I didn’t make much of a secret of my lack enthusiasm for this race. ‘Lack of enthusiasm’ is rather an understatement! I’d been so unkeen and grumpy in the build up to it, particularly in the last week as the looming race meant that plans for long chatty rides weren’t made, I’d had to put my wetsuit back on again after a long winter of joyful skins swimming and attempts to practice on the poor unloved TT bike weren’t all that successful in the horrible weather that wasn’t showing any signs of going away.
I’d entered back in 2019, long before Covid, with the plan that it would be one of many races in 2020 to build up to my second Ironman at the end of the season. Well, Covid came in and changed all that, and while some people have really missed racing and competition, I hadn’t in the slightest. Yes, I missed the tri club and seeing friends at training sessions, but the cancelled races in 2020 gave me time to do all sorts of other things like cycling for fun, gardening at my parents’, cycle touring, having lovely days out with Mike, then eventually decorating my own house, planning my own garden, and exploring my new local area. As 2021 rolled round and we looked towards restrictions being listed what I was really looking forward to was being able to see my family at long last, celebrating Christmas, having friends over for dinner, meeting more than one person for a swim, ride or run and maybe at long last having a 30th Birthday / Housewarming / everything else we’re yet to celebrate party!
Anyway, when we met my family on Easter weekend, my sister’s boyfriend, Ross, reminded me that we had this triathlon coming up on 16th May so it was time to get into action! I’ve been swimming, cycling and running anyway, so there wasn’t a huge change in my day-to-day activities aside from being able to start attending some of my favourite club sessions again like track. I was building up longer rides as the weather got nicer and fitting in sunny evening 40k rides, did a few closer to 10k runs, and lengthened my lake swims at the water warmed up too.
The week before the race, Ross and I did a ‘practice’ triathlon with a 1500m swim at Queenford Lake, a 40k ride and a couple of laps of the lake to practice the bike to run aspect of the race. While it was lovely to spend more time with Ross and my sister, Emily, again, I did find myself thinking we could have just met up and done something fun together without this race looming over us. The swim was Ross’ first outdoor swim in some time so boosted his open water confidence once he’d got his head in and worked out the breathing after the first buoy, but I think it had the opposite effect on me as I felt so restricted in my wetsuit after months of skins freedom. The ‘why are you wearing that?’s on the way round from my safety team friends did make me laugh though!
In the week before the race, I felt I should do some sort of tapering as I didn’t want to go into the race tired and it felt too late to cram in any more useful training. I had a chatty swim with a friend on Tuesday morning, then Mike and I tried to go out for a TT bike ride after work and the heavens opened which didn’t do much to boost my confidence! I had a chatty run with another friend on the Wednesday evening, then did track on Thursday night for the socialising and gardening, sewing, a mini river swim and house rearranging on Friday and Saturday. Saturday daytime was particularly tough, Mike was busy writing reports, the weather was bad and I just wanted to be out on my bike having fun with friends, but felt I shouldn’t with the impending race.
It was funny to be gathering race kit together again and sticking numbers on the bike and helmet. A tasty dinner of lasagne later, an early alarm set, some diary writing, and it was time for bed. The next morning Mike kindly got up too to join me for breakfast, then I chatted on the phone to Emily all the way to the venue as she was already there as Ross’ start time was an hour earlier than mine. This made the journey pass quickly and nerve-free anyway and it wasn’t long before I was parked up in the Cotswold Water Park and reattaching my front wheel to my bike. I wheeled it into transition, waving at some clubmates en route who were waiting to go off in their wetsuits (again they were in an earlier wave, rather than me being horribly late!)
As I got into transition and found my designated bike space I started to relax into it and enjoy being back at a race again. Everyone was really friendly and chatty and with the prospect of untimed transitions, everything felt a bit more relaxed than usual, with no need to lay out shoes in a particular way or squeeze gels into race belts ahead of time. Timings worked out well for me to yell a well done / good luck / have fun at Ross across transition as he headed out on the bike. The girl next to me was doing her first ever Olympic Tri and it was nice to chat together and acclimatise in the lake until it was time to go.
Last time I did this race I started in the front and middle of the swim which was a bit of a mistake as it was a real washing machine as I was swum over by faster and more aggressive swimmers. This time round to keep with Covid restrictions and avoid crowding it was a wave start with 6 swimmers every minute I believe, going off at intervals. When it was my go, I ran towards the water, stuck my goggles on and partly fell into the lake as I went over a ledge! Well at least I’d started!
I really enjoyed the swim. The water was warm and clear and I felt surprisingly comfortable in my wetsuit having made sure to really pull it up on my arms and legs and apply liberal amounts of body glide before setting up. I swam round picking off other swimmers and enjoying the moment, enjoying being back racing again despite how I’d felt in the run up. Soon enough I’d swum my 1500m and was at the finish climbing out of the lake with encouragement from Shouty Dave – the noisy DB max legend!
Not rushing into transition was a little odd, but actually it made for a nice experience with time to dry off, get changed and chat to other competitors before putting my TT bike on my shoulder CX-style to carry across the mud out of transition. While I kept the mud off the bike, my cleats were so caked in mud which made clipping in next to impossible when I got onto the bike. I ended up having to put my foot through the frame of the bike and digging it out with my hands before wiping excess mud off on my tri suit and finally clipping in. Don’t try that at home!
Once I was clipped in and had waved again at my clubmates, I headed off on the course which was a little hillier than I’d remembered / expected but then I guess I always assume / hope that everything is pancake flat! Anyway, I overtook a few people and got overtaken by more! A highlight was seeing Mike cheering me along a few times towards the end of the 40k course.
On into T2 over the mud again, then made the most of the relaxed transitions to pop to the loo before getting my socks and trainers on and heading off on the run. The run was 10k made up of three laps around the lake we swam in and another. Despite all the rain leading up to the race, and the run being round a lake, for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me to take my trail shoes, so I slipped and slid around the course in the mud.
But I was not slipping and sliding unsupported – I had the most enthusiastic cheer from some of my fellow club mates when I ran past their van (thank you!) and saw Emily and Ross on every loop who had somehow managed to park next to a large puddle right on the run course. Their van got a bit muddy with everyone splashing past, but I did appreciate the support each time I passed them! Aside from this there was the friendly camaraderie that comes with the run with other competitors saying well done as we passed one another and me looking out for and complimenting especially nice kit!
The run went really well. I really enjoyed the fact that I only had 10k to go when I set off, rather than the 21k at the end of a middle-distance race, and I was very proud of the pace I managed to run. I stuck to an average of 5:30km which is faster than I’ve been running lately, so despite running nearly 10 minutes slower than I when I did the race four years ago, I finished the run feeling happy and proud of my achievement. The girl I’d met in transition at the start of the day came in just after me and we chatted about our races while jumping back in the lake to wash off some of the mud from the run course.
Overall, my time for the race was officially 2:46, and 2:58 on my watch including the extended transitions. I was 38th of 143 women, and most importantly I finished feeling like I’d rediscovered a bit of the love for ‘my’ sport which I haven’t really felt in the last year! I might not be training as obsessively or planning a packed racing calendar, but I will think about entering another race this year, and perhaps even buy myself a new club tri suit!