September 9th 2018
I had set myself two goals for 2018 and wanted my 40th Year to be a benchmark. My first triathlon (Durrington) (13th May) was my “A” race and from there I would try to improve my endurance in running and complete a Marathon. (A pact I had made with the very person who got me off the couch in the first place. Thank you Caroline (Shrewton Running Club)). My first triathlon was an amazing experience and not only improved my fitness, improved my self-belief and confidence. Triathlon had indeed opened many doors. What next?
I knew I needed to do another Tri! Multi-sport training is so much fun and I had immersed myself into a world of possibilities. I needed a challenge and it needed to be big. I couldn’t wait!
I considered a few local sprint (pool) triathlons but nothing was floating my boat. The Andover Tri offered a local option, but I wanted a bigger challenge. Tri Club training with STAR (Stonehenge Triathlon and Road) had begun to introduce open water skill sessions. I saw what the elite guys were doing in those early season training sessions and it looked so much fun, slightly bonkers perhaps?….. I’m having some of that!
I sat down with Billy (Tri Force Endurance) and discussed my options. Before I knew it my questions were not about whether I could swim an open water event but how far. The Cotswold Triathlon had now become my “A” race for 2018 – The bar had been raised!
May/June training was focussed around improving my endurance, in particular on the run. Coming out of a long term injury through running had left some mental scars (With running it really is “All in the mind”) and clearly there was a lot of work to be done if I was going to reach Marathon distance before the end of the year.
Things were going well and I was beginning to feel the love of running again. Training weeks were a mix of the three disciplines with long sessions on the weekends. I slowly built my training and began to feel the benefits of consistency.
The Swim training
I entered the Cotswold Tri on the 25th May (12 days after my first Tri!) Super eager, I quickly set about hiring a wetsuit for the Open Water season and got in the lake two days later. My first open water swim was a “Fear Fest” and a triumph at the same time. I stood at the side of Lake 32 in the Cotswold Water Park looking out at that first buoy, trembling! The 750 loop seemed impossible, OMG what have I done? How am I ever going to do this Triathlon?
Nigel, a work colleague, came with me for that first swim (I was not going to be able to do it alone). A strong swimmer and Royal Marine, he was not going to allow me to give up! Despite suffering my constant whining, he got me round my first 200m OW loop. He gave me the belief and encouragement to get the job done and before the session was over I had completed another two loops. 600m of not very pretty swimming. Nonetheless, I had overcome a fear I had had since a child and swam further than I ever believed possible…. In a lake!
The following day I was researching lakes in the area and couldn’t wait to get back in….. I loved it and wanted more!! Ellingham Lake, in the New Forest would become a favourite and pretty soon I progressed from the 400M to the 750M Loop.
One particularly important swim session I chose to do at Vobster Diving Centre in Frome. Mostly because I fancied a lie in (Ellingham is 0600hrs swim) but also because it was a long swim and I wanted more time in the lake….. Vobster is a flooded quarry, and on one side is 20m deep and the other 40m deep. At this stage in my training I was becoming quietly confident in OW swimming, but standing alongside that dark water that day I was ready to just turn around and go home. However, after a fair amount of flapping and fannying around, I got the job done! My first 1.9K swim (2x750m, 1x400m).
After swimming Vobster there was nothing left to fear…. I was ready!
The bike training
The bike discipline of the event was not going to be a problem. I had been using Watt Bikes in the Gym through the winter and knew that this was my strength. However, on a push bike it seems that there are hills everywhere. If I wanted to get out of the village on my bike I was going to have to put the work in!
June gave birth to an epic amount of flies and headwinds and July equalled record temperatures. Despite this I exceeded my expectations in cycling training. I now had the added confidence of riding a Sportive around the “Hills” of Andover with my Brother Andre. This event was particularly warm for me. The kind of event where you just can’t drink enough. I learnt a lot that day about hydration and nutrition. I also had the added confidence of competing in my first “Time Trial” around Castle Coome Race Track in August. This time I had two work colleagues hurling “Encouragement” at me Cheers Mark/Nigel. I was now confident in my endurance ability and knew I could also maintain a good speed. I just needed it to come right on the day.
The Run training
June saw some pretty good runs and I was feeding off the confidence of my first tri in May. Living on the edge of Salisbury Plain meant I could use the softer impact of cross country to develop run fitness and reduce risk of yet another injury. I was starting to see a lot of the Plain and every run was an adventure. I mixed the run start times up and found that the morning run really does set you up for the day. I found that despite not enjoying hills, I would still look forward to the next interval session?? I was becoming quite confident about my running now and it was great to be back in the mix with the Shrewton Running Club training sessions.
Sadly, around the period of the Summer Solstice I began to suffer a new “niggle”. A lower leg issue that would later be diagnosed as Achilles tendonitis. I took some time off running to recover but this soon developed into an on/off relationship with running. Training began to suffer towards the end of July.
Triathlon had opened a world where being injured didn’t mean losing fitness, I now had two other disciplines to focus on and the swim was fast becoming one of my strengths. However, I would have to reconsider my Marathon dreams for 2018 and focus on Triathlon.
