Weymouth Classic Triathlon

The 13th race I completed since setting myself a target of 40 events in a year, was also the longest I've done for some time, taking me over two and a half hours. With my first triathlons under my belt this summer - all try-a-tri or sprint distance, I had set my sights on a Half Ironman in 2009. It occurred to me that I'd have a lot more confidence next Spring if I had gone the full olympic distance in my first season, so I scoured the calendars for September events and found Bala Lake and Weymouth as the likely options. Bala was billed as a big race, with starters going off in waves of a hundred - Weymouth looked smaller and less intimidating to the newby, so I went for that. In both cases the bike section is hilly, but so is all my bike training in the Vale of Glamorgan, so I thought I'd be OK!

The night before a race - especially the longest race you've done - is a time to prepare yourself and rest well. Thanks to a heavy metal tribute band giving it their all in the pub opposite our B&B in Weymouth town centre, this was not to be! I had all my kit laid out for the morning, with the intention of waking early to eat an energy bar or two, then get my usual morning meditation in at six a.m. before heading down the road to registration for about 6.40. Hard rock anthem after anthem blasted out into the night until just before midnight, everything from AC/DC to Led Zep. Just when I thought it was over, they started up again and went on until nearly one! I just laid there and tried to rest, and in the end five hours sleep was more than enough, but next time I'll stay outside town and drive in! In the morning, all was peaceful, and I felt well prepared when I headed out the door to find the streets still alive with tired, pale and rather subdued revellers from the night before. Registration and racking was quick and straightforward, and I spent some time getting my shoes clipped in as this was the first time I was attempting a "proper" transition with shoes already attached to the bike (held horizontal by rubber bands). Before we even finished the roll-call and briefing on the beach, my goggles has steamed up despite a good spit-and-rinse, and I was dreading a "blind" swim to the buoys 750m away, but another application of spit (hate to go on about it, but it's a pretty important detail!) without the rinsing seemed to fix it. A quick warm up to get used to the sea temperature and we were corralled back on the beach and ready to go.

The countdown came, and then the superb charge into the water - a really exhilarating way to get going, so much more dramatic than a deep water start. Fran, who had come down to see the start, grabbed an excellent video of it:

I stayed wide on the left as planned, as the swim was a straight out-and-back around a pair of buoys rather than a triangle, and I figured that staying clear of the melee would be the best bet. In practise, I got mixed up in the crowd anyway, and there were lots of people swimming over my legs and body for the first half. This was my longest open water swim ever, so I was expecting to tire on the return leg. The waves were small, and although I got a few mouthfuls when looking up to get a sighting of the buoys, it was pretty friendly sea. I found myself alternately bunched, then out on my own, and it was hard to know where I was in the field, but I think I swam a pretty good line on the outside left and when I finally saw the left hand buoy, it was dead ahead, just where it should be. The 90 degree turn was not congested, nor the next one just a few yards later, and on the way in, with waves rolling harmlessly over my back instead of in my face, I was finally able to get into a proper stroke - in fact it was so calm on the way in, it felt like a pool swim. I was aiming for the meeting point of the dark harbour wall and the golden beach, which made navigation easy - I felt uneasy in the shadow of the wall, which made the water seem dark and unnerving, so I took a line parallel to it but in the sun, giving me good vision in the beautifully clear water. I was warmed up now, and pulling water properly with each stroke, then before I knew it I was seeing swimmers standing up and then it was me getting on my feet and wading the last few yards.

Coming out of the water I felt much better than I'd expected - perhaps my training had been right, with fewer, but longer swims (2000m once a week) and more rest in the preceding couple of weeks. I was half out of my wetsuit before I took the steps up from the beach, partly so Fran would be able to recognise me (as we all look the same in black wetsuit and regulation race cap) and partly because I knew that getting my legs out of the tight suit would be a full time job in transition. Fran did the business getting a photo at this point and giving me some encouragement - she later told me I had come out close to the head of the big pack of swimmers (albeit some way behind the smaller, leading pack) making me about one third of the way back down the field at that point. Swimming is my weakest event, so anywhere in the top half is a result as far as I'm concerned. According to the results, I was 57th out of the water, so Fran was flattering me :)

Transition went well - I had to wrestle a little with the wetsuit, which always sticks to my ankles, but after it had helped me so much through the swim, where I felt warm and buoyant throughout, I was not complaining! I clipped on my number, got the helmet on and was soon running the bike out to the line. The clipped in shoes worked well - I got my feet half in and pedalled for a few seconds before getting properly in and pulling the straps super-tight. It saved me several seconds and it was more enjoyable than trying to run out while wearing the bike shoes, which is noisy and awkward.

Soon I was out of town, and climbing in my lowest gear up a steep, winding lane. Around me were emerald-green fields, horses lazily grazing, blue sky overhead and warm september sunshine. I saw an iron age hillfort on the horizon and soon we were climbing between its ramparts as the course wound through the countryside to Dorchester on a mixture of lanes and quiet main roads. If you like rolling hills, idyllic villages with thatched cottages and views across some beautiful english countryside, this is the course for you. If you are fast on the flat and hate climbing, this won't be your bag at all. I was determined to move up the field a bit on the bike section, but it proved hard to do so, as for every rider I struggled past, there was another one zooming past me - usually on a Cervelo! At the turn near Dorchester I had counted about 43 riders coming back the other way, so I dug in and decided to try and catch at least three on the return. This wasn't looking likely until I decided I was ready for some fuel, my stomach by this time feeling recovered from lots of seawater ingested in the swim. As soon as I got the smart-gel down me I felt stronger, and I slipped ahead of three riders on a hill. I felt good now that I'd replenished those tired muscles with some carbs, and the three-hour training rides in the Vale were now paying off too. I had to stop for two red lights as I came back into Weymouth, but I took those as opportunities to drink and slip my feet on top of my shoes for a quick dismount. Results show I made up 19 places to 38th on the bike, so I'm well pleased with that - though it's interesting to contrast the result with my perception of only having moved up a handful of places at best. Shows you don't always know whats really happening!

T2 was pretty quick, and I was out on the promenade for the 10k - by now, in the sunshine, zillions of holidaymakers were out strolling on the prom and, as you'd expect, they were neither looking where they were going nor alert to the presence of exausted runners among them. But, its their prom too, and it was up to us to weave a way through the crowds and not expect them to leap out of the way (which was not going to happen!). Once past the clocktower, I realised I would be well under three hours, as it was bang on 10.30 (2 hours since the start). The course was flat for several kms and only the intial section was packed - we were soon on a clear seafront path where local runners out for a Sunday morning session mingled with those finishing the tri. We had been warned about Bowleaze hill, and it was a stiff climb, but I was moving up the field and feeling OK, if pretty hot! Coming back, I managed to catch a few runners in the closing stages.I saw a few walking the hill on the way out, which shows you it's a tough run course. When the finish came into view, I felt glad to have stayed strong through the whole race and clock a time of around 2.40 - something I'll aim to beat next summer. Fran was on hand again to grab a video:

Thanks to Fran for photography and support :)


Final result showed 2.34.52, placed 25th, results are here.

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