Race Week: Deva Middle Distance Triathlon, or Anatomy of a Car Crash

Well, fuck.

Monday: Rest day spent making lots of lists
Tuesday: 1 hr 5 mins running
Wednesday: 30 mins turbo, 30 mins yoga
Thursday: 30 mins turbo, 25 mins running, 20 mins stretching
Friday: Rest day spent finding lots of items on lots of lists
Saturday: 20 mins stretching
Sunday: 40 mins swimming/3 hrs 25 mins cycling/1 hr 20 mins running Deva middle distance triathlon

So, long distance triathlons. What’s that all about, eh? Which idiot is willing to push themselves the hardest through three different pain barriers. Bit silly, innit. Aw shucks, maybe I’m just bitter. Most anyone who has been paying attention will know, by know, that Deva didn’t exactly go spectacularly well for me. It was a pretty big race in Half-Rust terms: first long distance triathlon, key training event for IM Kalmar, the kind of event I’m making tentative designs around for next year.

More than that, it turned out that there was a last-minute matter of intense pride at stake: having met fellow Chaser and Ironman-in-training Joe (who also has a training blog that’s definitely worth a read) the day before the race, it turns out that we’re fairly evenly matched: he’s stronger on the swim, I’m maybe a touch faster on the bike, we’re pretty evenly matched on the run. Obviously this was only ever leading to one conclusion: a showdown to the death over seventy and a bit miles, to claim the title of… wait, I can’t remember what the stakes were. I think it was just a mild sense of smug superiority. To be fair, smug superiority is like crack to triathletes, it’s a pretty big deal.

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Instead of posting an age-group worthy time, and instead of proving definitively that I have what it takes to excel at long distance racing, and instead of drawing first blood in the inaugural round of the Scoggins-Bright face off, I decided to kamikaze a Welsh kerb (and any hopes of hitting my goal times) at somewhere upwards of twenty MPH. I can comprehensively state that, in hindsight, this decision made for a poor race strategy. It also makes for a poor life strategy. Stay away from kerbs, kids. Especially Welsh ones.

It’s very hard for me to look at the results of this race objectively. I had a specific goal time to hit: four hours, forty five minutes. Of course, that was the main goal: I also had minor disaster/major disaster goal times of five hours/and thirty minutes respectively. I achieved the major disaster time, which comes as some small consolation. However, one of the drawbacks of the small-data world of endurance sports is that I have access to split times, moving times, pacing, and all manner of other wonderful and utterly infuriating numbers. There’s as many positives I can take from this race as there is negatives, and I’ve been left with a lot to think about.

Positive: I know that I hit my target on the swim, ish. The official time was 39:21, but I know from my magical GPS watch that the actual swim was a minute quicker than that, and the extra was from trekking up the riverbank and through the park to transition. Given that this marks an improvement of nearly ten minutes over the distance from last year’s Hever Castle middle distance relay, I’m okay with this. It could have done with being another minute quicker still, but hey. I mixed it up at the start, got kicked in the face without dying, sighted better than during the Big Fish swim, and – shock horror – even managed to draft at times. It wasn’t a performance that will ever shock the world, but I’m happy with it.

Negative: I was meant to come out of this race, have an easy week to ease the muscles back into some kind of human shape, and then launch into the grizzliest, heavy period of my eight month training plan. I’ve actually managed to come out of the race with training on hold for a currently indeterminate length of time. As of today, I’ve got next to no mobility in one knee, a severely compromised shoulder, and a lot of open wounds; many of which are currently covered in medical-grade honey, which is apparently a thing. It might be good at drawing gravel and dirt out of wounds, but if I stumble on London’s feral bear population any time soon I am so many degrees of fucked. Also the smell is making me feel ill. Currently, estimates are that I could be back running within a couple of days, cycling within a week, and swimming is off the table for as long as it takes for my skin to patch itself back together. I’ve been through another poor spell recently with training, so this is super disheartening.

Positive: I know that, up until the mishap that threatened to end my race, I was very much on target to hit my previously-thought implausible bike goal time of two hours thirty. My bike time went down as 3:23:41. If you discount the five minutes I spent dealing with an earlier mechanical fault; on top of the forty five I spent sprawled in my own blood and bike lubricant, huddled under a space blanket waiting for the medics to turn up, and getting patched up; and then the minutes I lost taking the last twenty or so miles at a slightly less confident pace… well, I’d have been there. Considering that this was the area of the race I had the most doubts about, I’m surprised by this. I just wish I’d given myself a proper shot of seeing what I could do.

Negative: I’m left doubting my bike handling skills after the last couple of weeks. This was much bigger deal than the minor scrapes I suffered on the way the the Thames Turbo sprint a couple of weeks ago, but the two together have me a little shaken. Sure, it was wet. I have done long rides at HIM intensity in the wet before, that shouldn’t really be a factor. I’m more concerned with the fact that, as with two weeks ago, I’m not really sure exactly what happened. Once is a lapse. Twice is a lapse in concentration, and I am very prone to them. That’s not healthy in a race situation, at race pace. In the grand scheme of things, I got off very lightly this time; heaven forbid it happens again, that might not be the case. This mental break can probably be summed up best by paraphrasing the dear parent’s reaction to hearing of the crash: Mum’s response was ‘Oh dear, are you okay? Please tell me you’re okay’. Dad’s reaction was more along the lines of ‘Are you alive? Well, get on with it then’. Neither of this reactions I wrong. I need to try and reconcile them into getting on with it, but in a more responsible and careful manner.

