So it is done. I am still feeling tired and a bit drained today as I write, 36 hours after the London Triathlon, but also immensely satisfied. Not least with the more than £9,000 now raised for LAM Action from all you generous people. Thank you so much, from me and from the 100+ LAM Ladies of the UK.
I had baked in a free weekend between the 3rd and the 4th events of The Challenge precisely because this is one that I had done before and so it was less about completing something unknown and more about racing against a younger version of me. This was to be my 5th Olympic distance triathlon, all done at the London event, the first 7 years ago with 2007 missed through illness and 2010 and 2011 out with a back problem. Those first four had each got progressively quicker and so my rather vain concern was whether I could keep that trend going after a three year hiatus.
In the run up I had been concerned with a few niggling injuries – a tight calf last weekend which then moved up to be a tight hamstring midweek, and (separately) a stiff neck towards the end of the week. The weather forecast for Sunday had also progressively worsened from a forecast fine and sunny day to (correctly as it turned out) forecast downpours as we got closer to the weekend.
The one thing that had been pointing in the right direction was my bike. A final tune up at the excellent Pretorius Bikes in Shoreditch had left the bike humming when taken for a final 100km ride out on the Wednesday before – I was, at least, the best equipped I’d ever been for a triathlon.
I must say a thank you to Lam Action, David Mercer and a nice man whose name I don’t know who runs a sports shop in Cheam and whose wife sits on the Lam board. They combined to have a nicely day glow vest printed up and sent over to race in. It perfectly matched my equally day glow new trainers!
An early start on Sunday morning started with the now traditional banana and a glass of Mexican Iskiate (a Mexican Indian energy drink made with chia seeds – see my Thoughts on Running post for more) and I was out of the house by 7am to go and register and rack the bike at the Excel centre in East London. You find yourself standing there staring at the various things you have laid out around your bike in transition (helmet, racebelt with number, socks, running shoes, energy bars etc) mentally going through the steps you are going to take when coming into the two separate transitions between the disciplines to make it as smooth as possible and being paranoid that you have forgotten something critical. I had unfortunately not been able to go out to practice the transition process, so my bike shoes were clipped onto my pedals and hoisted up to various bits of my bike with rubber bands to enable a quick getaway, but I hadn’t practiced the process of actually getting on and off it to minimise the time taken.
There was then a nervous wait for the best part of an hour before 2-300 people in the Men’s Sub 2:30 group began to gather at the swim assembly for the race briefing and de rigeur mass shouting of “Oggy-oggy-oggy” (Oi-Oi-Oi). Just as we were starting to file down the steps to go outside, my family arrived with a much needed hug and set of best wishes. We then went out and into the water before the klaxon set us off eastwards up the dock.
The swim went pretty smoothly, with a lot of focus on proper breathing out which I think had been the cause of my post-race issues at the 4k open water swim 2 weeks earlier. It is a bit hectic given the number of people in the water and you can’t really tell you are in someone’s way until you are swimming over each other, but gradually it thinned out a bit, bunching up again at the two turns. As we approached the final turn I was feeling good and it seemed doing a consistent pace as I started to go past a number of people who were flagging. Everyone funnelled back together for the finish which was a bit of a free for all, but then we were up onto the pontoon, running along while trying to unzip the back of the wetsuit and get it off the top half of our bodies. Then stopping to step out of the bottom half and being thankful that this year I had remembered the spray olive oil to pre-spray myself which made getting out a whole lot easier. A quick cheer from my children was very helpful at this point too.
There is then a long run along the dock, up the stairs and around the transition hall to get to the bike, including trying to orient yourself in the huge hall to find the right bike amongst the many thousands racked there. A quick drink, helmet on, racebelt on and then off running with the bike to the bike start. The unpractised bike mount worked a dream, heading off for the first 500m or so with feet on the shoes rather than in and then getting them in and velcroed up on the move, saving a few more seconds.
From there it was just head down, into the tuck aerodynamic position through the first set of slightly hairy roundabouts and onto the Lower Lea Crossing which has a stronger uphill gradient than you might imagine. Then onto the Aspen Way over the top of Canary Wharf and into the Limehouse Link tunnel where you can get up some proper 45-50 kmph speeds. The promised rain had so far held off and although there was a bit of wind it wasn’t too bad. The aero bike was coming into its own, I was remembering to feed properly on 20 minute intervals and just pushing on. I could feel the benefit of having done all those vertical metres going up Mont Ventoux as I was able to push out a consistent pace.
