Last race of the season, I had a number of goals coming into his race of varying ‘importance’ but the main goal was to put myself in a position to get a spot for the 2018 70.3 WC’s in South Africa. Outside of that primary goal my focus was to build on my effort in managing my bike power/effort to push the pace on the run knowing that it was a super flat (run) course.
Per my usual weekend race strategy picked up the rental car Friday evening and packed up the car Saturday morning. I didn’t have much in terms of a pre-race workout so planned on doing the short bike/run Saturday between race check-in and getting into our Airbnb. The drive down to Weymouth was uneventful and we made good time I had found a good parking spot and set up my bike for a bit of recon. One aspect of doing race weekends in this manner is that usually my food intake on Saturday is really bad, between the drive and running around checking in/dropping off bike and such I never eat/drink enough (or at nearly the ‘usual’ time). So I had vowed to do a better job of that this time and factored a lot more time and planning into activities around eating.
Once we arrived in Weymouth I went and checked in, which was an incredibly quick process, in and out in a few minutes. Back to the car to do a quick bike and run to shake out the legs. I basically rode down the boardwalk down what I thought was the race course (turns out I was going out the way back in), but oh well…. I knew the course had some good elevation gain but the hill I encountered on my way out made me pause… if it was all like this Sunday is going to be a LOOONNNNGGGG day.
After a quick ride, put the trainers on and did a couple quick minutes around Weymouth for my run, course looked flat and fast. Back to the car and Carly who had been hanging out went and did her run for the day while I took Bruno for a walk. I went over to attend the race briefing and was able to gain entry but after sitting there for 5-10 minutes someone asked me to leave (since I had Bruno). This was pretty frustrating seeing as we were both sitting quietly in the back not disturbing anyone but if they wanted me out I left. Oh well… I tried. We went back to the car and I used the time to get my race bags and bike ready to drop off.
Once Carly was back we walked down to the transition area and I dropped my bike and bags off and checked out the swim start/transition lines. Water seemed cold, but flat and while the runs to/from transition looked long it didn’t seem anything terrible (and at the end of the day everyone does the same course).
We walked back into town and had lunch at a dog friendly pub. Was a good meal and I felt pretty relaxed about how the day had good. I was really pleased that I had (somewhat last minute) checked on Airbnb and found a place much closer than the hotel I had booked. So we headed a few minutes out of town and checked into our place. It was a great little cabin in a camper van lot run but some fabulous people. Had everything we needed and accommodated us with the dog. We spend the rest of the afternoon just lounging about the place relaxing. I used the time to finalize my gear for the next day and a last minute chat with Brad on bike strategy.
We grabbed an early dinner at the pub across the street (again dog friendly, I freakin love this country). Had a good dinner and was home and ‘in bed’ around 8. Its hard to fall asleep so early but after a day of running around it was nice to know I was sorted and ready for the race.
Sunday morning came quick and we were out the door at around 5 (which was a solid 30-45 min later than it would have been had we stayed at the other place). We got down to the parking lot, and found a spot. I left Carly and Bruno in the car to relax in the warmth for a bit while I did my last minute checks. Bike was all set, powermeter paired and hydration/fuel aboard.
Carly joined me around 30 minutes before the race was to start and I suited up. It was quite cold and windy on the beach break and the chop seemed to be picking up. The nice flat bay i saw yesterday had disappeared completely. I wasn’t particularly worried about the swim but I knew the chop wouldn’t help my already poor swim. Thankfully, after standing on the beach freezing for what seemed like hours the pro’s went off. I found a good position in the 30ish area of the starting line and waited my turn. This was the first race I’ve been in where they let groups of six go at a time. As we watched the pro’s head off we saw the women’s field head sharply off course due to the waves and wind, it was a bit scary and good to have seen. It made me nervous for my sighting but helped me know where to aim to keep on a straight track.
When my wave was finally called the six of us ran down the rocky beach and dove in, finally…. warmth!!!! I’d say that the first 20-30 seconds of the swim was the best I felt for the next few hours. As a little backstory here…. over the last year of racing I’ve noticed that about 300-400 meters into a race I’ll need to burp. Usually its nothing major but it usually makes me feel a bit better and I continue on racing. Its never a show stopper, and not something I’ve ever really given any thought to. So…. about 200 meters into the swim I’m starting to feel it come on. The chop is rough and you have to find a good rhythm with your stoke to not get bogged down. As time moves on my chest gets tighter and tighter, well passed the time I’d normally burp. That, coupled with a few poorly timed waves and competitors I’ve gotten to a state of near panic. I feel as though I cant breath, I want to tear my wetsuit off. I actually pull up for a second and scan my head around looking for a kayak. I’m considering pulling out of the race. This lasts about 1-2 seconds before I snap out of it… or basically tell myself to suck it up. (likely not the best solution). I push forward, not feeling any better. Basically it feels like I’m swimming with a huge guy sitting on my chest, I’m getting slower and more panicked. Then… at about 600 meters in I burp… well vomit is a better term for what seems like minutes. Instantly….. Instantly felt better, chest was free and I could breath.
Around I rounded the first turn buoy and was no longer swimming into the chop but along side it. Pace quickened immensely and I started to reconsider my race. I knew I wasn’t going to have a great swim time but knew that others were in the same conditions as me. I was likely down some time due to the breathing but not out of the race. The goal was to be in position to get a roll down spot which I could still do. The remainder of the swim I tried to reengage the race and keep myself pushing to maintain my position.