Positive: Still covered in bodily fluids either of my steed’s or mine, I still managed to produce a cracking run. There’s some contention as to whether or not the course was a little short, which I suspect it was. 1:19:56 for a ‘half marathon’ is silly fast, even by my standards, but even going by the average pace I was moving at a full half would have been around the one hour and twenty five minute mark. Either which way: well ahead of target, which is especially grand considering I was too emotional at this point to stick to an actual pacing plan and decided to just run on feel. This is an approach that I think I can just about pull off in a half marathon, but yeah, may need to switch that up and keep a cooler head for the Ironman.

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Negative: The pic above doesn’t really tell the whole story of it, because this was taken post second medical intervention and a few hours after the race. While it was certainly fun crashing through the undergrowth around the edges of the run course as I sped past the run traffic I had become so arrogantly unaccustomed to, I probably need to address the fact that at this point it the race I looked like the world’s most athletic hobo. This race was picked mostly on the basis that it fit in with my training plan, but also on the merit of being affordable. Thankfully, I think Agro survived the crash with just a little cosmetic damage (touch wood), and my C-Originals helmet continued to be impressive and sturdy despite its lightweight quirky looks. However, the list of other kit that I ruined/lost on the course now stretches to: a whole new tri suit, arm warmers that I had bought specifically for this race, new unused CO2 pump and canisters, one of my rear cages, spare inner tubes, bike levers, multitool, and bar tape. Just when I thought I’d paid out everything I needed to before August.

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Positive: most of all post-crash, I’m impressed with my mental fortitude. Or rank stupidity. It gets a little hazy around the time I was in T2, where after stumbling in from the bike I had a little sit down and a think about whether or not it was a good idea to continue. I’d become so fixated on hitting that perfect race goal time that I’d actually forgotten about the minor/major incident times, but in the end I pushed on anyway. I was brought into tri by people who tote signs with slogans like ‘Clapham Chasers are NOT pussies!’ and ‘Pain is only temporary!’ and I guess it’s kind of rubbed off. It would have been easy to quit. Luckily, continuing doesn’t seem to have caused any lasting damage, and I finished in strong style, so I’m thinking I made the right call.

Negative: Now I’m slightly removed from the race, it’s harder to be entirely content with things. Another Chaser, the wonderfully smiley and forever upbeat Gemma, gave me a lift home (some idiot decided he’d book a train home for 7pm in the evening) and made it absolutely impossible for me to be a misery guts for the hours it took to drive back from the north. But sat here writing about it all again isn’t so pleasant. It’s why I started this post in a more traditional race report format, before canning it and starting again; if I think about this race as one singular entity, it just makes me angry. I’m better than that; I was stupid and careless, and it cost me. If I think about it in abstract little portions, I can kind of strip away the negative feeling and it makes it just a little easier to focus on the positives that arose independently of the final result.

Emotionally I’m a little all over the place. There was too much invested in this. It’s hard sometime to remember that while I’m giving all of these witty and cutting insights into my life, it will sometimes be necessary to take a step back from the pride and heroics and deal with the fact that psychologically I am, and likely will continue to be, a little bit fragile and pent up. This can’t be allowed to spill over too often; every now and again is fine, but right now I could do without it.

Positive: After years of self-harm I’m a veritable expert at makeshift self-bandages. The blood even washed out of my single intact arm warmer. Winning.

Negative: Still haven’t fully solved the smooth legs dilemma. This week was the turn of Nair. Nair fucking sucks. I’m not sure what bits are road rash and what bits are Nair rash. Don’t use Nair.

Just a final note: a massive thanks to the marshalls on the day, particularly the two last minute non-triathlete conscripts on the roundabout I crashed approaching, who were excellent. Despite being a bit mardy about the race experience I had, the event as a whole was very well done. Bravo, Chester Tri. I love the towel.

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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!

7 responses to “Race Week: Deva Middle Distance Triathlon, or Anatomy of a Car Crash

  1. Holy shit you are a walking disaster at the moment. Might I advise you not to operate any heavy machinery? Ever?

    In all seriousness, we talk about transition as the fourth discipline; and nutrition as an important discipline – but we also know that the mental side of things is just as – if not more – important, particularly for Ironman. But you’ve got it sorted. You even know it – you said it yourself: ‘most of all post-crash, I’m impressed with my mental fortitude’. And you should be. You overcame. You persisted. Not only that, you beat my PB for 70.3, and you took a 45 minute beer break half-way through it, you prick. That half-marathon time is balls-out mental. You hit your swim goal. And most importantly I think – its not even your main race for the year. These are just the entrees mate; the main course is yet to come. Don’t sweat the small stuff like broken bones and internal bleeding; the big stuff is coming and coming soon. And you’re ready for it in all facets. You are gonna smash it.

    Liked by 1 person

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