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Tranent triathlon race report

by on Mar.29, 2009, under Race reports, Triathlon

As readers of my LJ will know, I was not especially looking forward to Tranent this year. It wasn’t because of anything like lack of motivation: it was, probably, a combination of season’s first race nerves and the weather. Oh yes. The weather.

After a short spell of sunny days and mild breezes, Scotland had decided it had seen its shadow and hopped back into some severely wintry conditions. As of Friday, the weather forecast looked like this:

I had a rough time with injuries last year, including a broken tooth that needed surgical extraction, a stress fracture in my right foot that cancelled the tail end of my racing season, and a nasty head injury that put a severe dent in the start of my winter training. The psychological effect of all this was twofold and paradoxical: I was both dead keen to get stuck into this year and also suffering from a degree of trepidation over my fitness. The thought of having to race in conditions like that, when I was unsure of how fit I was for it, was almost enough to make me decide to DNS on the Friday.

On the other hand, my Mum kindly bought me some private swim coaching for my Christmas, with Zoe (who can be found at the David Lloyd in Newhaven, as her website appears to be fubarred), and I’d just posted a PB for the 750 in training, beating my previous best by more than a minute; and I had been working pretty hard on my running. I wanted to race. Friday night prep came as second nature so I was confident I wouldn’t simply fall on my arse in T1. I’ve done this often enough now that I should be satisfied my base fitness should take me through a sprint distance triathlon — maybe not in a decent time, but I’d get through it.

The first one of the season, in those conditions, is always a matter more of survival than putting in a good time. I do triathlon as an excuse for drinking beer, not to get myself in the ranks of the elite.

When the alarm went off at 06:30 on the Saturday the sun was shining and it didn’t look too windy, so there was really no reason not to go for it. Apart, that is, from being snug and cosy in bed and not having had much sleep.

I was still half asleep when we left, bike in the back and my stuff in its box. Arrived in Tranent about 45 minutes after registration opened and grabbed the last parking space next to the Loch Centre. It was cold. There was the usual crowd, generic triathlete faces fettling with expensive-looking bikes, plus a few familiar faces from the last couple of years. I’m almost used to being recognised now. I suspect the black eye is a dead giveaway (my triathlon race licence is the only piece of ID I own where I’ve got my preferred eye in the photo).

Heat 2, starting at 10:40. It’s the one thing that I always find a bit of a bummer with competing. You have to get there early to secure a parking space, and then there is invariably a period of a good couple of hours at least of sitting around twiddling your thumbs waiting for things to get going. If you’re in the later heats you can watch the slow coaches before getting going, but in the early heats you don’t get to watch the faster people race because they’re done by the time you get back and you’re getting prepped while the few people slower than you are swimming.

The one thing I have never been able to train for is the pre-race toilet requirement. I swear, if you ever want to weigh yourself and get the lowest possible figure, do it just before getting in the pool at a race. There will be nothing inside your digestive system to add to the overall mass. I wonder if organisers have to advise the facilities to supply even more toilet paper.

I was hanging with a few ladies I recognised from previous years. We were a little confused by the number of men in the female changing room: most of them were watching the swim but one was busy slapping himself with embrocation and making use of our loos. We considered that this was, if not plain rude, at least a little ungentlemanly, given that there was a perfectly good male changing room. A minor distraction from fretting about how cold it was going to be.

(At the end he was back, and with the sort of assertive curiosity for which I am infamous, I simply asked him outright why he was using the female changing room rather than the male. He claimed he hadn’t realised it was the female changing room. Even though it was full of females. Hmm. With a rubbish excuse like that I suspect ulterior motives.)

Then it was our turn.

Ordinarily people underestimate their swim times when entering while I overestimate mine by about 10 seconds. This is partially because I don’t want the ignominy of being the last one in the pool and missing the cut-off. Partially it’s because I like overtaking everyone because then I get around 500m of free water and I’m the first one out, givng me a psychological boost. I’d put down 15’15 on the entrance form, which was about right at the time I entered. Having beaten that by a minute in training I thought I was onto a winner.

As it happened my heat was fairly closely matched. I was overtaken by one chap who was going really well, and then I was into the epileptic tadpole kick of the chap in the yellow hat, who had a very poor grip of pool etiquette. In heat-based triathlon, if you want to overtake you tap the ankle of the person in front of you and he is supposed to wait at the end of the length. This chap didn’t seem to understand that. I had to pull up short a couple of times, reduced to swearing in breaststroke. When he did finally stop, a couple of lengths later, he set off at the same time as me rather than letting me get going again, and spent half a length smacking my feet and tangling around my ankles.

