Benjamin Franklin (most quoted man ever, I’d say) is purported to have claimed “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a (wo)man healthy, wealthy and wise”.
3:50am is certainly early to rise, as my journey, complete with wife and dogs, needed to get underway at 4:45 to reach Grafham Water by 7:00. The early start, coupled with an early bedtime the previous night (circa 9:30pm), should have ensured military precision in organising the toughest part of the day – leaving the house on time.
We left at 5:05. Fail.
An uneventful journey across quiet roads, negotiating an M6 closure (thanks for the warning Highways Agency…not) and a sleeping navigator – they always say they’ll stay awake to keep us company - got us to the venue by 7:15. And it was worth it.
Early mornings overlooking any calm waters are always special, with the gentle rippling of water on shore momentarily distracting us from the waves of pain that would inevitably follow. The flicker of a sunrise teasing warmth on a freezing morning reminding us that the elements would play their part during the race.
The early rising man, me, was due some wisdom after adhering to the old wives’ tale, and the complete antithesis of this forced an abrupt abandonment of my warm up. Yep, I was that guy announced on the PA system who had lost his wedding ring. I lost it after feeling very smug that there wasn’t a long queue for the portaloos, and before jogging to my wife to give her my jacket.
I briefly considered lying to her about my naked finger, ignoring the situation altogether and devilishly blaming her for not taking it from me sooner knowing that I wouldn’t race wearing it.
But as many a man will admit, weakness prevailed, and I came clean. Ring hunting ensued and after about 15 minutes it was fortunately found, and divorce avoided. Possibly more important than a proper warm up. Although 42% of couples would disagree.
Straight to the start line I jogged, arriving just in time to muscle my way along the narrow path to somewhere near the front of pack, and we were off!
My two initial observations of the run, as it was my first time at this event, became apparent. 1) It was not flat and 2) my new running shoes would look 10 years old by the end of the race leg. The run was 10km of a trail/stony hybrid not suited for road or trail shoes. Areas of slippery mud were interspersed with rocky trails, which were often unavoidable due to the ‘out-and-back’ course on a very narrow shared path. The moment that first volley of mud hit my pristine white shoes my heart sank. Not even losing my ring earlier made me feel that bad. Priorities, priorities…
The course was the same for everyone and required full concentration to avoid fellow competitors and members of the public, both on foot and mountain bike. A loud humming, which turned to buzzing, often permeated my headband and filled my head. Luckily it wasn’t a bike (yes, this is the collective noun!) of hornets but the local pylons making their presence known in the only way they could.
I’m certain the epic levels of condensation inside my sunglasses were about to cause a personal tsunami by the time I came into T1, as the temperature had increased by a few degrees. My copious levels of sweat proved that wearing a base layer and arm warmers was a pants decision. Early morning wisdom indeed…
The 40km bike leg was fairly uneventful, and fairly flat. The dark patches on the tarmac from the previous day’s rain were no match for my own sweat patches, and I considered this a win. Winning, however, on a non-closed road bike course, is not coming first. It is avoiding the masses of angry drivers (since when was cyclist hate so militant?) who persist in driving dangerously. One very clever driver nearly wiped out three of us at one point, before screaming profanities about cyclists not being on the road (top logic). All this next to a sign warning drivers about the race. Priceless.
But on a positive note, it is always a pleasure to hear the whirring of a disc wheel creeping up on you before shooting off into the distance. There were some beautiful bikes on show, which certainly offers some respite from the pain of the race, thinking about the potential pain on the wallet.
After a little cramping in T2, the final 5km run was simply a shortened version of the first leg. Prepared for an undulating run, and now with dirty shoes, my elevated heart rate post-cycle carried me for the first mile or so. By now, the temperature was in double figures and the local residents had come out en masse to enjoy this beautiful place. And where better to walk, cycle and unleash dogs than on the same path as an ITU World Championships Qualifier. But this was a blessing in disguise, as such traffic definitely slowed down those in pursuit of me meaning nobody overtook me on this run, possibly for the first time ever. I promise this wasn’t planned – as you will know by now, my planning is rubbish.
Finishing with a solid 8th AG place, and comfortably inside the champs qualifying time required, the day could be considered a great success…
…Although it was also evident that Benjamin Franklin chats rubbish. Following his advice on race day, I gained an Achilles issue (health?), used a full tank of diesel (wealth?), and wore 2 base layers in the sunshine (wisdom?)
Onto the next one, and I’m having a lie in.