I have been looking forward to Cowman ever since the moment that I finished it last year. I would go so far as to say that it is my favourite race. A combination of the 70.3 distance, excellent organisation and a bike course that plays to my strengths means that I am already looking forward to next year's outing in to Olney. The previous year I had finished in an easy to remember time of 05:06.07 so I had set myself the target of coming in under the 5 hour mark this time around, and I also wanted to defend my Age Group title that I had managed to achieve. Eager, therefore, for a good race we decamped to a friend' s house in Newport Pagnell for some some curry-based pre-race fuelling and a leisurely (only 5.00am!) start after a good night's sleep.
Being so close meant that we were in plenty of time to get the bikes unloaded and assembled, chat to our clubmate Nick (who was nervously contemplating his first 70.3), wetsuit up and and assemble for the safety briefing on the spit of land from which the swim started. The water was 21 degrees, 22 in places, so wetsuits were optional (I think only one person chose the non-rubberised option) so after a quick warmup dip we were called back to stand waist deep against the bank ready for the start. Due to the nature of the lake the area of bank started on is only about 20 metres wide, so we were packed about three deep, shoulder to shoulder. This makes for a frenetic start and as the gun went I cheerfully pitched forward, landed face first on the wetsuit clad buttocks of the sturdy chap in front of me, and then made an attempt to find some actual water to swim in. The 1900m swim was a two lap job and most of the first lap was spent in a punching and kicking (with optional biting, gouging and light mauling) based washing machine of people. I was very glad of my polarised goggles and the 7.00am sun helped split up the pack a bit as everyone's sighting went to pot at the third buoy of the first lap and the second lap in the warm water was much more enjoyable, apart from my goggles being momentarily clouted off by a flailing arm. The cheerful brawl of the swim gave me a slightly slow yet still respectable time of 34.19.
Transition was quick on the large grass area, and this was the first time I was using my aero helmet under racing circumstances. The optics were crystal clear and it was a very pleasant experience to ride with a visor rather than sunglasses. The course was undulating, two laps of the long loop and one lap of the short route. None of the hills was extreme, but they were fairly numerous and I managed to get into a leapfrog battle with a couple of other guys for most of the second long lap and all the way through until transition loomed up again. I overtook on the hills, only to hear the sound of a disc wheel fast approaching behind, swiftly followed by another, on the flats, before getting back ahead as the course went upwards. I spent most of the bike watching the numbers on my computer, keeping my heartrate at the planned level and I knew I was getting my pacing spot on, which meant that I started the run, after an even quicker transition than T1, in a very positive frame of mind. 02:31.31 was the chipped time.
The run was four laps, and the year before I had suffered badly, with a beating sun and a lack of structured training. Not so this year: Brian has coached me incredibly well and not only has my fitness drastically increased but my race strategy, preparation, pacing, and general race awareness has seen huge improvements. My good pacing continued and the 4 laps seemed to fly by, and I knew I could not have run any harder, and my laps were very consistent, with a range of 40 seconds variation between the fastest and slowest lap. A strong finish saw me run a 01:31.26 over the half marathon, which was enough to secure me the first in age group that I wanted and 11/235 overall. Even more pleasing to me was my finish time of 4:39.34, getting under my five hour target and knocking off a massive 26 minutes and 33 seconds from last year.
I was absolutely delighted with this result and massive thanks as ever to coach Brian and Natural Ability Performance Coaching. I had a fantastic day at Cowman – it is an incredibly well organised race and the marshals and organisers were excellent. My Age Group win had secured me a trophy plate (to join last year's on the mantelpiece) and a crate of the sponsoring Erdinger alkoholfrei beer – which I happen to like a lot (almost as much as real beer!). Next instalment will hopefully be after Ironman Copenhagen, I had better get back to training then...