HSV September 2012 Sprint Triathlon

As is obvious from this blog, I do a bit of cycling. This year I started doing my club time trial, and this led me to think about what other competitive ways I could find to stretch myself. As a kid I swam competitively at school and club level so the combination of swimming and cycling offered by a triathlon was appealing. The only problem is that I don’t have any fondness for running.

The solution was to find and enter a locally run sprint triathlon, in the form of the HSV September Triathlon, held at the Herts Sports Village just down the road. The definition of a sprint isn’t strict, and this one involved a 400m pool swim, 20k bike section and a 5k run. I reckoned I’d be able to cope with 5k.

I had a couple of months before entering and the event itself. Despite good intentions my training didn’t extend beyond one pool session and a single outing at the St. Albans Park Run, just to make sure I could actually run 5k!

I was quite pleased with a time of just over 24 minutes, but had no idea if I’d be able to do that after the swim and bike. I’d read about brick sessions when for instance you start a run straight after a session on the bike, but I decided for this first attempt to just go along and firstly see if I liked it and secondly set an un-trained base level from which I could improve.

The one thing I did do was purchase a minimum of tri-specific gear, in this case:

  • A one-piece tri-suit used for all three disciplines. Made from quick drying technical fabric and including a thin chamois for the bike leg. It saves any need for clothing changes in transition.
  • A race belt that allows you to quickly put on your race number for the cycle, where it has to be visible from the back, and to flip it around for the run when it needs to be visible from the front, again saving time and complexity in transition.
  • Elasticated laces for my running shoes. These speed up the second transition, do not come undone, and don’t require much dexterity to do up (important if your hands are cold!)

On the day myself and friends Paul and Fiona left the house at stupid o’clock to get to the sports village, get registered and set up in transition for the briefing at 6:15am. On entering I’d been asked for an estimated time for the 400m swim and this decided the starting order. I’d pessimistically put ten minutes (I’d be gutted if it took that long) as it seems did a lot of other people. I’d be starting in 113th place out of the 239 entrants present.

Whilst waiting for my start it was apparent that the swimmers in front of me would be holding me up. The swim was organised so that you do two lengths in each lane before ducking under the ropes into the next. Thus, you start on one side of the pool and exit on the other into T1. When my time came I caught the guy in front within the first length, giving him a tap on the feet to let him know I was there (harder to do than it sounds!) As per the briefing he let me pass at the end of the length. This continued throughout and I passed about ten people, only being able to get proper tumble turns in on about half of the lengths that didn’t involve a lane change. I concentrated on not using my legs for anything more than stability in order to save them for the later segments and on keeping a comfortable pace. I completed the 400m in 7 minutes 24 seconds. Given a clearer run I might have got just under the 7 minute mark without needing to go all out.

Out of the pool I headed into transition and my bike. Again, other than thinking a bit about the order I’d do things in I’d done no transition training so it was a case of on with socks and cycling shoes (I chose to wear socks as I’d never cycled with wet unclothed feet before and now was not the time to try) sunglasses, race belt and helment, then grab the bike and head out. T1 took 1 minute 35 seconds.

There was a bit of a run from the T1 exit to the mount point but soon enough I was on the bike and heading out onto roads I know very well (the halfway point was at the end of my road!) In theory the bike is my strongest segment, but with hindsight I under-paced myself in fear of the run leg. I completed the basically flat 20km in 40 minutes 59 seconds which, not withstanding the 2x 200m or so of running from transition to mount/dismount point was quite slow, at an average of around 18mph. To put that in perspective, two days before I’d ridden 50 miles at 19mph average, and in my 10 mile TT personal best I’d averaged 20.6mph on a much hillier course. In hindsight one factor was that in order to save time in transition I’d opted not to use my Garmin so had no speed or heart-rate data with which to pace myself properly. It was also the case that I simply didn’t know how much to conserve so was probably conservative in riding a higher than normal cadence in a lower than normal gear to keep my legs fresh.

On the bike leg. Tri-suits are not a fashion statement!

On completion of the bike leg however I had passed lots of people who started before me and had been passed by only one with higher start numbers. T2 was much simpler – rack the bike, take off helmet and cycle shoes, flip round belt and put on running shoes (the elasticated laces worked very well here) and I was out in 1 minute 10 seconds onto the run course.

The run consisted of four laps of the sports village. After each lap we were given a rubber band. Three bands and you knew you were on the final lap. I set off at a pace I felt I could keep up for the entirety. I didn’t get any particular weird feeling coming off the bike onto the run, which again suggests I’d held too much back. Aerobically I felt ok, and in so far as I could ever enjoy running, it was all fine. However I resisted picking up the pace until the final 500m or so and finished the run in 25 minutes 17 seconds, over a minute down on my Park Run outing. At the finish I felt fine, and really knew that I could have left more out on the course.

