In classic post race fashion I’m writing the full race report at about 4:30 in the morning. I’ve yet to have a good night’s sleep following a major race. Given our journey begins in a couple of hours it doesn’t do much harm. Hopefully I’ll grab some sleep on the bus or the plane.
The goals for this race were a little unclear in my mind. Look at my Schedule page and you’ll see I stated ‘aiming for the podium in this one.’. Follow the blog over the past few weeks and you’ll also know I didn’t plan to taper at one point. A counter-productive choice to the original goal.
As chance would have it fatigue and poor time management resulted in one of the more extreme tapers I’ve taken. By race morning I’d logged 40 minutes cycling, 20 minutes running and no swimming in the previous four days! To say I felt poorly prepared as I floated at the start line would be an understatement.
Race morning begins with breakfast kindly laid on early by the hotel. Cold meats, cheese, honey, nutella and German rye bread formed the back bone of mine. As with the day before nerves drove me to eat more than I needed and I finished feeling stuffed! All I could hope was three hours was enough to digest it!
After that it was a couple of final checks of gear and in to town to rack up. The GB Team was there early and as is always the case transition setup took no time. Not that you want to leave it to the last minute and chance having problems. In civilised fashion a large cafe was open right by race start. Rob and I sat on comfy chairs and enjoyed proper coffees as we waited for our race to begin. A relaxing contrast to the nerves I was feeling.
I’d shifted my priorities back to tapering and performing and as a result race anxiety had built up. I wasn’t just turning up loaded with excuses for an average performance. I knew I had a very large block of quality training behind me and this was the test. Whatever else came of the day I wanted to know how my Kona prep was going, particularly with the run.
Well fed and suitably caffeinated I entered the water five minutes before the start. For a warm up I was going to take a long route to my start point and be done with that. As planned I lined up in the middle of the field just one row back. This would prove to be a terrible choice and result in the biggest race start dunking I’ve had.
When the gun went the guys in front of me spent a couple of seconds starting their watches. As we were off I was suddenly pushed under. At first a little surprised I assumed it was just a bunch of swimmers piling into me. When I didn’t resurface immediately I became increasingly concerned. Attempts to swim revealed that the low hanging rope that marked the start line had got pulled down into the water and I was under it!
I extricated myself from the problem, surfaced, caught a breath and got on with swimming again. By now I wasn’t with any of the swimmers I’d hoped to be with. The long 1800m to the first turn buoy opened up the field quickly and there was plenty of opportunity for me to make up ground through clear water. Other than those initial moments the swim was an uneventful affair.
Returning to the shore was a challenge with the sun full in our faces. Small groups of us inefficiently zig-zagged between buoys all the way back. I managed to build into a very comfortable pace and found a few small groups to draft of us. Overall I wasn’t too disappoint with the swim time of 1:04 for 115th. It tells me what I already knew – go work on the swim more.
Damp grass made transition slippery. I ran past my bag, skidded to a halt and had to dash back. From there I made a more cautious ascent up to the change tent and quickly got my wetsuit off. I’d brought along the 2Toms Sportshield to help with the process and just like in New Zealand a liberal application to arm and legs made a big difference.
Out onto the bike and I felt surprisingly good for this early in the race. We weaved through the town until we hit the first big climb of the day. It was a nasty one too leaving you under no illusions about what was to come. The 27 cog was quickly in use and soon I was out the saddle too grinding my way up. Five minutes into the bike and there were some athletes walking the hill!
Much of the first 30km of the lap continued the steepness theme. We’d switch from nice fast downhills and flats to sharp inclines in a matter of moments. This was a race that required good use of all your gears. I didn’t get any easier the further you went either. Perhaps the steepness declined a little, but there was plenty of climbing to do.
Tim Bishop drew up besides me during one of the early climbs and we briefly chatted about our training since Lanzarote, how hard the hills were and the incredible pace some people were attacking them with. A lot of people would be paying on the run today I thought. Not being a great technical rider and generally nervous around descents Tim lost me shortly after that.
I’ve spoken about the importance of pacing before and build my race plan around a sensible pacing strategy. I’ll be honest that there were times I doubted it. As rider’s came hammering by I repeatedly had to remind myself they’d pay for over doing the hills early on. Maintaining the confidence in your performance and abilities is tough when the current evidence suggests otherwise!
With such a consistently varied course the key was not pushing the hills too hard. Using the lowest gear and maintaining a steady pace up them. Not always easy, but I strived to keep my heart rate under 150BPM on each climb. The rule was no attacking on the first lap, but if you feel good on the second push. I was relying on feeling stronger as the bike went on.
