Race Week: Thames Turbo Sprint Triathlon, or Crossing the Rubicon

And it was all going so well. I came out of Sunday feeling like I was on top of the world. This week was less than five hours old before I’d managed to completely balls it up. Gah.

Monday: 1 hr cycling, 10 mins swimming/40 mins cycling/20 mins running Thames Turbo Sprint Triathlon
Tuesday: Rest day due to injury
Wednesday: 1 hr 15 mins running
Thursday: 1 hr 10 mins turbo
Friday: 1 hr swimming
Saturday: 2 hrs 25 mins cycling, 55 mins running
Sunday: 1 hr running

It wasn’t until I’d crossed the finish line of the Thames Turbo tri that I realised I had a bit of an issue on my hands. Rather, I didn’t. A couple of other athletes did, and looked at me with ready-to-laugh grins, and asked what had happened to me. This thoroughly confused me. I’d… raced? Raced pretty well? Who the hell are these guys, anyway; do I know them? Are they Chasers? Shit, I’m league captain, I should probably at least know who th-… oh. They’re pointing at my arm. Which is fairly covered in blood at this point. Ah.

At about four-thirty in the morning – just five minutes from my house – I ended up skidding along the tarmac, having toppled over sideways on Agro ten meters after pulling out of a junction. I’m still not exactly sure about the how or why of this; I have theories, of course, foremost among them being that four-thirty AM is just a stupid time of day to be doing anything ever. As any sane person would do in this situation, I swore very loudly. Then I marched my noble steed to the side of the road and inspected there was no lasting damage (some more minor scuffs to the handlebars, but that was about it). Good, fine; hop on and be on your way. I didn’t pay much mind to the fact that my right arm felt pretty wet and sticky until I was a few hundred meters further down the road.

It was pretty minging by the time I got to the race, which I very quickly and half-assedly solved with some damp tissue and a supposedly waterproof plaster (that came off seventy meters into the swim, sorry guys behind me). Not just my elbow being buggered, I also had a pretty bruised hip and another wound on my ankle. But, importantly: no damage to the bike. Priorities here, people. I could hardly pull out of the race: (rearranged) first tri of the season, league race meaning I have the captain thing going on, a year since I did my first tri on the same course, same weekend. There was far too much riding on this race for me to call it quits.

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As it happens, I did pretty well. I’d gone into it wanting to drop ten minutes from my time last year of 1:16:46. My swim wasn’t quite as fast as I’d hoped, covering the 436 metres in 9:24 – on average, a second slower per hundred meters than I’d swum in the Big Fish Ironman distance swim the previous day. Albeit sans wetsuit, but without terrible sighting, plus achy shoulders and a bike crash. Not terrible, but I’d hoped it could be quicker.

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A remarkably swift T1 followed, considering I’ve not had much practise at these this year. I may have managed the world’s slowest flying mount (I think it was more of a mid-air-engines-have-stalled mount but it still counts dammit), and then I set off to push out a punchy 38:05 over 21.5 kilometres. I do this bike segment a lot as it’s on my usual TT training ride route, so I knew roughly how to play it, and I came away very happy with this split. I also knew all about the speed bumps and how you can definitely not leave tuck to go over them if you have a solid grip or your aerobars. This probably did nothing to help aforementioned cut on elbow, as it sits irritatingly smack bang at the point on my arm that I’m resting on when in aero tuck. Consequences: one very bloody arm pad.

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Finally, it was time to go hunting. Sure, you two fellow lycra warriors may have breezed past me on the bike – one of you wearing the dreaded red and yellow of our rival club. I imagine you may have thought me had, but no. See, I have a very particular set of skills (actually that’s more of a deficit being surprisingly offset by a singular skill in this case, but whatevs), skills that I have acquired over a very short career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you slow down on the bike and allow me to retake you, so I can maintain the ego-trip of overtaking the hybrids and the commuters on my multi-thousand death machine like it actually matters, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will speed past you making a noise something like “HHNGRAFFGH” as I try and thank you for your exclamation of “Nice running mate!” or something like that as I passed, and my heart rate is spiralling into the low four digits over here and I’m not quite getting enough oxygen to articulate six-character words.

A new multisport 5k PB of 18:11, and a new pool-based sprint tri PB of… 1:07:13. Just half a minute from dropping that full ten I was aiming for, but still a very solid result for me. I ended fifth in my age group, which is far and away the closest I’ve got to a podium, and it was really nice to see the benefits of the hours I’ve been putting in. It’s a great point to build from for the season.

Anyway, that’s that. Honeymoon over from this point onwards. Given the amount of blood and pain, I went to see the medics after the race who promptly informed me that I shouldn’t have been racing (whoops) and should have instead been heading to the nearest A&E department. Which I did, after breakfast. No-one ever healed a small but pretty deep cut on an empty stomach, after all. The end result of all of which was that I’d not broken anything and didn’t require stitching, but did get a fancy new bandage. Definitely worth the three hours of my afternoon, I tell you.

