Swim, bike, swim, run, swim

August 26, 2010

When I saw this week’s 220 Triathlon midweek Sprint in the Human Race calendar, I thought “ah, what a perfectly-timed tune-up ahead of Little Woody. I’ll do it – not race it, just use it as one last brick session and check my bike is OK.”

It might have been handy to check the weather forecast.

As any of you who were in Berkshire yesterday evening will realise, the race became one very long aquathlon. A kind of swim, swim-through-T1, swim-on-the-bike, swim-through-T2, aqua-jog affair. I’ve never done a race in conditions like that (and I did Vitruvian in 2005!)

As I sheltered under a canopy, trying to get my race numbers to stick to my sodden bike frame, I thought about going home. As I shivered, listening to the race briefing and watching people from the previous wave skidding and pitching around a corner on the bike course, I told myself it wasn’t too late.

Don’t get me wrong, this is nothing about disliking the rain, the wet or the cold (lest we forget, I’ve been wet and cold a few times in my life without complaint). No, it was all about not wanting to wipe out on the bike course and damage my bike, my limbs or my skin less than three days ahead of Little Woody.

So I got into the lake (much warmer than the air!) and told myself I could pull out whenever I wanted to, and take it as slowly as I needed to.

Lining up at the front of the swim, I looked around and realised something was amiss. All of these people had, like, stubble and stuff. Oh yeah! I was in a mixed wave! That’s new, it’s been a while since I’ve swum in a wave with men. All good practice, since I think Little Woody is all one big wave.

Ooh those chaps play rough, don’t they? All the way round, I had elbows on my head, fists on my back and someone’s very irritating hand on my ankle. One chap insisted on swimming into me at an angle (I checked, it wasn’t my sighting which was at fault) so I ended up stopping, diving over him and swimming on the other side.

I took a somewhat rakish angle to the final buoy and found myself accompanied by a friendly paddler who had presumably taken it upon herself to get me swimming roughly in the right direction.

Out of the water, it was a very careful walk to T1, down a steep grassy slope which by now had turned to mud. Arriving on the concrete, I was pleased to still be on two feet. Everything was already sodden, but I pulled my bike shoes on and rejected the idea of pulling on an extra layer. Mainly because the extra layer I’d brought was wet through.

The bike course of these midweek Sprints is six laps, with a tight turn at either end. Not ideal in those conditions. I promised myself the slowest 20km bike split I’d ever done, and a return to T2 in one piece. The bike course was littered with people’s numbered stickers, no match for the torrential rain and wind. I passed a few people, got passed by several others, and made it back into T2 just as it was getting prematurely dark.

Took me ages, because my hands were so cold that I couldn’t even tighten my elastic laces. The chap next to me was faring no better with his regular laces. I took a look at my Garmin to see how I was doing. It had drowned at some point during the bike course, so I was racing blind. Probably just as well, since I wasn’t approaching tonight as a race!

Funnily enough, running in a downpour is something I really enjoy. I could have done without the puddles to splash through, and the heavy soaking we got when the rain got even heavier but, for the main part, I loved this run. Conditions were so bad, it was ridiculous, and all you could do was smile. I felt remarkably strong and light on the ol’ feet.

I had to stop to tighten my laces at one point (after my fingers had warmed up a bit) and a Serpie woman passed me. I tried to chase her down for a while but had to remind myself I wasn’t racing. I’d hate to get to 10 miles into the Little Woody run and regret tonight. So, I pulled back, and ran my own pace.

By the time I finished it was gone 8pm and the impending darkness (!) and rain, spray and cloud meant visibility was really poor. I splashed across the line, minced over the mud, collected my bike and legged it. I’d taken a change of clothes and a towel. What a laugh. My transition box was actually filled with water and everything inside was drenched.

I had no idea what my time was, since my Garmin gave up somewhere around 10km into the bike. But Human Race are an efficient lot, so it didn’t take long for results to be online:

Finish 01:24:27 (a PW? 😉 )
750m swim: 00:14:46
T1: …computer says 16 minutes. It wasn’t that slow 😉
20km bike (taking it very easy!): 00:41:49
T2 (with blue fingers): 00:01:58
5km run: 00:24:35

Next stop, Little Woody. Wish me luck! And let me know via a comment below, or on Twitter (@thefitwriter) if you’re racing (Big or Little!) too – see you there!

