4 middle distance triathlons in 36 days – THAT WAS THE PLAN!
If you average it out, that works out as one middle distance race every 9 days. It takes your body 10 days to absorb any training, so there isn’t really any beneficial training that can be done to improve fitness between races. There isn’t really enough time to absorb the overload from the previous race before you do the next one! In fact, if you look at this idea on a ‘micro scale’ with the sole purpose to perform at your very best in every race, no part of this is a good idea. It is more than probable, that performance would deteriorate a little bit in every race, leaving the athlete wasted at the end of the process with little to show for it. At least that is one way of looking at this ‘idea’.
But there are always two sides to every coin. So here is the ‘other side of the coin’.
The race schedule was:
- BEDFORD MIDDLE DISTANCE TRIATHLON
- One week recover + 1 week build
- BALA MIDDLE DISTANCE TRIATHLON – ‘A’ RACE
- 1 week recovery
- COTSWOLD 113
- One week recover + 1 week build
- GRAFMAN MIDDLE DISTANCE TRIATHLON
The plan for the Bedford was to get some race practice in. Test out nutrition, race kit and get a feel for ‘race pace’. Mostly importantly, dial the effort back just a few % on the bike and NOT push on the run. This would give me a pretty good idea of ‘race pace’ and hopefully allow me enough time to absorb the race having not given it 100%. Of course I wanted to win, but if this run of races was going to work in my favor I would need to be strict about this.
With two weeks between Bedford and Bala, assuming I had got pacing right in Bedford, this would allow me enough time to recover, make any necessary kit and nutritional changes, and build into the Bala race. This time, hopefully increasing to full gas ‘race pace’.
Next up…. And only 7 days later – the Cotswold 113. This was the only real question mark race I had entered. When I say question mark, I mean I was really not sure if this was a good idea.
Bala was my main focus of the series. It was the one I really wanted to nail. So the Cotswold 113 was a bit of a ‘gamble’ race. Over the years, on a number of occasions I have put in some of my best performances or training 1 week after my ‘A’ race of the year. Back in 2011, I clocked 1hr 47mins for a 50mile TT one week after my first ever sub 9hr Ironman. Sometimes your body just surprises you. So, I had entered this race with the hope of being surprised. You never know…..
After that I had another two weeks before the final race, the Grafman. Now this was what I was hoping would happen. My body would have absorbed the 3 almost back to back races and I would have moved my fitness up another notch. I would have also learned a lot about where my limits were at this distance and be able to execute a near perfectly paced race.
This was ‘THE PLAN’. How it turned out? Well it is a bit of a long read but bear with me.
RACE 1 – Bedford
The race in Bedford was an interesting day to say the least, with a multitude of navigational mistakes on my part. People who know me will probably not be surprised to hear this. Anyway, I felt pretty good in the swim. I was not able to stay with the lead swimmer, but led the rest of the field around the course. I came out of the water a minute or two behind the leader only to be told that I had missed a buoy and to be sent back in the water. Navigational mistake number 1!
By the time I came out of the water for a second time I was probably a good 5mins down on the leader and well down the field. Out on the bike I was not feeling fantastic and quite happy to sit at my slightly conservatively planned power (around 310W). I was still moving through the field pretty quickly, that was until I made navigational mistake number 2. There were some other signs on the course for a local TT. I mistook a TT sign for a triathlon sign and went the wrong way at the T junction. One of the benefits of not yet being at the front of the race was that I soon noticed a lack of cyclists up the road to over take so I figured something must be up and did a quick U-turn.
Back on the correct course and I managed to almost complete a full lap before navigational mistake number 3. Again, I mistook a TT sign for a triathlon sign! But this time, I was alone at the front of the race with no more cyclists to overtake up the road. As a result I continued on this detour for about 5km before almost by chance finding myself back on the triathlon course (All of this I did without even realizing I had gone wrong).
On to the second lap and I managed to avoid navigational mistake number 2 but not navigational mistake number 3. By the time I had finished the bike I had cycled an extra 10km. Doohoo. Still other than a FEW navigational mistakes, I had been really happy with kit, nutrition and the slightly conservative pacing strategy.
