It’s 04:10am on Sunday 24th May and my alarm has just gone off, must be time for the Arundel Lido Triathlon.
Yes, you have read that right, 04:10am. Bloody early. I had awoken off of the back of 4 hours sleep. Normally I would blame a lack of sleep on the kids keeping me awake; however The Noodle was at Grannies and Mia had not woken me in the night. My lack of sleep only had one person to blame……….me.
Unlike my usual triathlon preparation (of doing everything at the very last minute) I had decided to organise my gear the day before. The problem was, I only finished doing this at about midnight. I had planned to organise everything during the day on Saturday. All was going well until my wife and I decided to buy The Noodle a trampoline. She was staying at Grannies on the Saturday night as we didn’t want to take her to the triathlon on Sunday morning because she would just be bored. She had been such a good girl recently, the trampoline was a little present. Well I say little. It’s actually pretty big and takes up a good chunk of the garden. Anyway, we bought it on Saturday and wanted to build it before she came home on Sunday after the triathlon. How hard can building a trampoline be? Turns out not very, but quite time consuming. The 2 hours I had set aside for triathlon prep was eaten up by trampoline building; hence why I found myself still organising my gear at midnight.
|L-R Mike, Me and Bushy
Never mind the 4 hours sleep, today was a big day. Other than Curry (who didn’t want to take part in the triathlon due to being ill a few weeks before) the whole of the Grazing Saddles Triathlon Team were competing. This was exciting. I had also competed in Arundel the year before (as my first ever Triathlon, read all about it here), so had a benchmark to beat and to see if I have gotten fitter over the last 12 months.
As my wife got our baby Mia ready to go, I ate some delicious porridge, made myself a peanut butter and jam sandwich (to eat 90 minutes before my start time), loaded the gear in the car and just after 5am we were off to Arundel. Arriving just before 6am, I saw my friend Neil’s van, parked next to him and unloaded my gear.
Then I was straight into the routine I know only too well know. Off to the registration tent to get your competitors pack. Number for your helmet, number for your bike, timing tag around your ankle and then into transition to rack the bike, assemble your cycling shoes, running shoes, sunglasses etc under the bike and you are ready to race.
During this time I had been chatting to my fellow Grazing Saddles team members and to a few other people I knew from the Pompey Triathletes who were also competing that day. The buzz was great. Andy was swimming first and I gave him a huge cheer as he got out of the pool and made his way to transition. Quickly running round to the bike exit we saw him come out and immediately proceed to cycle the wrong way. Fortunately we shouted at him, he turned around and was on his way onto the bike course. Neil was next to swim; however I didn’t see him get out of the pool as I was already queuing up for my swim start time.
|Me and Bush waiting to swim
Making the triathlon even more interesting than normal was that Bushy and I had exactly the same swim start time. With us being fairly evenly matched on the bike and Bushy being a bit better on the run it was set to be a straight race to the finish for us two. We had spiced things up with a little wager. Whomever out of us finished last has to wear a ballerina costume (complete with tutu) along to our next triathlon club training session. The stakes could hardly be higher!!!!
Chatting away to Bushy as we waited he was telling me he was a bit nervous, but surprisingly I was calm. Having raced at Arundel the year before I knew exactly what to expect and was really looking forward to seeing what I could do. Arundel Lido Triathlon breaks down like this.
800m swim – unsurprisingly this is in the Lido and consists of 32 laps of 25metres each.
40km bike – 25 miles in old money, the bike course is two laps consisting of one long climb, a fast downhill and then a quick rolling section of the A27 before you start the second lap
10k run – the run is very hilly, taking on a steep offroad uphill section before dropping back into some rolling hills then a final fast 2km downhill to the finish.
Soon Bushy was called forward for his swim and a few moments after I was invited into lane 5 to get prepped. Swim hat and goggles on, the marshals count your laps and tap you on the head when you have two to go, saving me having to count them myself, which I am absolutely awful at. With 3 to 4 other swimmers per lane it can get congested, so to make things easier for the faster swimmers if you get tapped on the foot you have to wait at the end of the next length, let them past and then carry on.
