My final multi-sport race of the (small but fun) 2020 season was the Tough Runner Cotswolds Sprint Duathlon, taking place at Sudeley Castle where we were fortunate enough to have fantastic weather – bonus! I never actually got to see the castle, but from Google Images it looked lovely… and its grounds and surrounding countryside and villages were beautiful.
This duathlon had slightly strange distances: 5k run, 18k bike, 5k run (compared to the usual sprint distances of 5k run, 20k bike, 2.5k run) – so on paper it didn’t really play to my strengths being predominantly running, but it was another chance to race and lot’s of fellow Spa Striders were also taking part, so I couldn’t really resist missing out!
As with all the recent races, there were lots of Covid measures in place to keep everyone safe including a rolling start with an automated (and extremely loud) beep going off every 30 seconds – a noise which seemed to stick with me throughout the race! Plus, transition was a ‘no time zone’ to allow people to properly social distance without any time pressures. Which meant it wouldn’t be added to your overall time, so you could literally spend as much time as you wanted in there which was going to be strange!
Leading up to the race, there were so many discussions amongst fellow striders about footwear choice – with the route being a mix of trail and road, and the recent wet weather adding in a risk of mud - should we wear trail or road shoes!? I eventually decided to go with road shoes with the justification being that I need the additional support on the road and I can manage slip sliding through the small muddy patch, but I would take the trail shoes just in case. Well… whilst listening to the commentator pre-race (who was extremely Welsh – which made us all think about Gavin and Stacey quotes whilst there!), she kept drawing attention to the fact that we were all going to get muddy… queue a quick last minute shoe change minutes before my start time (thank goodness it was a duathlon, otherwise my shoes would have been in transition!).
The route itself was a really tough double lapper - undulating and yes there was mud and lots of squidgy grass sections which really sapped your energy. It was also definitely longer than 5k! However, the constant variety meant I was never ‘bored’ and it kept me going when it got tough - I had forgotten how hard duathlons were… and why I had recently moved to triathlons to remove one of the runs! I really tried my hardest to keep my form and not let my cadence drop too much, and I came back fairly pleased with my average pace considering the lumps and bumps.
The bike course, apart from a steep climb out from the castle access road, was a fast and furious out and back route which I loved. As we started in waves based on alphabetical ordered surnames, I was one of the last to start which meant I had lots of people to chase down (if only I was this competitive when I was running…). I just focused on gradually picking people off one by one and keeping my power up. I later found out I had the third fastest female bike split, so pretty pleased with that!
The final run was tough, my legs felt like lead and my pace frustratingly dropped – but the main thing going through my mind was foot. Having sprained it during the triathlon last Sunday, I had taken the whole week off to let it recover in the hope it would be OK for today. So I was relieved that I managed to get through most of the race with it only starting to become sore in the last ~2km.
Overall, I finished 8th female and 2nd in my age group – if only my running was as strong as my cycling! To be fair, it was only a few years ago I was targeting a sub 25min 5k and my first park run back after returning to running following my elbow fracture I did in 30mins… so improvements have been made – I just need to make even more!!
All in all, a well organised race (if a little pricey… but racing is racing in this Covid world!) and made even better being able to see fellow Striders for the first time in what feels like forever!
The soggiest race I have ever done!
Warwickshire Sprint Triathlon, organised by UK Triathlon and taking place at Stratford Leisure Centre, was going to be my (and my mums!) final triathlon of the (very short) season. However, the day before the race I was doubtful it would even be going ahead!
As the race was taking place just down the road, we had the opportunity to go and register the day before to enable us to get our numbers and stickers etc. ready and reduce the stress on race morning. However, on the way there as we drove along sections of the bike route the impact Storm Alex was having on the area became apparent - flooded roads, debris everywhere.... not really ideal conditions for a triathlon! We registered regardless, and that evening I kept checking my emails and on social media expecting to see 'Race Cancelled' - but to my surprise it never appeared.
Throughout the night, the rain continued, and it didn't show any signs of stopping as we arrived on site on race morning. It was going to be a soggy one that was guaranteed, but it wasn't quite the only element of excitement that was going to happen...
