The Vit, 2006

The last few days of preperation went well. It’s always easy to taper and eating well is never a chore. We were staying with some friends who lived right on the cycle course in Egleton – so I had no concerns about the accommodation. Of course Friday turned into a nightmare at work and I was a little later leaving than I’d hoped, but eventually we were rattling up the A1.

It got better because as we were driving up on the Friday evening and rang ahead, they said that they were planning to take another house guest-competitor to go register and to drive around the bike course and I’d be welcome to join them. I’m ambivalent on the issue of what you can learn from a drive around but it generally serves to settle the nerves and there might have been a few points which just made a little more sense when comparing the reality with a vague description on a route plan.

So I registered and we met up with Ed (our host) and Mark (my co-competitor). We took a quick look at the lake and I thought it didn’t look too long for a 950m lap … and then we drove around the course. Then the first problem arrived – as we returned home I realised I’d managed to drop my timing chip. While it’s never going to be fatal, it’s not something you need to weight on the mind. Returning to the car park with a torch and attempting to retrace steps brought nothing. Oh well, I thought, that’s an hour of sleep I’ll be sacrificing as I would have to go back to registration early in the morning.

Then to our hosts for a wonderful supper: roast chicken (no skin), lots of potatos and a small mountain of strawberries (and ice cream) and convivial, relaxing conversation. And an early night? No such luck. Two hours lying in bed trying to get to sleep and with an alarm set for 4-50! I didn’t think I was nervous, but apparently you never know how it’ll affect you.

Eventually I dropped off but too soon the bleeping roused me and I dressed and wandered downstairs – only to meet my fellow insominac who had also trouble sleeping! A few Weetabix and a banana and out into the still pre-dawn darkness. Fortunately the registration team were used to clots like me and a new timing chip was not a problem – I’d hoped someone might have found it, but no luck on that score.

The normal faff in transition – munching a power bar, packing the various pockets, reminders of the feeding points, trying to look for signals around you for quickly locating your place – a little nervous banter with your neighbours and a very long queue for the few toilets. (If I had one criticism of the organisers it was only that one thing – a few portaloos really would have helped!) A brief chat from the organiser but nothing much had changed from the instructions and then the advantage of having few waves in the race all close together was clear. It makes for very little hanging around and once the briefing was concluded, the first wave was in the water before I really noticed … and they were off!

Time to don the white hat, spit into the goggles and take to the water. The mud was suprisingly warm, the sun was rising with a wondrous pink and the gun was sounding.

Swimming has always been my weakest discipline, it’s something to tolerate and try to finish with as low an average heart rate as possible before the real fun starts on the bike! This swim went really well. I’m not going to beat the world, but 21 minutes to the first exit from the water, then 24 minutes (including the out of water bit in the middle), was just about exactly what I planned. And more importantly, the average heart rate was well in control – just 154 bpm in the second lap. That really helped me in the first transition, while the head was still buzzing from the cold water, I wasn’t too lightheaded from a pounding heart. It also helped that the run to transition was really short – there are too many events where the geography is sub-optimal (I’m looking at you, Blenheim) or the transition too large (and that’s you, London).

The transition went reasonably well – not the fastest, but I took some advice from an IM friend, spend a few seconds here to make sure its all just so, because the next leg is long enough for you to suffer with the mistakes.

The bike leg is always my favourite and straight away I was passing people. Out of Whitwell towards Oakham and I glanced at my speedo and my heart fell. There was something wrong. Oh no, maybe it was just that I’d left it set to kph. Never mind, the maths to convert it to mph will keep my mind occupied. Then I realised I must still be cold from the swim. This downhill really was that steep. I really was doing 41mph. Great stuff.

Then a couple of quite nippy turns and heading towards my reception committee in Egleton. It’s always nice to get cheers and this was no exception. With another spring in the pedal I charged on. I was trying to keep myself under control, but this was just one of those days. The heart rate had settled to mid-140s, the cadence was decently mid-eighties and I was managing to sit at around 20mph. My pre-race target was two and a half hours – so I knew it was 3-minute miles down the line with a few extra seconds to be picked up along the way. Over the Rutland Ripple – a surprising jolt to the system – and around we continued. Thanks to the Pirates supporting on the long hill just before the turn back on to the 606 – shouting “Vesta” at me at that point was another boost! It’s definitely worth wearing club kit! I’d goggled a couple of gels and a bar during the lap so was feeling surprisingly fresh as I approached the end of the first lap, rolling into the feed station, grabbed a water bottle (holding it in my mouth), and a High5 bottle (into the cage) and a banana … and got a rousing cheer from the crowd for chancing my luck without taking my shoes out of the cleets! Hit the lap button: 75 minutes and small change. Bang on target.

The second was pretty the same as the first, the hills were tougher, it felt slower, but was only actually about 90 seconds off the pace of the first. The second transition though, was where I managed to forget the sage’s advice. I managed to leave my heart rate monitor on the handlebars and even forgot to take my gloves off. I noticed the watch was missing only after I’d run over the timing sensor, so I knew that it would be foolish to return. I do now wish I had as running blind without a time was agony.

Well, to be honest, the run was agony anyway. Least said about it the better – apart from the Doctor orders “more” if you’re going to do this again. The route around the lake was pretty, but there was a stinging headward on the outward leg which you really could have done without. Half way around and the crew have relocated and briefly I get a good lift from a couple of cheers near the turn point. Then back out around the lake – and boy that headwind kicked you again.

And then it was almost over. The return leg of the second run leg was mostly walking (or so it seemed), but there was a good spirit amongst the mob and while I can’t say I always enjoyed the “come on mates” I knew they meant it and I tried at least to show willing. The last few hundred metres and I honestly thought “this doesn’t feel like 5 and a bit hours”, but my legs disagreed! The line appeared and I saw someone else’s watch showing the actual time and did some maths … 5-34 (or so). I was at first slightly disappointed at missing out on 5-30, but then remembered that that had been my real target, so suddenly it seemed better again.

And I had a new t-shirt that said “finisher” on it. Which I wore for most of the rest of the day.

Well, you’ve got to, don’t you?

PS. Sorry to disappoint those that noticed that in the official results, even with the correct chip number, that they’d managed to lop about 45 minutes off my time. Which is a shame as a) I wished they were right and b) I don’t actually know what my correct time is. It might actually be under 5-30 as someone who ran passed my very near the end from my wave posted 5-27 … but then, it is my fault for forgetting my watch in transition!

PPS. So. What’s next? I’m just not sure if I’m up to a full one yet. But equally the Vit proved that I could probably manage it. If I trusted myself to do the training that I patently didn’t do before this one …

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