Once back at the beach I knew I was back in the drivers seat with the swim done. I was proud of myself for staying in it and pushing myself to get through an incredibly mentally tough race experience. Running up a stone beach with froze feet is NOT fun. I tried to focus on getting my suit off and getting my legs and feet to turn over as much as possible to get some blood back in them. Every step felt like I was running on stumps, once in a while you’d get a sharp pain as you landed on a piece of gravel. It was not fun. Into the tent helmet and number out and on, wetsuit in. It always feels like I end up spending more time checking my bag to make sure I didn’t miss anything than actually taking out or putting things into it…. always second guessing myself. Long, cold run to the bike and I’m off.
The day before I had picked up toe covers and arm warmers for the bike. While I opted not to put the arm warmers on in T1 but already had the toe covers on my bike (thank god) I skipped the arm warmers. Instantly my feet started to warm up and felt better though it took me a while for my arms and upper body to really feel 100%. I took a couple of quick hits of water and tried to establish a good cadence out of town. Brad had given me some cues for the bike section so I tried to keep those in mind as I managed the race. A bit of where the hills were, how much to push over the goal power or when to hold back.
The first 8 miles was a bit of uphill and then rolling as we headed away from the beach. Some nice roads through sleepy towns in and out of hedges. However, at mile 10 at the bottom of a hill went to pedal and nothing. Chain had come off! Fuck! If this was going to happen all day it was going to be a long race…. I was furious. A quick stop and was sorted. However, in that 15-25 seconds I was stopped it seemed like hundreds of people passed me. Not what you want when you going for place not time in a race….. Luckily my luck held the rest of the race and no more drops. With every race I love my Dimond a bit more, I’m still getting used to the bike and being comfortable at speed but I’m smiling the entire time.
With about 30 minutes to go in the bike I’ve caught up/or caught (I cant recall which) Andy Greenleaf. I raced against him (which is to say he won) Exmoor last year. So I figured one of two things, either he was having a total shit day and I’m fucked or I’m having a good day and still very much in this. I don’t recall passing many people over the course of the bike but by the time I’m with him I realize theres not many other people around us (good). The sun is now out and its starting to warm up. I’m glad that I was prudent with my energy and hydration early on in the bike and have been taking a chew every 10-15 minutes and over the bike worked through just over two water bottles with my personal chemistry mixture of Nuun and Precision Hydration.
Pulling back into town I feel good. While my bike time isn’t going to set records I held good power and given the elevation gain turned in a good time. I felt ready to go for the run. Back into T2, bike on the rack and running to the bags feet were again pummeled by the gravel on the pavement…. brutal. Helmet off, shoes on and I’m off. The run course was a three or so lap course so I knew I had about one lap to gauge where I sat in the lineup.
I quickly saw the pro’s and a few AG’s that I recognized but couldn’t put an exact number on where I was. I knew to be a lock for the championships I needed to be 4th, 3rd would really seal the deal. After that I was betting on a roll down space which was a risk. I pushed hard the first lap, setting a good pace and trying to pick off some people while the course was still a bit open. By the time lap two started I had no idea who was in front or behind me and the course was getting busy. I kept the pace up, looking down at my watch trying to stay right around the 6:05-6:15/mile.
By lap three the course was chock full, and having seen the turn off to the finish chute 3 times before I was desperate to get there. About halfway through my final lap I caught the lead female pro which I took as a hopeful sign of my own time. I kicked it up a final gear for the last half mile and put in a good surge to break free of anyone that might have been running just behind me. I’m not one to want to leave something to the last minute so always try and drop someone before we get to the finish as I know people always find some extra gas to sprint in. Its nice to end the argument before it begins.
A couple quick corners and I’m on the finish chute, line ahead, I over the line and check my time 4:31, a few minutes faster than my abysmal Staffordshire time. I’m not feeling good about my chances at this point. However, a quick scan around and I catch that Harry Palmer in the finish area with me. We chat as we walk back to the post race area… he’s won his AG… so maybe I have a chance yet! We walk back to the food area and relax for a few minutes. We chat about the race and our season as we try and give our bodies a chance to catch up and our minds to come down from the race. Its nice to sit a talk to someone for a few minutes after the race, when racing its just your thoughts… planning, strategizing, reminding yourself to push. Its nice to just shut that part of the brain off (or let it rest) for a short bit and just shoot the shit without prerogative.
After a bit of time there I head out to find Carly, she and Bruno were excellent cheerleaders (as always) and bore great news, I had finished 3rd in my AG! This was awesome, though I knew the results weren’t final. Someone could still finish faster than I or even worse I could be DQ’ed for some reason. I got changed and we went to get some lunch as we waited for final results. We knew that to make the roll down we’d have to stick around so we relaxed and had a great lunch while we killed time. It appeared that my 3rd place held so I knew I accomplished my goal!!
A long…. long… award session later I finally claimed my WC token and we made our way back to London. It had been a long day but it was great to walk away from the race (and the season) with a solid final result. It was a tough race, made tougher by the panic during the swim and the dropped chain. While neither of these issues would have cost me the race (or them together) the mental impact of having to deal with those in a situation where one wants a positive outcome is tough. You have to remain checked in and focus on your goal. I knew that despite a few moments of less than ideal conditions would not offset the months of training and preparation I had put into the race. I moved beyond those quickly, focused on what I could control and continued to push. I’m glad I did and the reward I received.
A huge thanks goes out to Carly (and the turd dog) for being the best cheerleaders, sherpas, photographers and race day enthusiast a guy could ask for. Bring on 2018!