My 2013 tri season review

So, my 2013 tri season is over. Time to take some time out and reflect on how it’s gone and ponder on what I’d like to achieve next year.

I completed 6 triathlons, including my first two standard/olympic distance events and my first sea swim.

I improved my time massively at two events I’d done the previous year, taking 10 minutes off my time for the QE2 tri which had been my first open water event in 2012.

And although you can’t really compare the two olympic distance events, I did improve on my time by 15 minutes at my second attempt.

So, I reckon that’s a win for my triathlon season. I did what I set out to achieve, stepping up to the longer distance and enjoying the events I entered. Of course, no race is ever perfect and there’s loads I want to improve on for next year.

Let’s look at each discipline:

Oh boy, I still do have my moments when I swim in a race. There are times when I hate it, when I swear to myself I am never doing this again. And yet, I’ve finished them all and got back into the water and raced again each time.

So as one of the OW swim coaches advised me, I’m going to look at how far I’ve come and not how far I think I have to go.
And that means the swim is a big win. Each time I get better at handling the panic and the stress. And in my last race swim in the pool at Haddington I had a lovely, controlled and totally non-stressed swim.

I’ve tackled two 1500m open water swims, including one that measured closer to 1800m and survived my first sea swim (which I actually enjoyed). And in training, I have learned to enjoy open water swimming, particularly when the water has been clear and relatively warm. I’m actually sad to put my wetsuit away as I don’t expect to be able to do another open water swim this year.

I’m well on the way to logging more swim time and distance than any previous year.  And I’ve been back in the pool already, working on my technique and speed, which I’ll continue to do over the autumn/winter.

I’ve already logged more bike mileage than in previous years, thanks to indoor sessions on the turbo or spinning classes early in the year and more miles on the road thanks to the good weather.

In the two comparable sprint races, I’ve improved my bike time and I’ve gone longer with the standard distance events. But still I’m passed more than I’m passing on the bike and this is the area where I’m most likely to make speed gains.

So the plan is to get myself a proper bike fit, look at aero bars for my road bike next year and get a cyclocross bike to ride through the winter.

The rub is that I don’t LOVE the cycle. I have glimpses of loving it sometimes in training or racing on a nice day, or on the few occasions when I’m out riding with my tri buddies.  Over the winter, I’ll hit the turbo, and spin trainer when I can’t go outside, but it’s really not my favourite session.

I’m toying with the idea of doing a long cycle challenge next year and there will be opportunities to do things like the C2C ride. But, it becomes a commitment in itself and I fear it would detract from other training. If I was out doing 60-100 miles on a bike on a Sunday, I would be expecting too much to be running a training 10k or doing a mile in the pool the following day.

Hmm… poor old running. I still love it, but it doesn’t get the love and attention it used to. And that was the deal this year. It just had to look after itself.

In comparable tris, I’ve run a little faster than last year, but last year I was coming back from injury, and I haven’t reached the potential of my best year of 2011.

I’ve managed the endurance, confident I can run a 5 or 10k off the back of a swim and cycle. But I haven’t quite got up to speed. I had a freak glimpse of form with a 25:10 run at parkrun when I was building up to my first standard distance tri, but I’ve come nowhere near that again.

But I’ve done what I needed to run for triathlon. Now, over the winter, I can do more speed work and give it a bit of focus again.

Next year, I’d really like to have a go at getting a sub 50 10k and still doing a good number of tris. So I need to think about how best to do that. One thought is to put myself in for a half marathon in the off tri season, to get the miles in and repeat the kind of training that helped me to my previous 10k PB.

But I need to avoid the temptation to take on too many different goals.

Mixed and inconsistent – some good, some slow and this is an easy place to sneak some time. So I will aim to make this consistent and faster in 2014.

Mental focus:
I’ve got strategies to combat the race adrenaline nerves and they do work, but I need to make sure I don’t neglect these. Mentally I’ve proved I can stick at a tough long race at Allerthorpe.

