Bala Middle Distance
Exams are over, the celebrations are done and it’s time to finally catch up on the blog. Going into Bala I was unsure of my form, my finals over the last few weeks have meant training consistency has gone out of the window and I have squeezed in what I could to stop myself going mad in the library. Some weeks would be extremely low (those that had exams in) and other weeks I would have a decent week of training (those with the breaks). I finished on Wednesday and celebrated by going for a pub lunch then getting the first bit of training in that week by riding out to the Westmead 10 TT, racing and riding back. This is generally a solid ride as a steady ride down into the wind, possibly a lap or two before at IM pace and then a solid effort for the 10, followed by riding home. With 2 days complete rest and exam stress, my legs felt completely stale and didn’t want to pick up. Following this was a night out with the uni cycling club, well you only finish uni once! 😉 Thursday was an easy run and then another night out! Catching up on sleep on friday and a final easy run, Saturday saw a return to normality with an early start to cycle to Dock 9 to get some wetsuit time in and the first swim of the week. I felt pretty good and got a couple of laps in before cycling home, and washing the wetsuit, before packing it (mistake number 1). In the evening I picked up Joe Skipper, packed the car and then headed home to Shropshire for a shorter drive on race morning.
Waking up on race morning to brilliant sunshine was a shock given the dire forecast that everyone had seen, but the faint glimmer of hoping it would last disappeared on the drive as it began raining… and then never stopped. Getting there, we soon realised that we were in for a miserable day but there was nothing to be done about it so we registered, put the bikes together and went to setup transition. My race plan consisted of sticking to Joe’s feet for as long as possible, then a steady bike and hammering the run. As soon as I started to get ready in transition, mistake number 1 reared its ugly head as I had forgotten to dry the wetsuit out the night before! It took me a good 10 minutes to get the thing on and then I soon got cold, very cold. With the cold water inside the suit, and the miserable weather, it wasn’t pleasant and was actually a relief to get into the water for a warm up. However, with the water being so shallow, my warm up consisted of me splashing my face and getting my feet wet before being called back out so we could walk to the start. We were soon counted in and I lost Joe (mistake number 2) and couldn’t find him so placed myself slightly to the edge in the 2nd row.
Once the start horn sounded I set off and moved to the left to join the main pack. I soon realised that I actually had no idea where I was going (mistake number 3!) and trying to find the buoys was proving a challenge so I tried to follow the main pack instead. About 3 minutes in and I got a wave into the mouth which I promptly swallowed, half of which went down my airways. Cue panic attack. I actually had to stop to compose myself and get my bearings the breath back, and turned expecting to see a huge crowd about the swim right over the top of me. Thankfully there was a gap to the next pack and I had some literal breathing space. I set off again having lost a bit of time but had lost any draft. Once we hit the first turn buoy, the deceptive calm waters changed and it turned rough. After about 100 metres, there was another turn left to start coming back on ourselves and it was the best I could do to keep swimming properly. I couldn’t see any buoys due to the rough water and just pointed myself at the mass of white swim caps I could see in front of me. I swam through a couple of people but soon found my wetsuit restrictive as I hadn’t got the arms up high enough and my stroke began falling apart. Coming out of the water seeing 36 on the watch was disappointing, though it did include a good minute of wading through knee deep water over unstable sharp rocks. Still I should have been swimming around the 32 minute mark for the 2k, so more time in the pool is on the cards and lots more practise in my wetsuit! I still came out the water in 32nd, which goes to show the conditions, but I should still be swimming quicker than that!
My abysmal 3 minute T1 was made up of me fighting to get my wetsuit off, trying to warm up my hands to get my race belt, helmet, glasses, socks and GPS watch on and then I looked at my kit selection. I had been undecided about what kit to wear for the bike, with the choice between arms warmers to add to my tri top or a jersey on top. Although I was slightly warmed up from the swim, I went for the jersey and it was probably the best decision I had made all day! I grabbed my bike, ran to the mount line and made 2 attempts to get moving we were off. Once I had got my feet in I began to catch a few people and settled into my rhythm. The first half of the bike was quick, and I caught a few people on the climbs and flats. I got overtaken by a couple of people on the descents but in those conditions, rather them than me! The last thing I wanted was to get blown off and write off Roth.
