“What you want, are Mini Pork Pies. Eat them whilst you are on your bike” I was told towards the end of my training for the Cotswold Classic Middle Distance Triathlon. I looked in disbelief, however, after reading Martin Potter’s inspiring account of his ‘Outlaw’ triathlon I took on board the advice and was happily munching away on my first pie at 07:40hrs after what I thought was a very successful swim in the old quarry at the Cotswold Water Park.
The morning had started early with my training partner/mate Chris Barnes picking me up at stupid o’clock (03:30hrs) to make our way to Cirencester. We got there in good time, ate some porridge and met Lisa Rushton who had kindly registered us both the day before. Lisa gave us our ‘goodie’ bags which had in it, our race number, bike sticker, swim cap, time chip and ‘Valcro’ strap, technical T-shirt, towel, sweatband and other bits and bobs. We then prepared our bikes and then ourselves ready to go into the transition enclosure.
This, in itself was a daunting experience to say the least. Loads of people milling about looking like they knew what they were doing with expensive bikes at their sides and there was me with my heavy 10 year old, slightly modified, tin-pot ‘Halfords Carrera’ road bike stickered up and ready to go.
I noticed the first rule of the transition that made me smile was you had to put your helmet on, fastened up, before you was allowed to enter the compound. This makes sense really, and gives you slightly less to carry too. Robert Williams and Russell Morey were already busily preparing their pitches, we all said ‘Hi’ nervously and I glanced across the area to see Mrs Ironwoman herself, Lou Beasley finishing setting up her things.
As a group we’d opted for wave 3 which was due to start with the swim at 06:50hrs. We were all bunched together (well I say bunched, what I actually mean is crammed) and it was easy to find my name and number stickered onto the bike rack. Erin Roberts, Kelly Massie & Mike Griffiths were yet to show up and for a moment my mind shot back to the time in August 2015 when Erin had said to me “you should do this triathlon with us guys next year, it’ll be awesome”. It was straight after she said this I reminded her I could barely swim two lengths of the swimming pool without feeling like I was going to die and that I’d never done a triathlon before either.
I racked my bike up and fixed my helmet and gloves to my aerobars so as to remind me to put my helmet on before touching my bike during T1 ensuring I didn’t get disqualified for being a muppet. I put my sunglasses in my ‘feed bag’ which was secured to my frame and made sure the zip was done up and water bottles were secure. I organised my towel on the floor, with my running trainers and cap towards the rear of the towel and my cycling shoes towards the front. On top of my cycling shoes I placed a cycling top and my triathlon belt with number 561 already fixed to it. I made sure I had a small section of towel spare at the front so I could dry my feet after taking my wetsuit off. I had opted to wear a cycling top during the ride as I know I would get cold whist riding.
Over the top of my gear, I finally placed a black bin bag to keep everything dry(ish) if we had a rain shower. The others had arrived by this time, so after saying hello, I left them to arrange their kit. We left transition and got changed into our wetsuits at Chris’s car, strapped our time chip on our ankles (adding a safety pin just in case the ‘Valcro’ had lost its use – as Neil Ogden had found out to his dismay in the Droitwich Tri, it does happen), donned our orange 113 swim caps we were provided with and goggles and started to walk in flip flops towards the swim start area where wave 2 was just about to embark on their journey……..
T minus 10 minutes to blast off for us.
So, standing nervously on the lake edge like a convict just about to face a firing squad, we all said good luck to each other and entered the water after dumping our foot wear in a flip flop scattered pile with the uncertainty that we would ever see them again. I walked onto the sandy beach of Lake 32 and entered the water, it was cold as expected so I acclimatised as I usually would when practicing swimming in the green, gloomy water of the Ragley Hall Lake by reluctantly scooping water into the front of my wetsuit and letting it cascade down my body to my knees. By this time, my junk had already been ingested by my body. To counteract this ice cold feeling, the sand had turned to soft mud beneath my feet, and it was surprisingly warm.
The organisers then announced that there was 5 minutes until wave 3 starts. “Gulp”. It was at this point I actually froze to the spot.
‘What am I doing? I’m mad; I’m literally out of my depth!!!’ I thought to myself. I shut my eyes briefly, and had a stern word with myself. “You’ve trained for this!!!…you’ve trained for this, suck it up and get on with it !!!!” I said to myself.
All those evenings spent in the Abbey Stadium swimming pool learning to breathe and relax whilst swimming. Putting the great advice into practice I had from Andy Gwyer and Phil Eaves who have seen me progress with my swimming and congratulate me frequently on my efforts. You can do this, just chill, just breath. I bobbed over to Chris and Russel who had opted to swim on the left where it was less congested. Good idea guys.
