This would be the fourth time I’d competed at the National Watersport Centre at Holme Pierrepont in Nottingham, so I know the venue reasonably well.
With excellent weather forecast, and a camp site literally 100m from the transition area, we decided to have a family weekend camping trip and packed the tent. Bike racking on the Sunday morning of the race was between 5am and 6am, so I preferred to be close by rather than having to travel from a hotel at that ungodly hour!
So like the rest of the campsite, we were tucked up in our tent nice and early, with the alarm set for 4.45am. I woke to a glorious morning, not a cloud in the sky. After a quick breakfast, I headed down to rack my bike. After setting everything ready for later, I headed back to the campsite for more cups of tea, and to get myself ready for the race.
I was off in the last wave of the day at 7am, which comprised of the over 50’s men and women. We were called forward and got into the water with about 6 or 7 minutes to go. I was pleasantly surprised by the temperature of the water, but I also suddenly reminded of the duck poo and general murkiness of the lake. Nevermind, it wouldn’t kill me!!
I positioned myself in the middle of the waiting swimmers and tried to think calm positive thoughts. Anybody who knows me is well aware of my general ambivalence about swimming, but I have worked hard this winter to get my head in a happy place about being in the water, so I wanted that to translate into a good swim. As soon as the swim started, I lost my happy thoughts, and remembered the old “god I hate this” ones, which wasn’t really in the race plan. Having said that, I got going and did a bit of breaststroke so that at least I was moving forward. After a couple of hundred meters, I found my mojo a bit, and started to relax and got my front crawl going again. From then on, the swim got much better as I got into a steady rhythm.
As I exited the swim, I glanced up at the clock on the building opposite, and thought, “oh bugger that took me about 50mins” to swim 1900m, which was longer than I had hoped, but at least, after a rocky start, it went OK.
Into transition, and off with my wetsuit – laughing a little to myself that I actually got it off “properly” and thinking Rodge would have been pleased about that! Out onto the bike course, thinking to myself that I’ve got work to do here now, but also conscious not to get carried away too soon.
The bike course is fast and rolling, and well suited to me. There is only one climb, and it’s not particularly steep or long. I concentrated on riding fast at every opportunity and passed lots of people. I was feeling great, and having a lot of fun.
I hit the climb up Oxen Bank and was a little concerned as two ambulances whizzed past with sirens blazing, a lady nearby commented “that doesn’t look good”, and I agreed. I crested over the top, and was starting to build up some speed for the descent when suddenly everything ground to a halt. There had been a serious crash in the race, and the police were stopping any cyclists from progressing.
So, I waited, hoping that, of course, the injured cyclist was OK, but also watching all the cyclists I’d already passed gather behind me, and watching the clock tick by. After I had been there about half an hour, the injured athlete was taken away in the ambulance, with everybody hoping for his speedy recovery.
An official for the race appeared and told everybody that the police were not re-opening the road, and that we would have to turn around and go back the way we came to the bottom of Oxen Bank, take a left turn, and then hopefully there would be marshals in place to guide us back to the bike course. So with lots of jokes about drafting penalties, we set off as a big group of 100+ riders back the way we came. As the group started to split up, I decided that although my race was over in regard of getting a good time or finishing position, I still wanted to “race” and try to do my best all the way to the end.
The crash had happened at about 23 miles into the 56 mile bike course. As the course progressed, and we’d been re-routed back onto the later part of the course, I noticed that I was pretty much riding completely alone – often startling marshals at junctions whose attention had drifted. There were a few stragglers from previous waves, but due to the long delay, there were scarcely any other riders on the course. It felt a bit surreal and weird to be riding on your own but in a race.
I finally arrived back to T2, gave a wave to reassure the family, who were getting a bit anxious about my whereabouts, and headed out onto the run. By this time it was in the middle of the day and the conditions were hot. The run offered only one section of shade along the tow path of the river Trent, the rest of it being out along the river or round the lake. Luckily there were loads of wet sponges, and cold drinks, so I found my pace and dug in for the 13.1 mile run.
I finally crossed the finish line with a time of 6hours and 27mins. I had been hoping to match my previous time from 2015, but I lost out by 31minutes. But I took heart from the fact that I was stationary for 27minutes of the bike leg, and the diversion added 2.4miles to the route, so I was there or thereabouts.
You never know how a race is going to go, and at the end of the day, somebody got badly injured, and needed urgently medical attention. That has to take priority over everything else, and I hope he recovers well, to race another day ...