EpicMan Windermere Middle Distance – September 20th 2020

What a year. With 4 cancelled races this year, Soph and I jumped at the opportunity to race again at EpicMan Windermere. Ironman 70.3 (middle distance) is our speciality when it comes to triathlon. However, a cold lake swim, 1600m of elevation on the bike and a trail run to finish, certainly is not! But we were up to the challenge and, honestly, any opportunity to race. So race day arrived and we were buzzing just to get going, whatever challenge would be present and there were a few…

The “Socially Distanced” Swim – Swimming into the unknown

With covid-19 regulations in play for the swim starts, the overall tactics of the race were turned upside down from the off. Usually you would place yourself with the faster swimmers in your group and set off together, so when you exited the water you knew who your competition was for the bike. For this race, the plan was for the faster swimmers to go first in 3-5 second intervals… “socially distanced”. However, when it came to the day it turned out that everyone was queueing up regardless of speed, so any tactics of staying near competitors of a similar speed was out the window.

With a last minute panic between Soph and I over whether swim socks were legal to wear, we quickly decided against it and headed to the start line. After registration the day before in gale force winds, we were expecting a lot of chop on the water. However when we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to see a clear calm lake in front of us and thankfully, not too cold… Hooray! With no idea where my competition was, the plan was to swim as fast as I could, in as much of a straight line as I could. Solid game plan. This went well for the first 600m, then I had to make a right turn across the lake and boom… sunrise straight in my eyes (sounds beautiful but not always helpful in a swim) and even with polarised goggles on, I couldn’t see a thing. So my only option was to trust my competitors in front of me and follow blindly. Luckily they did not lead me astray and led me to the next buoy. I turned right (away from the sun) onto the backside of the course. I got back into my rhythm and sped back up. Approaching swim exit, I started to kick harder to send some blood to my cold legs and feet (wishing I had worn my swim socks). Exited the swim in a time of 32:46 minutes, which I gave myself a nod and said that will do. Full disclosure – triathlon is sport where you are alone the majority of the time in the race, so we often talk to ourselves (not in a weird way, generally to hustle yourself to get a move on or congratulating yourself.)

Transition 1 (haha if you can call it that) was more like a half time picnic. It’s safe to say with this being the first race of 2020, I was out of race practice. For the first time ever, I sat down in transition and put on two… yes two pairs of socks. My feet were not going to get cold. After stumbling around having a drink and fumbling to put my gloves on, I was out of transition in an unrespectable time of 3:02 minutes (usually I would aim for around a minute).

The Bike – Beautifully brutal hills and fantastically frustrating tourists

Onto the bike, I was full of beans by this point after a good swim and a good rest in transition 1 (tutting at myself here). Flew out of transition on my bike and even managed to do a flying mount onto my bike after a year with no practice (should have practiced in training really). Heart rate was through the roof, so gave myself a talking to and said to calm down. There was 90km to go but felt like I was going at good speed. The first 10km was nice and flat on smooth roads, perfect to get into aero position and pick up some speed. Then I turned right onto the two loop course of what I called “beautifully brutal hills and fantastically frustrating tourists”. You get lots of time to think in middle racing and I was probably dehydrated. Weirdly, the race organisers had decided not to offer nutrition stations on the bike course (maybe due to covid but no reason was given), so we had to take everything with us we would need, which ultimately meant we didn’t have enough to drink on the bike. Then the hills, oh those hills, they were just relentless and I knew I would have to do them all twice. But I settled into my rhythm on the hills and hit them hard and hit the descents harder. The roads were smooth at this point and there wasn’t much traffic (open roads), so I was making good time. But then I got to the descent towards Coniston Lake and the “fantastically frustrating tourists” turned up. A line of tourists in their cars looking at the views and struggling to navigate the small windy roads of the Lake District. With no way to overtake safely, a group of us were stuck rolling for 5 antagonising kilometres until the roads got wider. In reflection, this is what you get when you enter a triathlon with open roads. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t. Lap 2 was the same story. There were “beautifully brutal hills”but I didn’t get much of a chance to sit back and look at the views. Legs at this point were screaming at me but still going at a consistent pace compared to lap 1, so I felt happy with the progress. Back to Coniston, my friends turned up again to check out the views, so I hung around for 5km to check them out too. At this point I was thinking, surely this has happened to everyone but apparently not as Soph had clear roads both times through. But that didn’t matter as with 15km of clear roads to go it was time to put your foot down and get back to transition so that’s what I did. My legs weren’t happy about it, especially with a few punchy hills to climb on the way back. But I made it off the bike in a respectable 3 hours 12 minutes. This is no where near my personal best over 90km but with 1600m of elevation, it isn’t comparable anyway. Happy with the effort I had put in and putting the frustration of the tourists to the back of my mind, it was time for my next picnic in transition before the run.

