Once, Twice, Three Reviews an Avenger

Something to Avenge next year…. Entering the standard distance for my first triathlon was more related to my desire for ‘value for money’ than anything else. That said, after my meltdown in the lake 3 weeks ago, the thought of switching to the Sprint came very close to fruition – but I relented… standard it was… Prep : Checklist from John Legge, photos of kitbags from Stuart Mackay as references Alarm set for 6:15am, Wake up on the hour every hour, Get out of bed at 5.30am.

The tri club hoodies certainly stand out in a crowd and after being welcomed by transition security in one (Rhona), the others competing appeared from nowhere. It was nice to see a number of friendly (if nervous) looking faces and the ever cool Philip ‘The Cakeman’ Hall. 8.15am and it was time to get lakeside. It was also the time that the Ross fan club arrived on mass. Good luck hugs from family and a ‘just go smash it’ from Mike Griffiths and we were in the brown stuff (water). It was relatively lukewarm. The aim was to stay out of trouble which lasted all of 100m when the worlds worst spotter decided to swim over my back from right to left (going in the completely wrong direction), elbowing me in the back on the head for good measure and then decides to go at a right angle again and slap me on my shoulder as he headbutts me. *Trigger flashback to my footballing days – the elbows came out, he wore one, I ‘accidentally’ pulled on his wetsuit zip and then kicked him off for good measure as he came to a standstill* – now I was in competitive mode.

The rest of the swim went ok, picking up my speed as I went on and I exited the water in 15th position. When swimming is your weakest discipline, knowing you have it out of the way and are actually in a fairly competitive position is a real confidence boost. I was genuinely excited about the bike – no idea how I’d compare but having put the cleats on for the first time only a week or so before, I was intrigued more than nervous. The strong wind was in our faces for the first 20 miles which made it hard work but I was still averaging a good speed so when I did eventually get it behind me It gave me that little extra boost I needed to blast the final few miles. 30.8miles in under 1hr 34m @ 19.8mph average. Happy. Trail is not my favourite. Muddy, hilly, hellish, stoney, cobbled, potholed, grassy trail is my least favourite. This was not a run for the purists, just a war of attrition. I managed a 22 minute first 5k and a rather disappointing 24 minute second 5k. Ironically, I got overtaken on my first lap and overtook a handful of people on my second lap. The run left me somewhat frustrated at the end of the race but in comparison, 8th fastest run of the day shows it wasn’t as bad as the numbers suggest. I finished in 11th place overall and 5th in my age category in 2:51:57 And so it was done, my first open water triathlon. First thoughts, I hated it. Second thoughts, I loved it but hated the run. Third thoughts, lets train harder so I can get quicker – it will be worth the pain!! – Lee Ross

 

Entering the Avenger was pretty silly considering at the time I couldn’t swim in open water however inspired by my lovely tri club friends I had a mad moment and pressed the enter button. The nerves immediately kicked in and after many trips to Ragley, Top Barn and Upton Warren I still didn’t know if I could do it. As a runner, you turn up, stand on the start line and run. Packing my bag the night before I realised just how different this was going to be. Getting the kit together is an event in itself! After little sleep I left at 7:30am to make sure I got there in plenty of time (2.5 hours was much more than needed) however it gave me chance to wish Lee good luck in his first standard distance event and watch the 2nd and 3rd wave swimmers and try and get some tips. I checked my kit about 5 times over and met up with my fellow Redditch tri clubbers. The look of fear on everyone’s face actually settled my nerves. At least I wasn’t the only one that was petrified!

The swim was always going to be a challenge having not been able to put my head in the water 7 months ago. I can’t say I enjoyed being hit on the head and kicked and had to keep switching from front crawl to breaststroke to try and get through the madness but once it opened out I felt more comfortable and settled in to a steady swim. The bike was tough in the wind but I knew I had to work hard to make up for my slow swim. I think I sort of enjoyed it. The run was awful! My legs didn’t feel like they belonged to me but that probably wasn’t a bad thing. Being off road, in long grass and mud was not my idea of fun but with grit and determination I battled through.

