Bath Half Marathon

I'd decided to enter the Bath half for a few reasons - I fancied doing another after my infuriating 2:00:11 at the Severn Bridge Half last year, I thought it would be a good motivation to stay on top of the run training over the winter and thus benefit my triathlon goals for the year, Bath happens at about the right time in the spring, and having gone to University there we know the area and have friends who run it every year. 

I was feeling reasonably optimistic, having made some good progress over the winter and having managed a training run of 21.1km in 1:48.40 a couple of weeks beforehand without really feeling I'd stretched myself (I'd not actually intended to go that far, but was feeling good so carried on).  All I needed to do was repeat that in the race to make it an official PB - and maybe if I did push myself it might be closer to 1:45.  Should be simple right?

Then real life and parenting intervened.  The weekend before we'd realised The Boy was big enough to get over the edge of his cot (likely to be followed by a metre or so fall onto a wooden floor in the middle of the night), so he suddenly graduated to a bed.  This change was actually fairly uneventful for the first few nights at home, but everything fell apart when we threw strange surroundings into the mix by going to stay with my parents for the race weekend (because they're a lot closer to Bath).  On the Saturday night he woke up with painful wind at about midnight, then once he'd got over that spent a couple of hours climbing in and out of bed and practicing all his new words if Sarah or I were in the room, or screaming the house down if we left.  A toddler pointing at you, smiling, and saying "Daddy!" is possibly the cutest thing in the world in the daytime.  Slightly less so when it's 2am and he's repeated it what feels like several thousand times without pausing for breath.

In total, I managed about four hours of sleep before the alarm went and it was time to get the three of us up, breakfasted and dressed (with a bit of outfit dithering - I'd already decided that my new tri shorts were far more comfortable to run in than my running shorts, but couldn't decide whether to go the whole hog with the sleeveless tri top as well or just wear a t-shirt).

After a quick run down the M5 and around Bristol, we had an eerily quiet drive into Bath just before the roads were due to close (with the attendant paranoia that we'd got the timing wrong and at any point someone would move some cones across the road ahead of us).  Car safely parked, we met up with Will and Jo and hung out for a while in the warmth of the bar where they'd been having a cup of tea while waiting for us.  Runners (Will and I) and support crew (Jo, Sarah, and The Boy) then parted ways.

Into the event village, and I sneaked my hoody into Will's rucksack which he was leaving in the bag drop, sticking my cycling arm warmers on for the hour or so we still had left between being called to the start pens and actually getting moving. Our pen turned out to be back round the corner from the start, so it was at least in the sun.

The start gun went, and some six minutes later Will and I wished each other good luck as we crossed the line (the local newspaper reports about fifteen minutes to get everyone started - in contrast to the Severn Bridge race where, due to waiting for a friend to have a last minute toilet break, I crossed the line at the absolute back of the field, but only four minutes after the gun).

My initial pacing was reasonably good, easing myself into it over the first few kilometers then picking it up.  Having got moving and left the shady canyon of Georgian architecture that is Great Pulteney Street, it was noticeable that the day had started to warm up.  Arm-warmers were off within 2km, and by about 4km was regretting settling the wardrobe dilemma in favour of the t-shirt rather than the tri vest. I've been reasonably happy doing long training runs without water over the winter, but it didn't look like that would be a particularly clever idea today.

Fortunately, the course was extremely well furnished with aid stations - four or five on the main loop which is covered twice, and another on the spur leading to and from the start/finish line (so again is passed twice).  Less fortunately, after ignoring the first few, the one I picked was handing out Lucozade rather than water.  I don't really like having the sugary aftertaste of energy drinks in my mouth (whether I'm running or cycling), and much prefer to use gels (one of which I'd just had, to make matters worse) then wash them down with plain water.  Also, I was getting hot, but didn't think pouring Lucozade over my head to cool down would turn out well!  I took a bottle anyway - it being the first lap I didn't know how far the next one would be, or what they would have - and  drank as much as seemed sensible.  Inevitably, there was another aid station, with water, within a couple of kilometers, so I paid them a visit as well.

I'd also noticed my heart rate sitting about 10bpm higher than I would have expected for that distance and pace.  Slightly concerning, but since I firstly didn't know whether to attribute it to the temperature, lack of sleep, or simply race-day adrenalin, and secondly didn't really know if it would actually be an issue to sustain it for the race distance, I decided to just stick to my pace and hope for the best.  