The second time he failed to pull up at the end of the length I grabbed both of his ankles and yanked. Not impressed.

With the frustration and several bursts of intense sprinting, plus being unable to get into a rhythm, I found myself flagging towards the end, and it was a relief when the orange kickboard was waved at me and I knew I only had two more lengths to go. Tired enough to use the steps rather than bouncing out of the pool I staggered down the steps towards the cold outside.

Dear gods it was cold. T1 was slow as I had socks and gloves and a jacket to put on against the chill, but at least I didn’t get lost coming out of transition like I did last year. It was a slow start, feeling the effects of a choppy swim, and I was glad of having other people on the road ahead. In 2008 I was out first and saw no one for the whole of the bike leg, which makes racing difficult.

At first I felt warm enough that I could have done without my jacket, and was pleasantly surprised by how strong I was on the ascents. While other people were up out of the saddle and slowing right down on the hills I didn’t have to get up once, and only had to avail myself of my bottom gears a couple of times. That’s a winter of fixie riding in Edinburgh, for you.

Then we turned a corner and had a vicious crosswind combined with a series of long, steep descents. I got a seriously bad speed wobble in Dalkeith last year, which terrified me. There is something about feeling your bike going out of control underneath you at around 40mph and realising that you’re only wearing a small amount of lycra and a plastic hat. I had hoped that getting the bike serviced, and the rear cones adjusted, would give me the confidence to descend this year but it didn’t. People I’d sailed past on the climbs shot past me on the descents. I couldn’t let the bike have its head on that rough surface. I couldn’t convince myself it would stay stable.

I overtook a couple of the people who’d gone past on the next set of climbs, and then it was into the headwind. I was glad of my jacket. My legs became so cold my skin felt like it was on fire, and there was no power there. My muscles had gone into cryogenic hibernation. I also discovered that putting my Smart gels into the pocket of my jacket rather than my tri suit was a mistake, because I couldn’t get at the zip to retrieve them. I like having a quick boost just before hitting T2 as it gives me a bit of extra energy for the run.

T2 was slow, again, because I was cold and stiff from the ride and couldn’t get my running shoes on. The run was my usual plod, although this year, at least, I had no doubt that I could make it all the way round the course without having to slow down. The run, for me, is always a battle to keep going rather than giving in to the feeling I need to slow down to walk for a few yards. Tranent is a good run: I prefer cold conditions for running, and the marshals are absolutely awesome. They’d been out there since 8am, chalking happy, motivational messages and silly pictures all over the pavement, as well as the more practical arrows and directions.

Towards the end I even started trying to put a bit more speed into it.

You can find the table of provisional results here in Excel format. They’re cumulative — my run did not take me 1:29!

Good: I did the swim in 14’16 (based on my own timekeeping — the chip times include T1), which is a new PB and means I need to revise this season’s swim goal. I beat last year’s overall time by two and a half minutes and was faster in every single section, albeit not by much. The conditions were a lot worse, though.

Bad: Last in category. Ouch. I know you should really run your own race and not worry about everyone else, but my relative performance was pretty poor. I’m still getting severely spanked on the run. My bike leg this year was not as competitive within class as it should have been, and I know that’s partly because of my crappy descending but also because I just didn’t push hard enough. Overall I didn’t push hard enough except in the swim: I need to get out of this mental rut of merely surviving the run and start trying to go faster.

Still, today I feel pretty fit, when I would have expected to feel like death. Might even get the turbo out later. Must be doing something right in training.

Hats off to the marshals and to the Edinburgh University Triathlon Club. Once again they organised a great race, with an excellent team, and their volunteers probably felt the cold even more than the competitors did. After all, they had to stand out there cheering folks on and giving directions from start to finish, not just for one heat, and they didn’t have the benefit of physical exertion to keep them warm. I think that’s what makes Tranent enjoyable despite the ferocious conditions: the people running it are just super. Thanks, guys!

First tri of 2009Only one photo this year: here’s me, 10 minutes after finishing, having retreated indoors, blue with the cold and my special “What do you mean I’m still alive?” face.

East Fife in two weeks. Cupar was cold last year, but I can’t imagine it’ll be as cold as Tranent. After that, who knows? I haven’t entered any more yet, but I’ll have to make a decision soon. If anyone has any favourite May events, I’m open to recommendations.

Don’t say Dalkeith. Not with that crazy zig-zag swim and that long descent with the manhole cover in exactly the wrong place.

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