Bala Standard Triathlon September 2016

I came to Bala off the back of a pretty decent summer of bike and swim training, with the aim of knocking a minute or at least a few seconds off my 2.28 PB last year. The long Audax rides had continued every month but I managed to throw in a handful of hard sessions with the tri bars on during July and early August and after missing out on running for several weeks before celebrations I did manage to sub-12.30 2-milers while I was in New York. On the swim front I'd done half a dozen lake swims at Cromhall, mostly 2k at medium effort, to get the hang of wetsuit swimming (and extraction!). Arriving on the Saturday night, Dave and I were greeted by 45 mph winds and the sight of Bala Lake covered in white crested waves. Not great swimming conditions! The forecast was for breezy, 14 degrees and mostly dry and fortunately the storm abated overnight to leave exactly that.Setting up transition was nice and easy as there were only 250 entrants this year rather than 700+, the new NO BOX / NO BAG rule was a surprise though. So was the fact that my Tri-Suit zip bust just before I got my wetsuit on - a bit disappointing for an Italian-made suit being used for the first time! I pinned it together and was slightly worried it might come undone, as the organiser had announced another rule that was new to me - no front zips (but they are allowed in this race if kept fully done up)!

Easing myself into the chilly (15 C) lake at 9.50 I was pleased to see the water nice and calm - at least around the swim entry. Further up the Lake it proved to be a bit more lively! There was a breeze blowing into our faces too. I positioned myself near the buoy on the inside of the swim route just behind a bunch and got ready for the start. Thr first thing I noticed after the horn sent us off was how opaque the water was - it was really black. Perhaps the storm had stied up sediment? Also the slight chop and the distance of the buoys made sighting tricky. I followed the orangey-brown trail of bubbles behind a few pairs of feet and had a few collisions from the side, but basically I was on course. Or at least I thought I was. It was hard getting into a rhythm because of the tricky sighting and the interference from other swimmers - eventually though I found myself in pretty clear water with a view of a big orange buoy which I thought might be the turnaround but was actually the half-way-out marker. Without a watch on I had little sense of time. Arms turned over, water passed, time passed, water got rougher and I began to swallow a fair bit, then at last I saw the turnaround. There was the usual fun at the buoy as everyone converged then we took a diagonal back towards a second buoy before turning in towards the swim exit. The second half went more smoothly - still the wind and chop, even with the waves coming from behind, was a challenge but the gantry had been inflated over the swim exit and that made for lovely, clear sighting. I cruised in and kept swimming until I was virtually aground (a good move - lesson learned from last year where I found standing on the rough lakebed a real challenge) then took a helping hand up on to the jetty.

Getting my arms out of the wetsuit was hard, despite shortening the sleeves for this year's race, but by the time I reached my bike they were out and I could grab the bar to tread my way out of the wetsuit legs. This was easier than last year's wrestling match but still a bit of a faff, especially on the leg with the timing chip. I ended up out and ready to go much quicker than previously and decided to go for the ride in just my tri suit and a cap in case it rained - last year I overdressed I think so I was determined to save time in T1 and be more aero by sticking to the suit. Once out on the bike course I was sure I'd made the right call, it was cool but OK. The bike seemed to be running smoothly and I was overtaking from the start. Overall 3 riders passed me, including 1 in a GBR suit, but I reckon I overtook around 25 or more so I was glad to be in credit. It did suggest I'd been slow on the swim though! I forced myself to drink around 500ml of Zero and also swallowed a watered-down caffeine gel at half way. In hindsight a second one of those might have been a good idea just before T2.

The second transition was smooth and I was soon working hard on the run, full gas, feeling wiped out. I passed Dave who had started 20 mins before me and reckoned I was close to his time but of course he had just run a marathon and I had no idea how well I was doing - still not wearing a watch so it was all guesswork. I chanted and sang inwardly and the inner landscape became very placid despite the outer mix of exhaustion and various pains (a blister on the foot from no socks was coming, everything was tightening up). My last near-disaster came when the final marshal said "around these 3" meaning 3 arrows in the carpark and I thought he said "around these trees" but he called me back and I probably only lost 10-15 seconds. Crossing the line I felt totally spent and pretty happy. One minute down on 2015 but that was down to the 2 mins I lost in the swim and the 1 min on the ride - all pretty much down to the wind. The run was bang on the same as last year. Happy with that and hopeful I can do a season of Tri next year!

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