So when the whistle went I just took a deep breath, started my watch and stayed calm. Starting swimming on the left hand side was a great idea and I wasn’t in the way of faster, more confident, seasoned triathlon swimmers. This worked, and I seemed to get faster. That was, until I got to the first Buoy and I noticed I was just about to swim on the wrong side of it. I stopped and did breast stroke back into the stream of swimmers going the right way of the buoy. Then I was off again.
The second buoy was no problem, however, by the time I’d got to the third my goggles had steamed up and I also had the sun shining in my eyes. It was then I realised I’d forgotten to use saliva on the inside of my lenses to aid with avoiding them steaming up. I stopped again and trod water for a few seconds whist I quickly took them off and wiped fresh spit into them. I was off again and I could see. The water was really clear and you could bottom most of the time oh and weeds, oh and sand. They’d mentioned at the briefing that the lake was shallow in places due to the lack of rainfall in August, and as I took a swim stroke I now had a hand full of sand. I actually chuckled to myself and carried on with visions of myself as a beached whale.
Before long I could see the finish line on the shore of the lake so I swam towards it. The 113 events marshals were on hand to help people out of the water as there was quite a large step to navigate over. Once out of the lake, I started to jog, whist taking the top half of my wetsuit off, to the transition swim/run entrance. The encouragement from the spectators was great and really warming to see and hear.
By the time I had gotten to my area my wetsuit was to my waist and I’d remembered to press the transition button on my watch.
Right, sit down and take the remainder of my wetsuit off. This was a tip from my Triathlon Guru and friend, Kevin Parsons, who I couldn’t have done this event without his help, encouragement and tuition. I find myself dizzy after swimming when I stand up and I was surprised that I had managed to jog in a straight line into transition to be honest. It’s because most of the blood has been used filling the muscles etc on the top half of my body whist swimming and it suddenly rushes to my legs once you stop. I actually remembered to start kicking my legs more for the last 100 meters or so at the end of the swim to start the blood flowing in them again as I hardly kick when I swim. This was another tip from Kevin.
Wetsuit off, helmet on, dry feet, socks and cycling shoes on, step into my tri belt with the number at the rear, cycling top on and zipped up, grab my bike and I’m away, running out of transition. I approach the mount/dismount line and get on my bike, clip in, put my gloves and sunglasses on and reset my Garmin for the cycle section of the triathlon mode.
Now, where are those pork pies??!!!
After reluctantly scoffing a pork pie, I downed some of my energy gel drink. Mr Ironman, Nigel Watson, had recommended (as well as the pork pies) that I squeeze 3 or 4 energy gels into my bottle and fill the rest with water. It dilutes the gels so when you drink them they don’t hit your stomach and make you have stomach cramps which I have experienced before when taking gels. I used 4 gels in my bottle and marked the bottle evenly, making sure throughout the ride to drink all 4 portions. Two in the first half and two in the second half of the ride. Simple.
During the ride I also ate two further mini pork pies, a Mars Bar, a Kellogg’s Rice Krispy Square, a Cadbury’s snack bar and a mini malt loaf. If there is any advise to take from this report/story is that you have to eat, little and often as your body needs energy, and believe me it works. The route consisted of two 28 mile laps on pretty much flat roads, apart from a couple of minor hills, so I made use of my clip-on aero-bars as much as I could on the flat sections. I generally enjoy cycling and what made me enjoy it even more was that I started to overtake people, and overtake guys on real tri/time trial bikes too. On the first lap I caught up with Erin who was about 4 minutes ahead of me in the swim, we spoke briefly and I carried on ahead. I had no doubt she would do well and catch me up on the run.
I was pretty much dry from the swim by the time I had travelled about 2 miles and I felt comfortable and before I knew it I’d completed the first loop and was on the out and back section where you could see other competitors cycling in the opposite direction. At this point I’d started to get cold as I only had my short sleeved cycling jersey on and wished that I’d bought the ‘arm sleeves’ I was pondering over a week previous to the race.Rob appeared from behind me and we cycled together for a short time and chatted. I was concerned whilst riding side by side that if a car forced me to stop cycling two abreast I would have to duck in behind, and to a marshal, this would look like I was drafting, so I cut any chatting short as a disqualification at this point would really tick me off.
As I approached the water station I drank the rest of the water from my second water bottle mounted on my bike and threw it near a marshal (trying not to take her out with the bottle missile) who was collecting empty bottles by the side of the road. A few meters further, I grabbed a full ‘High-5’ water bottle from a marshal caged it and carried on.The support at the event is really good and at the half way mark I firstly saw the familiar face of Neil Ogden in his Redditch Tri hoodie taking photos and shouting encouragement and then other familiar friendly faces from the Redditch running and triathlon community.
