Another weekend, another race completed! Not only was this a new race for me, but a new race altogether, so it was great to be involved in the inaugural Peak District Triathlon, set in the picturesque grounds of Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. One thing about racing is that whilst it is good to compete in local races, you also have the chance to enter events all over the country and explore new areas. This one happened to be 30 minutes away from my in-laws in Sheffield, meaning as well as having my wife to support me (and take loads of fantastic photos) I also had the parents in law as well, so a 3 strong squad to keep me motivated!
Of course being involved in a new race has both up and downsides to it and it would be fair to say there were a few teething issues with this one of which more later, but all in all the day went pretty well.
750m Swim – 16.01
I was really keen to see how this part would go, being my first ever river swim. The main benefit of this format is that you are forced to swim in a relatively straight line, so you don’t accidentally end up drifting miles of course as you can do in a lake. On the other hand, it can be a bit of a squeeze…
The route involved swimming up the river one way, then turning at a buoy and heading back towards the start. With 8 waves at 15 minute intervals and people averaging 15-20 minutes to complete the course, the packs were relatively well spread out, but typically as each group set off, the previous lot were heading back right at them. Whilst the aim was to stay to the left of the buoys, anyone who has been involved in a swim like this will know it is not easy to know exactly where you are, and watching the early starters from the bridge above, it was a bit like that level on Mario Kart where you have to drive into the oncoming traffic – a great one for head on collisions! To add to this, the first buoy at around 100 m was fairly tight, and had a funneling effect, where the groups 6 or 7 people wide had to fit into a gap for 4 or 5, inevitably leading to even more carnage as shown below.
The water itself was also pretty different to the last few races I have done. After the Avenger’s balmy 21 degrees, this one was measured at just 16 degrees (and a few marshals mentioned that was at a push). Was it noticeable? As Churchill would say, Oh Yes. I was one of the first in on my wave and t was a lot tougher treading water in the few minutes before the hooter, so something of a relief when we got going. With most people around seeming fairly nervous I chanced my arm at starting at the front right, and it seemed to work – well I came out with all my original teeth anyway. The funnel effect was pretty noticeable as we were forced towards the bank, but at least there was no leg grabbing or any of that kind of thing, and we all made it through ok.
Around 250 metres in though I really started to feel rough, with tight ribs and some shoulder pain. I was not sure if it was the cold, or not breathing properly, but the next stretch up to the turning buoy was really painful. When I chanced a brief glance at my watch on the turn I realised why: the first digit was a 6, meaning I had really over paced myself, having expected to be more around the 8 minute mark at this stage. Whilst it was great that I was going fast, it was not a great idea with everything else to come, so I stepped off the gas a bit on the second leg and made it back to the pontoon (the far one in the above left picture) in just over 16 minutes. I later found this put me in the top third of the field for the day, so an even better result.
T1 – 6.05
Unfortunately that was not the end of it, and rather than strolling into T1, there was a 400 metre run across a gravel path and uncut grassy field. On a good day in my trainers I would be looking at a couple of minutes for this, but with bare feet, cold hands and trying to simultaneously strip off my wetsuit, it was a whole new challenge. I reckon the run took around half of the 6 minutes, and that sounds a more realistic outcome.
Given that I had just legged it over, I was practically dry by the time I got to my bike. The time could have been better, but I wanted to take on some fluids too, knowing I had quite a challenge coming up next.
20 km Bike – 54.34
Given that this was taking place in the middle of the Peak District I was expecting some hills, although after the evil Avenger bike course secretly hoping they would be nice and gentle… No such luck. My first mistake came the day before when we had to register for the race, which meant driving back to base along the bike course. The fact that the hill seemed to take ages even in my car was a warning sign, and by the time I reached the top (and turning point) I had it clocked at an 8 km straight climb. This was like King of the Mountains in Le Tour! It would be fair to say I was bricking it for the rest of the evening before.
The first stage of the course however involved leaving the estate grounds and negotiating a couple of potentially tricky roundabouts in full traffic. Fortunately it all went well, although when I finished the race I noticed a guy next to me in transition had a time penalty for unsafe entry into the main road, so clearly I had got a little lucky on my timing.
