Last Saturday, all tattooed and keen, I made my to Woburn for the ‘Woburner Middle Distance’ race. Full of big hopes, feeling very good about it, and actually on top of my game. Confident that I knew what I was supposed to be doing. The old body felt like it was in good enough shape to achieve a decent time.
The plan didn’t include blood. It certainly didn’t involve throwing up and it was all supposed to be over in a lot less than the six and half hours.
In what is becoming a bit of a tried and tested format, how exactly did I manage to mess this one up ??
I used to live on the edge of Woburn park (village of Steppingley) and for a period of time was the resident Magician at The Woburn Sculpture Gallery (I haven’t always been a sub-mediocre triathlete you know…!!). Therefore very familiar with the local roads and the grounds of the Woburn Estate. It’s a pretty setting although I was surprised just how small this event is in terns of numbers. Maybe partly due though to the enormity of the venue and it’s open layout, engulfing the tri village and making it look… well… SMALL. Looking at the numbers racing this actually was quite a small field.
There was an option to register on Friday, which I took, but elected to not leave one of my beloved bicycles out in the wind overnight. Have to say though, that as transition was literally just outside the main house, there would be few places safer. Woburn security take no prisoners!
Briefing on Friday was briefly interrupted by a message from one of the race officials informing us that The Duke had been down to say that nobody was to ride their bicycles in his Deer Park unless they were actually racing. So no practise / test rides. I don’t know about the others, but hearing this message made me feel all warm and cherished inside. Yes it was lovely to know that as a PAYING CUSTOMER of his, and that I was basically contributing to help keep him commercially afloat, he valued my business so much and wanted me to feel welcome, wanted and thanked… Yes, there is a name for people like that…
Before the race I had heard many accounts of how terrible the swim was supposed to be. Muddy, shallow waters that were thick with weed and generally unpleasant. Maybe because the limited OW training I do is at Box End (truly horrible place to swim in my opinion), but the Woburn swim seemed just fine to me!
They had cut the weeds, and yes there were still a few, but really trivial amounts and no floating debris to note from the cutting. OK, yes it is shallow, you literally step off the jetty into the lake and the water doesn’t reach my knees… During the swim I knew I could stand up anytime (chest deep maybe??), but I didn’t find my arms catching the silt. The depth is what it is and they are not likely to change it!
It’s a small lake with an odd shaped swim to make a suitable distance. For the 1900m format it was three laps. I found this worked well for me. And actually had what I felt was a good swim! Most of the (very small) wave stuck together so avoiding being kicked was an ongoing feature of the race. But my sighting seemed to work well when I was in clear water and I basically made my way around with no drama or particular panics. Managed to draft a fair amount of the swim which makes quite a difference. The water was warm and I don’t know to what extent this contributed, but my breathing was good and no hypoxia.
Short run from the lake to T1. All good except as I got to my bike felt incredibly light headed and verging on feint. Went to sit down and basically fell down in a bit of a heap. Hungry? Hypoxic and didn’t realise? Who knows, but I didn’t actually feint or black out! Slow getting out of my wetsuit but other than that got my shit together, threw on a Gilet and headed out for the bike.
I was cold. Very cold. Bloody cold. I can’t stress enough how cold I was for the opening 30k of the bike leg. It turns out that wind chill against a wet scantily lycra clad body very rapidly makes you cold. No socks and only my tri suit and gilet in early UK September was a very poor choice. I really shouldn’t have laughed at all the other (now warm) athletes that had wasted minutes in T1 putting on cycling gear… As Boris Johnson might say “what a load of girlie swats”… Except I was now struggling to get to my planned power number and just had a prevailing thought of how cold I was feeling. Mussels tense, not peddling well and not comfortable on the bike.
Being overtaken on the bike frankly is not something that has happened in many races this season. So it was particularly bloody annoying to see warm athletes streaming past me. Lesson learned.
Chose to ride my TT with aero wheels. An OK choice for this course but didn’t really provide much advantage. It’s rolling but with quite a lot of narrow lanes and blind country road corners. Coupled with villages. In practice I would probably have been better off on my road bike. But marginal call…
Another lesson I learned during the bike leg was how to (not) go round a 90 degree right hand turn. What you don’t do, having found yourself on the wrong line and on loose gravel, is suddenly and sharply steer and brake. This is very bad. So bad that my bike decided to dump the unworthy amateur trying to ride it onto the tarmac. Yep, managed to crash the bike on a corner about 40k into the race. Nice collection of bleeding road rash grazes on my arm and leg. Some new scratches on my rear mech and a very badly bruised ego.
A few minutes later, having sat on the verge contemplating what a prat I was, I decided to carry on riding. Seemed to hit my elbow as this was particularly sore, to the extent that I couldn’t actually rest it on my tri bar.
The rest of the ride was pretty much all sitting up (except for the two remaining photo opportunities) when OBVIOUSLY you just grin and ignore the pain!!
Having looked at the power output data, I wasn’t working hard at all. This was supported by spending 3:38 on what should have been quite doable in 3:05 or there abouts…
Probably the worst bike ride leg I have logged this year.
Final note on the bike, if you plan to do this course, brace yourself for some proper nasty cattle grids as you leave the park. They are recessed down by quite a drop which then sets you up nicely for having your teeth rattled. For a moment I was back on the Pave in Chantilly France…
Completely drama free. The blood smeared over me made me look a proper little Rambo!! No sock faffing this time – I knew I was putting them on so just got on with it. Actually a really smooth transition with very little I would want to change. Actually nothing I would want to change!
I have no idea what happened here, other than to say my legs were just absolutely not up to the job. Embarrassing attempt at a half marathon.
It wasn’t even down to the Bike / Run change as my first 3k were at a good pace and by far the fastest of the entire run. Before you dare think it, NO, I didn’t go out too fast. They were at a planned pace, it’s ‘just’ that I then fell apart from kilometre 4…
The run was billed as going through the Dukes private garden which are supposed to be exceptionally beautiful and not ever open to the public. Well I ran four laps of the run course and at NO TIME was I ever anywhere that was exceptionally beautiful or even picturesque really! What I did find was a broken road surface, tree roots and and some overgrown woodland for part of the 5k out and back course.
The run was dull. Albeit the format made it easy to keep track of where you were in the race. Bit wasted on me really as I was so far out of touch with the race I might as well have been running the previous years event!!
Having done your four laps, you are then treated to a KOM segment taking you from the run course to the finish line. Basically up a big hill. If you are familiar with Woburn Deer Park, this is the main hill right in the middle of the park. Bloody marvellous and just what I wanted having struggled around the previous 13 miles. I think the winner got up it in some 38 seconds… Others of us apparently ambled up in about 1:03 (thats minutes not hours in case you have lost all faith in me by now!).
6:41:08 when I was looking for a 6hr time. Crashed my bike and spilt my blood. Struggled on the run on a dull and uninspiring course… But contrary to what you might conclude from this I genuinely had the VERY BEST TIME!!
No, for a change I am not being sarcastic!! There were several other people from Wootton racing. There were a couple of my neighbors in the race too and also a couple of people that I still count as friends from the Harriers. Friends had turned up and were cheering and supporting on the run course. The other competitors were friendly and a lot of good natured banter pre race and at swim start. All these people made for an awesome atmosphere and bags of fun, laughter, support and camaraderie…
My race time might have been tragic but I still had THE BEST TIME… And maybe that’s worth a whole lot more?