How not to race in hot weather

Or “losing my bottle”.

Yesterday was a scorcher, wasn’t it? I was racing at Dorney in the Bananaman triathlon (nothing to do with 29 Acacia Road) and my wave set off at 12:45. If you were in Berkshire yesterday you’d know it was very hot, very sunny and pretty windy. Not ideal for any triathlon but particularly not one taking place in the hottest part of the day.

By the way, my phone ran out of battery so this post contains no pics. To my readers who only come here for the photos (hi Sam), you might want to come back later in the week.

I wanted to do this race because I did it last year, and I think it’s only really relevant to compare race times from the same event. Races can vary so much, particularly with size of transition or distance from the swim exit to your bike, and it kind of makes comparing two random Olympic-distances races a bit silly.

I’ll be honest with you though, I wasn’t really feeling the love yesterday morning. I had such a busy week last week and really enjoyed a Saturday doing not much. As the clock ticked on towards that late race start, I had a hard time getting up off the sofa and packing my bag. But I did, reasoning that if nothing else it’s all good training.

I got to Dorney and looked at the trees bending in the wind. Now, Dorney’s a great venue but it’s completely unsheltered from wind and sun. Six laps round the lake on the bike meant six knee-grinding goes into a headwind and six desperate attempts to make the time up again on the way back. Three loops on the run meant…well…7.5km of harsh running under the glare of the sun.

Bananaman is an 800m swim, 30km bike, 7.5km run. Why? I don’t know. It just is. I did pretty well last year, finishing 8th in my age group with a really strong run (34:25 for the 7.5km). This year, I reckoned I’d have a pretty shoddy swim, a decent bike (despite the wind) and a slower run than last year. I calculated that I might just be able to scrape a faster time over all, but really wasn’t sure.

I was convinced the lake would be 22*C+ and wetsuits would therefore be banned, but evidently they’d found a cool patch somewhere when they went out with the thermometer, because wetties were optional. I racked my bike (had a really nice spot with tons of room) and chatted to the lady next to me who was doing her first open-water swim. In fact we both nearly missed the start because we were talking too much.

I positioned myself right at the front for the swim, up for a bit of a bunfight. I wasn’t disappointed; I was still having my ankles grabbed at the final buoy. The only time I could get clear of people was turning at the buoys, for some reason I seemed to be getting round them with less trouble than the women around me.

A couple of schoolboy errors in T1 and then I was out on my bike, caught up in a big pack leaving transition at the same time. I got into a big gear straightaway and left them behind. Down on the tri-bars, I overtook a few faster swimmers within the first few kms. The headwind was strong but, coming back down the other side of the lake, I was holding 45kph and keeping my average above 30kph which was what I wanted.

At the end of lap one – just 4km into the bike leg – disaster struck. My one drink bottle fell out of its cage, bounced once and rolled to the side of the course. I stared in front of me, brain working overtime, as I spun onwards. OK….I now have no drink. I’ve got 25km of cycling to do. It’s hot, really hot, and I’ve got to ride into that headwind five more times. I’ve then got to get off the bike and run 7.5km and, if I want to even think about placing in my age-group, I need to run well.

I thought about all of this during the next lap and, as I approached my bottle (now propped up by the edge of the road by a marshall), I considered getting off and picking it up. I had no idea what would have more of an impact on my time…changing down into a smaller gear, decelerating, getting off, getting on again (etc) or finishing the race with no fluids.

On each lap, I stared down at the bottle momentarily. On each lap, I couldn’t bear to get off the bike and on again.

I pushed on, thinking I’d allow myself just to get through the run rather than placing any pressure on myself. I had a couple of gels even though you really should take those things with water.

Off the bike, a quick shoe-mishap and I was in T2 gulping my spare bottle of drink. Then it was out onto that hot, flat, unforgiving run course.

Like last week, I used the first lap of the run to count the women in front of me to determine my position. The first woman was miles in front of anyone else, young, rangy and determined. Then came two and three, on each other’s shoulders, fighting their own battle. I counted four, five, six..and stopped counting at 12. Oh well. There was no way in the world I was going to overtake anyone and there was every chance I’d be caught by more than one. I watched my pace hovering around 7:45minute/miling and then dropping.

At each water station I downed a cup and dumped a second one over my head. The road was shimmering in the heat. On the second and third laps, I was overtaking people but I think they were runners on their first lap. As predicted, I was overtaken by two women looking pretty strong.

With 1km to go, I tried my best to pick my pace up. I could see from my watch that I would be cutting it fine to get a PB on the course (a small victory given the circumstances). The thought of the woman brandishing the hosepipe spurred me on and I crossed the line in 1:55:20 – 23seconds faster than last year’s time.

Oh, that hosepipe was nice.

Lesson learned: never, ever carry just one drink bottle. As for the question of what makes you slower: stopping to pick the bottle up, or racing dehydrated…I don’t know.

Bananaman triathlon (800m/30km/7.5m)
Finish time: 1:55:20 (last year 1:55:53)
Swim: 15:09 (15:07)
T1: 1:41 (1:35)
Bike: 59:54 (1:03:27)
T2: 1:15 (1:19)
Run: 37:19 (34:25)

I was 12th female (26th last year) and 5th in my age group (8th last year).


One Response to How not to race in hot weather

  1. […] favourite open-water venue was none other than Dorney Lake, in Windsor where I’ve coached and raced in triathlons on many an […]


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