At the end of the first lap, I passed Sarah and Jo, who had set themselves up in the car park of Jo's office (and popped in to make themselves a cup of tea between cheering duties) .  Time for a quick smile and wave before throwing a pair of sweaty arm warmers at them and carrying on.  It's worth saying at this point that the atmosphere and support around the entire course was amazing - it felt like half the city was out on the pavement.  You could probably have made yourself very sick accepting jelly babies from everyone trying to hand them out, and I probably high-fived twenty or thirty kids on the way round.

On to the second lap.  With hindsight, I probably should have had the second gel I had with me at this point, but for some reason decided I didn't really fancy it and that it would be fine.  By the time I got to the furthest part of the course and made the turn back into town for the second time, things were still on track, although my feet were hurting and heart rate up around 170 by now

Then it all started to go downhill.  The 18th 1km lap split flashed up on my watch at 5:24.  No real problem, overall I'm still under the 5:12 average I need, just consider it a warning to pick the pace back up.  Next kilometer - 5:43 - I think this might be getting away from me.  Kilometer 20 - 6:06.  I passed Sarah and Jo on the far side of the road this time round.  Partly because I'd been running down that side to keep in the shade and didn't have the energy to detour across to their side, partly because my head really wasn't in a good place and I just wanted to hide.  Kilometer 21, with the tiniest uphill ramp in the middle of it - 6:26.  Almost as slow as climbing the big (8-10% gradient, nearly 1km long) hill in the middle of the Severn Bridge Half.  Then it was finally back into Great Pulteney Street and a feeble kick towards the finish.

I've seen it suggested that only your gun time (from when the race is started), and not your chip time (from when you personally cross the line), really counts.  My opinion is that people who say this about amateur races with massive fields are idiots and can be safely ignored.  Nevertheless it was somehow a final kick in the teeth to watch the finish line clock tick over two hours just before I finally struggled over the line and stopped my watch on 1:53:43.

Back into the event village and realised I probably should have arranged somewhere to meet up with Will - there were a number of exits from where they were dishing out t-shirts and goodybags so I couldn't be sure of spotting him.  I'd also forgotten what his race number was, so I couldn't even go and wait at the appropriate section of the bag drop.  I could have just phoned him, but had lost track of how long it had been since I'd finished, so didn't know if he'd still be on the course.  All in all, completely useless planning!  After standing around for a while in vague hope (and bumping instead into someone else I knew from Uni) I got bored and cold and set off to meet Sarah and Jo outside the restaurant where we were going to have (a very large) lunch.

In the post-mortem, I'm left with mixed feelings.  Obviously a six-minute PB is pretty good, but I'd hoped for more.  I could have backed off a bit mid-race to keep my heart rate a bit lower, but then I'd still have been slow. There's a bit of me that would rather blow up just short than go conservative and be left wondering.  Also, it's a really good race, and may well go on the list for next year.

2016 Swim/Bike/Run Plans

It's January, and the internet is groaning under the weight of blog posts setting out peoples' extravagant goals for the year, so not wanting to be left out, it's probably time to write down a few things.


If I was to remind you that in 2014 I raced my first sprint distance triathlon, and in 2015 my first Olympic distance race (along with several more sprints), you might - if you're familiar with triathlon distances - hazard a guess at the obvious next step.  There may be a further clue in the fact I made a point of racing a half marathon last year, as well as doing some fairly long open water swims and bike rides.

In case you haven't figured it out, my main aim for the year is to get a half-ironman distance triathlon - 1900m swim, 90km bike, 21km (half-marathon) run - under my belt.  Lower-case 'i' deliberate, because it's not going to be with 'Ironman' trademark owners WTC - much as the 70.3 Staffordshire race is fairly local, I can live without £200+ entry fees for now.  That said, I have actually spent £200+ on entries - but I've signed up for two events.

The first is the OSB Events 'Outlaw Half' in Nottingham on 29 May.  Close to home and one of the bigger non-WTC events in the UK with something like 1400 entrants.  I raced, and enjoyed, their sprint triathlon organised as part of the same weekend last year. The second is the 113 Events Cotswold Classic on the 21st of August.  Conveniently close to my parents house, and apparently a fairly fast/flat/easy course - so in a way it's something of a backup policy in case the Outlaw Half doesn't turn out how I want it to.

