What had I done? I’d only gone and entered a duathlon! They hurt even more than triathlon! To add insult to injury I hadn’t raced a multisport event since Ironman Austria (10:30:32) in 2010!
That said, I did my first triathlon back in 1987 and made the GB age-group team for Lausanne in 2006 so I am no newcomer. But recurrent injury (now I am getting older and falling apart) has meant for the past few years I have mostly enjoyed cycling events (such as La Marmotte and Paris-Roubiax sportive events), and as coach and exercise physiologist with Sportstest, helping others achieve their own aims.
So the aim for the Dambuster was to get round in one piece, enjoy the experience (haha), and remind myself of the course for the Dambuster Triathlon. Following a recent parkrun event I decided to target 42 mins for the first 10km run, try to hold 32 km/h for the bike, then survive the final run without walking.
What do they say: “the best laid schemes of mice and men”….
This year Dambuster was a world championship qualifier, so as always there were lots of talented athletes around. Many faces I recognised, and lots of lean looking athletes I didn’t. Still not to be deterred, this was a “training race”.
My preparation had been meticulous (not!), I had only been back running for around 3 weeks, and I was riding a new bike that I had only been on twice. Definitely not advised!
This perhaps helped my overall level of stress, as prior to races in the past I have been like a bear with a sore head for two or three days pre-race. I was actually quite calm, and looking forward to the event.
My final week of training was quite light, the previous Saturday I had done parkrun; the Sunday I had checked race shoes and setup with a brick session; a light run on Tuesday to check my calf, then it was rest all the way to race day. I was ready!
Rutland water is a lovely venue and we like to arrive early, so we set out mid-morning on Friday to make the 2 hour drive the race. We are lucky enough to have the use of a camper van, so this makes pre-race preparation incredibly easy. A spot of lunch in the café, was followed by catching up with old friends, and then some time to put my feet up and relax. Dinner was my wife’s homemade Lasagne…perfect preparation!
The venue goes quiet around 8:30/9pm, and with a nice civilised race start time of 8:20 (unlike the ludicrous triathlon start times) I was able to have a very solid night sleep, and rolled out of bed for my tradition pre-race breakfast of an energy bar and 400ml of water at around 6:30am.
As with previous experience of the PaceSetter events, registration was totally painless, all over in less than 2 mins. I was handed envelope with race number and security stickers, given my timing chip (which from previous experience I know to place around my ankle immediately so I don’t misplace it), and a handful of freebies from High-5. The guys from TFN were also there with a stall selling the last minute essentials (race belts, trisuits, shoes, helmets, bikes etc) but for once I was organised.
Now it was decision time, I had planned to race with deep section front wheel and disc….but despite the weatherman saying it was going to be warm and calm, it was as windy as anything! So I made a decision to ride standard front wheel, and deep section rear. Security tags on bike and helmet, off I went to transition. Great marshals helped point me the direction of my rack…I was buried somewhere in the middle of everyone, so I took 5 mins to walk the route to check run in, bike out, and run in. I was happy, I could chill…
I strolled casually back to the camper….hang-on a minute, what have I forgotten? Shoes in transition would help. So would a bottle for the bike, gels, and my Garmin for the bike! Maybe I was a little too relaxed? Note to others, the start of the Dambuster bike course is a bleeding big climb, remember to change out of the 53×11 before leaving your bike.
I had decided earlier in the week this was going to be a training effort, so no fancy stuff with shoes in pedals, and as it was windy (and a little chilly) at the race start I would ride with a tight fitting winter jacket. The first run with started with gloves and arm-warmers which I could remove if/when I got too warm, but it is no fun being cold on a bike in March.
I started near the front on the run, but was confident I wasn’t going to race. Settling in to a comfortable pace, I hit the first 1km in 3:59, just a tad quick. The next was 3:54. Too fast!
Onto the dam, the ferocious cross wind hit, my pace slowed a little to 4:05, but I felt I was running easily. The hardest leg was to the turn-around at the church into a strong headwind, and I recorded my slowest km of 4:06.
The simple course follows an out and back around Rutland water. This year there was a lack of sheep “poo” so no need to watch footfall, and I carried on with a solid pace all the way back, popping a gel at 6km, and passing a couple of others. I posted a very solid run of 39:15, a lot quicker than anticipated.
I took my time in transition. Winter jacket on (warning from the referee this covered my number, so a quick stop to sort that out), and I was off.
From what I had faced on the run, I knew it was going to be windy on the bike. Turning left onto the main Oakham road the wind hit, I got as low as I could on the tribars and worked into the wind. I was going past a steady stream of riders, and I was pleased with how I was progressing. It was that windy I was glad I had taken off the deep section front, but it was still gusty. On a nice day this would be a lovely ride to look at the scenery, but I was concentrating on staying upright and straight.
The Dambuster route is known for the infamous series of hills known lovingly as the “Rutland Ripple”, these make the bike route quite testing, and times on this course are never the fastest, but today were going to be a slow day. I hit the climbs in what I would like to describe as hurricane force winds…. It wasn’t that windy but combination of wind and the ripple made me feel like I had stopped, but I was still going faster than most around me (at this stage I had only been passed by two other riders).
My casual preparation had meant that I had failed to correctly calibrate my powermeter, so I was riding on feel, and happy with progress, albeit a little slow.
I was grateful to finally hit the roundabout at Uppingham, this meant a section of nearly 15km of mostly downhill. My speed picked up to around 45 km/h and at one point I hit over 60 km/h where I nearly scared myself witless as a gust of wind caught me! I was passed by a further four riders on this section, but I was really pleased with my progress, until…
I hit the sting in the tail, the climb from Ketton, followed by the main road back to transition into the wind. My average speed fell from over 33 km/h to 31.5 km/h in the final 10km of the bike course. I was fading badly, but got round in one piece. I have not biked this long or hard for a very long time!
Whilst I was helped on my bike by a 500 ml bottle of energy drink and a gel, I had forgotten the impact of these on the second run. As I started the run I noticed I had a slight stitch. I looked down at my Garmin to check my run pace…the battery had died, I had forgotten to charge it! I was running on feel. Around 1km a guy went flying past me. There was no way I could keep up, I just wanted to keep running. Despite prominent distance markers, I was pleasantly surprised when I got to the dam to find the turnaround point was closer than I thought! I picked my pace a little on the return leg to the finish and even passed a few other athletes.
I had a solid run, I certainly was comfortable and could have gone a fraction faster, but not much. I expected to have run around 20 mins. Live timing is available at Dambuster, so I was over the moon to find when my printout showed I had run 18:21 for the final 5k! Maybe I will have a good season?
I always have great memories of the Dambuster course, the course is excellently marked (not a hope of going in the wrong direction), with great marshals, fantastic crowd support and race commentators.
Today the conditions were tough and I loved it. To top things off, once I crossed the finish line I was handed a nice cold Erdinger alcohol-free beer and given a flap jack from the guys at Yellow Jersey insurance. I then found out Harry Springall, an athlete I coach, had won overall….what more could I ask for?
Roll on June so I can race the Dambuster triathlon!