Things I do want to do next year:

  • A couple of standard distance tris – it would be great to really target one of these and maybe do a big, or iconic race
  • The new Newcastle triathlon –  a new race in my home town and my first river swim
  • Blaydon Race – just love this one

Things I have to bear in mind:

  • I’ll be doing tri coaching training in September and October so  will need to make time for studying, volunteering and coaching.
  • After limiting the window for possible holiday time this year by booking races, I need to pick my events carefully
  • I can’t do everything 🙂

Haddington sprint triathlon – last tri of the season

Saturday sunshine, car packed up and I’m heading north again along the coast, singing along to the radio, stealing glances at the blue sea. Off to race with my best tri buddy, Lesley.

We spend the afternoon exploring the moors, alive with purple heather, swooping buzzards and blackfaced sheep. We stop beside the site of an old iron age fort and look out over Berwick Law, Trapain Law and Bass Rock. As we climb to the top of the fort’s mound, the wind fair blusters and we hope it will blow itself out before the race in the morning.

It’s a very relaxed approach to my last tri of the season. I scarcely feel like I’ll be racing in the morning as I tuck into a mound of pasta for tea. In bed I start to think through the race in my head. I’m asleep before I get in the water.

Up earlyish, to the sound of the dogs pottering around and  making porridge. The wind has not abated. If anything, it’s built overnight and it promises to be a rather blustery ride.

It’s a very short drive to the sports centre where we park up and get registered in double quick time. Lesley says hello to lots of local triathletes and I get to meet some really friendly people. The usual faff of getting our bikes set up and then trying to keep warm as we wait for the swim waves to start.

Now I start to get nervous – as I’m standing in the sports centre in my tri suit, goggles in my hand. There’s at least 30 mins to go before my swim start so I do some shoulder rolls and take some deep breaths and have a good chat to Al who has cycled from Edinburgh to support us.

Me on the bike at Haddington tri
On the bike at Haddington tri – photo by Bob Marshal

I’d planned to really attack this race, but somehow on the day I just didn’t have the fire in my belly. Usually tri season feels like it goes by in a flash, but to me it’s felt like a long one, this year. Maybe that’s the step up to the standard distance and the fact that I found my last race at Allerthorpe such an endurance test.

But I’d loved doing Haddington triathlon last year, I was with my good friend and top tri girl Lesley and it was my last chance to get out there and enjoy it. So I did.

I watched Lesley swim in her heat – nice controlled and steady, just doing her own thing, not letting the other swimmers phase her at all. I thought – that’s just how I want to do it.

My heat stood by the side of the pool as the others finished their swim. The marshal said one of the swimmers was going over time, so we wouldn’t have much time to warm up. I really wanted to get in and take some breaths, but when I got in and sank down, my first one was a gasp and a flutter back up to the surface. Darn that race adrenaline rush!

Thankfully I had time for another couple of sinks and breaths out and I managed to get my nerves under control, but I didn’t have time to swim even half a length before the race started. I was last to go in my lane, watching the swimmers ahead go off one my one at five second . The whistle blew and it was my turn.

Nice and steady, straight into a smooth breathing rhythm, I was away and feeling good. Not getting too stressed by the churned up water or the bubbles ahead of me, just swimming nice and steady, taking my time to breathe, making sure I completed each stroke.

Within a few lengths I was accidentally touching the toes of the girl ahead of me. I didn’t want to pass, as I wanted to keep it nice and steady and not rush myself into a stressed out swim. She did stop to check at the end of the lane but I let her go. I decided that if I was still getting close to her in another five lengths then I’d pass. I actually made the move after another three and realised maybe she had been slowing me down a bit.

I still managed to find clear water, which kept my swim nice and controlled, but after a few more lengths gained on the next swimmer and overtook her too. By now there were less than 10 lengths to go. I kicked on a bit as I overtook, trying to increase the pace a little but maintain the control. After two lengths she re-passed me again as I took a rather longer turnaround, and I managed to stay on her toes for a bit of a drag for a while.

Somewhere in the passing and re-passing I had miscounted, getting the tap on the head for two more, when I thought I had four to go. I pushed off hard and swam the up and down with a good kick, gaining on the girl ahead of me and getting out of the water only seconds apart.

Dropping my swim cap by the side of the pool, I went out into transition. It wasn’t as cold as I’d feared. And unlike last year, I didn’t stand there looking at my bike like a dunce, having thrashed myself senseless in the swim. Shoes on, helmet on, something I had to do twice – I think it was my number belt – but I was off with the bike to the mount line.

