"Each step forward has a sacred meaning of its own" Sri Chinmoy
New Forest Middle Distance Triathlon - Hampshire - August 2018
When I entered this race at the start of the summer it was a little speculative - I've not raced over 10k in the running world for quite a few years and my long runs since 2012 can be counted on the fingers. I was keen to challenge myself though so with my usual naive, or perhaps inspired, sense of optimism I clicked on Enter and got my name on the start list. The usual injury anxieties came and went over the next few months but I came home from NYC in late August after a couple of short and fast sessions without any repercussions. I'd managed to get a few hard 2-3 hour rides in on the bike too, evenings after work spent hacking through the serenely beautiful Chew Valley and the lanes around Wrington and Kingston Seymour. On the swimming front I'd had several 45-min sessions at Cromhall Lake and Marine Lake, with the new wetsuit making it feel easy.
The night before the New Forest race I camped out, and a combination of jetlag and noisy teenagers at the campsite meant I woke to my alarm at 4:13 after hardly any sleep at all. Not great preparation for the race! On the plus side I came out of my tent into total silence under a blazing half moon, the clear sky revealing more stars than I ever get to see from my home in Filton. Walking out into the primordial silence of a moonlit forest night soon wiped away any negativity about the sleepless night and I was soon at the race venue racking my bike in the chilly darkness. I had my bike and most of my kit in T1/T2 then walked a mile or so to the lake and put shoes, shades, arm-warmers and socks in the extra transition (a kind of T0.5) about 100m from the swim exit.
As with my last Tri the swim went well - I didn't push too hard as I was expecting to race for 6 hours and there's no point killing yourself in the first stage only to regret it later. It was almost exactly 40 mins of steady swimming in a lovely lake - weedy in places but comfortably warm and with decent pyramid-shaped buoys. Mostly these were easy to sight but the diagonal leg at the end of lap 1 involved turning from sunlight toward a buoy some distance away in shadow so I just followed the shoal of swimmers there until I could pick it up. Once or twice I got cramp in my calves but it was easily remedied by flexing my feet and apart from some slight drifting off the racing line to get clear water, it was a hassle-free swim.
Out on the bike I worked hard to keep up a good pace. I was aiming for 18mph but soon found I was cruising well on the flats (of which there weren't many) and keeping reasonable pace on the uphills (gentle but numerous). I was on schedule to maintain 19mph, pretty good considering I averaged 20 on a Standard Distance Tri earlier this summer, so I tried hard to keep that up. Several times I had to slow to avoid drafting on the narrow sections, and also there were quite a few stops or decelarations to get past cows, horses and donkeys. The animals in the New Forest have free run of the roads and everyone just accommodates it. I'm used to getting lots of amazing views of landscapes when I race but to have so many animals for company is something a bit different.
Ornamental Drive was one of only 2 or 3 genuine climbs and I remembered it well from 10 years before on the Forest Man. Apart from that it was just a case of keeping an eye on the garmin to ensure I kept the work rate up and letting the lovely miles of forest ease by.
I started the run feeling tired but still pretty solid - on the bike leg I'd managed to eat around one and a half clif bars and some shot bloks plus 2 SIS gels so I had some calories in the tank. I had 2 gels with me on the run but didn't attempt to take them at first as the one thing feeling dodgy was my stomach. The course began with ups and downs through woodland then some steeper hills as you come out into the sun baked heathlands of the Forest. With lap 1 almost over I felt I was on course for around 5.45, but my stomach still felt fragile and I could only get water down me at the aid stations. The heat was getting more intense too - probably only mid 20s but I was having to wear a cup of water at each aid station to keep my core temperature under control. Towards the end of lap1 - on the long section back to the run start - the hills suddenly seemed to have got steeper and my energy ebbed away as I hit a bit of a wall. I could tell I had slowed to ultra distance pace, with short strides and heavy breathing as my body switched to fats instead of carbs to keep moving. I was still hoping to beat 6 hours but just keeping running rather than surrendering to a walk was hard.
Eventually I gambled on taking one of my 2 gels and that helped me keep moving steadily but slowly through the ups and downs of the second lap. The open heath suddenly resembled wild west badlands from an old movie as I found myself alone under a hot sun, hungry and thirsty and wasted. A lizard ran across the path in front of me as acid sweat ran down my forehead. The gel gave me just enough energy to keep running and each aid station offered encouragement from the marshals as well as cool water to pour over my cap and down my back. The photographer caught me on lap 1 just before I properly ran out of fuel, but I think the lap 2 photos would have been similar. Actually, despite being in that fatigued state you get when trying to run hilly trails after several hours of hard effort, I was still enjoying the race. I'd watched the Sri Chinmoy 47 Mile Race in New York just a week before and seen a hundred athletes in the state I was now in myself, and I remembered how much I'd missed that feeling. I'd been tired on the bike and pushed myself to max speed on shorter events but the challenge of keeping going on your feet through fatigue and heat is something unique.
The target of 6 hours soon seemed impossible but I cheerfully kept on and the miles slowly surrendered to my efforts. There were 3 sections of the run to go (each lap had an out-and-back section to a junction then two out-and-back trails to turnaround points) then two, then one and a half, then at last I was heading for home. Even a few hundred metres from the finish I still felt the need to stop at the aid station and cool myself with some water, then I was through the dry ford and turning in to the finishing straight. My final time was 6.03 so although I'd missed my target time I was relatively happy. I was happier when I saw the results which put me 48th out of 108 finishers and 4th out of 10 50+ so that felt like a kind of victory. Whenever I'm in the top half of the results it feel like a positive result!
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