How to get Triathlon totally wrong – The Chichester Olympic Distance

It’s 5.30am on Sunday 7th September and my alarm has just gone off.  Must be time for the Chichester Triathlon.

To say I was looking forward to this event was an understatement.  This was my last triathlon of the year.  A great opportunity to put into practice all the experience I had gained throughout my previous events.  Also, it is only logical that having trained fairly regularly for about 6 months I should be fitter and stronger.  

Having spent a few hours in the pub with Cat’s family on Saturday I wasn’t feeling amazingly fresh; however I knew this would pass as soon as I had a drink and some food, so I was straight downstairs for some Weetabix and a pint of water.  I was already packed up, so it was a simple process of loading my gear in the car and heading off.  I was meeting Curry and Andy at Andy’s house, as he lives conveniently close to the Chichester Watersports Centre where the race was based.

Meeting the guys at Andy’s we changed into our gear, had a quick cup of tea then headed down to the race.  I was still feeling confident and as always spending time with the boys was a great laugh.  We all made it into transition, racked our bikes and Curry and I headed down for our race brief by the waters edge.

The week before the triathlon I had swum the 1500m distance in the same lake in around 28 minutes, so I was confident on a good swim time.  My biking has been getting progressively stronger, so I was targeting a ride time of less than 1hr 30mins for the 40k.  The run was a bit of an unknown factor, as having recently been diagnosed with shin splints I had not run at all in the build up to the event.  Never the less I would cross that bridge when I got to it.  

Looking around the other competitors on the lakes edge there was the usual mix of people nervously joking with each other and people just looking nervous.  I also had the standard reminder that there is nowhere to hide in a wetsuit.  Lets say that skin tight lycra on a man of my proportions is not the most flattering!  Whilst listening to the race brief I was acutely aware that I was feeling quite thirsty.  I had had almost a litre of water and a cup of tea that morning, but clearly I needed more.  Dehydration has a major negative effect on athletic performance.  I was very aware of this fact and knew it was not a good sign I was so thirsty.  Never the less there was not a lot I could do about it now, as the brief was finished and we made our way into the water towards the start.

Curry and I exchanged a bit of banter with a couple of other competitors as we waited for the start.  We swam a bit to warm up; however fairly soon the klaxon sounded to start the race.  Starting my stroke and sighting regularly to make sure I was aiming in the right direction I did not feel comfortable.  Looking back I have no idea why, but I just couldn’t get into a rhythm.  I was “grabbing” at the water, rather than swimming smoothly.  My breathing wasn’t right, my stroke was short and stabby and I knew I was not swimming quickly.  I was constantly analysing what I was doing, tinkering with my stroke, altering swim speed, glide length and all sorts but I just didn’t settle down.  To add to this lack of smoothness, I was also all over the place in terms of direction.  Having no idea why I was swimming so badly I just knuckled down and got on with it.  Sadly, I was also aware of my thirst during the swim.  I was so aware that I even considered drinking some lake water (gladly I decided against it).  There is an adage that says as soon as you feel thirsty it is too late and you are already dehydrated.  Luckily I had water on my bike and the swim finish was not far off.

Climbing out of the lake (with the help of two marshalls) I checked my watch and it read 32 minutes.  This is not a quick 1500m swim for me and in all honesty I was disappointed.  It was a long jog into transition, so I whipped my wetsuit down to my waist, finished taking it off next to my bike, donned my race belt and helmet and I was off.  Out of transition, onto the bike, feet in the shoes and I was away.  A smooth and fairly quick transition.  Not bad.

Within the first 5k I drunk almost 3/4 of my water bottle.  I only had one water bottle with me, though usually I would take two.  I really really wished I had two.  Oh well, off up the hill I went and round the first lap of the bike course.  I was riding OK.  Not amazingly quick but was climbing well and knew what goes up must come down.  My downhill on the bike is normally fairly quick, so I knew I would make up time there.

Before the steep downhill that concluded the first lap of the bike course I finished my water.  Knowing full well that there would be no more water for me until the run (and that I had 20k to go on the bike still) I was worried that I would need more.  Little did I know that this would be the least of my worries.  Starting the second lap I seemed to go into a trance.  No idea what was up with me, but I lost concentration and was only snapped out of it when Curry overtook me.  I knew I was about 2 mins ahead of him as I saw him starting his bike leg after I had already been on mine for a couple of minutes.  Either he had ridden well to catch me, or I had severely dropped off the pace.  Looking down at my bike computer I could see I I was climbing at 8mph.  I had climbed this hill at 10mph on the first lap.  No doubt I was slowing down.

Whether it was dehydration, lack of concentration or just running out of energy I don’t know.  What I did know was that I needed to keep Curry in sight and to start remembering I was in a race not riding to the shops.  I kicked hard, kept him in my sights and made it to the top of the course.  We soon reached a short downhill and I pushed hard to get up to maximum speed.  Towards the bottom of the hill I felt a jolt on the rear wheel and heard the hiss of the tire deflating.  “Oh Sugar” I thought to myself (or perhaps something a bit stronger).

Having never practiced changing an inner tube I made a hash of getting the tyre off.  Once it was off I had the inner in quick, locked the tire back to the rim, pumped it up and I was off.  I probably lost about 10 mins, but this wasn’t a total disaster and I was still in the race.  Up a short rise and then into another downhill I had covered about 60 yards and my tire deflated again.  “Double Sugar” I muttered to myself!

Pulling over I tried to work out what was wrong but the inner tube would not stay inflated.  I only carry one spare inner.  It quickly occurred to me that without another spare my race was over.  Now normally I am a fairly laid back character, but like the Incredible Hulk I felt a rage building in me.  Perhaps it was a combination of swimming badly, riding badly and feeling tired from my exertion.  Whatever it was I went bonkers.  I am not proud of this looking back on it; however I threw everything I could get my hands on into the woods.  I took of my shoes and threw them.  I threw my race belt into a tree.  I threw my bike into the woods.  I threw my bike pump so far into the woods I never found it again.  I was a little disappointed to say the least.

Eventually calming down I collected all my stuff and started the 5 mile walk back to the finish.  After a mile or so a nice couple of ladies who were support crew for their mate (competing in the 1/2 Ironman distance) gave me a lift back to the start.  I was back in time to see Curry finish with a good performance and was pleased to see that Andy had done well in the Sprint distance too.

Suffice to say I was gutted.  This is my first DNF (Did Not Finish) of my triathlon career and it doesn’t feel good.  Needless to say it will be my last.  Better preparation and attention to bike maintenance should ensure that I never suffer technical failure (or such bad dehydration) again.

Sorry for such a negative post.  It does sum up the race fairly well though and I really don’t have much to say about it.  I am starting my Ironman training next week as it is only 52 weeks to go until Challenge Weymouth, so will write a much more positive blog post about that in the next few days.

TTFN.

James




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