Sure enough it happend and as I returned to Immenstadt on lap one I felt strong. The last 15km into town threw in a bonus with a more rolling profile and headwind it was prime time trialling territory and I pushed. I carried the momentum back into town and straight up that steep hill at the lap start. This time crowds lined the road cheering you on noo chance to hold back the heart rate!
The second shorter bike lap took in the earlier tougher portion of the first lap. Plenty of nasty little climbs which were clearly starting to bite. As I’d planned I was feeling stronger and started powering up the climbs and worrying less about heart rate. A little voice in the back of my head reminded me that you could still blow things at this point in the race. A second voice reminded me if I wanted a chance to podium I needed to be pushing.
Despite the early doubts all the riders who passed me earlier came back again and I was able to push even harder on the rolling section into town. It was satisfying to have ultimately stuck to the pacing plan and to have got a decent result off the back of it. I hit transition with a 4:09 bike about the 62nd fastest bike on the day. Certainly not a bad performance on a tough course, but an indicator that the bike needs attention pre-Kona.
I dashed through transition nervous that maybe I’d overdone it on the bike, perhaps I’d not be able to run that well. The run was the big test, this was where I wanted to see the results. Had the weight loss and miles paid off? Shoes were on in no time and I grabbed a Biestbooster from my bag to give it a try.
Whilst they say nothing new on race day I’d decided it’d be the perfect time to test out this product from one of my new supporters. It’s a combination of colostrum with a lot of guarana designed to give you a lift during racing and training. After that bike and with 30km of running ahead I figured a lift was just what I needed. It’s a little bigger and chalkier than I’d expected, but with some aid station water went down fine.
I pushed out onto the course and was soon feeling good. When I hit the 1km mark I was startled by the time 4:08 was faster than expected, but felt easy. I lectured myself about the pacing plan and tried to settle into a more conservative pace. I felt good though and the going wasn’t too hard. I made the choice to stick with things and see how I felt.
I’d counted four GB athletes ahead. With no age group markings it was impossible to judge my race position so I set myself the target of moving up the GB ranks. I knew at the least Tim Bishop would be a challenge, but that’s what this run would be about.
Somewhere on the first lap a pro coming to the end of his race went past. I stuck with him and soon found myself rapidly turning over the kilometres. It was a pleasant surprise to find I could so easily hold this pace. The lack of fatigue in my legs and the ease of running was something I’d not experienced in a long time. Whilst I was nervous that at any moment this could go I was building confidence that my recent training had done the job.
One thing I became very aware of was I was not focussing enough on nutrition. Not wanting to risk a mistake over the distance I ensured I grabbed some gels at the next aid station and started to top up energy levels. Despite passing through 14km in 1 hour I didn’t really feel I was going that hard and similarly didn’t feel that depleted. I made a conscientious effort to feed as I knew the feeling could turn at any moment.
When I hit 15km I was in a little bit of a lull. For a while another athlete had sat on my shoulder agitating me by keeping pace. I’d worried he might push me to the line until I heard how hard he was breathing to keep up. One small rise and he was gone, but I’d been unfocussed during that period and felt I’d eased a little. I remembered my plan to push from 15km and feeling the need to live up to my advice pushed.
At first it wasn’t too impressive I don’t think I can claim I pushed properly until the final 10km loop. Something about having the last lap band helped urge me on and I picked up the pace. Despite growing stomach discomfort (I’d definitely eaten too much the day before!) I forced down a final gel. I was a little concerned I’d not eaten enough by now and afraid of bonking before the line. I should have more conviction in my own plans!
I’d successfully moved up the field with my run so far and whilst I still had no idea where it placed me in my age group I moved up to second placed Brit in the last four kilometres. Just Tim up the road and I knew the chances of catching him now were largely gone. It was all about a good finish time I kept building the pace taking places and always surging past competitors desperate to avoid a battle to the line.
Right in the last 500m I passed one final competitor, grabbed a flag and dashed round the stadium determined not to be caught. I crossed the line in an overall time of 7:27 good for 27th overall age grouper and as it turned out 6th in my age group. There was some impressive competition out there from the Germans in particular. It’s amazing to see how strongly they bike. I was pleased to have made second Brit over the line and even more to discover my 2:08 run was the 9th fastest age group run of the day
Overall it was a great result. I did want to medal, but I wasn’t at the standard necessary. I pushed myself hard all day and had a good race. From the perspective of Kona it’s a great sign that the training is working. I felt great on the run and think I can progress a bit more by October. More importantly I can see that it’s time for more bike focus now and to try and raise my standards there.
I always enjoy racing for the GB Team there’s a good sense of camaraderie even if sometimes when you say ‘Go Team GB’ you’re also thinking ‘but not too fast’! This is the first time I’ve raced on the team and actually felt I’ve put in a performance worthy of the team and event. Hopefully I’ll have more opportunities to race like that in the future, there’s still that medal to chase.