I’d planned a busy June but this was done in the comfort of dark nights in February I think. Now that June is pretty much done I can look back on 3 races with pride.
Going into the race I’d had a quick scan of the names on the entry list and one name jumped out. A chap called Phil Westoby who races for the Army. His credentials looked pretty good with a decent placing in the GB Worlds in London and numerous wins and podium placings. He was my mark.
So at the swim start I tried to work out who he might be simply on looks alone. You can tell what fast people look like right? The long course athletes had started at 5.30am and were starting to exit the swim. We clapped them through and somehow the thought of doing a full Iron distance race seemed a little crazy. I guess it just shows that a lot of what we do is all in the mind. I simply wasn’t mentally prepared for that on this day. We were allowed into the water at 6.40am and one chap pumped off doing butterfly and lazy long front crawl strokes. That’s gotta be Westoby I thought as I jostled for position on the front of the field. I made sure he was on my left as I always sight that way.
Whistle, or was it a gun or was it just a “go” and we were underway. Some jostling but not much and I was leading but happy for a set of feet to jump onto as Westoby (probably) came past. But then this person wasn’t swimming in a straight line so was happy when some more people nudged past. Westoby has swum a 28 something in a middle distance triathlon I’d seen before so that made sense that he might be a little slower. A right, a right and another right and the 1300m (odd distance) was done and I exited in about 5th. Through the change tent which was aimed at the long distance folk, off with the Huub and sprinted the 200m of mat to the bike mount point. There were people in the mix from the long course event so I wasn’t fully aware of what position I was at this point.
I’d also convinced myself that Westoby was in fact someone else. So as we started on the bike I locked into 300 watts and motored past Westoby (or so I thought). I then chipped away at the long course field and had no idea if there was anyone from the middle up ahead. All I knew was my race plan and it actually didn’t really matter about anything else. A 290 watt average was the target.
One by one I passed people and then I spotted a chap up ahead who seemed to be coming back to me a little slower than most. I realized he must have been in my race and as I got nearer I noticed four letters on his back. ARMY, it was Westoby and he was in red. Now I don’t know this chap and nor does he probably have any idea who I am but I made it my business to smash past him so as not to give him a chance to latch on. So that’s what I did and I didn’t look back for about 5 mins. When I finally did look back, fully expecting to not see anybody, there was this red figure all tucked up in the aero position and to be fair to him he was a decent legal distance back. A true gentleman and I wouldn’t have expected anything less from a military man.
I pressed on and every now and again had a little look to see if I was doing any damage. He was locked onto me like an exocet missile and I simply couldn’t shake him. We were only 40 mins into the bike but I was starting to think about the foot race that might unfold later in the day. Would we run neck and neck for the half marathon? He was a good runner, or so my research had suggested with some 36 min 10ks in triathlons.
Time passed and we hit a climb. Westoby came through. Maybe, I thought, he was just doing his turn but then I realized this was probably his move to try and gap me so I observed the wattage slip up to 320, then 330. Oh yes, he was making a mini push. Then we hit a steeper climb and he unshipped his chain. I felt sorry for him and as I went past wondered if I could give him some assistance but with the speed differential decided it would be safer to just press on. He’ll catch up again right. I looked over my shoulder a few times to make sure he was back up and running, or cycling in this case and sure enough he was fine. I’d stolen around 150m though and he was a little more distance than before. All of a sudden I had a thought of “out of sight out of mind” so I decided if I could gradually ease the gap out I might get to the point where he couldn’t see me.
Another 20 mins or so went by and sure enough I lost him. I figured he might have been extending himself to keep up anyway and probably decided to ease off a little. I didn’t get a chance to ask him. The course was lovely but I had no idea whether I was leading or not. I guessed I probably was but didn’t know for sure. Average wattage for the ride ended up being 286 watts (slightly down on the 290 target) and I tired slightly towards the end and was starting to think of the run.
As I came into T2 I saw my mum and dad which gave me a massive boost. A quick “am I leading” to Toby Smithson who was supporting his girlfriend and I confirmed I was first back. I was now in unfamiliar territory. I hurtled through T2 like a scalded cat and only stopped to put water on my Compresssport White arm sleeves (a tip I’d read about for those competing on hot days). It was mid to high 20s in the sun and I was going to need to manage my body temperature.
I pressed on out of T2 and was keen to establish how much of a lead I had on Westoby. I’d have been happy with one minute to be honest but was pleasantly surprised to see it was closer to five. This was exciting. I had such a big lead that I could afford to not absolutely bury myself on the run. As Westoby came past in 2nd as I was running out I quickened the pace to make sure any hope he might have had that I was a slow runner wouldn’t help him in his chase.
The run course was brutal. Not only was it extremely up and down but it was rocky terrain at times and hot. So hot that heat and thirst became the most uncomfortable part. The rest of the run was uneventful but I was unsure as to whether or not Westoby was going to chip away at my lead. As I reached the end point of the out and back I started the lap on my watch and to my joy it ticked down to 2mins40s before I saw Westoby. This meant I had 5 mins 20s lead which given I felt pretty good was more than enough to be able to relax a little. This was now an amazing feeling. I was leading the race and able to enjoy it. As I went past the various aid stations and passed the other competitors running out I had proud emotions. The final climb up to the road was brutal. I was nearly down to a walk it was so steep and rocky but I pressed on and topped the crest pausing only at the final aid station to cool off the arm sleeves and pour water on my head. I had 1.5 miles to victory and I was going to enjoy it.
Crossing the finish line was great fun and I stopped the clock at 4hrs25mins. The swim had been 1300m, the bike 60 miles and the run was 13.3 so I was happy with the time and happy with the overall performance given I was told that the course record was also mine by a massive 25 mins!!
Results here – http://www.racenewforest.co.uk/app/download/5800740243/FULL+RESULTS+MIDDLE+2014.pdf
The above photo shows me at my new lowest ever weight. Not a good look but it certainly helps with the watts/kg which now sit at 4.1 at FTP (managed 3.5w/kg on the bike section).
My first ever race win in a triathlon (I once won the Cranleigh 21 running race and I don’t count the team relay races we’ve won with Thames Turbo) and this season couldn’t really get any better could it? There’s one more monkey to get off my back. Ironman UK on the 20th July will see me compete for a Hawaii slot in the shape of my life. I’ve got a great chance and all being well I’ll be booking my flights to the big island of Kona and the final chapter in a dream that started 21 years ago and one that has taken 12 years of trying to achieve. We’ll see. I hope that the triathlon gods are on my side one final time.