Along The Highway to Tower Bridge and then down onto Lower Thames Street streaking past the office and all the way along the Embankment to just short of Parliament Square. After turning the wind seemed a bit more of a headwind but not too bad and so it was just more of the same all the way back. Coming back to the Excel it all started to get a little bit hairy again. The roads narrow significantly, rain started to spot down and our group were now passing a number of the female age group triathletes who had set off in the previous wave, making it occasionally crowded and dangerous. I clipped one person as we got squeezed together, but thankfully we both managed to stay on and keep going. Once past the Excel there was then a second shorter loop between Stansfield road and Billingsgate market before returning to transition. I almost messed the whole thing up on the ramp up to the Excel going into a turn with slightly too much speed and locking the rear wheel, but luckily managed to control the bike. The second transition was very quick, dismounting on the move and straight into a barefoot run back to the bike rack, on with the elastic laced running shoes and out on the run course.
The run course was I have to say pretty grim. Last time I did this the run was on the other side of the dock and was 2 laps of 5km each, except they were actually 4.9km each making it a “fast” 10km! This time it was 4 laps of a real 2.5km each.
As you can tell from this photo I was really enjoying this particular bit!
Oh and this bit too…
It was incredibly twisty (no more than a 100-200m straight before the next bend, and there were a variety of ramps and temporary plastic floorings to traverse. By this point the rain had really started to drizzle down so everything was also very slippery. Oh and it was pretty narrow and crowded particularly on the turns. My wife, kids and a couple of friends had gathered at one point on the lap which gave me encouragement and again I could feel the benefit of the longer training runs I had done to be able to do the half-marathon a month earlier.
Rounding the turn at the end of the lap
I had an eye on the time at this point and was pushing quite hard, so much so that as I got into the final lap I was starting to flag. At that point I was the beneficiary of the kindness of strangers. A guy who I didn’t know but who I guess had been running along behind me for a while caught me as my pace started to drop. He turned and asked if it was my last lap. I nodded and he said, “Right, mine too, let’s push to the end” and with that we pushed each other on back to the excel centre and right through to the finishing line ending with exactly the same time. Thank you, Darren Barnes, who google tells me may be a vet from Bishop’s Stortford.
Approaching the line
Now I had a problem with the timing. I didn’t know whether we had started on schedule and my Garmin had misfired so that it thought I had been running since the start of the bike. I wasn’t sure therefore whether the total time it had registered was accurate or not – I hoped it was. Thankfully the organisers were very, well, organised and a text message appeared within minutes with my time breakdown. I had knocked 4 minutes and 53 seconds off my previous personal best set in 2009, coming in at two hours, 21 minutes and 29 seconds. I was hugely, hugely pleased, with the only (frankly slight) disappointment being that in Olympic distance triathlon 2 hours 20 minutes is seen as something of a benchmark time, equivalent if you like to doing a three hour marathon, so I briefly wondered if I could have found 90 seconds somewhere to get under it. But that thought didn’t live for long and that can be a challenge for another day.
The swim at 27:00 was my second best ever, beaten only in 2006, but 1:19 quicker than 2009. The bike at 62:54 was my fastest yet, 2:43 quicker than 2009 and the run at 45:15 was only 56 seconds slower than my 2009 9.8km run which I was really pleased about in the conditions.
Shortly after I finished the heavens opened up and conditions worsened significantly – I really didn’t envy others still out there on the course as I sat at home inhaling pieces of pork pie. My relatively good conditions meant that overall I finished well inside the top decile in 249th overall (apologies now to Darren who I managed to pip in a photo finish!) out of 3,626 who finished.
Overall this has been about raising the ante in order to raise money – shock people with what I intended to do to provoke sponsorship. Thank you again to those who responded. But also selfishly for me it has been a galvanising experience to really focus in on something to see how hard I can push myself and what I can do and I have been very pleased with the outcome. I have a couple more half-marathons in the diary this year and of course the Zurich Ironman now committed for next July (thank you Derk). I had better start learning some real endurance…