This was a day I’d been looking forward to for some time as so many members from our club had entered the event. It was a TESE race, so plenty of points up for grabs, very local to us, and in a great setting with a beautiful castle and its grounds as the backdrop. It is also always very well organised so what’s not to like? Well I found something not to like, more of that later.
Could you get a more beautiful setting to compete in? Lilly Gibbs striding out with Leeds castle in the background.
It’s an early start, but with plenty of time to mooch around before starting. Plenty of time to soak up the surroundings, enjoy the glistening moat, the backdrop of the castle, the looming gradients off to the right, and the feeling of calm. No stress worrying about setting up in a rush, and time even to grab a pre-race coffee. For once I was organised to the nth degree. A rare but lovely feeling. Not so great for anyone doing their first event, or new to the sport with plenty of time for nerves to build and there were a few nervous faces. I did my best to wander round transition for a chat with anyone in Medway Tri blue that I could find.
Thankfully it was a wetsuit swim, I would have moaned too had it not been; I'm a different swimmer in a wetsuit; much quicker and more efficient, but I can still swim ok without, and would have worried more for other members less comfortable swimming non-wetsuit in a particularly murky moat. Worries I really didn't want to have. I was in the 2nd to last wave, so had time to see the first few of ours out of their swim. Lance Odendaal looked great being 2nd out of the water in his wave from what I could tell. I think I saw Sarah Easton, Jenny Fowler and a few others also exit the water whilst ignoring my briefing to a large extent. Lilly Gibbs came out of the water one of the first in her wave, amongst lots of men from the previous wave which is always a great sign. Brilliant that we could cheer them through into transition. I wasn’t worried about the swim as I’d done it before, and had already decided to take it relatively easy and just find a rhythm rehearsing for something longer. I had also spent a bit of time studying the map in relation to the bike diversion and wasn’t overly concerned……as Liz Sim had diligently driven the course the previous day and allayed any fears when I saw her in transition during set up.
Dan Butler back in action with plenty of time to mull the swim to come. Nice for once to not be in a mad rush.
Suddenly from being too relaxed we were called forward, and there was a bit of a rush to set the watch up, zip up the wetsuit and make sure the goggles were firmly stuck. Steve Lawson had mentioned sticking to my feet (how he’d know it was me I don’t know, I never know who is who) and I know he, and his brother Ed are about my speed, a little faster or slower on any given day, I suspected we’d be near-ish each other. The crack of the gun and then we were off.
I had a great swim actually, or easy I suppose rather than great, because it wasn’t that quick. I do remember clocking it at the end and thinking ‘was that it?’ as it had felt quite a bit faster, secretly I'd been thinking PB, but on reflection it just felt so comfortable, too comfortable to deserve better probably. I was very near the front, no-one in my wave was good enough to actually zoom away as sometimes happens, or if they did I didn’t see them go, and I tucked in behind a group of 3 who had beaten me to the first buoy (so they were obviously slightly quicker?) and hoped none of them had overcooked it at the start then to fade. A couple of times I considered breaking through the three pronged barrier in front of me, but knowing it would cost me effort and then I’d feel duty bound to try and push hard to stay ahead instead I sat on the feet in the bubbles, sighting and thinking about nothing but ‘early catch, rotate, push all the way to the back’ Barry’s extended catch up drills in my mind. I even had time to enjoy swimming through the arch, thinking about the castle and how unique a venue this was. Barry's crush them and swim over them advice, 'give it everything' had definitely been ignored. Sorry Baz!! As the exit approached it had felt like a training swim, barring the nettle snagged round my goggles I couldn’t shift and didn’t want to try in case it interrupted my stroke.Out of the water, wetsuit stripped, and socks on (I know it’s a sprint, very unprofessional but I like wearing socks for the run) and onto the bike. I hadn’t gone down the shoes on the bike pro approach, simply because I often fluff that up, and there is a bit of a hill away from the castle. So I put the shoes on in transition and ran out with cleats on. I remember having this debate with Steve Lawson who also rarely goes down the pro route and we’d discussed smashing some who do and then struggle to get going, so ironic that this time he had and I overtook him out of the grounds whilst he fiddled with his shoe straps. I couldn’t help but shout ‘come on Steve’ with a bit of a smile!! At this point things went downhill for me a bit. Maybe because they went straight uphill. Nothing sharp but as I turned at the roundabout and sought to establish a nice cadence I couldn’t get my heart rate (based on feel) under control. Everything seemed a bit of a struggle, hips felt tight, and I couldn’t put any consistent power down through the pedals. Steve took off past me, I briefly chased and even had to back off temporarily to avoid drafting at which point I was picturing a bit of a battle royale throughout the bike leg which would have been fun, but he edged away and I had to let him go because I couldn’t find a rhythm with my breathing which was ragged. At this point I decided to just do the bike like I would a much longer one, had an average in mind, and keep that even pace on the bike without pushing. The diversion was fine, actually pretty nice; better than the A20. I was overtaking a lot of people from earlier waves, and I’m never sure whether to say ‘well done’ and be encouraging (is it patronising I ask myself?) but I decided to try it out….and with the first person I got a loud ‘woooohoooo this is brilliant, well done to you too’, so I carried on. So many people were having fun and receptive to some banter on the bike and I decided actually giving that encouragement even if passing isn’t patronising as long as it is to the right person. Although I made sure I didn’t say it to anyone I passed with a serious vibe, tri bars, with head down. They might not have taken it in the manner in which it was intended!! Although even I got a bit fed up of saying well done in the end as it was a really busy event, I remember thinking Dean R would tell me to get on with it and that I wasn’t working hard enough!! Once back on the A20 I forgot a bit about my earlier struggles and got back to cycling like I know I can, and it felt quicker, stronger and the average ticked up easily above where I had resolved to keep it. Coming back went much better though not so well I’d make all the time up I’d lost whilst calming myself down. I knew I was going to get passed by James Amy who actually looked like a rocket with his bike set up, helmet and tucked in position as I saw him coming towards the turn after I had just made it. He took longer to get to me than I thought he would so I must have been going alright. I’d seen Dean Ratcliffe coming too, and he got me just before the diversion. Dean Painter would have been the next one (pleasingly the only three athletes that passed me on the bike as far as I remember were all Medway Tri) but I thought I probably had just enough to get back before him and he’d get me on the run. In fact it was so inevitable he would I couldn’t even use it as motivation to try and stay away as long as I could! Back into transition, bike racked, trainers on, and off on the run. All I remember thinking is that with such a short run there will be precious few high fives and few team mates out on the course. With so many members competing, most of them will have finished already. ☹……..As I ran out I wondered about Chris and his swim, how Louise was doing (I’d seen her coming back on the bike)….and then…..those hills!!! Actually it started before the hills with the ground. The sort of surface I hate. I loved cross country at Capstone through the winter as the ground was usually a bit soft. My weak, football-damaged, girly ankles don’t like uneven hard grassy ground, especially when it cambers away as it does by the lake. Straight away I’m running with an ‘ow, ****, god, jesus, ****’ and THEN I hit the hills. I’m 6’2’’, lighter than I used to be, but not light. I don’t like hills. I'd started to over the winter but the work I did on them then was a long time ago now. So now one minute I'm a triathlete, the next I'm out for a sweaty sunday stroll over this hill in a ridiculous outfit, then back to trying to look like a triathlete as the ground flattened. I was literally waiting for Dean Painter to come bounding past with an annoying easy gait probably barely sweating. In the end he came past at the most embarrassing time, just as I’m asking the marshall at the 3km point ‘please tell me that was the last bloody hill’. I kind of knew it was, but my mind was conjuring images of an Everest somewhere between there and the finishing line. I knew Dean was laughing inside, and probably outside if I could have seen his face and not just his backside disappearing fast down the hill. Anyway, thank god for the finish. Over the line, sweating, and having found sections of the event harder than I remembered from the previous year. All our members did so well, with a few left to come in, but many having finished already, it was easy to be proud of how we did as a club and of how each individual did. Lovely to see some of the juniors there supporting their parents when it is so often the other way around. For once there was hanging about at the end, obligatory team photos, swapping stories, and waiting for the presentation. I’d even go as far as to say we dominated the prize giving. Oh my word, we did so well. Not only having so many people competing but also achieving. Steve Beaney, Sarah Easton, Lance Odendaal, Simon Montgomery, Steve Lawson, Dean Painter, Dean Ratcliffe, James Amy, Jenny Fowler, Nikki Lilley and Lilly Gibbs all winning medals, and even Hamish who came first male overall trains with the club in the morning swims and we're always pleased to see him do well even though strictly speaking he's not 'ours'. I reckon I must have missed someone. Sorry! Especially pleased for Sarah Easton and Steve Lawson who I’ve not seen on podiums before though I know they probably have been because they both work really hard, and Jenny and Nicola too who are relatively new to the club but already smashing it! Lessons learned from the event, main one was that in a Sprint it really is important to know you can transition quickly from one discipline to the next without the discomfort I felt onto the bike in this instance from the swim. I’ve had this happen before at Ocean Lake as well, but put that down to the cold on the day. It obviously wasn’t, it’s just bad prep by me. I ‘ve had five years to practice and I rarely do brick stuff. To do well you can’t afford to spend 25% of such a short bike leg effectively with the physical brakes on. Obviously running better uphill would be good, but that is easier said than done….I think the track would make me fit enough for coping with hills better with some work on pace and power but I can’t make our track sessions due to coaching commitments. I have pledged to work on my swim to bike and bike to run a bit more often in future though. What a great day, a great event, thanks to Ocean Lake for organising, and I’m already looking forward to other events like this later in the year. Hever Castle is often a similar vibe, and of course this again next year. It is a MUST!!! Now lets wrap up the TESE series by getting in on Bewl Water and Southwater. Onwards and Upwards for Medway Tri.