In short, I’m glad I survived, it was a little touch and go there towards the end! 2017 has been a long year with lots of ups and a couple of downs. Let’s see if I can share a few of them here.
I started the season with a duathlon/sprint triathlon combo at Eton Dorney Lake and Crystal Palace respectively. In short, it went way better than I hoped for; I achieved first place at Eton Dorney and second at Crystal Palace where I was eight seconds off the win and just missed the bike course record.
My first key race was Ironman 70.3 St. Polten in Austria.
A race known for a long Australian exit swim (swim, exit the water, run a little bit then dive in and swim again), a challenging bike course where you climb a 600m mountain at 60km then a “pan flat” run along the local river. I trained for this, I was ready for this. I wasn’t ready for the weather though. Torrential rain on race day made the bike a little sketchy on the descents, however my mountain biking skills were used to good effect and got me through it. The run ended up being a muddy slog up and down the river banks. I just thought to myself that everyone has the same conditions to deal with so let’s get on with it. The outcome, 4th amateur overall and an age group win.
I had a month until my next race, Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire.
Let’s just say, the combination of another mechanical, overtraining, and general fatigue and race day temperatures of thirty degrees (most of my training is in Norway, a little chilly) meant I underperformed here. The words “who stole 50 watts?!” were spoken. I learnt how to do the Ironman shuffle that day, very humbling indeed. My thanks to the race day volunteers who took care of me. Still, 30th overall isn’t too shabby!
Next up, the elite wave at the Outlaw Half Holkham.
Outlaw (OSB Events) know how to organise a race, and apart from one hiccup they did not fail here. A lake swim, a countryside bike and a run around the grounds of a beautiful old English country house. The little hiccup, the wrong swim cap provided, meant I wasn’t allowed to start with the elites and I had to start with the age group waves. Partly my fault, I should have checked the briefing more closely. Unfortunately, my wave thought it was better to beat each other to a pulp rather than swim forwards. Ouch. I eventually found clear water and was freed up to swim my own race, coming out of the water somewhere in the top 10.
Onto the bike I went and 30km in my chain jammed in my front mech! Two minutes and an oily trisuit later I was off, only for disaster to strike again at 80km - my shifter snapped clean off! After picking up the pieces I pedalled on. The final 10km were a mixture of comic spinning on the downs and praying my knees wouldn’t explode on the way back up! The run was a comparatively quiet affair. A surprising 10th place overall and a vow to come back next year.
Thorpe Park Olympic and the Cowman Middle distance triathlon.
Thorpe Park was only one week after Outlaw Holkham. I just thought, let’s give it a go, no expectations, no pressure, let’s have some fun. I took almost seven minutes off my fastest swim of 2016, biked strongly and ran sensibly, and won the race too! At Cowman, I wanted to concentrate on the process of my race and not have the pressure of racing with all the big names. It turned out that ex-Formula 1 world champion (and rapid triathlete) Jenson Button was also using this as a tune up race. Great, not! After the best swim of the season thus far it was time to execute my plan - ride on my own at a constant 300 watts for 90km. I'm now able to claim that Jenson Button stared at my rear end for two hours, ha! I put in a little gas out of T2 and snapped that elastic once and for all. My third overall win of the year in the bag.
Into September and Ironman 70.3 Cascais, Portugal.
Why this race? Well, it fitted the calendar and had an interesting looking course with a pancake flat (cough cough) run along the seafront. By now, the long season was catching up with me as I’d picked up one of a series of colds. I was debating whether or not to start as I felt dreadful. During the swim I thought I’d made the wrong decision. I started to perk up a little on the bike and I’m glad I did, what a course. 40km of head down hammering along a freeway followed by some short, sharp power climbs through mountain forests, a circuit of the Estoril race track and then some off-the-brakes twisty descents back down to the sea. I’ve never been out of my biggest gear for so long, tuck all the way!
I’ve now learnt never to trust race organisers who advertise a flat run. They must have forgotten to include the 300m total ascent on this one. Oh well, onwards and upwards, and then downwards. I took a little tumble going around a dead turn at the far end of the course. After telling myself to drink a pint of proverbial cement off I went again. I held on and brought it home to a shocked 6th place overall, 3rd amateur and another age group win. Bosh!
Ironman 70.3 Weymouth was the season finale two weeks later.
Man I was over it, I so didn’t want to race. I just wanted to eat pizza and drink beer but Ironman race entries don’t come cheap so you better use it or lose it! I got my act together, packed my bags and headed south. The swim in Weymouth Bay can be described by two words, ‘washing’ and ‘machine’. That was a tough one. I couldn’t see the buoys and kept thinking “I’m on my own, I’ve gone off course!”, until a wave came and threw me into another poor soul fighting for survival in the English Channel.
I started the bike numb. My hands were numb, my feet were numb, even my chest went numb. Is that even possible?! For the first 40km I had to change both sets of gears with my right hand, my left hand was useless. I’ll admit to a moment of weakness here, I considered climbing off my bike and waiting for the broom wagon to carry me and my club feet back to town. Luckily the air temperature started to rise and with that so did my body temperature which allowed me to up the intensity and start dropping some wattage bazookas.
The run course at Weymouth is actually pancake flat, but also very windy. Three laps out and back, head wind, tail wind. It’s a great course for supporters as it’s up and down the beach promenade past the classic British beach huts. It turned out to be a tough one but I got it done. I’m really pleased I fought through this one as I ended up having a lot of fun trying to give a young lad lessons in how to say my name twice each lap, ”no it’s not Varnish, try again!”. 14th overall, 4th amateur and one final age group victory in the bag.
So that’s 2017 in all its flavours.
Some races in beautiful places, some unenviable weather, far too many mechanicals (I’ve now been bike shopping) a couple of victories and plenty of age group podiums along the way. I can happily say I have eaten both pizza and drank beer, I’ve caught up with neglected friends, pedalled my bike without a power meter attached and even watched a fair few episodes of Star Trek (not even embarrassed a little). Pre-season training is looming on the horizon and the urge to open Training Peaks is creeping up on me. Strangely enough I really can’t wait. Let’s hope for more of the same in 2018.
I have to say a special thanks to my fiancée for supporting me through all this even though she already has a full plate and crushes it at most of the same races too, my coach Terry Collins at Triforfitness whose diet of tough love always sees me right, and finally to Sundried for making sure I always look the part even when things may not go to plan.