swimming swimmers open water triathlon race

Photo credit: Darren Wheeler www.thatcameraman.com

James gives us a detailed round up of all the triathlon races he took part in this year. Read on for a surprise appearance by Alistair Brownlee!

Easy Beginnings

My year began slowly having had shoulder replacement/reconstruction surgery in 2016, then my first son was born three days after we moved house so training had been severely disrupted and due to the surgery, weight gain over Christmas had been a real issue. This mean 2017 started with an almost 3 stone mountain to climb before I was anywhere near back to normal levels.

In February, I started following a training plan provided by Sergio Borges and I eased into the routine gently as I knew that with carrying the extra weight, injury was only one bad choice away. The first couple of months were simply about getting back into a routine and allowing the training to become a habit again whilst watching my diet and seeing the weight start to move. My main issue has been getting anything like a swim back as I pretty much had to learn how to use my new shoulder joint, so there was lots of swimming and trying to get a feel for the water again. I had completed a Middle Distance race 6 weeks after surgery just to prove I still could but the swim had taken me almost 50 mins so I was hoping for improvement on that.

Bodmin Triathlon - May 1st

The first race came soon enough with the Bodmin Triathlon - a Sprint Distance event that is local to me so a good way to kick off the year. It features a pool swim followed by a fairly flat bike course followed by a run that was basically half up hill and half down hill in that order. It was sheet rain all day but good fun all round as a lot of my club (Tavistock Triathlon Club) were there. The race went okay - I finished, but no where near in a competitive time. Ollie from my triathlon club won the men’s and Hannah also from the club came third in the women’s race so it was great to see the club being represented on the podium.

Bristol Harbourside Triathlon - June 11th

I had decided this was my first real go at being competitive; I had completed this Standard Distance race in 2014 in 02:20:06 and I really wanted to dip under the 02:20:00 mark. It's an open water swim around the Bristol Harbour then a flat bike along the Portway before an undulating run along an off-road path that tracks the river. The conditions weren’t great and the swim was choppy and aggressive. Due to my shoulder dislocation issues in the past and the surgery being fairly recent, I get a little nervous in packed conditions when swimming and in this instance due to the tight nature of the course there was no space to fight out to the side.

wetsuit triathlon open water swim

I held back a little to stay out of the way of any elbows and came out of the swim with my watch showing 27 mins - not ideal but not the worst. I came into T1 and as I took my wetsuit off both my hamstrings cramped up making the removal of the suit pretty painful, but once that was over I was finally away on the bike. The bike course is fairly flat with a slight rise at the beginning of the lap with 6 laps in total. I was feeling pretty good on the bike but I knew I wasn’t going as fast as my previous go at this race. I came off the 25-mile bike course with a time of 01:06:54 and staggered into T1 - it was going to have to be a very fast run in order to sneak under my objective of sub 02:20:00.

It wasn’t a very fast run. As soon as I started moving on the run I knew it was going to be a painful one - I felt heavy and cumbersome and was being passed by a lot of people. I just had to sit inside my head and keep my legs moving and eventually the run was over. I finished in a time of 02:30:19 - not what I was after but still progress after the almost year off I took in 2016. The great news at this race was Hannah got third place on the podium of her age group so she was super happy. I beat her by 20 seconds so I was super happy too as she’s a great example of a committed athlete.

Training After Bristol

I had almost two months of training before my next race so I focused hard on my nutrition and some very specific sessions on the turbo trainer to ready myself for my first Middle Distance race of 2017. I have to be very careful with what I consume as I suffer with Ulcerative Colitis which can be a total game changer if it flares up, pretty much putting me on the sofa and stopping training. Because of this, I have a vegan diet as I have established that the removal of animal protein from my life helps me control the symptoms. By this part of the year I had got my weight down to 12 stone 6 lbs and it was sitting there nicely. Not quite as low as I would want to go but getting there and my clothes were a lot less tight. I have a few t-shirts that are good indicators of how I’m going - if they fit, I’m on the right track.

Cotswold Classic - August 13th 

This was my first Middle Distance race of the year - a distance I have decided to focus on for the next few years with the intention of qualifying for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships either next year or 2020. I really wasn’t sure what to expect going into this race; Bristol had brought my expectations down as my performance was not as good as I'd hoped, so I was looking at my PB over the Middle Distance of 05:30 and thinking if I could come close to that then I would be happy.