The net result was an overall time of 1 hour 16 minutes and 22 seconds which saw me finish 74th out of 239 starters, and 9th out of 35 in the Male 35-39 group. Overall this was really pleasing given if asked I’d have said I was aiming to get under 90 minutes. What’s more important is that I absolutely loved the whole experience, so much so that I am already signed up for my next one in October, have arranged to go along to my local masters swimming club training and will be hitting the Park Run a lot more often!

From looking at the results, it is obvious (and expected) that the run is where I have most room for improvement. However encouragingly I think there is time to be shaved in all areas so I’m really looking forward to having another go, armed with a better idea of how to approach it.

Finally, a word about the event organisation. It was simply brilliant. The timing setup was very impressive, with the ability to get a print-out of your time/splits as soon as you had finished. The marshalls were friendly, encouraging and plentiful, the cycle route very well signed and basically everything ran like clockwork. Congratulations to everybody involved in putting it on. I look forward to the next one in May!

Garmin Sharp Ride Out 2012

I was recently lucky enough to get a place on the 2012 Garmin Sharp Ride Out organised by Garmin UK. I got my place through the ballot so considered myself very lucky to be among the 500 people gathering at the UK Youth Avon Tyrrell activity centre in the New Forest on a sunny and warm Friday morning.

Garmin have put this event on for the last few years to co-incide with the Tour of Britain. They bill it as a chance for their pro team riders to give something back to the fans, and the whole day was certainly in that spirit. The highlight of the day was to be a 50 mile ride through the New Forest in the company of the pro riders and assorted other special guests. However the whole day from start to end was a well run and extremely fun occasion.

After registration, which included possibly the best goody bag ever (including in my case an extra piece of luck in being a random winner of a Camelbak) there was time to peruse a variety of demo/vendor stalls. Muc-Off were giving demos of their cleaning products whilst of course, Garmin were demonstrating their cycling related GPS units. Indeed you could also hire one free of charge for the ride (I’m already an Edge 500 user.) Mavic mechanics were also giving bikes a fettle on request.

In a larger marquee area Garmin’s UK Fitness product manager gave a good demo of the features of Garmin Connect. In the presentation and Q&A he openly admitted that progress with Connect hasn’t been as fast as they would like. He also talked about some of the upcoming features they are working on, including better elevation/gradient features in activity views and course planning, as well as more social/discovery features. All of which should help bring Connect more in line with some of the competition that have moved faster and which, frankly, have taken mind and market share. It will be interesting to see if Connect can tempt me back from being an avid (and paying) Strava user.

Next up was no less than Phil White, the founder and CEO of Cervélo – the Canadian bike company that of course provide Garmin Sharp Barracuda with bikes (after Garmin and Cervelo Test Team merged for the 2011 season.) Phil talked about how he and Gerard Vroomen started the company as cycling enthusiasts but primarily as engineers. He then discussed advanced in carbon-fibre technology and some of the innovations they have brought to the cycle industry, especially in terms of testing. He claimed Cervélo were the first company to actually factor in the rider in frame testing! Finally he talked about aerodynamics and how Cervélo have innovated in this area through use of Computational Fluid Dynamics and other wind-tunnel analysis, especially focussed around the development of the P5 time trial/triathlon frame. He talked about “foam Dave” – a laser modelled replica of Dave Zabriskie used to achieve consistent and repeatable tunnel tests.

Phil White from Cervélo

During the Q&A I asked Phil if he thought the UKSI bikes used by Team GB at the Olympics were likely to be superior to commercial products given their hype, or whether it was just smoke and mirrors. He answered that he hadn’t obviously been able to obtain a UKSi bike, but he was pleased that David Millar, the Garmin rider and Team GB road captain, was not pressured to ride one of the UKSI creations and chose to ride his Cervélo S5.

After Phil finished it was announced that the Garmin team were delayed (aside, they went to the wrong place – jokes were made about that given the sponsor!) so a couple of hastily arranged Q&A sessions were presented. First up was Tim Don, 2006 ITU Triathlon World Champion.

Tim Don

Tim was brilliant value, answering everything asked of him with humour and honesty. This included his disappointment at not being selected for London 2012 (the BTA went with a strategy of choosing “domestiques” who would ride solely for the Brownlees.) and his goals for the future.

Next were Felix English and Luke Mellor from Rapha Condor Sharp. They were thrown in at the deep end a bit but made a good fist of their Q&A and came across as hungry young pros.

By this time most people were getting hot and sweaty in the marquee and increasingly eager to get out on the road. The ride briefing kept some interest, but thankfully the Garmin team arrived and quickly got up on stage.