Swim, bike, swim, run, swim is a post from The Fit Writer blog

How not to race in hot weather

July 12, 2010

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).

Splitting a century ride

May 24, 2010

View from my tri bike

Doing a century ride (100 miles) is on my to-do list of sporting events. In fact, it’s something I’ve tentatively pencilled in for this Summer, if I can get the training in.

This weekend, I set out to complete 100 miles over the course of two days: a sort of unofficial split-century ride.

Dorney rowing lake before a triathlon - the calm before the storm!

Like last weekend, I was open-water swim coaching at Dorney Rowing lake. Dorney is almost exactly a 20 mile ride from my house, so I rode there and back on Saturday (40 miles), rode there again on Sunday (60 miles) and then rode home the long way on Sunday (90 miles).

I intended to drop my (massive!) rucksack off and turn around for a final 10 miles but, in all honesty, after two days (and six sessions) of open-water coaching in the blazing heat, plus 90 miles of cycling with a heavy pack on my back, I was ready to drop.

As luck would have it, my husband had been setting up my new tri bike for me whilst I’d been out coaching, and he suggested we both head out for a short shake-down ride to check the set-up. So I glugged a gorgeous quick iced coffee, stuffed a generic cereal bar in my mouth and off we went. I had a new lease of life after the caffeine and carbs (not to mention having got rid of that rucksack – seriously, the thing is almost as big as me!) and the new tri bike is super-aero, so I was holding a nice quick pace.

Before I knew it, we were back home and I’d done it: 100 miles over two days!

It’s not an official century ride of course, but the fact that it was split over a weekend is pretty much offset by the fact that I was carrying that rucksack for much of it (top triathlon coach Bill Black lifted the bag on Sunday, raised his eyebrows and told me training with that on was like doing one long hill session) – and coaching in between times!

Summer cycling

I wish I’d been able to take more photos of the things I cycle past between here and Dorney. Some classic scenes straight out of some cliched TV show, including stables for polo ponies, strapping chaps playing cricket in their whites and – my favourite – Eton boys dashing through town in their full Eton garb, on their way to….well, I’m not sure. Wherever Eton pupils rush to early on a Sunday morning, dressed to the nines.

Have you done a century ride? What was it like? And…does the post-ride hunger ever end?

Open-water coaching for triathletes

May 15, 2010

Weekend, what weekend? 😉 Today I’ve been at the fabulous setting of Dorney rowing lake to coach at The Human Race’s open-water swim seminar, sponsored by my friends at thetrilife.com. I biked there and back (about 40 miles) and now I’m enjoying a sit-down whilst I blog 🙂

Open-water coaching at Dorney lake

What a great day! About 80 new and novice triathletes, many of whom had never set so much as a toe in open water before, came along to get some experience of open-water swimming before their race days. They all attended an informative talk by the legendary Bill Black before meeting myself, Duncan Scott and former elite runner and triathlete Andrea Whitcombe at the water’s edge for some coaching.

Andrea Whitcombe and Nicola Joyce

Retired now, Andrea was ranked 6th in the world in the 2008 season. Duncan kindly introduced me to the triathletes as “Nicola, who’s crossed the English Channel twice” but somehow I think our coachees should have been more impressed by Andrea’s pedigree!

After warming our coachees up with some joint mobilisation and movements to raise the core temperature…

Open-water triathlon coaching

Open-water land based

…we took to the water, coaching on acclimatisation, sighting, turning, drafting and mass starts before a final mini race simulation (complete with run into T1).

It’s great to be back with thetrilife.com for another season of open-water coaching. It’s truly rewarding to coach people in my first love of open-water swimming. I always think it’s a real privilege to be the person who accompanies anyone on their very first foray into open-water.

I’ll be back coaching at Dorney for an even longer day tomorrow: let’s hope it’s as sunny as it was today…because the sun certainly took the edge off the 12*C water temperatures!

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