The weekend itself was awesome as I had my partner Helen and son Jakob with me. He was just over 1 at this point so great fun to have there for cuddles and to help take my mind off the race. We were camping at the official event campsite which was only 10 minutes walk from the start line and the weather was great.

We arrived on the Friday night and after a long drive we had our camper van and awning all set up. The Saturday involved registration and a little explore of the race village whilst scoping out the lake and run route. The lake was very calm with expectations of it getting even more still for race day - ideal. The large lake would allow me the space my dodgy shoulder needs and apparently the starting waves were not too big which meant less aggression at the start. I had my standard rice, pasta, and tempeh meatball meal on Saturday night and managed to get a great night's sleep, only interrupted by Jakob a few times.

I love race morning, it's so calm and peaceful before everything kicks off. I got up extra early to consume my vegan power bowl of oats, vegan yogurt, nuts, seeds and rice syrup and I was off to be one of the first into transition with my bike. I try to keep it as simple as possible so my bike was racked quickly with minimal clutter in transition then back to bed for an extra 30 mins sleep. Then came time to get down to the lake side and await the briefing whilst putting on my wetsuit. The briefing happened 10 minutes before my wave start and before we knew it we were waist deep in water awaiting the gun. I found a nice bit of space by going wide and got into a little groove fairly easily. The conditions, as predicted, were perfect with the lake being still and warm. A couple of turns and we were back to shore getting pulled out of the water by some helpful volunteers.

This was pretty much the moment that would set my mind for the rest of the race. The Middle Distance race I completed post-surgery in May 2016 I had managed a swim of 47 minutes, so I nervously looked at my watch on my wrist as I ran into T1 readying myself for the worst. 31:53 - I could not believe it, I almost laughed as I found my bike and the enormous positive wave of emotion pretty much stayed with me for the rest of the race.

T1 was quick and soon enough I was on my bike and heading out onto the mainly flat course - I quickly discovered I was stuck on the big cog of my bike meaning I was stuck in a fairly high gear the entire ride, but that wasn't too much of an issue on this course as climbing was at a minimum. The bike course was fast - conditions were optimum with no wind and the sun was not too hot. I went past a lot of people before I found my place among the surrounding riders and the two laps flew by with minimal incident. The odd foot down road crossing took a little bit of time but nothing to worry too much about. By the end of the bike I was feeling pretty positive about my chances of coming close to my 05:30 PB and I entered T2 in a good frame of mind.

As I jogged along with my bike, Helen and Jakob were cheering me on which gave me a great boost. I racked the bike quickly and everything again went smoothly as I changed shoes and got my aerodynamic pink socks on. Having pushed the button on my watch shifting it into the run section of multi-sport mode, I could monitor my run time but would have to change screens to see my overall time. With this being a three-lap run, I decided I would not check my overall time until the beginning of the last lap as if I was behind my 05:30 target it would break my brain.

Half way round the first lap I had a sudden pain in my left knee - this is an old issue I thought I had long solved - it was worrying as it used to be a show stopper but I decided to run on and see if it would ease. After about two miles of gentle running and a bit of time on grass it became manageable and I continued at my normal pace. The run was mentally taxing but not entirely unpleasant - every lap I got to see Helen and Jakob. I felt relatively good on the first two laps but as the third started I began to fade. As the third lap started I flicked my watch screen to check my overall time and it was showing 04:10. I established that on a three-lap half marathon course with one lap to go and the time showing 04:10 I had a decent chance of going sub 5 hours for the first time ever! So off I went - this last lap seemed to last forever and I did slow down considerably. I got to one of the final marshals and shouted “less than two miles to go, yeah?” and his response was some kind of generic “keep going you’re doing really well” - this was not what I needed. But just as he finished a young lady tapped me on the shoulder as she passed and said “less than 2k to go” in a thick Aussie accent. Less than 2k - this was not the time to mess about so I picked up my pace and thought about the beer I was going to consume at the end.

The finish was within sight and I turned the last bend, gave it a little sprint, and crossed the line. 04:45:45 - I almost fell over. By the time I got back to the barrier Helen and Jakob had fought their way through and I got a massive hug of congratulations before sitting down for some time.

This is the best race I have ever done and I loved every second of it.