My nutrition strategy was simple and much reduced from races past. I had 2 bottles of GO electrolyte on the bike, and would have a gel at 10k, 30k and 70k and then a bar at 50k. I had my interval timer on my watch set to go off every 15 minutes and this served as a great reminder to drink. I was feeling pretty good on the way out, and with the wind behind me, quite happily spinning along at 45 kph on the flats! I have been fiddling about a lot with my position lately and still can’t decide if I like it. I think I am too cramped and still need to find a saddle that suits my TTing. However the hills gave me a nice break and I felt pretty comfortable for the most of it. One side effect I did notice however, is that I think my TT position compresses my bladder because I kept on needing the toilet! 30k in and body decided it needed to go, so I sat up and then it went away again… I played this game for about 5k until I finally managed to go. At least it proves my position can’t be that bad, races past I usually end up too ‘numb’ to be able to feel anything! Anyway, moving on…
I hit the turnaround at about 1:12 and then had the battle with the wind on the way back. Cycling into the wind is usually a pain, add to that the rain hitting your face so hard it hurts and it was not an enjoyable experience. Soon after the turnaround I saw a car in a layby with Joe’s bike next to it. Turns out he punctured after about 20 miles with a seven and a half minute lead! Gutting! I got a cheer of encouragement from him as I went past and continued to fight the wind. At about 50k Ben Butler came flying past me up one of the hills and then I didn’t see anyone else for the rest of the ride! The lonely 30-odd km home consisted of keeping the bike steady to race plan, about IM pace, and trying to keep it on the road in the cross winds! I noticed that my right tri-bar was moving and found out that the screws had come lose so it could slide up and down my base bar with ease! Not great with the wind! However, with my upper body resting on it, it was fairly stable, so managed to stay in a good position on the odd occasions I wasn’t holding on to the bull horns for dear life. Thankfully I soon arrived into town, got my feet out and hit the dismount line with 2:36 on the bike clock giving me the 25th best bike split. It was packed with spectators, which was really nice given the crap weather and I headed to T2. This was a faster change as all I had to do was chuck helmet and glasses by my bike, put shoes on and grabbed my fuel belt. I do wish I had brought another pair of socks with me though, because it wasn’t pleasant putting wet socks into my running shoes, but in the end thankfully didn’t cause any blisters. I ran out past plenty of people sat wrapped in space blankets and others who were packing up, having succumbed to the weather. Well over 100 dropped out, it was really that horrible a day! I was pleased with my bike, I kept it in check, and biked fairly solidly at IM pace, putting me in good stead for Roth. It also reassured me that my bike condition isn’t as bad as I thought. A few weeks of Westmead TTs had really dented my confidence, it’s a slow course and getting completely hammered by the GB guys and the odd Team Sky rider really doesn’t do your self-belief any good!
Once out on the run I waited for the legs to come back before I opened them up. My nutrition plan was similar to my bike plan, with 2 fuel belt bottles of electrolyte, gels at 15 mins, 45 min, and 1 hour 15, and I could grab any extra liquids from the aid stations. The run course starts off with an off-road section before before onto the road and basically climbing to the turnaround at half way. Thanks to all the climbs it took a lot longer than usual for my legs to come round, although this could also be thanks to the sporadic training of late. About 6k into the run the leaders came past the other way, the first people I had seen since 50k on the bike! Another k later and one guy passed me on the run who was flying! There was a steady trickle of guys going the other way for the next couple of k, unfortunately out of catching distance. Just before the turnaround I saw Ben and we exchanged a high-five. Once I hit the turnaround the legs had finally started to come around with 47 minutes on the clock, so it was time to open the legs up. I caught Ben after about 1k and pushed on. I knew there was only one other guy I was in with a chance of catching and pushed on. Around the 15k mark I started to tire a bit and think I could have possibly done with another couple of gels throughout the day, so it is something to refine for Roth. At 18k I started to back of the pace as I could not see anyone else to catch, and save my legs for Roth. Soon afterwards though, I saw the other catchable guy in front so pushed to get up to him. I went passed him and he looked in a bad way and offered up no resistance, and I pushed through to the finish line. The fleeting thought of going sub 4:45 had crossed my mind at the turnaround, but soon faded as I would have had to have run a 40 min 10k on the return leg which I am not in the shape to do at the moment, especially given the course and weather. I did however clock a 42 min return 10k for a 1:29 run, the 20th quickest of the day and am fairly pleased with that, especially given the massive negative split!
I crossed the finish line in 4:46:32 which gave me 17th overall (excluding the 1 relay team ahead of me) so can’t really complain. It has helped remove the doubts about my shape after exams after putting together a solid race. It gives me plenty to work on for the final 4 weeks before Roth, but I feel on track. A bit of bike and run speed work, with plenty of miles put in, and then lots of time in the pool and wetsuit to sort my swim out! Full credit must go to Wrecsam Tri as well, who put on a great race as best they could with the miserable weather. It would be a fantastic race if the weather were good, as it has been for the last 10 years apparently. Single figure temperatures, gale force winds and constant rain in the middle of June is just plain unfair.
Now that I have finally finished my exams I have a couple of days to recover before putting in 2 big build weeks of training full time. Then I move home before travelling to Germany for a week of acclimatisation and tapering for Roth! Looking forward to it!