I've already run down the Outlaw Half finishing chute.  I've only got to go about four and a half times further to do it again.  Should be easy right?

So how do I want it to turn out?  Well, finishing is obviously a first priority, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about times.  I think I should be able to get under six hours.  If I manage to hit that at the Outlaw, I'll come up with a new target for the Cotswold Classic.  Otherwise, I'll just hope that the fast course and a few more months training makes the difference.

I'm also intending to race the Nottingham Uni Varsity sprint tri again this year (24 April).  Partly because it falls conveniently about a month before the Outlaw Half, and I think a bit of reminder of how to put my shoes on quickly would be good, but also because it was a really fun race last year.


I'll be book-ending the triathlon season with a couple of running races (if you'd suggested to me a couple of years ago that this would be the case, I'd probably have laughed at you).  To get things started, I'll be doing the Bath Half-marathon on 13 March - mostly to give a bit of focus to working on my running over the winter.  After my infuriating 2h00m12s at the Severn Bridge Half last year, I would have said (a couple of months ago) that anything with a '1' at the front of it would be OK, but with that couple of months of training behind me, I'm starting to think I can do 1h50m.  Can I?  We'll find out in seven weeks.

To round off the year, I've entered the Nottingham Robin Hood Marathon on 25 September.  No time expectations for this one, it really is just to run it and see what happens.  Again, a year or so ago, I'd have flat-out said I couldn't run a full marathon.  These days, I'm starting to believe, although there's a fair amount of work still to do.

Other stuff

I'll be doing the Cycle Derby 160km Spring Classic sportive again on 1 May, mainly to keep building up the cycle miles.  Hopefully, the weather will be a bit less horrible this year.

Then, between the Outlaw and Cotswold triathlons, I'll be going along to another - the full ironman distance Cotswold 226 event run by the same organisers as the Classic.  Not to race the triathlon, but because they're running a 3.8km swim race on the Saturday (16 July), and a 'Tri rules 180km sportive' (ie no drafting, TT bikes allowed, bad fashion choices positively encouraged) alongside the triathlon on the Sunday.  I've entered both, just for a bit of fun and to get a feel for the area the Classic is held in.

Attentive readers might note that, between this and the Nottingham marathon, I will hopefully end the year having done every element of a full-ironman distance triathlon individually - much as I did all the elements of a half-ironman last year, but that's something to think about in the autumn.

So then the rest of 2015 happened...

(but apparently writing stuff didn't, so here it is all in one go)

I had two more racing outings after the Erewash Triathlon.  The first was the Severn Bridge Half Marathon at the end of August - my first half marathon and in fact my first standalone running race since I was at school.  I'd set a target time of two hours, and I finished in... 2:00:11.  Curses.  Aside from that frustration, it was quite satisfying to tick off the distance, which had been one of my goals for the year.  I'm finding the race itself quite difficult to write about, which is partly why this post is so delayed.  Basically I started running, then ran, and ran, and ran some more.  Somewhere in the middle there was a big hill.  Running with thousands of other people on closed roads is quite a nice experience.  Towards the end it got really, really hard, especially trying to keep the pace up coming back over the bridge to the finish knowing that the time would be close.  I think it was probably harder than the Blithfield Triathlon, even though that was almost three hours long.  I definitely felt like I'd earned the (proper chunky) finishers medal.

Next up, just a week later, was the Ilfracombe Triathlon.  A long way from home, but local to the in-laws, and we needed to be down there the following weekend for a wedding.  I could have raced the Derby City Triathlon (my first one last year) on that weekend instead, which would have been a useful measure of my improvement over 12 months, but the North Devon event sounded considerably more interesting - and so it turned out to be.  By way of illustration, here's a list of 'firsts' which I racked up during the race:

 - Riding from home to the start/transition area in the morning.

  • A sea swim.
  • A beach start to the swim.
  • Having to climb two flights of steps to get from the swim into T1.
  • Using the small chainring in a triathlon (for the first twenty minutes of the bike leg, and another 10 minutes or so by the end).
  • Having to wait at a set of temporary traffic lights in the middle of nowhere (although the organisers had a marshall there and did a good job of crediting people their time back).
  • Having to filter through car traffic on the run course.
  • Having to climb and descend a flight of steps during the run leg.
  • Walking a stretch of the run leg (up an endless series of switchbacks on the coast path).
  • Having to negotiate a kissing gate during the run.

