August 12th 2013

Cotswold Classic Middle Distance triathlon

Since becoming interested in triathlon in October of last year, my goal in 2013 was not to just finish a "70.3" (or "Half-Ironman"), but to complete one in under 5 hours.

At the time, each discipline was woefully inadequate; I had not swum in over a decade, my cycling was average and I had only begun running again after years away from exercise.

The somewhat arbitrary target time would dictate my training. For example, the high proportion of time spent on the bike combined with the injury-sensitive nature of running meant that cycling would have a highest return on investment of the three disciplines. Despite that, I would need to take the run seriously but carefully - I decided to enter a series of monthly 10K races where I could steadily reduce my times over the year.

Races themselves formed a crucial part of my preparation and a carefully balanced race calendar was surprisingly important, balancing upcoming milestones that would provide an achievable goal as well as uncovering weaknesses in enough time so they could be worked on.

Whilst I did post about my first triathlon, I felt no compulsion with the interleaving five or six races as I was evaluating them in the context of the 70.3 rather than as races in their own right.


Whilst this wasn't my worst open water swim, it was certainly not my best. The first 500m was straightforward, but I lost my form over the next 500m and I overcompensated with excessive kick. My calves responded by cramping badly two or three times after that, losing both momentum and time.

Curiously, whenever I could identify my speed relative to my effort (for example, by some underwater reeds) I could use that as feedback and my rotation (etc.) would temporarily return. Pool swimming always has markers of this kind, whilst a murky lake does not.

In conclusion, my lack of open water training outside of races held me back more than I expected.

52 miles
2:22 (21.9 mph average)

I had thoroughly absorbed the advice that you should prepare for your primary race so that it feels like another day at the office. On this criterion, the bike leg was almost perfect.

My nutrition strategy—energy drink every 5 minutes, gel every 30 minutes—worked fine until mile 35 where I felt like I had taken on too much fluid (and no time to take a bathroom break).

I had a temporary hiccup with my rear derailleur but my "tame" 52/34 12x28 gearing was vindicated on the climbs, although in retrospect that might mostly be schadenfreude.

Tens of hours acclimatising to a time trial bike was rewarded by being able to spend the entire leg in "aero" position (ignoring 90-degree turns or serious gradients), improving efficiency.

13.1 miles (21km)
1:54:18 (5:25/km)

I had prepared a chart which provided the pace I required based on the race time at the start of the run. I would then only need to monitor my run pace instead of repeatedly extrapolating a finish time as even basic arithmetic can become impossible when fatigued.

This strategy was chosen as I was too risk-adverse to aim for a faster time than strictly required; the downside of missing the target from aiming too high and "blowing up" outweighed going a few minutes faster overall. Despite that, I ran half-marathon personal best.

Unfortunately, due to pressing the wrong watch button after the swim, the chart was worthless unless I could assume the race started exactly at 6:30AM. With no other option I decided to trust that with some padding, but the uncertainly it added was unsettling. Adding to that feeling, my left hip started to twinge at 7K, something it has never done before.

My plan was to get to 16K, take a caffeine gel and then keep ratcheting up the pace until the finish. In my long run training I could speed up to a 4:10/km pace but after 5 hours of racing and being reasonably sure I was going to reach my goal, the best I could summon was 4:45/km.

My form completely shot, I crossed the finish line and got into a fetal position in the shade behind a tent, scaring the race organisers for a few minutes.


Total time

Writing this the day after the race, I am still a little unsure of how I feel. I am obviously extremely content that I reached my goal but given the volume and detail of preparation it was not a huge surprise to me on race day that I did so.

This—combined with the "real" work and progress being achieved throughout the training—seems to have robbed the event of some element of triumph it could have had, but that in itself was somewhat expected.

Where next? I had always dismissed the consensus view of needing to take a decent break after the season has ended but now I am looking forward to putting triathlon-specific training on hold for a while and explore other things. I highly doubt this will be my last triathlon though.

(Full results)

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