Leeds Triathlon

Rachel Cliff

A few months before I discovered Racepace, I’d entered the Leeds Triathlon. I’d completed a sprint and a sprint plus distance previously and I wanted to try my hand at a standard distance. Leeds is fairly local to me and the race was convenient timing wise, so I entered it; there was nothing more scientific than that.

However, since starting with Racepace my focus has been on duathlon in preparation for my first Age-Group international event that is fast approaching. I’d kept the date in the diary as I still wanted to tick off a standard triathlon and knew it would still be great practice in terms of the bike and run sections under race conditions. Although I’ve been ticking over my swimming, it has not been a primary focus and so I’ve plenty of room for improvement!

Given the above, in the weeks prior to the event I’d been playing it down in my own head. I would use it as another experience and to have a practice race ride on the TT bike that I’ve been fortunate enough to have been lent, but nothing more than that…..  

HOWEVER, come the week of the event, my race switch turned on. I found myself recceing the city centre loop of the run course one lunch time and going for an open water swim in rather biblical conditions one evening after work.  Clearly one of the principles I have learnt from Racepace, “prepare, in order to enjoy” has sunk in.

Race Day

It was an early start on the Sunday as my wave was starting at 8.15am. I was aiming to get to the Roundhay Park at 6.30am at the very latest as I knew everything thing would be spread out in terms of parking, registration, bag drop and transition and I wanted good time to familiarise myself with the key transition areas of the course. Unfortunately, with the road closures and lack of diversion signs I didn’t arrive until just after 7.10am and the next hour was all a bit stressful. Although I didn’t get to establish myself as thoroughly as I’d hoped, I was able to look at the bike mount and dismount line and was fortunate that a white line on the grass and a particular hoarding placement were obvious markers for finding my transition spot pre and post ride, so I saved valuable time in establishing those.

Swim

Although I arrived at the lake a bit flustered, I was able to gather myself during the athlete briefing and focus on the event ahead.

A field of over 60 ladies in my age category getting into the water at the same time is nothing I’ve experienced before but, I was ready and it didn’t faze me. I got comfortable in the water, the horn went and then the melee started!

I knew that there would be bumps and knocks from the other open water triathlon I’d done, but equally in that event I’d placed myself in space near the back.  This time everyone set off in a line and so it was completely different. I got battered quite a lot, but I stayed strong, tried to get into a rhythm and focussed on breathing. Annoyingly I had to adjust my goggles a couple of times but used that as an opportunity to sight and find space. My aim was to try and do a large majority in front crawl with only short stretches in breaststroke so not to tire my legs and I was pleased with how I handled it. I knew that swimmers from later start waves would eventually catch me, but again I was prepared for that. In fact I knew I was doing ok as it took longer to see different coloured swim caps pass me than I thought it would.

Eventually, I arrived at the blue matting and no doubt clambered elegantly out! It was a long stretch to the bike racks and I jogged at a steady and comfortable pace to allow my body to adjust and recover for the bike ride. I seemed to get my wetsuit off fairly easily and although my hands were a bit numb to fasten my helmet I remained calm and managed to overtake a fair number of athletes in the transition area. 

It was both slippery and crowded running on the blue matting with my bike to the mount line but I resisted being rushed by others. However, I arrived at the line to a scene of chaos. It was at the bottom of an incline and so many riders were starting off in completely the wrong gear. I’d already decided I would run up the incline into space and was pleased with that plan as, when jogging past, one rider fell off his bike and took at least 2-3 other riders with him. This possibly did distract me slightly as although I ran past into space, I didn’t run far enough on to a completely flat section and got on too soon, failing to execute a strong push off. Although this was a slight mistake, I was relieved that I hadn’t been knocked down and concentrated on the ride ahead.

Bike

I was incredibly excited by this. I’ve been learning to ride the TT bike for around two months and have been pleased with my improvements in this time, but this was the test I had been waiting for. Could I control it and ride it safely in race conditions? I also wanted to practise fuelling and drinking on it race conditions too. Without going into too much detail, I absolutely loved the ride. There was of course plenty of room for improvement as the conditions with the sheer number of riders didn’t make for riding it as smoothly as I would have liked throughout. The dead turns were crowded and on the descents I didn’t have the confidence to pass riders who had veered into the middle of the road. However there were some great stretches where I could remain in aero and practice my technique (and be very fast). It was a two lap course and my second lap felt so much better than the first; the advantage of familiarity and being able to rectify mistakes I hadn’t pre-empted on the first lap. I was passing so many riders and only a handful passed me so that spurred me on further.

I was pleased with my general decision making too – when to drink, when to fuel and when to get my feet out of my shoes before dismount and all these went smoothly.

The only thing that did disappoint was nearly getting taking out by somebody as I was coming towards the hill down to the dismount line; he’d headed into a dead turn and realised he’d gone the wrong way and simply just cut across me as I was funnelling down. I bellowed to warn him and he shouted back, “Just chill out”, which didn’t sit well with me.

My dismount wasn’t perfect either but again it was chaotic around the line and although I tried to stay focussed I was a little distracted. It was more a case of survival. The blue mat back into the bike racks felt even more treacherous and so I took it easy and slowed myself down, completing a safe transition.

Run

As I set off on my run, one of the stewards said “well done” to me. I looked over and smiled and I then saw someone else with a camera smiling at me. I returned the smile and then spotted it was my coach Rodger. Given the location and early start, I had no expectation for him to be there and so it was a massive surprise (Little did I know he’d been stalking me all morning!)

However, I still had 10km to go and focussed on what I knew I had to do. Level 1 at the start, into Level 2 and then once flowing and steady up it to 10km pace. I’d been practising keeping good form in the previous week and so was trying to maintain that. The run started off with a slight climb and then I knew there was a large downhill stretch before a flat section into the city centre. I stretched out on the downhill section as I knew my strength on that would make up time on the others where my flat speed was not as quick. 

I felt I managed the run very well. Rodger had requested that I didn’t wear my Garmin watch for the race and the freedom of running without this and pacing myself on feel was liberating.

Having recced the city centre loop in the week, I was able to manage my final push for when I arrived in the city centre and put in a strong all out there finish. I even (somewhat meanly) resisted high fiving my family who had come into Leeds to watch me finish; it was great to see them though and their shouts of encouragement, as well as Rodger’s, really spurred me on to put an big finish sprint past a fair few other competitors – the finishing line announcer even warning one runner I was catching her. 

And so ticked off - First standard triathlon complete.

Although it’s not an event that I would rush to do again due to its busy nature at certain pinch points, I had a lot of experiences and learnt so much over the course of the race. In summary: 

  • I was pleased with my performance and felt I managed myself well, particularly with the freedom of being gadget-less;

  • It’s another race under my belt and it was the first big test since a nasty bout of flu last month (mentally this was a big step for me). Other than having a moment of sickness from the gels on the bike and a muscle twitch as I was doing the last city centre loop, my body held up;

  • I achieved a respectable time of 2 hour 43mins (although I realise that in itself is completely course/condition dependent) and I came 16th in my age category in the British Championships; and

  • Most importantly (other than the smiles of my kids when I finished), I very much enjoyed testing myself in such conditions and getting more race experience (the first on the TT) to take forward to my next challenge.

Onwards and upwards …

Leeds Triathlon