Much of the rest of the week didn’t go to plan, due to feeling kinda like I’d had a bike accident. Training got cancelled, altered or shortened with little notice, just because I didn’t feel capable of pushing myself. This wouldn’t be a massive problem – oh who am I kidding, you know I’d whinge about it here anyway. This week had the added irritant that it was meant to be my last heavy week of training before I take a week’s taper for Deva Middle Distance next weekend.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. After having a look at said wounds yesterday and noticing that they look decidedly greenish and pus-y, a second trip to King’s College ended up with the revelation that the wounds on my elbow and ankle are infected, possibly from residual gravel. Great. I’ve now had to strike off any swimming until Deva (they told me no swimming for a week at one this morning, so I should be in the clear by a solid six hours or so by the time I get in the water next weekend). I’ve also got the world’s most unexciting looking pills to take. Grey and brown casings? Eugh. That doesn’t look remotely like any sweet I’m interested in.

Spending quite so much time in King’s College A&E this week hasn’t left me in a great mood. It’s my nearest hospital in London, so they bore the brunt of all the stupid things I’d do to myself; at least the times I bothered to go to hospital. I’m pretty sure that if you blindfolded me I could navigate to the major injuries unit without too much trouble, but a rising degree of uncomfortableness (let’s not get started on the place over the road, that still makes me shudder a little). It was only a grand total of seven hours, but seven hours feels like a lot longer when you’re just sat waiting. Too much thinking time, it’s not good for the brain.

On the other hand: look at all these drugs I have now! West Norwood just became pulp and beige popper central. I’ll never quite forget being congratulated by my local pharmacist the time I dropped in and was allowed to collect a whole fortnight’s worth of antidepressants in one go. The guy actually shook my hand. I didn’t quite know what to make of that. I struggled with anti-depressants a lot, either taking too much or not at all (not that I take them anymore, but at the time it might have helped). I still have a few thousand milligrams of Mirtazapine stashed away for the world’s rainiest day. Sometimes I ask myself why, and I can never come up with an answer; but I can never throw them away, either. I suppose one day I will, and that’ll be another benchmark.

To say I feel like I need a taper week, then, is a bit of an understatement. It’s not been a hard week physically so much as mentally. The same five stages of grief I experienced with my Achilles injury at the start of the year came and went, although a lot faster this time. I’ve been looking into ways to try and pad my elbow/arm rests for Deva next week – including hilarious ideas of layers of waterproof plasters, gauze, and strategic cling-filming – but I think I’m just going to have to accept that I’ll race as usual, and it’ll just really hurt. I was told by a very tired doctor that it’d be a silly idea to race with it, as I might reopen the wound and that’ll lead to worse scarring. Given that I have some pretty prominent scars on my arms already, I’m a little nonplussed by the cosmetic implications of this. It’s just going to require a little more teeth-gritting than usual, that’s all.

Deva’s going to require quite a lot of grit regardless, elbow or not. Marking my first foray into long distance triathlon, it’s also the second most important race of my season after the obvious one. I haven’t made a massive secret about the fact that I want to have a pop at age group contention next year (representing the ‘ole GBR at a non-professional level), and if I do this I can’t help but imagine it will be at the longer end of the race distance spectrum. As such, I need to nail this race not just to give me confidence for Ironman Kalmar, but also for next year. Is it bad that I’m thinking ahead to next year already? I think it’s bad.

I’ve been pretty ambitious with my targets for Deva, and it’s the first race I’ll be going into with a bona-fide strategy rather than just thinking I’ll try and hit x in y time, and hope it works out. I’ve planned out pretty much everything: where to (attempt to) draft on the swim and where to push on regardless; what average mph I need to hit on the bike, when to eat, when to switch to gels; which fuel stations to stop at on the run and what I’ll be collecting from each. A lot of it will hinge around the bike leg, admittedly, and hoping I don’t run too far over my targets to negate the time I might save on the swim and transitions, and cause me to have to go too hard on the run to try and save it.

Then there’s the post-race schedule: die for five minutes, cheer on some other competitors, collect my prizes and get a pic of me on my first podium, rush to the train station, sign a number of sponsorship deals on the way home, inform everyone in the early eve that next week’s blog will be late because reasons, fail at getting ready for my last week in my current job…

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Also, part of the reason I’m doing this is to raise funds and awareness for The Maytree Respite Centre, a small charity in North London that provides support for people going through a suicidal crisis – so if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here. Thanks so much!

One response to “Race Week: Thames Turbo Sprint Triathlon, or Crossing the Rubicon

  1. Pingback: Race Week: Deva Middle Distance Triathlon, or Anatomy of a Car Crash – Half-Rust·

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