From then on I was into the climb, and miraculously it actually went really well. As most of my training has been either indoors on turbos and stationary bikes, or if not on fairly flat local roads, I have next to no experience on hills. As mentioned I had 4 massive hills in the Avenger which almost killed me, but to be fair in a 110 km race I felt less guilty about having to get off and push. Here in a 20 km event it was simply not an option.
Somehow thought I managed to get the bike into a decent gear and just keep pushing, with plenty of No Pain shouts from Duke in my head. Even more amazingly I actually managed to start overtaking others (bearing in mind in my last two races I barely saw anyone for 90% of the bike leg). The trip to the top of the hill took around 35 minutes, but was well worth it once up there, for some amazing views of the hills and valleys on either side. The sun even emerged for a brief few seconds, before going back into hiding.
A loop around a massive roundabout saw us commencing the descent. which might sound easy, but in a way was just as tricky as the way up. Yes there were a few lunatics zooming down like stinger missiles, but personally I was not keen on breaking my neck for this. I still went pretty quickly, and got down in under 15 minutes – less than half the time it took to go the other way. Going down also gave me a much better view of what was happening on the other side, and the other main issue with the course – traffic.
The problem is, this is the main (if not only) road between two sides of the district, so anyone needing to get around that day had to use it, and closing it was not an option. To combine that with 500+ cyclists of mixed ability is not a great combination, and you could really tell. On my way up I managed to stick close enough to the curb to allow cars past without causing too many issues, but on the way down I passed all sorts. Guys and girls literally pedaling at snail pace up the hill, followed by huge queues of cars, caravans, buses & lorries, most of whom seemed incapable of knowing how and when to overtake. This has the double effect of winding up the drivers so they take more dangerous chances, and intimidating the bikers into doing something daft like drifting over. Whilst I did not see any accidents, I would be amazed if there were none, and hopefully this will be taken into account next year.
Anyway, I managed to make it down unharmed in the end, and a few minutes of light rain was actually pretty welcome to cool me down. By the time I got back into the estate the crowd also seemed to have picked up (I assume not just for me but you never know) and it pushed me through into transition.
T2 – 2.00
Half of this time was probably having to do almost a complete circuit of the transition area to get to my spot. Typically I came in at the exact same moment as the guy next to me who was doing the relay, and his partner for the running leg seemed oblivious to me rolling in a few steps behind him and unable to slow down, causing me to crash past her with my bike (this may have explained why I overtook her about 500 m later even though she was on fresh legs!). Other than that this was basically a textbook changeover, and I was back out on the run in double quick time.
5 km Run – 31.55
After a long slog up and down the peaks, the last thing I fancied as I set off on foot was more hills. So obviously the run was exactly like the bike course, 2.5 km of pure uphill cross country running to the posh sounding ‘hunting tower’, and then back down again to the bottom. Deja vu. Naturally it involved more long grass, rabbit warrens, mud slides and miscellaneous hazards.
I am not actually sure which was tougher, going up or going down. Whilst descending sounds easier and quicker, you had to keep your eyes scanning the ground like a Terminator, as one misplaced step would likely see you on your ass. Funninly enough the thing that kept crossing my mind was John Candy’s line from Cool Runnings – “Your bones won’t break… No no no. They will shatter”. Somehow imagining myself in one of those full body casts cracked me up, and it probably scared the hell out of those on their way up to see a nutter with a maniacal grin charging at them at full pelt.
At the midway point the organisers were kind enough to provide the only snack station, decked out with a bottle of water and some Jaffa Cakes. At that point I was up for anything, having lost my energy gel from my back pocket on the way up the hill. Unfortunately these are not, for me, an ideal on the move feast. With my throat feeling like the Atacama Desert (no moisture for 100 years+) it instantly seemed to turn to dust and clog up my mouth, rendering me unable to breathe or speak for a few seconds. I then understood the drink combination, and washed it down, but I tell you this. If they had the evidence I uncovered there would have been no need for that biscuit vs cake court case all those years ago!
One thing I am really glad about is that I managed to do the whole thing, including the hills, without walking. This was a real personal achievement, and probably the thing I am most proud of from this race, as although it was short I really never thought I would be able to keep going the whole time. How I would have fared at Olympic distance I am not sure, but I like to think all the training I have put in this year has paid off.