Transition 2 (picnic 2) I honestly don’t know why this transition took me so long. All I had to do was swap my helmet for a cap and sunglasses, put my trainers on and pick up my gels. Plus, I sat down again in transition even though I had been sat down for the past 3 hours (bit lazy really.) After 3:14 minutes I was out of transition and onto the run. Turns out I was 6th fastest on the day for this transition so I guess everyone else was suffering as much as me after the bike.

The Run – Always check your laces

Here we go, 4 laps of a trail run and you’re done, how hard can it be? Turns out after cycling 1600m of elevation on a bike, your legs don’t want to move very fast for the run, so yer, really hard. Obviously, like normal, I sprint out of transition thinking I can run my usual race pace and I did but it wasn’t to last. It was a story of my heart being stronger than my legs. My heart was saying go and my legs saying no. Before you think I am getting emotional here talking about my heart, I am actually talking about my heart rate. My heart rate was low but my muscles (legs) just wouldn’t move. That being said, the run was great fun. Usually in triathlons my run would be a boring out and back along a main road. This was a trail run, along a lake and through a forest, so lots of scenery to take your mind off the pain. However, on lap 2… disaster struck! I felt like I was getting my running legs, finally starting to get a bit more confident on the rocky inclines and descents. Then I came over the crest of one of the hills and bam… I am face down in the dirt rolling down the hill. Tripped over my laces (what a muppet). I lie down for a 30 seconds to wait until reality comes back to me and then check myself over. Legs ok, just a few cuts and bruises but they will move, wrist I landed on is screaming at me (don’t need that to run) and other than that, good to go. Marshall wants me to go to the medical tent but I let him know that I only need my legs to run and will go after the race. Time to catch up for lost time, lets go… legs say no. I get round the next lap, adrenaline pumping through my wrist and onto the final lap. I push on, not fast, not pretty, but got it done. Run finished in 1 hour 41 minutes, for me very disappointing but all things considered, happy to finish the race.

Onwards and upwards

So… EpicMan… Well it was ‘Epic’ and it certainly did not disappoint. I am always looking for a challenge and this certainly was a challenge. It’s not the usual flat and fast race that I am used to with closed roads and nutrition stations on every turn. But challenges like this make us into stronger athletes and there were some athletes out there that nailed the race on the day on a very tough course. Massive congratulations to everyone who completed the race and huge admiration to the athletes who were not only able to go hard on the hilly bike but run fast afterwards. After 3 years training on the flats of Singapore, my training will be majorly focused around hills, hills and more hills in the near future to make me a stronger athlete. Final time 5 hours 32 minutes, final position 36th. This race was a challenge and a learning experience. More training to come. More to come from me!

Oh and the wrist… thankfully not broken. Just a sprain. Means a while off outdoor riding and swimming normally. But I can still do kick sets in the pool, indoor riding and running as usual (with my laces tied!). Nothing is going to hold me back from training. Still 10 and a half months left in our ‘one year to go pro’ journey.

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