Dambuster Olympic Distance Triathlon 2015
Dambuster was a new race for me, and I was looking forward to doing a route that I had heard a lot about from various clubmates. The day before I had also registered to attempt and qualify for the ITU Age Group World Championships in Chicago. The race was on a Saturday, a format that I like as it does not take over the whole weekend in a way that I find that a Sunday race does. The downside of this was a 3.00am start on the Saturday morning for Annie, my wife who was also racing, our friend Manu who was getting a lift with us rather than dragging his family out of bed in the early hours, and myself as we had to get from Banbury to Rutland Water in time to register, rack, and get swimming. I was in the first wave, setting off at 7.00am. We had not been able to go up the night before due to work commitments and only registration, not racking, was open on the Friday. This was the only thing that was a little irritating as trying to get up to 1000 athletes racked and ready to race in a mere hour and a half is always going to be a tall order and everything felt very rushed and there was no real time to prepare – the first wave did not eventually get off until about twenty past seven – and there was very little time to warm up for the 200 odd 17-44 aged athletes in the first wave. I do understand that not having to have overnight security and so on makes everything cheaper, but at an ITU qualifying race with this many athletes I would not have minded paying a few extra pounds to make things so much less hectic and allow a calmer mindset at the start of the race. This is my only criticism of the organisation of the event (get it out of the way early!) and I cannot fault anything else.
The marshalling, signposting, announcements, finish and atmosphere were amazing. There were motorcycle referees out on the course (I seemed to be playing leapfrog with one of them for most of the race) making sure that all the rules were obeyed and there were an abundance of marshals in and around the transition/finish area and the three feed stations on the run were well stocked and staffed by a great group of people, constantly offering encouragement to the hundreds of athletes on the out and back run.
Back on the beach, however, I was getting ready for my first shore start. As mentioned there had only been time to essentially wade into and out of the water before we were ready for the gun to go off. I picked a spot well off to the left of the course as although I have become much stronger as an open water swimmer through a chance to train regularly at a local lake, I still find it takes a few minutes to get used to colder water and, more to the point, colder water whilst being gently mauled by my erstwhile competitors. This time I got into my rhythm early, and only had a few moments of my usual wild flailing that might be mistaken for swimming in a poor light, and successfully avoided the cheerful brawl that seemed to be going on off to my right and by the time I got to the first buoy I felt I was actually swimming strongly. I luckily did not hit too much traffic around the first turn, and by the time I got to the other end of the long leg to turn back towards the swim exit everyone had spread out enough that there was no scrum of swimmers to deal with. Annie was watching us out of the water whilst she waited for her start and roughly counted that I was about twentieth out of the water in my wave. I was pleased with my time of 24.37 on the swim and knowing that I had swum well gave me a nice boost into T1 and I got out on the bike in good spirits.
As I had not done the route before I was careful not to absolutely hammer it out of transition, as is my usual approach to the bike, as I had been warned that the first part of the bike was considerably hillier than the second half of the course. This turned out to be the right approach as I overtook a fair number of people laboring up the hills. When my Garmin showed that I was about halfway round I began to put a little bit more power down, but I was keen to save myself for the run and by the time I got off the bike I actually felt that I could have done a little bit more without damaging the next discipline too much. I think knowing the course helps considerably on this particular race and whilst climbing on the bike is something I rather pride myself on, and none of the hills were steep enough for me to even get off my tri bars I just couldn’t seem to summon up any excitement about the route. The best way to describe it is ‘meh’. I didn’t dislike it at all, but perhaps it was just because it was rather a dull, overcast, day, and the scenery never seemed to be particularly stunning I just got on my bike, pedaled round a bit on ‘some roads’ , and got off my bike again. One hour and nine minutes after exiting T1 I was slipping my feet out of my shoes, and taking the last few bends back into transition. I had a smooth T2, which I was really pleased with and having pulled on my running shoes headed off on one of the flattest runs I have ever done in a race, taking in the long, 2km stretch of dam twice.
My gentleness on the bike really paid dividends on the run as I got out of transition and quickly moved up to my race pace. I had come out of transition at the same time as someone else (we chatted after the race and found that we had had almost identical races, I had been a touch faster on the bike, he had been a shade faster on the run – he beat me by 12 seconds after finishing his run very strongly) and after the first few meters he was about 5 meters ahead, but I maintained this gap and settled down to follow him over the 10km course. My pace was very steady at 6:16 min/mile and I managed to hold this until the end, which I was very pleased about. The course loops around the top of the lake, and the turnaround point of the out and back course was marked by a church spire, and I found it quite encouraging to be able to see what I was aiming for. I had been previously warned that the long, straight section of dam seems to stretch on forever, so I just kept my legs turning over and the knowledge that I was running well kept me going. I took one gel just after leaving T1 and the second just as I could see the final feed station 500m ahead of me (so I had somewhere to discard the wrappers) and this nutrition strategy worked well. Towards the end I even found a few reserves of energy and I could hear the music playing at the finish, which pulled me forwards, and I even managed a bit of a sprint for the spectators at the end. My time of 38.15 for the run was probably the discipline I was most pleased with. I crossed the line in 2:14.38, and had a good chat with the guy I had followed on the run and then enjoyed a pint or two of the sponsor’s (very good) non-alcoholic beer whilst waiting for other club members to finish (see picture).
I had a good race and looking back on it I really did enjoy the day. In the days after the race I actually felt like I had put too much pressure on myself by trying to qualify for the world championships, but when I found out that I had been successful, and would be off to Chicago in September I quickly stopped feeling neutral towards everything, as I had a little bit before and during the event. I’m really glad that I did it and I think that I will make it a goal of mine to go back next year with a more positive attitude, and to give the bike a proper go (and perhaps qualify again!). I finished 9th in age group and 68/800ish overall.
As ever, all thanks has to go to my coach Brian, whose work has seen a drastic improvement in my performance. I even look forward to the run leg now, rather than just staggering round the course with an expression of acute toothache. Not a lot of time to rest though, as there are more races coming up in the near future, the Cowman half-ironman, one of my all-time favorite races, is only a few days away – can’t wait J