"What the fuck am I doing this for?" was pretty much my first thought this morning - when my alarm woke me up from a kip in the back of the car, in a car park down a country lane somewhere near Swanage, at 5 am. One breakfast, a drive to the town and change into tri-suit later, I was still thinking pretty much the same thing as I brought my bike down to transition. Once everything was set up, I had my numbers drawn on, and I'd queued for the pre-race lightening of the load in a portable toilet ritual, I set off across the sea-front to the start area for the sprint swim. As I looked out across the sea at a beautiful sunrise, I remembered what the fuck I was doing it for.
Seeing the town before it wakes up, getting in the sea as the sun rises, and then sprinting out onto the bike to make the most of the country roads before the traffic gets on them.
It all started just a few days ago, when Ramon said the guys were going deep water soloing in Lulworth for the weekend, and asked if I'd like to come along and do some easy stuff. As tempting as it was, I didn't trust myself not to push to hard on the still mending finger, so I declined, planning to stay in london for one last weekend. On second thoughts, I needed something else to do to get me out of here. A quick look on the web revealed the swanage classic sprint triathlon - just 17 miles down the road from where they were. Totally under-prepared and under-trained, it would surely be enough activity to tire me out for the weekend, and the rest I could spend on the beach watching the guys freezing and/or hurting themselves.
I haven't really done any open water swimming in ages, and not much in the pool either, so standing with the 50-odd people in wetsuits that comprised wave 2, waiting to jump in for a 750m swim across the bay, there was a lot of nerves mixed in with the excitement. In the pool, I've been working to increase my stroke rate recently, but in short sets so I'd told myself I must drop back to my old pace... but as we bombed out into the sea all thought went out the window, and I went out way too hard. For a while I thought I'd got into a good rhythm, breathing every second stroke and cruising along quite nicely, but about half way across I suddenly realised I was close to vomiting. I eased off the pace, but I wasn't relaxed and it kept creeping up again when I wasn't looking. In the end I made it through the swim, but it was with wobbly legs that I ran up the beach, down the road and into T1.
The bike leg started out with a long slow hill climb, and again I went out a bit quick. Fortunately this time I realised it early on, and dropped down to my lowest gear for a while and just made it to the top of the hill. A couple of guys on road bikes went past me, but that was fine - I'd recce'd the bike course and I knew there was a nice flat section coming after (with great views down to Corfe Castle) so the tri bike would soon take me past them again. After that it was a technical descent, followed by rolling hills the rest of the way round. I settled into a good cadence and made it round the bike course fairly uneventfully, if not blisteringly quick. Coming into T2 I was feeling pretty good, but that was about to change.
I'd gone with the vibram five fingers shoes for the run, and my calves were not happy with the transition from bike to bare-foot style running. I hadn't done a recce of the run course, but as it turns out that might have been a good thing... I may have got back in the car and gone somewhere else. A kilometer or so in, just as my legs had loosened and I was starting to pick up the pace, the signs pointed us off the road and onto a track that went straight up the side of a hill. There were stone stairs in place, and after running the first third of it I was forced to back down and walk the rest. Coming over the top, the path then continued down a wide curved ridge, with stunning sea views - or at least they would have been stunning if I wasn't in so much pain. As soon as I'd started running again I got a massive stitch. I tried to run it off, but soon I was bent double, so I went back to a walk for another couple of hundred meters. As I cranked it up again we were approaching the steep descent, from the bottom of which it wouldn't be all that far back to the waterfront, so I resolved to grin and bear it - thankfully I didn't have to test my resolve, the 200m walk had done it's job and the stitch was gone.
I was really pleased to finish the run in better form than I'd started it, in the end coming down the road to the line at quite a good pace, overtaking four people in about the last kilometer and probably the closest to a sprint finish I've ever done. 1:54:08.48 wasn't quite the time I was hoping for, but it got me 37th out of 108 entrants (and 11th out of 20 in the Male 35-39 category), so all in all I was pretty pleased. No doubt tomorrow I will suffer for my over-enthusiasm in the face of ill-preparedness, but that'll be worth it... it's great to be back racing again!