Not only was it peeing it down, but it was also freezing at 8 in the morning whilst I was racking up. I suffer from mild Reynaud's, so took the decision to put a jacket and gloves (inside a plastic bag) in transition to put on for the bike - I was hoping the jacket would prevent a bit of wind chill and the gloves would keep my hands warm enough so I could actually undo my helmet (an experience I don't want to repeat!).
Having successfully set up my transition area to prevent as much of my kit getting soaked as I could, I then realised I had forgotten a crucial item - my Garmin mount!! I had left it on my road bike, having used it with clip on TT bars, and so I had no way to attach my Garmin to my TT bike.... nightmare. Nothing I could about it, with only 15 mins until I was swimming, so had to bite the bullet and accept I would be riding blind - no data, no concept of speed or power! Tim my coach reassured me by saying it could be a blessing in disguise as the key focus should be staying upright in such wet slippery conditions and not be influenced by target power and speed chasing - very true!
For me, this swim was going to be a real indication of how well my elbow has healed and strengthened since my accident at the beginning of the year, as I knew my time from last years race (at my peak swim fitness) and so could easily compare. Fortunately, with the Covid measures it meant we were set off at bigger intervals than normal (30 seconds) so there was only about 2 people per lane and so I had a fairly decent run, only having to overtake one lady. Only silly error was mishearing the starter say 'Go' so probably cost me about 5 seconds - oops! To my surprise I got the EXACT same time as last year! Wonky elbow is back fighting fit!
Turns out, putting on a jacket and gloves onto a wet body takes longer than you think... looking at finish times, I think I added an extra minute onto my T1 time costing me two places. Was it worth it - I don't know - for all I know I could have cramped up with the cold had I not worn the jacket and gloves.... might test out not wearing layers at my next race just to see how I get on! I won't know unless I try!
The actual bike leg went OK and despite how soggy it was I still really enjoyed it! I managed to stay upright and navigate my way through the various patches of flooded roads, one of which was almost over my feet, which was the primary goal! I also almost wanted to ditch my glasses (worn to try to prevent the wind chill making my eyes water) part way round as without in-built windscreen wipers, they were pretty useless and I could barely see a thing, but decided against it knowing they are quite expensive! I was however slightly disappointed with my overall time, and it has proved how reliant I am on seeing my power and speed in front of me to push me into the pain zone - I clearly just pootle along without my Garmin!
Back into T2 and I realised my 'waterproof' jacket was completely wet through so thought I best ditch it before the run - a stupid mistake that was as it got stuck over my watch and took ages to get off - doh!
Once I had finally got my jacket and gloves off I headed out onto the run course to be greeted by mud and more floods to wade through - it also was still chucking it down! The course itself was an out and back (twice), starting off along a grass/mud track and then onto a tarmac path alongside the river. Sinking into the saturated grass made for tough running, and frustratingly, part way through I managed to roll my foot on some uneven ground in the grassy section (the same one I did earlier on in the year) - I felt it twinge but knew I didn't have long left so tried to ignore it and kept pushing on. In addition, for some reason throughout the run I also just couldn't relax and get my breathing under control - rather than nice deep efficient breaths, I felt as though I was using about 10% of my lung capacity with tiny super fast breaths - almost like hyperventilating! Not at all efficient!
So it was no surprise my run time wasn't quite what I had in mind - but all good things to take away and improve upon for next time!
Despite the conditions, it was still a really enjoyable race and I finished 9th overall lady (out of field of over 100), and 2nd in my age group! It was my first 'cold and wet' race, so there are lots of learning points to take away for next time too.
Also a massive shout out to my mum who also raced and absolutely smashed it to finish 2nd in her age group too! And my friend Verity who had a stonker of a race to finish 1st in our age group (not jealous at all you get the trophy....lol)
And finally, a big shout out to coach Tim (Catenary Coaching) who has been supporting me all year to help get my bike and run fitness back post injury (I don't think I have ever been as fit!), and also Jade (Aura Triathlon Coaching) who has recently helped me improve my swim fitness in a really short space of time! Thank you!
Think it might take another week to fully dry out and warm up!!
Thank you to the race organisers, UK Triathlon, for putting on a great race despite the biblical conditions - particularly the marshals stood out in the freezing rain for hours!
An everyday girl with a love of competition (and nut butter)