The sense of achievement when I crossed that finish line was amazing! Seriously out of my comfort zone but I had become a triathlete! Finding out I was first in age category was a real bonus. Special thanks to all of the tri club coaches and those members that have given me lots of advise. But special mentions to Lee and Steph who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I am looking forward to the next sprint event and may even advance to a standard distance in the future! – Jo Scott

 

I was in a rush and a sonic boom sounded from my car as it broke the speed of sound along Alcester Heath heading for Ragley for the second time that morning, I’d arrived at the Avenger Triathlon earlier, scoffing at facebook posts and photos about making lists in order to remember kit. I’d tipped my hat to Rhona Ulyett on guard at transisition as I pushed my bike through only to realise my cycle shoes were still in the shoe rack back home. Ever the professional I checked the cranks in case I’d subconsciously clipped them to the pedals which I never do anyway and of course they weren’t there.

I now had a few options, complete the standard bike distance in elastic laced running trainers on SPD pedals, do the swim then feign a mechanical on my bike, blast home to the jewel in the crown of Redditch ‘Headless Cross’ and return. Or loiter around the racking without attracting Rhona’s security conscious eye looking for an unguarded pair of SPDs, I knew Terry Haggett had entered he couldn’t be far off a size 11?

I had to attend the race brief at 08:00 to get a confirmatory hand mark, but by 8:15 I was in my car bouncing out of Ragley’s field could I crash through the car park tape Dukes of Hazzard style to save time? Not really, and was soon on the narrow exit road, but by now earlier starting Middle distancers had finished their swim and were now biking out along the same road I was stuck behind a chap doing a paltry 20 mph. I considered it bad etiquette to sound the horn to overtake but I should be able to pass on the left over the grass, the sheep would soon move and surely the Marquess of Hertford and his shotgun wouldn’t be up this early.

As luck would have it the cyclist cleared a cattle grid at speed rattling his drink bottles out of their cages onto the verge I slipped past and headed for home as he stopped to replace them – Amateurs.    Later wetsuited and booted (Crocs), I passed Rhona again and entered transition with my SPD shoes in hand. John Mitchell another Standard distancer was there who accepted a few Haribo from my bike side stash.

Now at the lake we found Lorraine Dumont, Carly Foster and Anita Douglas all feeling ominous about their forthcoming first open water sprint Tri, John and I felt it our duty to try and make them more nervous.    Race number and briefing mark checked it was time to join the double queue entering the water for our 09:30 start, I found myself paired up with Terry Haggett after a friendly greeting I eyed up his feet but didn’t tell him how close he’d come to pedaling bare foot to Evesham and back.     Peeling back a few inches of my wetsuit sleeve revealed three or four wine gums, a higher melting point than jelly babies, and less litter, messy and obvious than an energy gel, I was sure I’d burn the sugar up over the next few hours.

The swim went well apart from being touched up a bit half way round the first lap and swimming too close to a turn buoy I caught my arm on the tether rope under water. The second lap was easier and I eventually pulled away from a persistent breast stroker who’d been dueling with me since the start, I didn’t stop to clear slowly fogging goggles in case he caught up as I knew the Ragley course like the back of my hand entry anyhow, only a few sightings were needed to show I was on target for the giant yellow Minion buoys.

Stuweb clocked my 1,500m swim at 33mins 13 secs about 45 seconds slower than the field average. By the time I got to transition the wetsuit was down to my waist and Garmin had moved from under swim cap to wrist.  Biking along the exit road at a scorching 15mph I got a shout from Louise Morey setting up her marshalling deckchair and camp stove, later she would calm the traffic leaving Ragley as runners came out of the woods and onto the road (part of the run course)

A left turn after Ragley’s front gates took riders onto the smoothest tarmacked road a bike has ever known pity it was all uphill! There was nothing else to do other than head down and keep plugging away at the incline, suddenly I looked up into a camera lens from behind which a smiling Russel Morey cheered, I’m sure the photo was uploaded to Facebook before I’d reached the staggered crossroads and had clattered over Inkberrow’s intermittent drain covers. The traffic lights at the crossing there were green so no chance of a rest plus 15 seconds of make up time as told at the race brief. A frustrating head wind gnawed away at any cruising speed and it seemed no matter what corner was turned it was always in your face like someone’s camera!

