So then somehow it was mid-March, with all the posts I'd been planning to write at the start of the year about racing goals and training plans still unwritten, and the first race of the year already finished. I'd blame the (now just shy of eleven month old) little man again, but he gets blamed for all sorts of things, so let's just chalk this one up to my own laziness.
(Photo by Shawn Ryan)
The race was the inaugural University of Nottingham Varsity Triathlon, which took place on Sunday in the grounds of the University's Park Campus. I wasn't actually expecting the tri season to kick off until May, and had been focusing my concerns on the 100 mile Cycle Derby Sportive - which I (foolishly?) entered in a flurry of optimism in January, before getting ill with a lingering cough and not going near the bike for two weeks - when this event popped into my Twitter feed a few weeks ago.
With a fairly early start time at 0920, a recommendation from the organisers to allow plenty of time for signing on, and the pessimism about Nottingham traffic that comes from working near the University during the week, I ended up leaving home around 0700 - meaning I was on my own, because there's no way we were getting the aforementioned little man out of the house by then (hence not much by the way of photos). I was slightly concerned about the way the temperature reading in the car stubbornly refused to rise above 5 degrees on the way over, given I'd shortly be running out of a swimming pool in just a dripping wet tri-suit, but blue skies offered some hope.
I arrived with plenty of time to sign on, figure out where the pool actually was, put a bit more pressure in the tyres, rack the bike and scope out the transition layout, and remember how awkward 'just popping to the toilet' is when wearing a tri-suit with warm clothes over the top, before dumping said clothes back in the car and making a swift move to the warmth of the pool building.
This event was run slightly differently to the two I did last year, with distinct waves rather than a continuous stream of people entering the pool. Each wave of 32 (of which I was in the second) got a briefing before heading poolside, four people to each of the eight lanes, and set off at ten second intervals. I thought it worked pretty well - no mismatch of pace between people at the start and end of their swim, a bit of reassurance that you've counted your lengths right because others are getting out at the same time, quite a long time before overtaking is necessary, and (crucially), every single person there had been told five minutes earlier "overtake by tapping feet at the ends of the lengths, not in the middle". I was the second off in my lane, and there was very little between the first three of us - the guy behind overhauled me part way through but I then sat just behind him the rest of the way. The fourth was slow enough to get lapped by the end, but got out of the way politely enough.
I exited the pool with all the elegance of a beached whale thanks to the high poolside and deep water, and didn't even think about the outside temperature as I headed to T1. I thought I was fairly quick through the transition area itself (but the timing sheet says otherwise), then out for the 200m or so run down to the mount line, which made me glad that I was in mountain bike shoes rather than road shoes or barefoot - although the latter approach makes for an indisputably faster transition.
The cycle leg was five laps of a 3km loop contained entirely within the campus - which sounds easy on paper, and is short even for a sprint tri, but contained a lot of elevation change, a lot of acceleration, and a rather interesting chicane. Although the campus was still open to general traffic, it was naturally quieter than the open road, and a one-way system had been enforced in the same direction as the race, so we could generally just concentrate on riding, with what cars there able to easily pass on the 'wrong' side of the road.
(There was one exception - most of the entry points to the campus were well marshalled, and they were holding cars back when bikes were coming through, apart from one, where the marshall was only making sure people adhered to the one-way system, and waved cars onto the roundabout in front of me pretty much every lap - at the only junction with any real potential for danger, with bikes coming downhill at speed and trying to make a right turn. The cars should have - and generally did - still stop, because the direction the bike course was coming from had right of way, but drivers have a nasty habit of assuming it's OK to go when someone in a yellow jacket points them in a certain direction, so I was always on edge preparing for an emergency stop at this point. This is genuinely the only complaint I could possibly make about an otherwise brilliant event.)
After a slightly slow first lap trying to find my legs and figure out where the course went, the next four were pretty consistent (-ly painful), and included the satisfaction of flying past someone on a full-on TT bike on one of the climbs (where admittedly the bike wasn't really giving him any advantage) before it was time to get off the bike and make the long run back uphill to T2. The sun was well and truly out by now, enough to merit grabbing sunglasses out of the transition bag before setting off on the run.
The run course covered an even greater height range (albeit only once rather than five times), following the cycle course over its highest point and down the first steep drop, a chance for a breather on the bike but a desperate attempt to avoid tripping over tired feet here. Another short rise followed before diverging from the cycle course and dropping right down to the very bottom of the campus for a lap of the lake, dodging the families and pensioners out for their Sunday stroll. Then back up, up, up, passing through the courtyard of the Trent Building on the way, before a final few hundred metres down to the finish.
Final results say 106th, and on closer inspection that the run is still my weakest point relative to the rest of the field (well, apart from transitions, but there's less time to lose there). I think my running has improved over the winter, and I did a decent (for me) 5k off the back of a session on the rollers a week or so before the event, but the hills were the killer here - both on the bike and the run. More work to do over the rest of the year.
(results from DBMax)