It was good fun, although my performance was somewhat 'mixed'.  After making a reasonable job of the beach start my swim lost all sense of urgency, and I went backward through the field during the swim itself and the climb up to T1.  These exertions left me feeling fairly rough as I got out onto the bike and went straight into 5km of climbing, and it felt like I was still going backwards - probably the low point was getting passed by someone on a hybrid.  With hindsight, I think my pace was actually fairly sensible, because I went back past a lot of people on the rolling middle section of the course, and up the series of steep climbs towards the end as they ran out of steam.  The run was just brutal, but I think my pace was OK.

Back home a few weeks later, I did the 50 mile version of the Cycle Derby Autumn Sportive with some current and former work colleagues.  Fairly leisurely ride overall due to mixed abilities (although the climbs are still really hard no matter what you've been doing over the rest of the course) and a really nice morning out once the sun had taken the early morning chill off.

The sportive marked the end of the season as far as sporting events went, leaving the rest of the year to actually spend some weekends at home (I didn't do that many races, but given holidays, stag dos, weddings, and other shenanigans we had about three 'empty' weekends from mid-April through to the end of September).  It also gave me chance to try and figure out some training routines that fit around work and family.

I finally bought some new running shoes, which are Extremely Blue, although nearly 100 miles later I'm still not entirely sure I like them.  Somewhere along the line I also realised I've actually started to enjoy running, rather than viewing it as a necessary evil of triathlon.  I feel like I've made some decent progress since the Severn Bridge race, which bodes well for 2016.

I also had a bit of an end-of-year splurge which saw me acquire a TT bike from a friend and then shortly after add a power meter, enabling me to combine cycling and extreme nerding into one activity.

I wrote down the following sports-based goals at the start of 2015:

  • 6 sprint-distance triathlons
  • 1 standard/Olympic distance triathlon
  • At least 1 open water triathlon
  • Swim 1900m (half-ironman distance) in open water
  • Cycle 180km (full-ironman distance)
  • Do two 160km sportives
  • Run a half marathon

I racked up the seven triathlons as planned, three open water including one sea swim.  In training I did several open-water swims of more than 1900m, including a couple up around the 3800m full ironman distance.  As above, I finished my first half marathon, and have since done the distance again in a training run.  On the cycling front, I did one 160km sportive, and given how horrible the weather was and that I did ride about another 20km getting to and from the start, I'm counting it as doing the 180km ride, even though it was spread over about 12 hours.  The second 160km sportive just didn't fit into the calendar anywhere, but overall I'm pretty pleased with how the year went.  

Erewash Triathlon

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.  

(Not my most appealing look.  Photo by Xcite Images)

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.

Update: Racing, Not-racing, and more racing

It's been a while since I last sat down and worked up the motivation to write anything.  A six month old baby will do that for you.  I left off having just completed my first sprint triathlon, and entered my second.  Since then, I've done that second triathlon, a 50-mile cycle sportive (the 'not-racing' part), and as of last weekend, made my first foray into the world of cyclocross.

The triathlon was the PMA Racing Derby Sprint Triathlon, run out of the village of Etwall, out to the west of the city.  The swim was carnage - 25m pool and narrow lanes meant it was much more congested than at 33m Moorways two weeks earlier, especially since I seemed to have drawn a lane full of people who had massively over-estimated their ability when entering their predicted swim time (which determines the start order) on the entry form.  I had a couple of head-on collisions, which I'm pretty sure were with the same person from the next wave after mine.  Once my fault and once his, and probably both the result of frustration with the traffic.

Out of the pool (timestamps on Sarah's photos from poolside show I was within 15 seconds of my predicted time, just saying) and I think I was a bit more efficient through transition, aided by elastic laces and not bothering with either gloves or jersey, but hindered by getting a bit unsighted looking for my spot in the racks.  Unfortunately the timing mats were having a bit of a bad day, and a lot of us didn't get a full set of split times, so there's no definitive measure of how long it took.  I do know that I started the cycle leg a few seconds behind a female competitor who had been in my start wave and who I'd beaten out of the pool, so there's still work to do.