Well over a dozen riders were picked off on the way to the Upton Snodsbury turn and a few more by the time I’d reached the drinks station by Throckmorton airfield, now came the fastest part of the course the breakneck drop down Furze Hill which spat you out onto the A44 via two happy and exited flag waving marshals, on route to the Squires roundabout I caught a couple of yellow numbered middle distance guys but fair play to them they would be doing 50 odd miles that morning. It was time to head for home with the wind finally behind me, could a sail be rigged out of a race number and race belt? Where was Stuart Mackay when you needed him? Cycle engineer and kite surfer extraordinaire probably dressed in blue in some dodgy coffee shop eating cake and reading ‘Which Blue Bike’ magazine.

Norton, Harvington and Iron Cross slipped behind me as did a couple more cycles, at Dunnington we joined the Sprint bike course and it was a refreshing change to pass green race numbers. The dismount timing mat in transition later said my bike was 15mins quicker than the field average at 1hr 42mins.

Lee Ross was in amongst the bike racking packing his kit up, another standard distancer, he’d already finished and had been in the earlier start wave of 08:30 am hour before me which meant I’d have to do a 10k trail run sub 40 or 50mins to match him. Maybe in an alternate universe another Phil Hall with thicker fairer hair and bluer eyes complete with dimple in his chin and lottery win was at that level?

Under my towel was a disposable glove usually used for bike maintenance, earlier I’d filled it with sunscreen after putting my hand in and out of it I could smother some protection over neck and shoulders against the sun that wasn’t out at the moment, lesson learnt from last year.  I stumbled out of T2 dreading the run, for the past 6 months a trapped nerve in my lower leg had caused weakness in my ankle, my foot needed to always land on a flat surface otherwise I have no way to correct balance and down I go. Most of the course was over fields a mower had cut our run path down to 6” grass which still hid rabbit holes, tire ruts and various other traps for an unwary ankle.

Presently following a wooded track up ahead a singing dancing marshal could be heard an outgoing girl in high spirits who really lifted my mood, maybe she’d OD on energy gels but would need a throat sweet by the end of the day. Lou Morey was next as the woods met the road which sent runners back towards the start. In some cases the course resembled a Tough Mudder or Wolf run with slippy mud puddles I didn’t risk running through and just walked. A little loop around the courtyard of Ragley led to more fields past the finish, Transition and a drinks station here I topped up my bottle with the hand loop. On the 2nd lap I saw an energy gel in the grass and was delighted after picking it up to find it unopened, with complete disregard for the 3 second rule after a quick wipe on my suit it was slipping down my throat.

By this time all the bikers I’d scalped earlier had piled past me and more, yellow, green and blue numbers bounded past, plus runners doing the Ragley Run, with about 3 or 4 mins before finishing Terry H overtook with a greeting, it had taken him about 3 and a half hours to hunt me down. Water, oranges and a cool looking piece of Jay Zee bling waited at the finish, now I have a full set of Avenger medals Sprint, Olympic and Middle. I was customary stripped of the chip timed Velcro strap from my untrustworthy ankle which later told the sorry story that my run came in at 16 mins over average, totaling 3hrs 33 mins 22 secs.

After hobbling down to the lake and back to retrieve my Crocs it was time for a club photo with the jubilant women’s Sprint team which now included Stephanie Cox and Jo Scott plus Lee and Terry busy crowding around Stuweb’s quickly printed timing stubs.     A well  organised local event with plenty of marshals and control, but seems to be getting a little expensive maybe because of the full page of individual race number stickers issued. but I’ll be back next year. – Phil Hall