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World Triathlon Championships, Ming Tomb Reservoir Beijing 11th September 2011

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Swim: 28min 22 sec (35/82)

T1: 1min 51sec (3/82)

Bike: 60min 23sec (1/82)

T2: 1 min 08 sec (1/82)

Run: 36min 32sec (2/82)

Overall: 2hr 08min 15sec (4/82)

Position: 4thin age group.


Arriving in Beijing a week and a day before the race looked a very good idea as the weather outside the terminal on landing was 30?C with significant humidity. With only low volume training for the week leading up to the race, the hotel with its 18m pool, gym with treadmill and bike was perfect. I felt good in training up to the event although had some discomfort in my right periformis and also left shoulder in the three days before the race. With gentle massage and increased rest, I knew these would not give me a problem.

Wednesday saw the weather change significantly with heavy rain followed by clear but cool skies by Friday. Saturday for the Sprint races was nothing short of Cornish drizzle in temperatures below 20?C, felt so sorry for those competitors. Forecast for my standard distance races on Sunday was better.

Race morning, I followed my now tried and tested pre race preparation of waking 4 hours before the race to have porridge, agave nectar, an apple and banana. Following the 3am feed, it was movie time before stretches and final preparations at 5am. Setting off for the race venue, a 15 minute walk, the sun came up to uncover a welcoming crystal clear sky. The roads were already drying rapidly….brilliant, no holding back on the bike! The picture above shows the stunning race venue at the heart of the Ming Tomb area with mountains surrounding the West, North and Eastern sides of the lake. The race start from the pontoon was a backwards ‘n’ shape swim followed by three laps of the lake and a three lap run passing a large grandstand on each lap.

The temperature was rising quickly and at 6.30am my age group were moved to the first of three staging pens, spending ten minutes in each one before moving to the pontoon. Most competitors were now dressed just in tri suits and it would clearly be hot later. A personal disappointment at Thursday’s registration had been the announcement that the 26?C water temperature meant wetsuits would not be allowed. Hopeful that the Saturday rain had reduced the water temperature sufficiently to allow wetsuits, it was packed in my kit bag, sadly that is where it remained. This would now favour the better swimmers with their better technique and body position in the water.

Despite the lack of wetsuit, the start was exciting, the start looked stunning, different coloured tri suits of so many countries, Mexico, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Brazil, South Africa, China and GB were particularly noticeable. The field of 97 had reduced to 82 on the start line. Though with China occupying 26 of the last 30 positions by the finish, the host nation selection criteria had something to answer for (see bike comments later!). Soon after entering the water, the klaxon hastily sounded and we were off swimming hard to the first buoy some 500m up the first leg in front of the grandstand. After about 300m the lack of wetsuits enabled me to identify an Aussi tri suit to my left, they are good swimmers so this looked good. We were both trying to draft one person in front. After some minor skirmishes I dropped back onto the Aussi’s toes to draft him. He pushed on and soon was moving passed the swimmer in front. This felt good, was this fast enough? Think so, cadence felt good, and keeping close to his toes. After about 1000m, I pushed passed the Aussi, yes there was a bit of a turn of speed, perhaps he has let me go to take his turn drafting me. A good marker at about 300m to go was the temple on an island to the right, rats the Aussi was coming passed me again – hooked onto his toes and held him till about the last 100m when he pulled 5m or so ahead. The moment of truth, climbing out of the water I was horrified to see 28min something on my watch. What had happened? – the lack of wetsuit may have been 2min, so 26min speed, that was still terribly slow. The bike would have to count.

