Last weekend Carly and I drove out to Exmoor national park in Somerset which is about three to four hours west of London. We rented a pretty terrible car, somewhere between a minivan and wagon, but it served us well in getting my bike, our bags and the Bruno dog around for the weekend. I woke up a bit early for a short swim as part of my pre-race routine at my local pool while Carly went for a short run. It didnt take long to pack up the car Saturday morning and we were off!
The drive out too Exmoor National park took us right by Stonehenge so we made sure to see the site. We discovered that that ‘entry’ is £18.50 and you cant even get right up to the stones. So we elected for a drive by instead which totally fit the bill….
We continued out to the race site at Wimbleball Lake. The area where the race was being held was picturesque english countryside. After a short ride on a bit of the course I checked in and dropped off my bike in transition. The race used a clean transition, something I’ve never before done so it was a bit interesting leaving my gear in bags and not having anything out at the bike. But given that I generally don’t have much in my transitions there wasn’t much to go into the bags. I had to think ahead a bit and threw in an extra bike jersey on the chance that it might be cold and I’d like the extra layer, luckily I didn’t need it.
While I was checking in and getting situated Carly took Bruno for a long walk around the race area. We met up after and continued another thirty minutes or so North to the seaside town of Minehead where we had booked a room for the evening. The town seemed to be a bit like any typical seaside town, little arcade area, nice downtown, etc etc. The town itself seemed really quiet for a mid-summer Saturday evening and we had dinner a typical little restaurant. Bruno was very skeptical of our situation (he doesn’t like traveling) and staying in the hotel room was really throwing him off but we all settled down and went to bed for our early morning.
Sunday morning came far to quick, after quick change and downing some water and powerbar waffers we were off. The drive back over to the race site on english country roads at 5am was a bit interesting but we made it to the site with time to spare. Driving down english roads that early is an adventure, you get lulled into a “I’m the only one out here” and take up a bit more of the narrow road than you might have otherwise done until suddenly there’s a car coming around the corner at 40 mph and you’re darting towards a hedge to keep from having an accident, that will wake you up… That said, once we arrived we got a good parking spot and I was able to finalize my bike setup and get ready to race without much fuss or running about.
The swim at this race was done as a rolling, self seeded start which means the organizers basically have one long carrel and note your perceived finish time along walk into the water. I knew I wanted to swim around the 30:00 and would comfortably be able to hit that mark so I made my way down and found myself very far towards the front of 1500 people… (after the face I found out that around 60% of the race is completed by first time racers). I had been researching the water’s temperature over the past weeks and knew the water would be somewhere between 60-65. Not the coldest water I’ve ever swam in but not the warmest either. Carly had been great enough to get my full sleeved suit from home on her last visit and I had elected to use that over my short sleeved suit. I started just a bit behind the 30:00 sign, which was about 50-100 people back from the waters edge.
After a few minutes of anxious stretching the gun finally sounded and we were off. As soon as I dove into the water I got a bit of water in my goggles. Not enough where I needed to stop/adjust but enough to be more than annoying. I ended up ignoring the issue and just plowed forward (lots of blinking). I’m sure the annoyance cost me some time but overall I swam a 29:44 which was about a minute faster than the 70.3 I completed last year, so not bad!
T1 was a long one…. the run up from the water to the transition tent was approximately 1/2 mile, uphill, on wet grass…. my time here was pretty fast overall and I made up a lot of places overall. Its always amazing to me how many people slog through these parts of the race. Transitions are such easy places to make (or loose) time. They’re easy to practice and plan for. That said, with the clean transition being used here, which was a first for me, it was a bit odd to run into the tent and jostle for position around bags while changing. But given that when I came in there were not many people coming out of the water it was still reasonably quiet. I can imagine that place turns into a zoo mid-way through the pack… A short run with the bike later I was out on the course.
The bike is where this race gets interesting… Overall the course is a two lap beast with 1400m of climbing, it is not easy. I’m not sure where it ranks as “hardest” 70.3 races but with the elevation gain it has got to be up there… I had a pretty solid plan from my coach as to how to manage the race and felt prepared. The first 15-20 minutes of the race went fine. The roads were not easy (kinda a rough pavement) and all the turns and hills made it hard to get into any long term rhythm but overall I felt like I was settling in well. However, on a downhill my chain popped off and I lost a few seconds (and quite a few places) putting it back on. Knowing I hadn’t lost much time and the places would come back in a long race I didn’t let the stop ruin my day and got back into the zone and riding hard again. But about 20 min later on another huge downhill the same happened. Again, lost a few places and a bit of time (some of which I had made up since my last stop). I moved beyond it again, knowing that it hadn’t been long and I’d make the places/time back up over the rest of the race. The remainder of the first lap went without issue. That said, even though we had driven the course the day before being out there riding was completely different. The hills were just kept on coming and you never felt like you got enough downhill.