Not my fastest mount as there was a guy stumbling onto his bike next to me, but safely on and away before he got clipped in. Catching my breath and getting into the ride, keeping the gears low and the legs turning over.

As promised at the race briefing, we were straight out and into a head wind, up a slight incline. I stayed in a low gear, giving myself chance to recover my breath. And I kept breaking my mental deals with myself to go up onto the big ring at the top of the incline as ahead there was another stretch and the gusts were rattling my bike from the side too. I ended up in practically my lowest gear, trying to keep my legs turning, battling the wind.

At some point, I thought ‘This is ridiculous,’ powered myself up to the big ring and pushed on through, but it was hard work until the welcome left turn out of the headwind. Then suddenly the road opened up, the bike wasn’t being buffeted and the effort my legs were making finally felt rewarded.

Another left and onto some nice flats and downhills where I really picked up some speed, got down on the drops and up into higher gears. I knew after 8k there was a bit of an incline, so I tried to carry as much speed as I could into it and even managed to overtake another rider who I’d been closing in on. Okay, so they had a flat bar bike, but still, it’s a rarity for me to overtake anyone on the bike leg, and in this race I managed to reel in two riders.

I enjoyed the rest of the ride, managing to stay mostly on the drops, whizzing through the police check point and was allowed to go through a red light! I remembered to dodge both pot holes and speed bumps on the entry back to the sports centre.

Me on the run at Haddington tri
On the run leg – photo by Bob Marshal

Bike racked, helmet off and into my run shoes, I was away without any hassle. My feet had been a little cold on the bike, and I’d tried to keep wriggling my toes, but they warmed up quickly on the run. My calves were very tight though, twinging with threats of cramp through the first few turns, so I shortened my stride as I ran alongside the river.

With Lesley in the heat ahead I’d hoped to see her on the run. And soon here she came, heading for the finish looking strong and smiling with a big high 5 as we passed.

It gave me a nice little boost as I saved my legs, hoping the muscles would soon warm through and I could pick up some pace. It took at least a mile though before I felt I could run with anything like my usual form.

The ground at least was forgiving, as the trail paths were kind to my feet and marshals at every possible way point shouted encouragement or sang and waved and generally really made this a fantastic race. As the run is an out and back, there were lots of shouts from fellow competitors too. It really is a very friendly race.

It’s a good job too, as the final run section is a rather narrow path beside a field, banked by long grass and thistles, barely wide enough for one, let alone two people passing. But I made it through with a couple of jinks and turns and then it was back the way I’d come.

My legs were working well by now and I tried to bound along and pick up the pace a little. Not sure I managed it, but I did enjoy the return leg and was able to shout out to other runners from later swim waves as they passed on their way out, including new ironman Tina and Lesley’s swimming pal Christa (sorry I missed your high 5).

Triathletes at Haddington tri
Some of the prize winners at Haddington tri

Back over a wee bridge and along beside the river and I knew I was on the home straight. Still I couldn’t rustle up much of an injection of speed. It seemed today I had one pace and I was going to stick with it. Leaving it all to a death or glory sprint round the path at the back of the sports centre across the finish line!

Very efficient marshals directed me to water, bananas and snacks and I soon caught up with Lesley, Al and his girlfriend, Michelle. And after the race, it was lovely to meet Catriona (who I know from Fetch)  and Ellem’s tri friends Tina and Glenn who had just completed their first Ironman.

At the start of the race I’d said  that it could be a close run contest between me and Lesley. Last year we’d been in the same swim heat and I’d run out of my skin expecting her to catch me at any moment. But my running was stronger then as I’d been dong much longer runs. This year, I knew my swim was likely to be faster, but my bike slower and our runs would probably be very similar.

In the end, there were mere seconds in it and had we been racing in the same heat, I’m sure we would have been chasing each other very strongly. One day I’d love us to finish a race together. But I better get working on my bike skills if I want that to happen.

My stats:

Swim: 17:07

T1: 1:01
Bike: 47:41
T2: 0:51
Run: 28:21

Total 1:35:03