The second lap went pretty much as the first until about 4 miles from the end where there had been a crash. I’m still not sure what had happened exactly, but there were marshals, paramedics and police in attendance. As I approached, the marshals asked all riders to dismount and walk past the incident, which we did with respect. A rider was on his back in the middle of the road being attended to. His bike was in a mess and was on the side of the road, his forks were snapped in two pieces. I read later on in the day that the guy was knocked off his bike and he was spending a couple of days in hospital so he could be kept under observation. This was a wake up call for me really, and proves how vulnerable we are whilst cycling and that we are not invincible.
With the end of the cycle stage in sight, I passed the spectators area and enjoyed their support once again. I approached the dismount line and unclipped off my bike in good time and started to run with my bike pushing it by the front stem to my transition spot. I’d quickly learnt whilst training for this event that pushing my bike by the saddle as you see the professional do on the TV will end in disaster with me crumpled on top of my bike and this was not going to happen, just got to be mindful of where the peddles are when running. Although the path from the dismount line to transition had a carpet laid on it, it was really uneven but I’m sure the carpet fitter responsible did the best they could under the circumstances.
I racked my bike by the saddle, pressed the transition setting on my watch, took my glasses, helmet and gloves off and sat down to swap my shoes for my running trainers. Quick release laces are a must and proved to be great to use, thank you Kelly Massie for that tip. I’d decided to wear a cap whilst running if it was sunny and it thankfully was so on the cap went and I jogged out of transition with my jelly legs, turned my number to the front as I’d been instructed and started my watch again. I passed friends immediately after the transition area that all cheered and gave me encouragement. Thank you guys for coming out to see everyone participating it really does mean a lot.
Since training to do brick runs after cycling my legs felt ok and after about half a mile they felt normal again. I ran with Russel Morey for a short while, chatted and shared our ailments briefly and we both soldiered on. The course took you around the swim lake on a gravel/grit path which reminded me of Kingsbury Water Park and it was interesting to see the lake from a very different view point from that morning. The route went over a small grassed area and onto tarmac paths near the main road and then weaved back into the water park to the aid station which I’d pass two more time on the laps to follow. It was here I enjoyed the support and encouragement from Phil Eaves, Andy Gwyer and Louise Morey. Thank you guys.
Whilst at the oasis of sugar, nutrition and liquid I stopped and drank plenty of water and munched on Ginger Nut Biscuits as I ran off. Soon enough the end of the first lap was in site as you pass a row of porta-loos and then run through the red carpeted lane next to the finish line where there were loads of spectators shouting, cheering and calling your name. You run through some bushes, past a small water station and back past the transition compound where again I was greeted with friendly faces of support.
I was very conscious that my running was getting slower, not just in this event but in general at the moment. The swim training
three times a week and cycling long distances had begun to take their toll and my general running pace had been suffering over the past few months. During ‘Parkruns’, long distance training runs and 10k events my pace had deteriorated compared to last year and it had started to really frustrate me. I think sometimes you don’t realise how much you are putting your body through, so as I kept running, trying to pick up my pace I just reminded myself that about 8 years ago I used to be a 17 stone ex-smoker who huffed and puffed walking up the stairs.
My pace just stayed the same at about my comfortable marathon pace of about 8min 20secs per mile which wasn’t too bad considering I had to stop occasionally to massage my toes as they kept going numb on my left foot.
At the end of the second lap I approached the finish line again and I saw my Mum and my wife Amanda and the little ones, Jack and Isabelle. Jack then broke free of the barrier and started to run with me thinking I was just about to finish the race and wanted to run with me across the line as he did last year when I completed the ‘Railway Ultra Marathon’.
Bless him, I had to say “go back matey, I’ve another lap to do!!” He returned to his mum and cheered on. It was uplifting to see them all and was just what I needed for a boost on my final lap. Shortly after starting on Lap 3 Erin had caught me up, shouted that Mike wasn’t well, overtook me and slowly started to disappear in front of me. I just carried on at the pace I was running at and comfortably got through the last lap (apart from stopping twice to bring my toes back to life again).
I sprinted for the finish line and was carried with the cheering and shouting from all of the spectators who were gathered at the 113 signage. Interestingly, the actual finish line was placed about 3 meters before the time pad on the floor and luckily I had noticed this on my approach. I stopped my watch for the last time. My two goals had been achieved:
to complete the race and
Complete it less than 6 hours.
Oh and a bonus, I even found my flip flops, yayyy.
Would I do it again?……..Yes, most definitely. I’ve just booked the 113 on June 4th 2017
Swim time : 36:42.2
T1 : 4:02.3
Bike : 2:56:18.9
T2 : 3:25.8
Run : 2:09:48.3
Total : 5:50:17.7