I'd had the Punishing Events Erewash Triathlon pencilled into the 16th of August slot on my calendar for some time, although I didn't get round to entering until the Sunday before - partly because I didn't know if the weekend was going to be free of other commitments, partly because I wasn't sure whether it would be a distraction from preparing for my next 'big race', the Severn Bridge Half Marathon at the end of the month. In the end I decided it would be silly not to given how close to home it is, and stuck my entry in.
The last-minute decision, combined with it being my fifth sprint-distance event this year (plus two last year, and another planned for the start of September on a much more 'interesting' course) meant I felt able to a) not worry too much about it, and thus b) experiment a bit. I've always found myself holding back on the bike leg to try and avoid my already weak run falling apart completely. So in the last few days before the event I found myself thinking - "what if I didn't hold back on the bike?". Being so close to home I know every inch of the bike course apart from the few hundred metres in and out of the leisure centre, so I should be able to pace it pretty well with no surprise hills to worry about.
There's only one way to find out.
I had a nice leisurely start time on the day of 10:54, which actually ended up around 11:00 by the time the starter actually blew his whistle for my wave. The swim went by fairly uneventfully - I was on my own in my lane at the start due to a couple of sparse waves ahead of me, but was joined by two others by the time I finished. Both were set off less than half a lane behind me, but didn't really cost anything to let them through when they inevitably caught me. I got out of the water at 7:47, which has been pretty much my standard time for pool sprints. I can go a bit (about 20s) faster over a 400m set in a longer pool session, but apparently not starting from cold. My pacing is still awful, with individual length times varying from 22 to 32 seconds across the sixteen lengths.
Out of the door, and a run across the grass to T1, with an entertaining climb over an earth bank on the way. Transition itself was fairly uneventful, and then it was out onto the bike to see what I could do. The organisers had arranged a road closure for the first few hundred metres of the bike course, avoiding any issues with getting in and out of the leisure centre itself.
There was a short stretch along the back of Breaston that I knew would be a bit of a lottery - a narrow road which always has cars parked along one side leaving room for a car and a bike to pass each other, but not two cars. Sure enough, I got passed by a Transit van on the approach to this section (I thought about taking the lane and blocking him, but was still a way off the start of the parked cars and couldn't see anything coming the other way at the time), only to watch an oncoming car appear round the corner and stop him dead in front of me. With hindsight I had plenty of time to go round to the right of him before the oncoming car reached us, but opted for discretion and went up the kerb side, which was a tight enough squeeze to have to put a foot down. The time loss felt like an age, but was probably only a few seconds. Probably worse was the leg-sapping effect of accelerating from a standstill, especially when followed by another near stop and acceleration at a junction a few hundred yards later, and then the long and steadily increasing ramp up to the top of the course - the steepest part coming just after joining my regular homeward commuting route.
Down the other side towards Borrowash, and I didn't feel terribly quick - it's a very shallow descent but on a good day I can turn top gear (on my admittedly short-geared mongrel of a bike, so only 44/11). This wasn't one of those days, and I was much more comfortable spinning the next one down. Strava confirms I have gone quicker on that section while commuting, although only by about ten seconds over seven minutes (with the exception of a couple of freakish tailwind days that were much quicker). I got passed not long after the top of the hill by another competitor (who rapidly disappeared out of sight), then coming into Borrowash heard someone else right behind me. This turned out to be someone just out for their Sunday ride, but fortunately despite being faster they were polite enough to sit behind until I turned off, rather than come past and force me to back off rather than appear to get a tow.
The course then took a sharp left in Borrowash, for a long flat (barring railway and canal bridges) drag back through Draycott and Breaston - coincidentally part of my old commuting route before moving offices last year. I had a brief slow down in Draycott for some more traffic (which was not entirely unhelpful given I had a stitch at the time) before getting fed up and overtaking a few cars to get some clear road through the narrowest bit of Breaston. Up and over the motorway, then through the cones back into the road closure and then transition for an average of 31kph over the bike section.
(Photo by Xcite Images)
Through a fairly straightforward T2 and out onto the run, and as usual my legs felt absolutely dead - particularly my calf muscles which didn't actually feel like they were extending or contracting at all. I didn't worry too much about this, partly because I was expecting it as a result of pushing harder on the bike, and partly because previous races and brick sessions have taught me that it's never actually as slow as it feels. I just tried to concentrate on keeping my cadence high and my feet landing properly, and waited to see if the muscles would come back to me.
A few hundred metres in, another competitor came past me at a pace I thought I might be able to hang on to, and I did - for all of another 500m before the elastic snapped. Fortunately for me, if not for her, so had some of the course marking tape half way round the lap, and she briefly took a wrong turn. This gave me a second chance and I grimly clung onto her heels for the next lap and a half as she ran a really nice, gently building pace to the finish.
While doing so, it occurred to me that I don't really know how running race etiquette goes. Obviously sitting behind someone for 90% of a bike race then pulling out on the finishing straight would be considered terribly bad form - as well as being explicitly against the rules in a triathlon. Equally obviously on the run there's minimal aerodynamic advantage to sitting on someone's shoulder (and no rules involved), but it just feels a bit cheeky. I've since been assured by a 'proper runner' friend that it's fine. In this case, the question was rendered a bit moot anyway given a) the lady in question out-sprinted me to the line, and b) having come from a later swim wave she beat me by several minutes in the results. So I'll just stick to saying thanks for towing me around, Verity Miles of Long Eaton Tri Club.
The run was slightly short of 5k, but had we done the extra couple of hundred metres it would have probably been a few seconds over 25 mins, which was my standalone 5k time at the start of the year. Actual run time was 24:31 for an overall time of 1:05:32 and a position of 110th - uncannily the same as my race number. And the experiment? I'm not really sure. I felt like I went for it on the bike, but looking back my average heart rate over the bike leg was fairly consistent with all the sprint races from May, and the average speed was about what I'd expect for the (not flat, but not particularly hilly) course. And of course I ended up doing the fastest run leg of any of them, suggesting I might have exited T2 with a bit more in the tank, not less (although my running has definitely improved too, which would help get the most out of what energy there is). Nothing particularly conclusive, other than I should probably try even harder next time and see what happens.
That shouldn't be too hard, given my next sprint race is on the North Devon coast, and even the run from the swim to T1 looks brutal, let alone the bike and run courses themselves. Before that though, this Sunday is half-marathon time.