Mentally felt strong though and raced up the long run into the transition area and overtook the Aussi on the way in. With no wetsuit to take off, helmet and race belt quickly on, exiting the very long transition in less than 2min felt slick (only two went quicker). An interesting steep downhill mount was uneventful as fortunately had practiced some of these on a lane back home only last week. Straightaway the bike felt good and with sights pinned on a fast moving American about 50m ahead, I pushed on hard. Took a while to get up to him and went passed. I was surprised when he went by me again about 5 minutes later. Took him back straightaway but one shoe was not quite tight enough so took a couple of seconds to tighten my right foot straps he passed me again. He must have been on his second lap as he had an age group marking “G” on his calf, mine being “H” signifying he had a 15min earlier start. I took him back promptly and it was then good not see him again. Legs were feeling good and was actually really starting to enjoy the ride….this was the World Championships, the bike felt good and the swim was less than a distant memory. The course was extremely varied with two reasonable inclines, a couple of steep descents and some tight slow corners. Was a bit concerned pre race about the tight corners as better bike handlers may cut into my ‘hoped for straight-line speed advantage’ over most. Concentrating on racing lines I seemed to be getting these better than those passed, starting wider and turning later than most using the full run out of the corners to get on the power earlier – this seemed alien to many. Coming back passed transition was fantastic with all the cheering. This encouraged high speeds on the descent along the matted reservoir overflow channel (an 8 metre deep concrete channel), almost lifting off on some bumps! Second lap was starting to get quite congested and now having to really concentrate and to think carefully about what lines other riders were taking and several of the corners I had to abandon the ideal line to stay safe and not get boxed in or forced out. My wave start was 7thout and would be one of the busier times on the course. It was noticeable that many of the line ups seemed to be topped up with local Chinese athletes with restricted cycling ability; this was nothing short of dangerous in some places of the course. Confidence continued to rise however and took a few more risks on the corners and was now passing several of the earlier age groups as well as mine…how far down my field was I? How many were ahead? I would pay a lot for that intel! A combination of a more technical course than normal and concentration on technique on the straight sections meant the bike computer was almost redundant. First lap was about 21 min but that included some transition, second went through in 41mins so seemed about the same and third was another 20 minuter. Passed a few GBers in my age group and shared shouts of encouragement but never saw two of them who I knew would be competitive, one was a great swimmer (and won gold last year) so he was definitely in front, hopefully the other was behind. Coming into transition with my computer still on 60min and something, knew that was a good time with the challenges of the course and a route distance of more than 41km. Hopefully this would compensate for the swim a little.

Another fast transition (1min 8 secs and 1st) and out onto the run. Three laps with four passes of the now full grandstand. Many GB racers from the day before were out supporting and of course Helen, Tilly, William and Henry were excitedly cheering as they had been on the bike section. After 5 minutes I saw the last year gold medallist coming back the other way, golly he was a good bit ahead, that was more than a 5 minute lead. How many others were between me and him? Passed two other H’s on the first lap, were there any others? Each lap had a steep 400m climb to the height of the dam at the far turn point – again concentrated on technique, shoulders forward, cadence, think of the downhill to come! Really tried to roll as much as possible down the hills, use the gravity. Each lap had four water stations, and made a conscious effort to drink at all four and pour water over my head for the first two laps. On the last lap, no time for drinks just one over the head for the first two aid stations and then ears pinned back for the last half lap. First two laps seemed to be stride for stride with the leader not making any inroads. The last lap I gave it everything and with the packed field out on the circuit now, kept giving myself the targets of bodies ahead, imaging them to be H’s. Some were, but guess they were a lap behind as they were going much slower. The last 500m was very hard, just held it together crossing the line (!) and pleased to see had done just over 36min on a tough course, hilly and marginally long.

Overall a slow 2 hour 8 minutes, but knew the course was long on the ‘land’ legs and later the good swimmers confirmed they thought that it was circa 100m long on the swim too. So not a bad time for the course on reflection. Passing the finish line Colin Dixon confirmed he had won, then my heart sank when an American said he was third behind a Tahitian in the silver medal position. Oh No, so close, grrr that swim, I had found the only slow Aussi swimmer to draft….

Reflections on the race are that after the initial disappointment, this was a great result. Competing at this level in a triathlon requires a certain level of achievement in all three (four including transitions) disciplines. My swim was simply not at the required level to win a medal. I swam 28min 22sec. The winner swam 5min 49sec faster than me, silver swam 8min 33sec faster and bronze swam 4min 31sec faster. On the finish line I finished 4min 43sec behind 1st, 3min 22sec behind 2ndand 1min 25sec behind 3rd. The consolation is that in a very short period of time (injured September 2010 to January 2011), have managed to rapidly improve performance in all areas and have been competitive at this level. The bike time of 60min 20sec was the fastest of the age group and second fastest of the whole day for all age groups, the only one to go quicker was a 19 year old Aussi on a clear road at the beginning of the day. The run time of 36min 32secs was second fastest for the age group and combined with the bike time was 43secs faster than anyone else in the age group. Therefore I was actually fastest in the world…on land!

Thanks to everyone for all your support to make this adventure possible. Not quite the dream ending but I guess 4thin the world in the “old guy’s” category is not so bad. Think I am going to do some dedicated swim training this autumn, I