Last weekend was the Chester Triathlon. I first did this race last year as part of my preparations for the Ironman UK by entering the Middle Distance event, but this year I would be doing the Standard Distance. My focus this year has been on the shorter sprint distance triathlons as I attempt to qualify for the World Championships in Rotterdam later this year. The sprint distance is draft legal and the skills I have acquired through years of mountain biking and BMX racing mean that I am more suited to this type of close proximity racing than the non-drafting standard distance events. However, I was looking forward to testing myself over the longer standard distance with the non-drafting bike leg.
The Chester Triathlon is always an excellent event and it is extremely well organised. The event officials and volunteers are very passionate and helpful and the planning is second to none. The race saw over 1400 competitors racing in the Middle and Standard Distance events. Myself and Robert (Bob) Cassidy from Racepace were competing and attended the event together. For Bob it was one of his key races for the season where he hoped to qualify for the Standard Distance world championships, so there was a lot at stake. For me I aimed to have a good race and implement all of the aspects I have been working on over the past 12 months, the key aspects being pacing, control, clarity and focus.
Having had a good discussion early in the week with my coach Rodger Wilkins in relation to the race strategy I was very clear about my approach to the race. My biggest strength is also my biggest weakness, I am strong and have lots of fast twitch power (from my BMX Racing and Judo) but I lack slow twitch endurance capacity and therefore this power is only available in short bursts. Consequently, I have to control when I use the power or risk burning out; this always creates a mental dilemma in the race where my natural competitiveness and instinct tells me to go hard as I can, but from the coaching I have had from Rodge, I have now developed a mental strategy to overcome that instinct (most of the time!) and focus on the longer term aim of finishing the race strongly rather than burning all my candles at the mid-point!
It was a beautiful morning and we arrived early at the event to ensure that we could recce the transition area, bike mount and dismount lines and swim. One thing we have both learnt from our coaching at Racepace, is the importance of planning and having clarity for races; carrying out the recce is all part of that physical and mental preparation and ensures that all aspects of the transition are known and thoroughly rehearsed such that they become second nature come the race. When we arrived, transition was already busy as the Middle Distance race had already set off and the first of the Standard distance athletes were racking their bikes. After studying the layout of transition, we racked our bikes, laid out our kit and then headed off to watch the first swim waves set off. From our observations there appeared to be a better line from the farthest start buoy from the bank and we both agreed that we would head over to that side of the river for the start of the race. We then returned to transition to don our wet suits.
Once we were in the water for the swim we jostled for position on the line waiting for the hooter to start the race. My game plan was to swim hard for 100m to get on the front and then settle down into a steady rhythm for the remaining 1400m. I managed to do this and felt very comfortable and controlled throughout the swim. On exiting the water on to the pontoon you are faced with a steep uphill section to reach transition, I took it very steady up this short section as I did not want to enter transition puffing and panting, but used the time to undo my wetsuit and remove my swim cap and goggles. The transition went well and Bob and I exited together and headed out onto the bike course.
The bike course is undulating and fast and I was looking forward to having a good blast. There is a video of the bike course for Chester on YouTube and I had been shown it by Rodge earlier in the week when we were discussing the race strategy. After watching it several times I knew the course and had also planned where I wanted to take on board gels during the race and knew where there were climbs and tricky sections. This clarity really helped in the race as I had good marker points all of the way round. I focused on controlling my power right through the bike leg and tried to maintain a smooth cadence whilst limiting my muscle contractions, with the aim of preserving my legs for the 10k run which was to follow. I took my feet out of my shoes on the last straight prior to transition and dismounted well. My transition was smooth and fast and the rehearsals earlier in the day had paid dividends and I was swiftly out on to the run.
The run is my weakest of the three disciplines and I struggle to run at pace over distance, therefore I find this element the most challenging both mentally and physically, which is why it is so important that I preserve my legs as much as possible on the bike. The run was a 3 lap loop and is relatively flat which made for good fast racing. As the run is based on laps you are never sure which lap a person is on and as such it is easy to become embroiled in a battle with someone who may be on their last lap when you are only on your first. I knew this and had prepared mentally to stick to my game plan. My focus was to run at a pace that I could sustain over the 3 laps with marginal increase in speed over the laps, culminating in an all out effort for the last 1.5km. My run went to plan in this respect and my legs felt good off the bike. I did a PB for 10km, which at the end of a triathlon is not bad going and so I was relatively pleased with my performance.
After the race I caught up with Bob, who had stormed round to set a new PB and was some 11 minutes quicker than me over the distance, he couldn’t have done anymore towards reaching his goal of qualifying. We had a good chat about the race and congratulated each other. One of the great things about triathlon is the camaraderie and we have a great group of athletes at Racepace who all get on and support each other, that definitely increases the enjoyment of racing and training. The other great thing about triathlon is no matter how many persons are racing, in reality you are only racing yourself, constantly pushing the boundaries of your physical limitations to achieve the best result possible. The addiction of the sport is the feeling that you could do better, if you train right, eat right and prepare right, the pursuit of continual improvement to achieve your goal for the season. Compared to some athletes in the field my times were slow and ordinary, but for me they represented a step in the right direction, a massive improvement on where I was at this time last year and a large step towards where I want to be. It is important at times like this to not distract yourself with how fast the guy who won is, but instead to focus on how far you have come as an athlete and an individual and that in turn provides satisfaction in racing and reward for the hard effort that you put in. Looking forward to the next race with the Racepace team in Keswick this weekend now!