Racing triathlons short and fast-ish
I am not a keen race competitor because they make me feel very nervous the day before and on the day. However, I usually pick one race each year so that I have a goal for focusing my training. This year, I decided to get my triathlon racing act together and enter a few events. I have decided that the more I race the less nervous I might feel.
On a whim, I entered one of the qualifying races for the ETU (European) Age Group Triathlon in 2017 because it would be taking place on my home patch. Glasgow Triathlon Club and Durty events were the hosts for this weekend’s Strathclyde Park Triathlons. I thought: “It would be rude not to…”
I also joined a GTC team of “oldies” for the Scottish Team Relay Triathlon Champs in Aberdeenshire. “It will be fun to race with friends,” I thought.
But, annoyingly, as has happened over the last few winters, my fitness training and mental resolve were hampered early in the year by a series of non-stop colds and chest infections.
This spring, I had an asthma diagnosis (apparently asthma can lead to far more chest infections and chesty coughs. I had not known this). With an asthma prevention programme underway and a few more solid weeks of sort-of focused training, I decided I might as well give my first two triathlons of the year a go.
I had no big hopes. I decided that the races, in themselves, would be good training and they would set me up for a couple of triathlons that I have entered later this year.
2016 Scottish Team Relay Championships
Our GTC team of two men and two women – David, Torquil, Wendy and myself – was unashamedly an oldies team. Our combined aged is close to 195. We realised we would be racing against teams with lots of stronger, younger athletes but we simply gave it a go.
This year the event was held at the stunning purpose-built sports complex at Knockburn in Aberdeenshire.
The distances are short. Each person in the relay completes a 300m open water swim, a 5km bike ride and a 1500m run, one after the other. But just because it is short, does not mean it won’t hurt. It hurt very badly for the full relay.
This is a distance that requires you to push as hard as you can through every section (if you plan to compete to the best of your ability!). I found myself breathing so hard and so loudly, especially in the bike and run, that it filled my head.
There were so many times when I thought I was going to be sick. My legs screamed in pain due to lactic acid build up on the bike ride. Throughout the run, I couldn’t get my legs to properly work. And I thought the finish line (and hand over to the next person in our team) would never come. I collapsed to my knees after my efforts.
Every one in the team described the same emotions and pain. You could see the agony etched on their faces as they came to the end of the run.
Although we did not podium (not a chance really with the other teams sporting those young triathlon dudes) we did not embarrass ourselves. We were sixth overall and pleased with our individual performances.
It would be great to see a veterans category or a range of “combined age” categories in this race. I think it would encourage more competitive triathlete to enter the Scottish Team Relay Championships. Alternatively, make sure you have a couple of young, fit athletes in your team!
ETU Sprint Triathlon Age Group qualifier race
There are three qualifier races for the 2017 ETU champs next year. The first one was Nottingham, the next was this weekend’s Strathclyde Park race and next month there is a race at Chatsworth in Derbyshire.
The age groups are in five-year groupings, which means you are competing against people who are much closer to your age than when racing in a wider senior, vets or super vets class.
In 2013, I managed to qualify for, and compete in, the World Age Group Sprint Triathlon Championships. Here’s a blog about the race. This year, because one of the qualifiers is close to my home. I thought I might as well enter.
For the worlds, I employed the brilliant skills of my friend and triathlon coach Vicky Begg. This year, I just did my usual most-days training and exercise, climbed some Munros and coped with lots of colds and coughs. I simply aimed to do my best on the day and had no great hope of qualifying.
ETU qualifier swim
The swim was horrible. I am not a strong open water swimmer and our heat was big. It felt like a huge washing machine of wetsuit-clad people for most of the 750m swim. I was bashed around, hit with hands and legs and pushed under the water and swum over.
If you were fortunate enough to make a fast start I imagine the swim was a lot better because the conditions were calm and the water was a nice temperature. I ended up stuck in the middle of the mess and it affected my swim time. I kept saying over and over in my head: “Just get through this, just endure it, and then you can get on your bike.”
I swam quite a slow time of 15:22 but I had no idea about that at the time as I don’t wear a watch during a race. I knew I wasn’t first and I knew I wasn’t last. I also knew I could make up time on the bike section.
ETU qualifier bike
I did a slick T1 of 47 seconds. I’d practised my swim to bike the night before and ended up falling off. Luckily, on the day, I managed it really well. I had my bike shoes attached to my bike and held up with elastic bands. This helped me to get away from T1 really quickly. See How to transition like a pro.
The bike course at Strathclyde is tough. It is up and down and with no flats at all. There were four laps to do and as I completed lap one I knew it was going to be a punishing section to complete.
As I came into the turn at the halfway point of lap one I spotted my friend and fellow GTC club member Wendy. She goes up into my age group this year and so we were competing against each other for a qualifying place.
Wendy is a good swimmer and also a strong cyclist and runner so I know I’d need to work hard to catch her on the bike and hold her off. On lap two I managed to close the gap and overtake her.
This only made Wendy more determined to keep up with me and she told me afterwards that she rode the hardest triathlon bike section that she can recall. I wasn’t sure how far she was behind me and so I simply pushed on.
I rode the bike section as hard as I could and I knew I was going to suffer in the run. I tried to push those thoughts out of my head but I worried about wobbly legs and muscle cramps. I could feel my calves and hamstrings tightening with every lap.
Looking at the results I did ride a strong bike section. It was the fourth fastest in my age group of 45 to 49 in a time of 40:49.
ETU qualifier run
I did another quick transition of 37 seconds. I had elastic laces in my lightweight racing trainers. And, as I’d expected, the run was painful. My legs felt so slow and heavy and I could hardly push them to run at all.
The run comprised two laps of a 2.5km route. It was surprisingly undulating and even the slightest up punished my poor legs.
I confess I thought Wendy would easily catch me. I was running so slowly and I just couldn’t get my legs to go any faster. As I ran towards the turning point half way through the first run lap I worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish the race. I was so, so exhausted.
I saw Wendy fairly close behind as I turned the halfway point and I prayed that she was suffering as much as me. She told me afterwards that she was.
Still, with her hot on my heels, I simply tried to keep my legs turning over and to go as fast as I could. By the second lap I found I could increase my pace and stride length a little and I willed myself to keep going.
Every time I race a triathlon I swear I will never do another. The mental and physical pain is so hard, especially in the run.
Other GTC members, including Christine and Viv, nodded to me during the run as we passed each other. They said I looked like I was “in a zone”. It was a zone of great discomfort and I found it hard to even acknowledge people let along smile.
I didn’t even take the time to look over my shoulder, I simply ran. Eventually – and after what felt like an hour of painfully slow running – I saw the finish line. I found some resolve from deep inside to slightly pick up the pace. I crossed the finish line knowing I had done all that I could on the day.
I came sixth in my age category in a time of 1:20:31 and 23rd overall out of almost 100 women. I did beat Wendy, and all the other GTC ladies, but I was also thankful for being pushed on to race faster because I could see them running up behind me! I am sure Wendy will be doubly determined next time to beat me!
Christine was 2nd in her age category and will qualify for ETU Age Group Sprint Triathlon 2017. I may well have qualified, too, but I’ll need to see what British Triathlon reckons when they look at all the results and our ages.
GTC had many other successes with people taking the podium in the open triathlon categories and also in the 10k run. A few of our junior members also raced.
There were more than 20 GTC members competing over the weekend of racing at Strathclyde Park and I felt proud to race with them – and also to volunteer my support for prestigious event.
- Thanks to GTC members for letting me use a few photos. I was racing and not taking photos!