And so, the final triathlon of this long season is complete. A full Olympic distance race at what seems to have become one of the homes of UK racing: Dorney Lake. As I mentioned before this was my fifth time at this venue, so I know it fairly well by now.
That said, things did not start brilliantly. I had vague memories of the route being fairly easy from before, so did not bother with sat-nav. First mistake, as I missed the motorway exit, meaning I had to go through Slough to get there, which added another 10-15 mins. No big deal normally, but despite the fact I was in the first race of the day, the place seemed packed by the time I got there.
The layout of the car park means you have a good 2o minute walk from the car to registration, the majority of it being along the run course (in fact my car was parked just by the turning marker). Now every other time I have been here you just walk straight in to collect your timing chip, etc, but for some reason today it was packed. With 40 mins to go until my wave set off I had a long looking queue ahead, and eventually realised it was because for the first time you now have to pay a separate £6 for day membership to British Triathlon. Understandable, but annoying and terribly organised, as people took longer to locate their change, plus people from later races were checking in early which just made the queue worse.
In the end I got through and into transition with about 20 mins to spare – long enough to set up but not exactly relaxing, and no chance to visit the facilities first either. Fortunately I knew the site well, so did not have to spend long planning my transition, but I am sure for others it will really not have helped.
Swim – 33.14
Not my best time ever here, but not my worst either. Energy wise I was fine, and I even managed to avoid any whacks despite my wave being fairly busy. The water was fairly warm for a change (18.1 degrees) although as a result seemed fairly murky. I think this led to my main problem, in that my trusty Aquasphere goggles, which I have used for every race here before, fogged up really badly to the point where I could only see a short distance in front. Combined with this the sun came out on the reverse lap, which meant visibility was even worse with clear lenses. The problem with this is that it becomes a lot harder to swim in a straight line (i.e. most efficiently) and I have a feeling an aerial photo of my route would look a bit like our own spaghetti junction. As a result I probably lost a minute or two going off track and stopping to check where I was like some sort of aquatic meerkat!
T1 – 3.17
Not too bad, in that with the warmer water at least I had some dexterity left in the old paws. No major dramas, and off on the bike…
Bike – 1.34.57
This leg involves a fairly unexciting 8 laps of the lake / river, around and around and around and so on. The first few laps were pretty quiet as it was only my wave on the bike route, but it got a bit more interesting after a few when the next races started to finish their swims. As always there was some wind on the course, but for a change you were riding into it during the second half on the return, rather than the way out. The laps tend to blur into one, but fortunately my lovely wife was cheering me on and counting down the laps each time I passed, which helped me keep going to the end.
In theory this is a very safe course, being on private property and car free, so none of the near misses with lorries I experienced in the Peaks. That said however, it seems to mean bikers go even crazier then usual. The path is fairly wide so there is room to get past people, but some care if required. At one point I was overtaking someone (who must have been going incredibly slowly if I was passing) and at the same time another rider decided to take me. As if that was not enough, behind we heard the telltale grinding sound of a disc wheeled missile, and while we were all in a line a fourth guy flew past at the speed of light – a triple overtake! Fortunately it all went ok, but as I was later packing up I heard a a marshal on his radio and an ambulance had come to take away someone with a suspected broken leg, in that exact same point…
There is one spot that always gets me on this bike route, about halfway round between a set of gates. The first year I did this race I dropped one of my bike gloves (I had them in my back pocket after deciding I would not use them), the second year I dropped some energy sweets I had on me, and the third time my water bottle when I missed the rack. This time did not disappoint, in that whilst trying to adjust my race belt one of the poppers that clips the number on flew off and into the grass, never to be seen again and most likely resulting in me needing a new one for next year. Still, it could be worse as I saw someone had dropped a pair of red sunglasses in the same spot, so clearly an equipment graveyard!
I am pretty impressed with the consistency here, in that my time works out at exactly 12 minutes per lap, which was pretty much spot on my expectations. The biggest difference was clearly having my road bike as opposed to the mountain bike in the others, which added around 2 or 3 minutes per lap and was really noticeable in my legs. I am still not convinced I am using the gears as efficiently as I could be, but overall the bike did a great job with no mechanical issues and the pedals clipping in nicely.
T2 – 1.28
Most of this involves wheeling in the bike and racking it. I only changed my shoes which took about 15 seconds, and then off again. I went for my lightweight trainers with velcro straps, which are dead quick to put on but offer a bit less support, and with hindsight perhaps I should have gone for comfort over speed…
Run – 58.02
As above, this is not the most exciting run in the world: 4 laps of 2.5 km up along the lake, around a marker and then back again. Still, the lack of scenery is made up for by some great support, and particularly as you approach the turn there are hundreds of people cheering you on, kids giving high-fives, and so on, which really helps keep you going.
The run is on concrete, and by the time I reached this point my legs were fairly shot, so the first lap at least was more of a hobble. From there on I switched to the more sporty shuffle, a kind of way of halfway between a walk and run. If you can’t picture what I am talking about get down to a triathlon and you will see what most people are doing. But as with my last race, the main thing was I did not actually walk for any of this part, although I am not convinced I actually went any faster. In fact this was probably the slowest 10 km I have done, but in the end I was so pleased with the earlier part I was not that bothered.
Finish – 3.24.06 placing 316 out of 340 competitors
Considering I managed to take a whole half hour off my time from two years ago I have to be happy with this outcome. As I suspected, not having a mountain bike made a massive difference, but I would like to think that being a bit fitter and race experience played its own part. I could probably have taken 10 mins or so off on the run, and with some more practice the bike will come down, but overall it was well inside my target time of 3.5 hours. I even managed to beat a few of the relay teams, which was something of an achievement considering they were only doing the race in sections.
Build Up & Admin ***
This is usually a really well organised event, and in previous years I would have been pushing for a maximum score, but unfortunately the issue with registering knocks things down. A shame, as other than that the event itself was as slick as usual, and the marshals, photographers and other assorted helpers were all great.
Course & Scenery **
In other years this was all I had to base my experience on, but having competed in some fantastic locations around the Peak District and Midlands this year has made it all the more apparent how plain this race is. Somewhere between the 6th & 7th lap of the bike leg you do start to loose the will to live! The flat course feels a bit like a training ground, and the route is not hugely inspiring going in loop after loop. That said…
Atmosphere & Support ****
… This is where they win their money back, as it always has a fantastic atmosphere, with thousands of supporters and competitors giving you encouragement as you race around. It really does make all the difference, and I have to make a special mention again of my wife for having the patience to watch me go around and around, and keep cheering me on with a smile every time I passed.
And that is it for the triathlon season: time to hang up the wetsuit and get out the turbo for some indoor bike training. But no rest for the wicked, as the Chile Challenge (literally) marches on, with over 1000 km to go. Next stop is the Birmingham Half Marathon at the end of October, so time to get practicing some more runs and see how much I can take off last years time!