I was counted down by the starter and then my swim had begun. Despite the fact that I enjoy swimming, in all my previous triathlons the swim leg has never gone well. I have either failed to get into a rhythm, gone out too fast, or otherwise gotten it wrong. At Arundel, I was determined to swim smoothly and put in a good performance. One lap done, on the return lap my left hand kept colliding into the wall. The lanes were narrow and to avoid a collision with the swimmer coming the other way I had to keep left. Sadly there was a wall there and I just kept hitting it. To avoid this I had to shorten my left arm stroke, which threw me way off. So much for a smooth swim.
|Just about to High 5
Due to the problems with the wall I was not making good progress. This resulted in me getting tapped on the foot a few times, causing me to have to stop at the end of the lap. I knew the swim was going to be slow, AGAIN. In my head I just kept trying to relax and not worry about it. A couple of minutes lost on the swim could easily be regained on the bike if I rode well. Failing to get into any sort of rhythm with my swimming I eventually was tapped on the head and two more lengths done I was out of the pool. Hoorah. Seeing my every supportive wife at the pool exit and giving her our now customary high 5, I ran into transition.
It was no surprise to see that Bushy’s bike was already gone. He clearly had a better swim than me and was already out on the bike course. There was only one thing for it, I had to catch him up. Helmet, cycling shoes and sunnies on I was quickly out of transition and on the open road. “Here we go” I thought to myself, mentally preparing for the first long climb of the bike course.
Into the climb I was almost immediately overtaken by number 25, who set off up the hill like he was being chased by something nasty. I rode the hill as quickly as I dared, mindful of the fact that expending too much energy early in the ride is not a good idea. 40km is far enough that you cannot afford to go flat out from the start. It requires a bit of pacing. Up the hill, down the other side then onto the rolling section of A27 I was feeling great. I even manged to catch up number 25 (who must have been quite some distance ahead). Keeping the water consumption up to try and avoid the dreaded cramps that I sometimes suffer with, I was through my first lap in good time and ready to tackle that climb again.
As I started the climb for the second time I still had not caught up Bushy. Him and I are about even when it comes to bike riding. I am probably a bit better up the hills, but he is faster on the flat and downhill due to his super duper aero triathlon bike. The thoughts of the tutu were already going through my head. If I couldn’t catch him on the bike I had no chance, as he was guaranteed to be quicker than me on the run. Then, in the distance, slowly making his way up the hill I thought I might have spotted Bushy. I have spent enough time following Bushy on the bike to recognise his unorthodox riding style; however I was still too far away to be sure. Giving myself a little pep talk, I dropped my bike down a couple of gears, gritted my teeth and set about catching him.
To my delight my legs responded well to the extra pressure I put them under. My quads were screaming, but I could push through the pain and was slowly reeling the rider in front in. As I got closer I could see it was number 51. That was Bushy. I had caught him up. We still had over 15km to go. Perhaps that tutu would have his name on it not mine.
From this point I quickly caught him and overtook, pushing hard to the start of the downhill. I knew that he would be quick downhill. His triathlon specific bike has a much more aerodynamic riding position than my normal road bike. Coupled with this, Bushy is fairly fearless. An aero bike and a fearless rider tends to make for quick downhills. Exactly as I thought, a couple of hundred metres into the downhill he overtook me. I could see the grin on his face as he flew past. In normal riding circumstances, I would quickly tuck in behind him and use the aerodynamic slip stream to keep up. The effect of this slip steam is really quite pronounced and you can easily keep up with faster riders if you stay right on their back wheel.
|Bottom of the downhill
on lap 1
Sadly for me, drafting (as this slip streaming is known) is not allowed in triathlon. If you get caught drafting you could face disqualification. With draft busting motorcyclists out on the course keeping an eye on things it just isn’t worth risking. Plus it is cheating. Bearing this in mind I decided all I needed to do was keep him in sight. There was as short climb at the bottom of the downhill and I knew I could catch him up there.
Down on the drops, pushing my biggest gear I managed to keep Bushy within about 25 metres of me as we started to approach the flat just ahead of the short climb. I closed to within about 15 metres and then exactly as predicted Bushy started to slow on the uphill. I pushed my bike and my legs as hard as I could and overtook him again. Lactic acid building, my legs screaming I crested the short hill and pushed even harder on a brief downhill the other side. Quickly we were onto the A27 and as this section is flat and fast Bushy whizzed past yet again. Keeping my eye on him I kicked one final time and overtook him just before a short sharp downhill run into transition.
At the bottom of this downhill there is a round-a-bout that you have to go straight on at. Flying down the hill towards the round-a-bout I tipped my bike in and got a huge rear wheel slide. I was clearly on the edge and extremely close to crashing. Recovering from the slide sucked up a huge amount of momentum and once again Bushy went flying past and it was a short drag into transition. I decided to just follow him into transition and rely on being faster changing from bike to run that he was.
Practically neck and neck into transition he racked his bike and then there was no room for mine. Desperately trying to wedge my bike in between his bike and another competitors bike Bushy very kindly helped me. Running shoes on I was out of transition in a very quick 45 seconds with Bushy hot on my heels. At this point I felt I only had one chance. Go out quickly at the start of the run and hope that he cannot stay with me, generating a gap which I can hold for the rest of the 10K.