Finish – 1.50.36, position 114 out of 165.
The finish chute was great, and as I was not the last to finish for a change, there were actually still people about to cheer me in, right down to the commentators doing their local radio style ad-libs. The best part though – the pint of beer (ok non-alcoholic) they kindly handed out on the line – the perfect way to re-hydrate. I will not be happy at future events if this is not a feature!
In terms of my performance, I can’t really compare it to the last Sprint Tri i did in Stratford, given that that had a shorter pool-swim, and flat bike and run courses. I was a lot happier with my place though, coming 114 out of 165 competitors, which is probably my best ever finish!
Good Bad &Weird
I have decided to use a slightly different rating scale this time (this is my blog!) as I wanted to highlight some of the best (and worst) things about this new race – who knows, they might even read this and take it on board.
- First up: the location. Chatsworth is a fantastic looking place, with immaculate buildings and grounds. We were fortunate enough to visit the day before to register on a really sunny day, and there are great looking fountains, lovely plants and all the decor and gold bling you would expect to see in somewhere occupied by a family who are not far of the front in line for the throne.
- There was also great support for the event, as not only were there all the normal family and friends who would come to a normal race, but all the curious visitors for the day too, many of whom had probably never seen anything like this. The bridge over the river meant there was good support for the swim, something which otherwise does not make for the most exciting viewing, and by the time I got to the run and finish there were loads of people cheering us on.
- My other pick is the goody bag! This is usually a disappointing pack of flyers with a token gel, but for this race there were all sorts of interesting samples, a really good quality technical t-shirt (compared to the usual wear once and throw away ones) and rather than a medal they have given free access to the professional photos, which you usually get charged around £5 each. The best bit though, as mentioned, was the pint on the finish line – I have seen pictures of people with these before but this was a first for me, and a perfect way to end the race. Nice work Xtra Mile!
- This is meant more as constructive criticism more than being too negative, but some areas could be improved. This was a new race, but the admin could have been better. We only received the final race details a week before the race (compared to at least a month in most others I have done) which made preparation a bit difficult. When we came to register the day before we had to pay £3 to park. Fair enough if we wanted to stay, but we were only there around 30 minutes…
- Also after the finish line the timing chips did not seem to have worked – unless I really did a 7 second 5 km – and there was a huge queue of people moaning to change theirs, and as I had timed myself I was not that bothered about hanging around to get mine fixed. Fortunately this must have been fixed and the online results are correct, but I guess I would have been more annoyed if I was in the running for a podium and prize.
- Finally, there was the hills! Not a lot to be done in this part of the world granted, but I am not sure the course was really suitable for novices as they prominently said in the advertising. This was a really major road, and at points it was dangerous for me, let alone people who had never done anything like this.
- Long Grass: This seems really picky, but I really can’t understand why they could not cut the grass into a path from the swim into T1 I am sure the sheep would have coped with the other 1000 acres on either side. It was at points almost knee deep, which is not really appropriate to run on with wet bare feet. Likewise parts of the run course had disguised rabbit holes and other traps, which as mentioned must have done a few people in on the way.
- Then there was the wetsuit dip. For some reason the estate insisted that all wetsuits had to be disinfected before anyone did the swim. The organisers seemed a bit embarrassed that this clearly came to them at the last minute, so everyone had to wash their suits in a wheelie bin filled with some cleaning fluid. Now particularly as a scuba diver, I am obsessive in keeping my kit clean – if you pay a lot for it you hardly leave it lying about – and I am sure I am not alone here. It might have been ok, if when we got in the river it had seemed clean, but it was pretty horrible, and if anything my wetsuit needed disinfecting afterwards!
- I have never done a race with temporary tattoos. It has always been stickers or just a permanent marker, but this one had them in. To be fair they went on fine, but you could not see them under your kit anyway, and they then seemed impossible to get off. Forget an Ironman tattoo, it looked like I would be number 522 for ever! More embarrassingly I forgot about them and then felt like a right twat when I went for a swim two days later and still had part of them on (although by then it looked more like 51 and a half!)