I do 99% of my bike training inside on a trainer as its just more efficient for me in the mornings and I can make better use of my limited training time. While I do commute to work nothing compares to being in the saddle on the road for over two and a half hours. Having to adjust for the hills, getting up and out of the saddle.. back in… managing other racers.. is a large adjustment from my daily training regime. And having only raced once before this summer its a lot to handle and something I hadn’t really been used too but was also nice to know there were a lot of people out on the road looking out for us.
That said, as I started the second lap I felt like I was holding well, my average power was below what my coach had prescribed but I felt like I was walking a good line between decent pace, not killing myself on the hills and leaving a bit in the tank for the run. With about 10-15 miles left in the bike I had my final stop. This one was a bit different though. Having just passed someone up a bit of a hill I found myself needing to snot. As I checked to my rear to make sure I wasn’t just going to blow it all over him I drifted slightly left and my handle bars caught the hedgerow. I’ve never wrecked before on my bike in a race and I was surprised how fast it happened (looking at the data i was only going around 15 mph). Looking back on my injuries and what happened to my bike it looks like I basically ninja rolled the bike in the air and landed on my right shoulder and back. There is a little scuff on my right bullhorn and rear derailleur but nothing major and within seconds I was up, saw my bike (and I) was in one piece and got back on and kept riding.
This, needless to say did take a bit of a mental toll on me. While I was physically no worse for wear (at least I thought so at the time) the three stops began to drag me down a bit. But luckily I know I had been riding a decent race and the run was nearly upon me so I was able to turn my focus to that aspect of the race. while I figured that I was somewhere in the 20-30th place (pure speculation based on a quick glance around the racks when I got back into transition) but I had no idea how far behind the leader I was.
In the second transition I accidentally started running the wrong way into the transition tent (as I gathered a bunch of other racers did as well) but didn’t really cost me any time and I was out on the run in no time.
The run was a three lap leg killer. I had jogged a bit of the course the day before and knew there was some good elevation gain over the course but didn’t know where all the hills were hidden on the course. The first lap wasn’t bad and I tried to attack the hills (up and down) as much as I could. However, just after the halfway point in the second lap I could tell me legs were starting to go and my mile splits were starting to dip above 7:00. I tried to keep my head in the game and kept telling myself not to give up places on the run.
They had a lot of aid stations out there and while it was far cooler than my last 70.3 race at Timberman I kept hydrating (switching between gatorade and water) and a couple gels for energy. By this point it was impossible to tell where I was overall in the race as more and more people started to pour onto the run from the bike. The run became very much a ‘me against the course ‘ situation which I dont always do well with. I really enjoy racing, knowing that someone is coming up, someone to catch… I thrive off the competition. My legs felt more and more like bricks and by the middle the last lap it was a real effort just to keep moving. By this point in the race I really didn’t want to have to sprint against someone at the finish so I was overjoyed when I made the turn for the finish versus another lap and no one split off with me (a split second of “I counted my laps correctly right?!?!”)
There was a great vibe in the finish chute and I was able to cross the line at just over 5:00 which is just over 30:00 slower than my first 70.3 at Timberman (ouch). I immediately got into the athlete tent and started eating as much as I could. I had two pulled pork sandwiches, cookies, swiss cakes rolls, fruit, water… if it was out I ate it. I felt like I had don’t a decent job of fueling for the race, but in retrospect I could/should have done a bit more early morning as well as during the bike. Not a lot more, but some more solid food would have made the day slightly better.
Carly and I hung out for a bit, I changed and collected my bike and we wandered down to the lake to relax. We grabbed a couple beers at a stand and hung out and watched the last of the racers make their way around the run course. The weather, which had been holding off, started to break into rain and so we went back to the race venue for results. I found that I had finished 7th in my AG and 21st Overall so wouldn’t get any swag and given I had already qualified for the WC’s we decided to hit the road. Looking at the results I was in a tough AG, top 1-3 overall were in my group and I would have had to do more than just a bit better to be in the mix with them. And I feel like I had a successful race given how difficult this course is.
Overall, looking at the race objectively it was a good day. My swim was faster than my last 70.3 by about a minute and given I’d not been having great swim workouts I’m very pleased with that. My run was also 3-4 minutes faster than my run at Timberman and given the punishing nature of this course is a good indicator of my overall fitness. While I would have wanted to do better on the bike and some easy minutes are prob found in the few stops my actually normalized power was 250 which was exactly where my coach wanted me to be. The race also served as another good time to just get out, race, get used to my bike a bit more, get my head into racing, and have that experience. The race was also in a great part of the country so the day (and weekend) was filled with very pretty scenery. A couple days on my shoulder is still bothering me a bit from the crash, but it seems to be slowly getting better with each day.