A few weeks ago the opportunity opened up to enter the summer version of the Herts Triathlon. It features both Sprint and Standard distances, with an open water swim in Stanborough Lake, a bike course in the surrounding villages and a run loop around the park. I raced this event back in May as my first OWS triathlon.
The weather leading up to the day was poor – wet and chilly, so I was a bit nervous about the bike section as there are quite a few roundabouts on the course and some narrow roads with fast downhill sections.
Add to this that I hadn’t managed great training since the London Triathlon and I had been away travelling with work during the week, I wasn’t feeling hugely optimistic about my performance. However I had two main goals for this event: to improve my OWS time and my run split. The latter of the two was a big goal as in training I can now easily run a sub-25 minute 5k and yet in all of my triathlons so far the best I’ve managed is 26 minutes.
Preparation and Setup
I managed to get up early (4:45am) for my standard breakfast of porridge, toast with honey and a mug of black coffee. It had been raining overnight and I had to strap my bike to the car in the rain. I got off a bit later than planned but made it down to the transition area by 06:30. Registration was a breeze and I had soon racked my bike and was ready to get my wet suit on.
This time around the sprint distance wave was to set off first, so I didn’t have lots of time to hang around.
It was an open water swim (750m), one loop of the lake, which I’m very familiar with now after swimming most Saturday mornings. This time I got in the water early to acclimatise (19 degrees reported temperature) and warm up. I posted myself on the left hand side near the front of the wave when the claxon went off.
The first 300m of the swim was horrendous, I couldn’t get away from the pack and was constantly swimming into legs wherever I went. I was taking on water and really struggling to get any rhythm. By the first turn I was really struggling but things thinned out a little and I managed to get a clear line on the second half and felt strong. In fact I started to pass a few swimmers and felt that I must be on for a fast swim time.
As I approached the swim exit I checked my watch – 16 minutes exactly – over 90 seconds faster than May so I was well pleased. After unzipping the top half of my wet suit I managed to run most of the 100m climb up to the transition area.
This went very well. Wetsuit came off quickly, a bit of faffing around with my socks and on with my bike shoes. I made a good call not to put on a cycling jersey and just race in my tri suit as it was definitely warm enough. After crossing the mount line (still amazed that some people were trying to get on their bikes BEFORE the line), there was a short ride up to the main road where we had a foot down point, and unfortunately a good 30 seconds before the traffic cleared to start the bike course.
22km out and back, undulating with one climb. A couple of weeks’ before I came down one evening and rode the course so I was quite happy with the route. I got off with a small pack of 4 and we started making progress up and down, swapping places with each other every few hundred metres. However after the good swim time I had decided not to push the bike too much and save my legs for the run.
The weather had cleared and at least there was no rain. At times I still felt like I was hardly moving up the hills but I didn’t have too many super-bikes fly past me. On the way back I was pretty much on my own and just trying to get some fluids in which wasn’t very successful.
I dismounted with ease and felt I had good legs to run my bike back into transition. My final bike split was 50 minutes which was still 1 minute fast than last time so a good sign of training paying off.
This was much faster than last time. I racked my bike and quickly swapped into my running shoes, visor on and headed for the run out, no messing around.
I had two thoughts in my mind heading out. The first was to give myself a minute or two to get settled in and the second was that I would get a split after the first lap (two laps for the 5km) as to what pace I was doing. For a sub-25 minute I knew that I would need to run at a moderate pace to squeeze under.
However just like in training I set off at a decent cadence and quickly was tracking with another guy who was wearing an Ironman UK 2015 suit, so I felt I must be going a reasonable pace. I had no jelly legs this time and was feeling good and determined to break 25 minutes.
After a leg sapping sprint up a small hill I finished the first lap and checked my watch – 12 minutes! So I just thought keep pushing to avoid cruising and losing time on the second lap, it is so easy to switch off and go slow without realising it.
By this stage Mr Ironman had finished his race so I was now chasing slower runners and passing them to keep me going. When I crested the final hill I went for it on the down hill through the gantry and over the finish line. I knew I’d got sub-25 but when I got my official splits I was delighted with a 23:30 5km time!
This was a great event and I finally got the run sorted. Earlier in the week I’d done a 22 minute 5km speed session on a treadmill and I think that my high intensity sessions have really paid off. I’m now mentally used to running much faster then I did at the start of the season.
I’ve got one more triathlon left in the calendar for the year, and then it’s time to review and work out next year’s plans. I might be preparing for the London Marathon in April (if I get a ballot place), and then the big decision about whether to move to standard distance and time for training and do more work at the sprint distance.
One thing is for sure, I need to keep working on swim technique to push some better times, but overall really pleased how this worked out, a whole 7 minutes faster than May!