After winning my first triathlon at Winchester Sprint, I was looking forward to taking on the first longer race of the year at The Swashbuckler in The New Forest. I did the race last year and was really looking forward to the great course again. I had originally signed up to do the new olympic distance but Blair encouraged me to 'upgrade' to middle distance. It was a great chance to see how well Winter training had gone.
Last year the air temperature was only 5 degrees (in May!) and the bike was absolutely freezing. My fingers gave up and all I could to do change gear was literally punch the gear levers! So I was delighted to wake up to a beautiful sunny morning and 12 degrees by 6am. It continued to get hotter all day. The bike course is stunning, as with most New Forest races, and it's always great to share the roads with the many wild animals roaming free. Many of them choose not to roam however, and simply sit in the middle of the road challenging us cyclist to avoid them – there's only one winner otherwise!
- 1 x 500ml bottle of Precision Hyration 1500 the night before
- 3 x Scotch pancakes w/honey 2.5hrs before race start
- 1 x 500ml bottle of Precision Hyration 1500
- 1 x High 5 citrus gel 20mins before race start
- 2 x 500ml bottles of Precision Hydration 1000s for the bike
- Clif Shot Bloks and Dairy Milk Chocolate squares for the bike
- Clif Shot Bloks for the run (+ water at aid stations)
As well as the main race briefing on the Saturday, there was a further short briefing before the swim, now the buoys were out marking the course. The swim takes place in a beautiful stretch of estuary but, as with last year, the bright sun rose at one end of the swim loop, making it very hard to see ahead and we had to just trust the organiser that we would eventually reach a turn buoy! Another interesting piece of news we heard just minutes before the start was that the estuary had a sudden influx of millions jelly fish (only small and harmless). Not just a few but millions!
Into the water and the temperature was around 16 degrees and perfect for racing. A brief moment where, while it looks like you're getting into a fresh water river, you're essentially getting into the sea and the water is salty! I took up a start position near the front left and once gun sounded I quickly found some good space along with 3 or 4 other swimmers. After about a minute we hit the first huge patch of jelly fish and it felt like trying to swim through sludge. I'm sure, like me, many were trying to keep their mouth as closed as possible so as not to get any in the mouth. You really do experience new things at every single race in triathlon!
The swim was 3 loops, into the sun, current and jelly fish one way and away from it all the other way. The far turn buoy seemed to take forever to come on the first lap and swimming back to the start point was a breeze. After lap 1 the field was well spread and I seemed to be with the same few swimmers the whole way. About half way through the second lap we started to catch up with the back markers of earlier, olympic distance starters. Things started to get much busier, particularly round the turn buoys. I measured my effort really well and started to push on during lap 3. As well as passing back markers I also started to swim through a few people in my wave which always gives you a little morale boost. Approaching the finish, there were two small outlets leading to the waters edge and they could easily be confused with each other. Having raced here before I knew it was the second one and I watched 3 people just ahead of me make a sharp turn and all follow each other to the first. 'That's 3 more places made up' I thought to myself!
At Bucklers Hard, where the race is held, transition is set on a hillside and you have to run up the steep hill to transition. Your heart rate goes through the roof! As I got into transition I thought 'SHIT!', I had forgotten one or two of the usual pre-race jobs and hadn't considered a useful reference point so I could easily find my bike (transition at this race is tight and absolutely packed). I've never forgotten to do this so it threw me a little. A black bike among lots of black bikes is hard to find. I finally found it thanks to the tan wall tyres. I probably wasted a good minute in the end. Helmet, socks and race belt on more routinely and I headed out of T1.
In my efforts to get into my shoes, the wires on one of my boa-dials got tangled and made it impossible to tighten my shoe. I fiddled with it for a couple of minutes before it finally became free and I could get on with the cycling business – this wasn't turning into my finest race so far! The eventual race winner came out of T1 a short while behind me but passed at a ridiculous speed to make me feel entirely inadequate. 'I beat him in the swim though, can't take that away!', I thought.
Shoes sorted I settled into the work and the plan was to ride to heart rate the way. A glance down at my Garmin and now the next issue – my HR wasn't appearing. Bugger. I tried restarting the Garmin three times but could no get a heart rate. This hadn't happened before and could only assume it was because of the salt water somehow. After getting fed up with it, I decided to just leave it and ride to feel. This was the case for nearly the first half of the bike until it sorted itself out and started to work. At that moment my HR turned out to be not too far from what we had planned and only a few beats over. Garmin achievement: unlocked!
The shot bloks were going down well and I really enjoyed having the chocolate – literally melts in the mouth and very easy to digest. Washed down with the faithful PH 1000s all the way. I don't tend to need huge amounts of liquid while racing and two 500ml bottles is perfect for middle distance. I finished the first bottle and reached to my saddle cage to swap the bottles over only to find the second bottle had, at some point, ejected itself. So still 45km to go, no more drink, no aid stations on the bike course. Double gutted. I considered picking up another persons dropped bottle at one point but didn't want to risk trying out whatever was in it and getting stomach issues, or the like.
Towards the end of the bike I could feel my thirst was building as I started to get a little dehydrated. I now had the obvious worries of this catching up with me on the run as the day continued to get hotter. Sure enough, as I came into T2 I was spitting feathers! Talking of 'coming into T2', I really made a hash of it. The crowd was pretty large and I couldn't quite make out the mount line signs and undid shoes way too late. Instead of the usual flying dismount I had to stop unclip, wrestle my leg over the bike and almost stacked it in front of everyone. A total lack of grace.
I ran into T2 and had a much better idea of where my position was. At least I thought I did! I got to roughly where I found my bike beforehand and couldn't easily see my towel and run kit. It seemed my transition neighbour had a bit too much fun in totally obliterating my spot. I found one shoe fairly quickly but could not find the other anywhere! A very kind marshal could see I was wandering around with one shoe on and came to give me a hand. We eventually found it under a towel on the other side of the racking. I'd later find my wetsuit maybe 10-15m away from my spot, again on the opposite side of the racking. Out onto the run...
We had planned to run the first half steady and then push on in the second half so I set off to do just that. The pace was very comfortable and I was steadily passing a fair few other runners as they started to struggle in the heat. It was really hot now and well into the 20's. I was worrying about the lack of liquid I had taken on board so went for small mouthfuls of water at every aid station along with the odd shot blok. The water really wasn't sitting too well with me so decided to stop drinking at about half way.
After completing the first lap, I could feel that the pace wasn't going to increase particularly so made the decision to just try and maintain the same steady pace that I knew I'd be able to run to the finish. There are quite a few stinging inclines on the run course and they start to take their toll after a while. You also have to go up the big climb from the water to transition twice again which is a real killer.
Through the second run lap I pretty much maintained my position and maybe took one or two more people, including a couple of club mates, which really kept me going to the line. By the time I made the final steep climb to the finish I was feeling very dehydrated, very warm and also a little sunburnt.
I wanted to get under 5 hours, maybe nearer 4:45, and finished in 4:53 which, given all the ups and downs of the race, I was very happy with. It was a big improvement on last year's result and I made considerable gain on the bike in particular – something Blair and I had done a lot of work on. This is the first of 3 races in 6 weeks and next up: The Cotswold 113 Middle Distance in 2 weeks time. Onwards.