After the unwelcome shock of the first 500m or so being a reasonably steep uphill, I settled into the bike and my newly acquired aerobars.  In contrast to the City Tri's urban out-back-out-back course, here we had a single loop round quiet country roads to the west of Derby - well, quiet apart from the convoy of vintage tractors heading in the other direction half way round, which was a bit of a squeeze to get past on the narrow roads without giving up too much speed.

Through T2, and out onto the run - again with the not-entirely-welcome treat of two 45-degree grass slopes to climb to get off the playing fields and out onto the roads.  In the photo above I'm looking at the second of those climbs, hence the look of distress.  I did get into the swing of it, and was even able to smile for the finish line photo, but still too slow - the same lady from my start wave, who I'd repassed and gapped on the cycle, breezed past me a couple of minutes in to the run, and pulled a good five minutes on me by the finish line.  Some work to do over the winter.

(photos courtesy of the organisers and Sport Sunday photography)

The weekend after was the Cycle Derby Sportive - the 'not-racing' bit of the title, despite involving a marked course, a mass start, and timing chips.  I opted for the 50-mile variant, had a brief pang of regret at the start for not going for the 100-miler, but it was definitely the right call, as there was a lot of climbing involved.  Completed the course at an average of 15mph, including a few stops for food and for losing a contact lens half way round.  I carried a camera the whole way round without taking any pictures en-route, so here's one of the new Derby Velodrome at the start.

And finally, this weekend, I made my first foray into cyclocross with NDCXL at a very muddy Markeaton park.  Not terribly successfully - I fell off the back of the pack within about five minutes, then got passed by the under-23s and most of the ladies, and lapped twice by the leaders before the bell.  Then with the end in sight the rear-mech hanger snapped about a third of the way into the final lap, leaving me to carry back to the pits for a DNF.

I came home from my first triathlon, fired up the laptop and entered the second.  Having done the second, I've already got several pencilled into the diary for next year, and am currently trying to figure out a winter training routine to make myself faster.  Likewise, doing a 100-mile sportive is a definite goal for 2015.  As for 'cross, much as I wanted to like it, the jury's still out, for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, I expected it to be difficult, and to be at the back of the field, but thought there'd be enough spread to give me someone to race against - as was the case with enduro, rally, and triathlon.  As it turned out, I'd need to make a massive improvement to even be at the back of the field.

Secondly, I felt a bit out of place.  Judging by the pits, about two-thirds of the field had turned up with two bikes, a petrol-powered jet-washer, and a helper to wash and service the bike they weren't riding so they could swap bikes each lap.  Most of the remaining third was people who couldn't find a helper but had still brought two bikes.  Two people didn't have a spare bike, but had left a spare pair of wheels in the pits - and one of them had also DNF'd with a broken rear mech hanger.  I had a box with a couple of tubes and a pump.

A bit of a post-DNF grump? Possibly.  As it turns out, I can't do either of the rounds in December anyway due to other commitments, so I've got until mid-January to decide whether I want to have another go.

It's racing Jim, but not as we know it.

For someone who doesn't consider themselves particularly competitive, when I look back at my life there seems to be quite a lot of racing.  In my teens it was windsurfing, and latterly (as regular readers will know), it's been motorcycle enduro and rallying.

(photo: Tony Ferrari)

I've loved riding the rallies over the last couple of years, and I'll probably do the odd one in the future, but there's a lot of money, time in the garage, and time away from home involved in doing a full season.  Not really compatible with a new baby, so it's time to find a new challenge a bit closer to home.  I've been toying with cyclocross, and there's probably some of that in the future, but it's a winter sport.  In the meantime, I saw a poster for the Derby City Triathlon in the local pool while taking baby Toby for his first dip, thought "why not", and signed up when we got home.

I've done a lot of cycling this year - 1400 miles and counting - but at the time of signing up, the last time I'd run was a five mile or so jaunt around (the admittedly very hilly) Longleat Centre Parcs with a couple of friends which left me hobbling for a couple of days after.  The last time I swam lengths in a pool was probably at a similar time.  I did manage one go at the distance in each in the intervening weeks.  The run - straight off the bike after cycling home from work - resulted in the usual twinges in my right knee.  The swim - on a busy Sunday morning with no lanes - was fine, but took a minute or two longer than I expected.  We'll call that training then.  It's only Sprint distance (400m swim, 20k cycle, 5k run), how hard can it be?