Ironman Weymouth 70.3 - September 17th

This was a race I entered late as almost all of my club were competing and I wanted to be involved. Unfortunately, a week before the race I got a cold so had a sore throat and a cough by the time race weekend came along. It was nice to be there with so many club members and Tavistock Triathlon Club must have been the most represented club at the race.

Me and two fellow athletes were camping just on the edge of town in my camper so when race morning came we had a bit of a trek into Weymouth to be ready for the sea swim. It was cold and early and I was ill - my mind was not in this at all. The sea swim came and went with me getting out of the water in 40 mins - not ideal and I felt like I had been battered by waves and drank half of the sea.

I set off on the bike with no real energy and being passed by rider after rider. Around half way through the bike, Hannah came past me and offered a shout of encouragement - this was the main hill of the ride so I tried to stay on her wheel. I couldn’t hold on for any longer than 20 seconds before I saw her ease off up the hill looking strong and in control, far from where I felt. As I crested the hill, both of the screws holding my aero bar in place came out and vanished into the hedge so I was left with a dangling aero bar. That was it - my mind had gone. I sat up, finished the bike slowly, pulled into T2 and called it a day.

This was not meant to be. After a quick walk of shame I found the Tavistock supporters crew and joined in the cheering for the club members still on course. This was great fun - there is nothing better than shouting encouragement to people you know completing something quite so tough. Well done to Nicky, Hannah, Lindsey and Mark for qualifying for the 70.3 World Championships in South Africa and Ollie for having such a strong result but forgoing the option of a Wold Championship place to focus on other things.

triathlon triathletes racing

Super League

I came out of Weymouth feeling worse than I did when I went in but I had a week until a weekend in Jersey as part of the Super League event. I was part of the MaccaX Team taking part in the corporate relay which would be held over two days racing in the mornings of the Saturday and Sunday before the pro races in the afternoon. This would allow for a quick race in the morning before an afternoon drinking beer and cheering some of the best athletes in the world around the new Super League format.

super league triathlon jersey

Photo credit: Darren Wheeler www.thatcameraman.com

We arrived on the Friday morning and the event village was just coming together. We had VIP access to the event for the weekend so nothing was off limits. As we arrived, Macca was just finishing some television work so we settled in for a beer or two and a bit of lunch at the Radisson before he came to join us and shoot the breeze. He’s a great guy and it’s always good to catch up when the opportunity presents itself. We pretty much wasted the afternoon over a few ales in the sun before heading over to the pre-party in a bar next to the hotel.

The racing format for the Saturday and Sunday for us was a relay of swim (330m), bike (5k), run (2k), swim (330m), bike (5k), run (2k) and I was in a team of three so we’d each be doing one discipline twice - I was designated bike rider so I’d doing two sets of 5k bike rides flat out. Other teams had more members so would spread out the duties. As we were at the pre-party, it was established that we were down a team member as our swimmer was stuck in Miami. Ian Dickinson had be roped in to do the run for us so I then had to recruit a swimmer.

It just so happened that this weekend Alistair Brownlee was on the island, but due to recent hip surgery he wasn't racing and was instead commentating. So over a beer I thought I’d ask if he could swim at the moment and he said yes - so I asked if he fancied subbing into my team for the Saturday morning as our swimmer and he agreed. So The Legends of Triathlon relay team was born.

Alistair Brownlee Super League Jersey 2017

He promised to be on time the next morning and as we were setting up as promised emerged Alistair Brownlee. I can’t imagine what was going through the minds of the other corporate competitors at swim start when a two time Olympic gold medalist rocked up next to them! We finished 4th out of 17 teams. 5k flat out on a bike hurts, especially with a bit of a hangover - slightly more of a hangover on the Sunday I must admit. Overall, the Super League was one of the most fun triathlon-based weekends I have ever been to and the opportunity to meet and spend time with all of the pro athletes was a real pleasure. I think Super League is a great addition to the sport of triathlon and will fit in nicely with the existing structure adding a different kind of racing with a dynamic structure. The team have done a fantastic job and I look forward to watching it grow. 

swim bike run racing triathlon

Brecon Beacons Ultra - November 18th

This race will be my final outing of 2017 and is more of a jolly than anything else. 47 miles of running over the Becon Beacons in 15 hours. Me and two others are planning on doing this as a team and take our time - which is handy as I am carrying an injury. Hopefully the treatment will allow this race to take place and it will be as enjoyable as I expect it to be with some stunning scenery and a few pints afterwards.