond, I wondered (hoped?!) that I’d somehow passed him in the bike leg and got out on the run before him but, in reality, I was overtaken on the bike by plenty of people and those I overtook were much, much fewer in number.
About 1km into the run, Ben came by and at that point I knew that both Chris S and he were a lap ahead having completed their cycle (and swim) about 10-12 minutes faster than me.
The course was flat and on a mix of grass and gravel with one short section through a car park. Trail shoes were definitely the right choice as the ground was a little damp in places.
I completed the run at a pace that meant that I expected to finish in about 27 minutes. However, my run time was recorded at 25:20. A short course?!
I was cheered over the line by Ben, Ian, Chris x 2 and we chatted before grabbing a hotdog and bacon roll.
Overall, I was pleased with my performance in the event. I swam as well as I’d hoped. My bike leg was ok. I could have pushed harder but that may have compromised my run and the run was steady.
I had set myself a target time of 1:25:00 and had beaten it.
It’s difficult comparing different triathlons even when distances for each discipline are meant to be the same. Eastleigh Open Water Triathlon is also a 400m swim, 20K cycle and 5km run event so I’ll compare my performance last year of 1:31:17 to today’s 1:24:48. That’s a 6:30 minute improvement so I’ll take that.
PS I’m happy to report that my gears were indexed beautifully!!
Next up Blenheim Sprint Triathlon in 5 week’s time.