So the day (last Sunday, 31st August) came around, an early getup, and time for another check of the (surprisingly large) pile of kit I'd collected together before loading it and the bike into the truck and setting off for Moorways sports centre with my father-in-law Alan.  I'd been along to collect my number, timing chip and swim hat the day before, so it was straight to the transition area to drop off the bike and kit for the cycle and run.

We were there pretty early, because I thought it was probably a good idea to go to one of the briefings held on the hour through the morning.  Since I was starting at 1012, that meant it had to be the 0900 one, hence the empty racks around my start number.  With hindsight, it didn't tell me anything that wasn't in the online instructions.  After the briefing, we stood and watched people coming through transition for a while before heading up to the pool.

When I'd collected everything together the day before, Sarah had asked why on earth I had put two pairs of goggles in.  That question was answered when, standing poolside with about ten minutes to go and the first pair pushed up on my head, the strap snapped.  Plenty of time to get Alan to throw the other set down from the viewing area.

Eventually, my wave was called forward, ordered into the pool, and given the starting whistle. I had to pass two people from the earlier waves within the first couple of lengths, then had clear water for the rest to concentrate on keeping count of the required 12 lengths.

Out of the pool, exit through the fire exit at the back, and a barefoot run across the grass to the transition area - reminding myself half way not to sprint and wear myself out.

Out onto the bike, and after a few minutes of feeling a bit wierd (body going "hang on, I thought we were swimming?") I settled into it.  Two laps of a fairly flat out-and-back course, with a leg-burning mile or so stretch into the wind on the way out.  Head down and go for it.

Heading back into transition after two laps, I'd passed a lot of earlier starters, and only been passed by one or two people who weren't on full-on time trial bikes.  Not bad, and I was still feeling fairly good going into the run.  That feeling lasted for about the first hundred adrenaline-fuelled yards before, again, my body noticed that it wasn't cycling any more.  I did get into the swing of it about half way round the first of two laps, but was still being passed by far more people than I was catching.  Back around the stadium bowl for the final time and onto the running track for three-quarters of a lap to the finish, there was still something in my lungs and muscles, but by that time my knee was starting to hurt again.

And then it was over, 1h21:53 after I'd started.  The energy drink they were handing out at the finish was, incidentally, disgusting.

The results came out a day or so later, revealing that I'd finished 190th out of 350 starters.  Satisfyingly for those of a data-nerd persuasion, they are made available as a CSV file of everyone's times, including both transitions as well as the swim, bike and run.  Looking at the three parts individually, I set the 113th fastest time for the swim, 128th for the cycle, and 261st for the run.  So far, not terribly surprising - did I mention I'm no good at running?

More embarrassing were the transition times - 331st through the T1 (swim to cycle) transition, and 344th (out of 350 remember) for T2 (cycle to run).  I worked out that if my transition times were around the average of everyone elses, I would have been more than thirty places higher without actually getting any better at any of the three disciplines themselves.

Something to work on then, and I will be trying to do so next Sunday, having entered the (confusingly similarly named) Derby Sprint Triathlon.  In preparation, I've fitted aero-bars to the bike, and perhaps most importantly, replaced the laces in my shoes with elastic ones.

Blast from the past #7 - The face is smiling...

...the shirt says "No Fear".  Neither of these things accurately reflect what's going on inside.

This picture of me was taken by Sarah, in March 2010, about half an hour before I started my first motorcycle race - a four hour Hare & Hounds somewhere near Stourport, organised by TBEC.  At this point my experience of riding dirt bikes was two and a half days of gentle trail riding at the 2009 HUMM, and a quick shakedown ride of the bike in the fields at my parents' place.  Needless to say I was a bit nervous.

Needlessly as it turned out.  Obviously, I was rubbish.  I had my first crash about two minutes in, and by the end had lost count - although the one where I lost the front on a tree root and dived into a muddy puddle sticks in my mind.  More or less all the photos Sarah took during the event show me sat down, bolt upright, and generally being overtaken by someone.  I had to stop half way round one lap because I thought I was about to be sick from the exertion.  The record shows me finishing 117th out of 144 starters.

I was hooked (and I did get slightly less rubbish over the rest of the season).