This was the second year that I had entered this race, which involves a swim around Chasewater lake, a cycle through the nearby lanes and Cannock Chase and (new this year) a run around Stafford with a town-centre finish.
Despite the large amount of logistical faff that comes with setting up for a race with split transitions the day before the race went surprisingly well. As a group of 5 we managed to fly through registration, obligatory T-shirt purchasing (and back-of-T-shirt-name-finding), bag dropping, bike racking and swim-practising. Which meant, for the first time ever, we managed to take the afternoon to rest and eat. The training was done, the kit was ready, the tattoos were on and we all headed for an early night.
Race morning arrived and we made our way to Chasewater. The pre-race nerves started setting in and we had more time than usual to try to keep them in check as fog descended over the lake and the start was delayed. One hour later and, contrary to rumours of a shortened swim the race got underway, with a full length swim to start. The pros hit the water first, followed by a rolling start for the age groupers, jumping in as a continuous wave off of the pontoon. I seeded myself around the 35 minute mark, knowing that I swim slightly slower than this in the pool but hoping for some extra speed from my wetsuit and the people around me. I felt strong and started off my overtaking quite a few people before finding a group to follow in to the first mark. The second leg was long and my goggles became progressively more steamy, making sighting a challenge and making me feel a bit disorientated. I tried to just stick on the toes of the people in front, hoping they could see better than me. Despite a panic that I may have gone massively off course and despite the unexpected chop on the last leg, I was really pleased to get out the water with my watch telling me I had completed the swim in something starting with 33. So far so good!
The run to transition was longer than I remembered but the spectators’ cheers help to push me on towards the tent. Transition went smoothly and I headed out on my bike (conveniently racked at the end of the row so I couldn’t lose it).
The first bit of the bike goes over a lot of speed bumps and potholes and I took it steady and concentrated on not losing my drinks bottle. I always struggle to get my heart rate down at the start of the bike (actually I struggle to get my heart rate down when racing generally) and this race was no exception. But my legs felt strong and my competitive nature kicked in so I spent a while pushing forwards and finding my pace. The first section involves a lot of narrow pot-holey lanes and I was glad to have done a test ride of the course, to know when the hills were coming and when I could get down and push a bit faster.
Overall I really enjoyed the bike, though the road conditions weren’t great and some parts were pretty congested which, combined with some stretches of two-way bike traffic made for some challenging sections. I had felt a bit nervous about the climb up Cannock Chase - had I left enough in my legs to get up the hills, finish the bike and run? So I sat back and took it steady and made it through fine. I was really pleased to keep my average speed up and get in to T2 with a bike time of 2:53 - knocking a good 10 minutes off of my time from last year.
T2 went smoothly after a little dance at the dismount line where my front wheel went over before my feet touched the ground and I had to do a few steps back and forth, much to the amusement of the spectators.
Then came the run....and it hurt. I had bad stomach pains and everything felt sore plus my heart rate was totally out of control. Plus the sun was out and I was getting really hot. I tried backing off to get in control and loads of people raced past, which was disheartening. Cue a serious bit of soul-searching and mental battling - I had put in a really good swim and cycle and I was not going to stop now. I was hoping I might settle in to the rhythm and feel better but I didn’t and I just had to keep telling myself to keep the pace up so it would be over sooner. The run was 3 laps with lots of turns, which my knees (which don’t like running at the best of times) didn’t enjoy.
Finally I got that magic third band and headed to the finish. And I was very glad to finish! Despite the pain I had pushed on to get a 1:51 run - again quicker than last year.
I had been quietly hoping to break the 5:30 barrier at this event but wasn’t sure if I had managed to get enough training in, with training plans being continuously revised around a busy work schedule. But by some sort of miracle I managed to finish the race in 5:22, which I am really proud of!!
So that’s another goal ticked off the list with the help of Podium Addict coaching - thanks!!