I set off as quickly as I could, but could hear that he was only just behind. Remarkably I actually felt OK and was hopeful that I might be able to maintain a quick pace for my 10K. Less that 700 metres into the run, I knew those dreams were shattered. My old friend cramp kicked in and my left calf locked. Immediately my pace dropped considerably. Bushy caught me up, gave me some encouraging words and then slowly ran off into the distance. With my calf in absolute agony I knew there would be no way to catch him. The tutu was mine.
At this point I stopped for a wee. I needed a wee anyway, a bit of rest for the calf wouldn’t do any harm and the race against Bushy was already as good as lost. Starting running again I was struggling to maintain any sort of pace at all. Flashbacks to the Brighton Marathon were running through my mind, where quad cramp had caused me the huge problems.
Concentrating on trying to maintain my running form, I ran up and up and up. I was forced to walk briefly when the off road section got really steep. Bushy passed me going the other way and I knew from experience he was about 2 minutes ahead of me. That was a lot to catch up, but anything can happen. Running back downhill from the highest point I started to feel a bit better. Concentrating on my breathing and my running form seemed to be alleviating the cramp a bit. My calf still hurt, but just a bit less than before. Running through the rolling hill section I was managing to maintain around 6min/km pace. I knew that Bushy would be quicker than that and once again when we passed (he was on the home stretch as I made my way to the turn around point) I calculated we were still 2-3 minutes apart. As Bushy passed me he said “I tell you what Snooky, this is going to be fecking close”. I wasn’t quite so sure but was determined to do as well as I could.
Soon enough I was on the final 2k which is downhill and then flat to the finish. I pushed as hard as my leg would let me. Struggling to get any quicker than 5:20/km I had to dig very deep to keep going. My left calf was absolutely screaming. In the back of my mind I was genuinely nervous that I might be doing some serious damage to my muscle. A year ago I would have stopped and walked, but this was not the Snooky of a year ago. I am a new, fitter, leaner version of myself and I was not going to give in.
|Mike and I across the line together
Just as I approached the finish I was caught up by Mike (Grazing Saddles teammate and superb triathlete). I had seen him a few times on the run where it crossed and knew he wouldn’t be that far behind. We crossed the line together and the race was done.
I was in pain. A lot of pain. Limping around I was seriously concerned I had done some lasting damage. Quickly comparing times with Bushy what I already knew was confirmed. He had finished around 4 minutes faster than me. His superior running had won through and the tutu would be mine. I really didn’t mind about that. He is a great mate, it had been a pleasure to race some of the bike leg against him and it was always a bit of a longshot for me to beat him. I ran a 55 minute 10k which is only 3 minutes slower than my PB and he still beat me. Well done Bushy. It will be a pleasure to race with you at the Ironman in September.
|Bushy and I compare times. He has won!
All of us were finished. Neil had put in a superb time for his first ever triathlon and finished second out of our little gang. Despite Mike being ill in the run up to the triathlon and unable to train he had still finished first out of us lot and an extremely impressive 22nd overall. Bushy was third, I was fourth and Andy was 5th. Everybody had performed well. We were all tired but had given it everything. Now it was time to go back to my place for a well deserved BBQ.
Initially, after the race, I was a little down heartened. My swim had not gone well at all. The bike ride was good. In fact, I was second quickest out of our gang on the bike. My run was hampered by cramp yet again. If only I could just get one race where the whole thing goes to plan. Having had a bit more time to think over my performance, I think there is a lot more to be positive about than I may have realised.
12 months ago I took 2 hrs 54 minutes to complete the course. On Sunday it took me 2hrs 28 minutes. That is almost 30 minutes quicker. A massive improvement and something I should definitely be proud of. Last year I finished 7th from last overall. This year I finished 78th out of 105 competitors. Again a huge improvement.
There are a number of things to be learnt from the weekend. Firstly, I definitely need to work on my swimming. More time in the pool required. Secondly my cycling has come on a long way, but there is still room for improvement, especially around those pesky hills. And finally onto my running. Neil constantly reminds me that a year ago I was struggling to run more than a mile and this is absolutely true. Despite this I would like to do a bit better on the run, although I appreciate this is very unlikely to ever be a strong point of mine.
All in all a very successful event. Was great to compete with the team and I am really looking forward to my half Ironman in a couple of months time. 8 weeks to the half Ironman, then only 8 more until the full distance.
There is a LOT of training to be done before then.