There was only one other bike in T2 when I got there and to be honest I was happy not to see more! Out on the run and I stuck to my plan of not pushing too hard. I held a steady pace and managed to avoid any further navigational mistakes!! As luck would have it, the chap leading the race was not having a great run. There was a 4 min gap but I was slowly closing him down. By half way the gap was down to 1min and I broke my ‘not pushing hard’ plan for just for a couple of km to make the pass and put in a bit of a buffer before slowing things down again for the last few km’s.
Back in the car park after the race, I got on the turbo to warm down and reflect on the day. I had won by around 3mins with plenty left in the tank. Kit and nutrition had been spot on. Pacing wise I felt confident I had not overcooked things. So all in all, it was just the start I had hoped for.
RACE 2 – Bala
Despite holding back ever so slightly on the bike and run I still need ALL of the next week to fully recover. Making me question my idea of racing the Cotswold 113 a week on from Bala even more. But first things first and that was Bala.
Bala was the first middle distance race I ever did, way back when. It is a hilly course and one that I have always thought does not really play to my strengths being somewhat of a heavy unit. Nonetheless, I went into the race determined to give it everything, and be happy with whatever that gave me.
The swim ended up only being 1000m, due to low temperatures in the lake. I was a little annoyed but rules are rules. My swim went OK I guess, but I was way off the pace. I think I came out of the water around 14th and at least 2-3mins down on the race leaders.
On the bike I had a very simple race plan. Hit ALL inclines hard and back the effort off just a little on the downs. I was hitting crazily high power numbers for me. The highest I have ever seen in middle distance racing. I was feeling OK, so I figured I would push a little more and see what happened. To my surprise I felt solid, strong and still not at 100% effort. I love moments in sport like this when your body finds new limits. Today was one of those moments.
By the time I caught the leaders I was feeling fantastic. I took stock for a few minutes then went off the front…
As I reached the top of the final climb I had managed to build a pretty solid 2-3 min lead. From this point it was around 15-20km down hill to T2. Downhill was where I seemed to be making up the biggest inroads, so I would have hoped to entered T2 with maybe a 3-4 mins lead.
However, as many within the triathlon community now know – an incident out on the course brought all road traffic to a stop and no cyclists were allowed to pass. Myself and a large number of the people racing, waited for 30mins or so before being allowed through.
In my mind the race was over. We entered T2 in a group and explained to the organisers what was going on up the road. It was felt by myself and many fellow athletes, that the race should be cancelled. It was.
It transpired that the person involved did not make it. It was an incredibly sad, somber and sobering day. My heart goes out to all the friends and family of the athlete involved.
So Bala was not the day anybody racing had imagined and it made me really stop and think about what’s important in life.
RACE 3 – Cotswold 113
The following Sunday at the start line of the Cotswolds 113, my mind was in a far more thoughtful and reflective place than a normal race morning. I think that is the best way I can describe it.
Anyway, I had a pretty good swim. At least I felt smooth and strong in the water. I came out in first place and had felt very comfortable. Good start.
The plan on the bike was simple. SMASH IT! No holding back. After Bala, I wanted to see how hard I could push on the bike. I had hoped to go sub 2hrs, but had to settle with 2hrs 03mins. It had been a wet slippery morning. Not the fastest conditions. The reason for pushing extra hard on the bike was simple. I wanted to put my body out of its comfort zone and just see what would happen.
The run course was three laps and I had it in my mind that I would hold a steady pace for the first two laps. If I was feeling good, I would to increase the pace for the final lap. I actually felt pretty good for the first two laps and so as planned I upped the pace at the start of the final lap.
After a couple minutes – boom, my heart rate spiked from 165 to 220 bpm!!
I know watches sometime give you crazy readings, but I was feeling really strange, so I slowed to a walk and manually checked my heart rate. It was going too fast to be able to count properly but it was definitely north of 200!!! It scared the hell out of me. Not enough to make me stop racing, but I have never been that sensible when I have my race face on. I walked to a short while until my heart rate had come back down to below my supposed ‘MAX’ then jogged the remaining 6 km keeping my heart rate down in ‘normal’ regions.
I came home in 4hrs 03mins to win by about 4mins. I had mixed feelings immediately after the race. My main concern was the stupidly high heart rate I had just seen while racing, so I headed straight to the medics tent to be checked out. After being given the all clear and speaking to them in some detail I felt a lot better about the spike in heart rate.