L-R: Lachlan Morton, Tyler Farrar, Sep Vanmarcke, Steele Von Hoff, Nathan Haas, Jacob Rathe

A short interview commenced, covering the year so far (including the relatively disastrous Tour de France) before the questions were opened up to the floor. Naturally most were aimed at Tyler and Sep, but in the spirit of the occasion it was good that nobody asked anything too testing or controversial.

So, onto the main event. We were set off in groups of about fifty. Unlike what I’ve read about previous years, there was no attempt to segregate groups by expected speed, which was good. I ended up in the third wave out, and we had Nathan Haas along with us.

On Nathan Haas’ wheel! (Photo from sportivephoto.com)

I managed to have a chat with Nathan about his season, saddle sores and his goals for the Tour of Britain (it has been one of his main goals all year) and his targets for 2013. The pace being set was fairly average and it was clear that the pros were quite happy to go at the prevailing pace of the group they were with. I took the opportunity to play pretend pro and shot off the front to catch a smaller group further up the road. I eventually made my way onto the back of a much larger group with Sep Vanmarcke on the front. I stayed with this group until the food stop at halfway.

Me and Sep at the food stop

The second half saw me ride solo or with smaller groups. At one point I hooked up with a larger group and realised I was following the wheel of Tim Don! This lasted for about five miles until we hit an exposed section with a headwind and a slightly uphill drag that saw me drop off the back. I made it back to the start with an average speed of just under 19mph however.

Post-ride hot food was provided as every relaxed and swapped stories before people started to ebb away.

A massive thank you to Garmin UK, the Garmin Sharp Barracuda team and everybody else involved in the day. Of course, events like this are always PR exercises but this really felt like it was aimed at giving back to the fans. Judging by the number of people wearing Garmin kit, riding Cervélos and generally having an awesome time, it is well worth the cost and effort. Given the amount that people pay for a far inferior experience at a lot of UK sportives this event really stands apart. Other pro teams could do well to follow the example. I hope I get lucky next year as well!

Sportive update

It has been a while since I wrote anything about my cycling, and there has been quite a bit of it recently, including a couple of sportives.

Ride With Brad

First up was the inaugural Ride With Brad sportive in and around Lancashire/North Yorkshire. Whilst it has a new name and a new patron, the event has been run previously and went by the name of the Bowland Beast, or Pendle Pedal. It was my first time riding oop North.

The course was tough by any standard. Comprising 100 miles and over 3000m of climbing including Longridge Fell, Trough of Bowland, Nick ‘O Pendle, Barley Fell and lots more un-named but brutal hills. The last 20km or so in-particular was constantly up and down over gradients in the mid-teens. I started off in the third wave of riders and we made quick progress for the first 13 miles to the bottom of Longridge Fell. The weather was perfect at this stage with no wind and a mild temperature. At the 50 mile food stop I was feeling fine and continued on after a quick stop. Unfortunately just after a group of us took a slight diversion off the intended route and this must be where Wiggins himself managed to pass us by. Loads of people talked about getting to ride with him for a while, but we must have missed him here.

For the final half the weather also turned a bit. Thankfully there was still no wind, but a constant drizzle descended for the rest of the ride. The only real impact was to make people a bit more cautious on descents, but still there were a couple of incidents I came across. I also started cramping up on climbs. I had to stop briefly at one point to shake my legs out and started to make sure I fed and watered more regularly than I had been doing. However the damage was done. Thankfully however I was still making up the severe climbs using a variety of positions on the bike to try to use different muscle groups. By this stage there were plently of people walking the hills! Only on the steep ascent out of Barley did I run into trouble as my right leg completely cramped up on a 17% gradient and I had to unclip or fall over. There was no way of getting back on and going so I had to walk the final 20m of the climb.

Once the ride was completed there was time to stick around to watch Brad do the raffle before heading back down the motorways. All in all it was a well run event and certainly a good challenge.

Marlow Red Kite Ride

Two weeks after the Ride With Brad was another new sportive, but this time a lot closer to home, and a lot flatter! The Red Kite Ride was put on by Marlow Riders and took a 100 mile route North through the Chilterns and Vale of Aylesbury. The route was fairly flat with only 1200m of climbing.

Once again I started amongst the first riders and managed to spend the majority of the first half in the company of a group of 4-5 others. We worked quite well together keeping up a good pace along some fast roads. The second half was spent pretty much solo but again I pushed on in an attempt to keep a decent average speed up. The effort from the Ride With Brad had obviously paid dividends as I felt pretty strong. I also fuelled better. Talking of which, Marlow Riders really went to town with the food stops which were the best stocked I have ever seen!

I made it back to the base in a pleasing sub 6 hour moving time at an average speed of just over 17mph. By contrast that is 90 minutes quicker than my moving time for the Ride With Brad over basically the same distance! Just goes to show that I’m definitely not a climber!