In the run up to our Ironman distance races this year, we decided to start off the triathlon season with a middle distance race in the exotic locale of … Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex. The event was touted as a 1.6 k swim in the River Blackwater, 82k cycle around the quiet and scenic roads of the Dengie Peninsula and finishes with an inspirational lapped run around the sea wall and marshes passing the historic St Peters Chapel. Sounds Great!! On paper! This was very much a training race for us as it was part of our build up to our respective Ironman Distance races, Triathlon Vitoria for Neil and The Outlaw for Beth, both in July. So with our focus being on the longer stuff this put the Big East race in perspective for us but we wanted clearly to do our best without tapering into it and losing time training for our longer events. This actually relaxes you in many respects and takes any “outcome” out of the equation and allows you to focus firmly on the “process”.
Having been watching the weather forecast for the weekend we knew this would be a windy period with 20 mph winds forecast and gusts up to 35 mph. As we drove up after work on the Friday night it was clear that the forecasters had done their homework and were not making the “Michael Fish mistake”. We had booked into The Green Man pub for the weekend that was conveniently situated about 200 metres away from the race venue and the talk in the bar that evening amongst the locals included phrases such as “baton down the hatches’.
Saturday morning we did our usual pre race 20 min run before breakfast which staying in a pub obviously had to be a full English. As a vegan, Beth had full English minus the bacon, sausage and eggs….so that will be mushrooms, beans and toast then. After breakfast we rode an out and back on the course for about 25km, which took us head on into the wind on the way out and we had the wind directly at our backs on the way home. Sunday was clearly going to be “interesting”. Registration was due to take place in a tent on the race site however it blew down and we met up with one of the athletes I coach in the Marina Bar (there is a theme here) whilst they set up registration from the back of a van. We retired to The Green Man and relaxed for the evening with the Eurovision Song Contest on in the background.
In a similar vein at our last race, the European Duathlon Championships in Horst, Holland and nothing like the ‘stupid o’clock’ alarm call for Long Distance triathlon racing, this race started of 09:45 and therefore was something of a luxury. Arriving early into transition the talk was all about the weather that continued to blow and there was an announcement that the swim was being cut short for both the Standard Distance and Middle Distances Races to “3 or 400 metres” – if only it had been 3 metres!.
Very quickly 09:30 rolled around and it was time for the race brief and the off. The swim was an out, turn right and then right again back into shore some few hundred metres going with the current. We watched the Standard Race start and there were people in trouble within 10 metres – literally. Soon it was our turn to get into the water and as we were both frozen it was a relief that we were (literally again) warmer in the water than out. The air horn sounded and we were off. My (Neil) race plan was pretty much to be comfortable in the swim, ride to a steady power around the two-loop bike course where possible in the conditions and run around 7 min per mile pace on the run. In the swim I found it very difficult to control my stroke or my breathing and I’m not convinced any of us swam the course that was planned. It was a case of trying desperately to relax and follow some feet but very quickly I was relieved to be out of the water in 7th place and on the long run to T1. In transition I put on a long sleeve cycling jersey, a gilet, a Rapha winter jacket and a waterproof over the top – not only that I put on a hat, knee warmers and socks! Ok so I feel the cold but I considered it time well invested as I’ve had bad experiences before. Hence my T1 time was 77th “fastest”. I kept the bike leg pretty well controlled despite losing my bottle containing all my nutrition on the first lap. I had a bar in my bento box and also some chocolate (my secret weapon!) and water in a separate bottle so I was fine. Riding with the wind behind us was a case of soft-pedaling in 53x11 at about 30 mph but it wasn’t quite the same into the wind. I came off the bike with the 9th fastest split and again had a slow T2 whilst I de-layered! At the start of the run I genuinely (I’ve said literally enough) could not feel my feet and had some pain in my shins but it soon passed. The run was a two loop affair with about two thirds of this off road and some in grass about calf deep. Really it was the wind that played it’s part again here as I found myself running at 6:30 per mile pace on the first half of the loop and about 8:10 on the second into the wind and off road. The second loop I felt good and was able to maintain the same pace on this loop averaging 7 min per mile pace crossing the line in 6th place overall. A tough day at the office but often these tough days are good experiences to draw on. As Head Coach for www.performance-edge.me the fact that I had athletes I coach racing in Mallorca and Rimini on the same day did make me think about how things could have been different but sometimes it about experiencing the Nietzsche “what does not kill me”. Hats off to the Marshalls though who were out there in the same conditions for what turned out to be a long day.
My race plan (Beth) was to find some fast feet to follow in the swim and relax for 1.6k, keep heart rate in the 150’s for the bike and 7:50/mile for the run… you know what they say about plans! My concern was how the weather would play its part in the race. I have been here long enough to have trained in some pretty bad weather and in some respects it Almost isn’t as bad racing in crap weather as it is training in it. I knew that my attitude would also play a big part in how the day would go.
Standing in transition watching the bikes sway in the wind and watching the waves crash in I was relieved to hear that the swim would be cut short – I was ready to jump in and give it my all for 300 to 400m! If only anyone else in the race knew where they were supposed to go! I am pretty certain that I am the only sucker who went around the (smallest in the world) buoys. It was during the swim that I decided that today would be a long training day, so I wasn’t too concerned when in T1 it took me almost 8 minutes (!) to alternatively put on and take off clothes. The bike was tough, I won’t lie. The road out was a main road with a lot of traffic – as well as two triathlons going on, there was also a cycle sportive so there were also a lot of bikes on the road, not all racing and not all concerned with rules of the road. It was a matter of putting my head down and repeating the wise words of the owner of The Green Man pub, “YOU BE STRONG”. It actually helped! Coming into T2 I was SO ready to run… until I started to run. The usual story of cement feet which is way better than the next phase of pins and needles with hot pokers feet. I managed to keep a good pace throughout – even on the sea wall where the wind was in your face for the whole time. The few days between the race and this report has given me a bit of perspective. On the day, I had a few choice words for Bradwell-on-Sea, Essex, England and the UK. I can look back now and know that this race was a defining moment. It would have been easy to DNS – sometimes you have to put on your big girl panties and get on with it. My mantra of YOU BE STRONG and staying relaxed helped me swim, bike and run to 2nd place female and 1st place female vet. I am pleased with the result but I couldn’t have done it without putting in the hard training and staying focused on the process (even when conditions made it a bit more difficult).
All in all, a tough race but in different conditions it would be fast and is very flat. We were pleased with our performances, despite it not being a season goal.