Having recced the event the previous day after registration I had a good idea in my head about how to conduct this race. The swim was to be safe, the hammer would be down on the bike and the run would be an unknown. I had only just got back into running after the Achilles issue and the Doctors advice was to run walk, and no heroics.
I was standing alongside Lake 32 in the Cotswold Water Park just prior to the start. This is where this OW swim lark began…. Only today I was going to smash it!
I was determined to get everything out of this event, I was not going to hold back and I was going to enjoy it.
The Swim….. 750m
I got in the lake with my wave (Age group) and was ready! I made sure my goggles were good to go and positioned myself right in amongst what I knew was going to be a bun fight for space in the water. This is what I had trained for, I wasn’t going to be frightened by it, I was going to embrace it – Fully!
The washing machine began… Legs and arms everywhere, flashes of light and different colours of wetsuits all around me, but not much air. Every breath I took was filled with the wash of the guys around me and I was loving it.
I soon found myself at the first buoy, exhausted and near hyper-ventilation. I took a couple of seconds to compose myself and plodded through a breast stroke or two. The group was now a couple of body lengths away, if I didn’t keep up I would lose the advantage of being able to draft off them. Come on! I heard my self saying.
I was quickly back into a rhythm and now breathing was ok, I had my own water space and was just off the feet of the guy in front. I had overtaken a couple of guys by the time I got to the next buoy and was sighting the island and buoys of the home straight. I heard the sound of the next wave starting and was determined not to be over taken by any of them. I was still with my own wave and holding my own.
The lake was crystal clear except for the soup created by all us barmy lot chopping it up. As I got past the third or fourth buoy I was getting a bit fatigued and the elite guys from the next wave were going past me. I was not going to get sucked in to that trap and focussed on my own swim. Pretty soon I could hear the crowd and sighted the marshals who were going to have to drag me out. I knew my legs were going to be a bit wobbly as one of my pre-race tactics was not to kick too much (I didn’t want to aggravate the Achilles) the sacrifice here is that blood flow would have been minimal in my legs and…. Yes! It took two blokes to drag me upright.
The swim was done, I was wobbly, but I was on my feet and heading towards T1 (Transition) I had set a target time of 20 minutes for the swim. I was very happy with the way things were going.
I had trained for this and made my transition the neatest and most organised it could be. I struggled to get the wetsuit off my shoulders and lost a bit of time. A school boy error and one I will not make next time. However, I knew exactly where my bike was and was buzzing. Time to get to work!
The Bike….. 21k
The Bike route is a loop out towards Cirencester and is pan flat. A couple of small inclines and a few roundabouts to negotiate but otherwise it’s a balls out effort back to transition. I quickly set about getting some fluid on board and some nutrition. The day was getting warmer and I was working up a sweat.
I focussed on a guy two or three hundred yards ahead. “Yes! I will overtake you”, he was a lot leaner and made time on the small inclines there were but before long I was on him. No drafting on the bike in this race so get the job done and focus on the next victim. I made good use of my gears so I could keep my cadence consistent. This had been a great skill learnt in training and I used it to good effect. Billy had told me I would be strong on the bike and to use this mind set to drive me out of my comfort zone. I think I overtook six people by the time I came back to transition but to be fair…. A hell of a lot more over took me! I worked exceptionally hard and I knew I had to. My run training had not been good leading up to the event and I knew I would be losing time and would soon be dropping back down the pack.
I had a target time of 40 minutes for the bike split and knew it was going to be there or there about. Now to see what I can do with this running lark?
This should have been a simple shoes off, shoes on exercise. School boy error number 2! I failed to spot a small knot left in my shoelace when prepping. Embarrassing yes, but I have learnt from it! A few seconds lost there.
The run is a two loop affair and I had no idea how it was going to go. I had brought a new pair of shoes not long ago, they fitted like a glove and ordinarily I would have liked to have some run time in them before an event. However, I was paranoid about my Achilles and hadn’t really run at all in the lead up.
Billy advised I gently build into the run and take a steady pace. It worked! Whilst it was a run walk effort I was just shy of my 5K Pb time. I didn’t see that one coming. It wasn’t the prettiest of finish faces but clearly “building” into the run worked a treat. I did get overtaken by a few older age groupers but as is always the case at these events every athlete that passed me did so with huge encouragement “Come on 421” “You’ve got this” and so on.
The second lap broke me emotionally, passing the finishing line knowing you have another lap to do is not fun. However, I passed having seen my ever suffering wife Sue chatting with another athletes wife. She was embracing the moment and enjoying the event. Now I had to dig in and get the job done. That last 2.5k was the longest I have ever ran and if that’s what marathons feel like? I’m glad I’ve put mine on hold.
The event was an awesome experience, a really well organised and marshalled set up and one which I am sure to attend again. I would recommend this event to anyone thinking of an OW triathlon, especially if it is your first. But what I have taken most out of the whole experience is the positive changes that multi-sport training has made to my life and how I have been able to fully embrace all aspects of the sport. The Open water swimming has helped me to make huge advances in my Tri Club training sessions in the pool and despite suffering a few injuries on the way, I continued to see fitness improvements.
The triathlon world really is a very friendly place to be and next season is going to be epic! I cannot wait to see where this journey will take me next.