It had been an interesting day. I had wanted to see what would happen if I pushed it really hard on the bike. Well, what happened was my heart just couldn’t keep up with the intensity my body was putting it through. I am sure that there was an element of fatigue from the race in Bala the previous weekend that also contributed to the onset of this mega spike in heart rate. That being said, the rest of my muscles were still feeling pretty good.
I think this is the first time that I have found my heart to fatigue before some other muscle in my body. But then again, this is the first time I have ever tried to do some many races back to back. So I guess it is hardly surprising, when you come to think about it.
If you look at the Cotswold 113 race in isolation, you might say that I simply overcooked the bike. On the day I would 100% agree with you. So the obvious solution, looking forward to the Grafman, would be to back the intensity off just a little on the bike and allow myself a better chance of putting down a solid run and a much better overall triathlon performance. That was the obvious solution……
But the whole reason I came up with this crazy series of races, was because I wanted to test and push my limits. Not back off at the final hurdle!!
IF…. my body is able to absorb all of this high intensity overload, maybe, just maybe I might be able to hit the same power numbers at Grafman as I did in the Cotswold 113, but this time be able to hold it together for the full duration of the run.
RACE 4 – Grafman
So Grafman race day…
I had a really poor swim. Everything felt hard. I found myself swimming in a far from straight line and generally just feeling like I was going backwards, and fast. I must have come out of the water 5 minutes down on the leaders and way back in the field. Not a good start.
Out on the bike and I felt much better. The power numbers were where I had come to expect them to be. I put my head down – let the chase begin… I was making good headway on the guys up the road and after about 20mins I had moved from 22nd into 3rd place. Another 20mins on and I moved into 2nd place. At the 1hr mark I come to a U-turn. As I retraced my steps back up the road my mouth dropped open. Behind my lay a long pace line! I had just assumed, given the speed at which I had overtaken everyone, that they were long gone. I had not once turned to look behind me, which turned out to be a VERY BIG mistake.
A few minutes later I took the lead with a now very large pace line in my wake. I slowed for a couple of minutes and allowed a couple of people to overtake me while I had a think about my next move. Option 1, sit in this pace line. Let someone else do all the work and hit the run with fresh legs. This was a good plan, but I knew there would be faster runners than me in this group. I wanted to win and to do that I needed to enter T2 with a good lead. So I went for option 2…
Option 2. Put your foot down and loose these guys. By the next turn around I think I had 1 minute lead. But the next lap was heavily congested with competitors and traffic. I believe a couple of strong riders leading the pace line behind me were also trying to get away, but not having much luck. All this meant I was loosing valuable seconds to the chasing group. Add to that the ‘relay cyclist factor’. The only person to put in a slightly faster bike split than me was this ‘relay cyclist’ who came through the field towards the end of the bike. With him he brought the pace line I had worked so hard to shake!! So with 20mins left to ride I was back to square one! ARRGGGG.
As this guy took the lead from me I actually managed to make a smart tactical move!!! I waited. Allowed a biggish gap to open up before surging back up to join him. This actually worked and only one other rider went with this move. We put 40 seconds into the pace line behind coming into T2. The power numbers had been higher that in the Cotwold 113! I had put it all out there on the bike and had a slim 40secs on the rest of the main field to show for it. As I said to a few people after the race – “This was not the race for strong bikers!”.
IT WAS ALL DOWN TO THE RUN.
I started the run running along side Kit Walker (the other rider who had gone with my move in the dying stages of the bike). He was breathing harder than me and I slowly pulled away from him over the first few 2-3 km’s. But at the same time the first of the speedy runners came flying past. I tried to surge to go with him and actually stayed close behind for a km or two. But then I got passed by a couple more speedy runners and I could feel the race slipping away.
At this point I tried to ignore the race around me and focus on my day, running to the best of my ability and letting the rest go. AND…. I did just that. I held my run together all the way to the finish line. No crazy heart rate spikes, just a solid run performance. I crossed the line 6th and was happy with the performance my body had put together on the day.
Looking back over my MIDDLE DISTANCE MADNESS, I can honestly say I got everything I could have hoped out of the experience.
To me, it was as much about the exploratory nature of this race series as the results that may or may not have followed. In this case they did not ALL follow, but I proud to say I loved the process of it all nonetheless.