The Vitruvian Triathlon, Saturday 9th September 2017


I’m not Chinese, but I know what “The year of the Tiger” is, and “The year of the Rat”, and geeky enough to know that this is without doubt, “The Century of the Fruit-Bat” (thanks to Terry Pratchett – which I use whenever the opportunity arises – usually in reference to ftp and csv files) so I can’t really start this blog without labelling this “The year of the Half Iron”.

Even now I wonder “Why did I want to make this the year of the half iron? Why do a half iron distance tri at all?” It’s all to do with “the fear”. The fear is _the_ great motivator. The fear ultimately springs from the inability to do something I’ve committed myself to: and with Standard-Length triathlon no longer giving me that butterfly feeling when I think about lining up on the start line, The Half Iron was the next level up, and I’m pleased to report, still does give me the heebie geebies – which means there is at least a way to go before I crack and enter a full distance.

This was the second, and final, big race this year. I booked it before Holkham, I think, but as Holkham was a club race, and the first, I treated that as my MOAAR (mother of all A races) and had this as a back-up plan in case either of DNS / DNF / mechanical. As it was, Holkham went as well as I could possibly have hoped for: I came in under my target time, the nutrition plan almost worked, I did the half at the end in 5:30/km etcetera. This in retrospect may have been a bad thing: although The Vit was treated with respect, I certainly skipped a few of the Fink training sessions (especially the longer rides, they were difficult to fit in) without feeling too guilty – combine this with school holidays and associated reduced training, and the attitude I went in with may have been a touch too lackadaisical.

Staying with friends in Market Harborough the night before (big thanks Kerry, I owe you one) meant that the 0600 mandatory race briefing could be arrived at with a relatively benign 0420 alarm. Despite trying to be quiet as a mouse, I still woke the man of the house who fed me an energising coffee as I chomped down on some rice pudding and banana. Making my own porridge in the jug I’d brought along, I set off at about 0450 and didn’t actually get to the porridge until I was sat in the car queueing to get into Rutland Water.

A note on the banana – at Holkham I didn’t warm up properly and didn’t eat a banana pre-race: subsequently half way through the swim I ended up with some nasty cramps: as an improvement, I factored both into my pre-race ritual.

Getting there as the dawn is breaking, I’m directed to a spot which is pretty much in the lake. I should have brought a head torch though, as I mess around trying to get everything I need into one bag. Note to self: pack properly the night before. A lesson I seem to have forgotten.

Toddle off down to registration which goes without a hitch: I’m glad I got BTF to send me an updated card as the first replacement had been lost in the post.

Brief chat with race number 703 and point out that he should rename himself 70.3 – “only it’s shorter than that” he responds without irony.

Once I’m racked I realised I’ve left the marsupial bike bento box in the car, and I’ve failed to fill up my water bottle. Silly boy. Haven’t really got time to go to the car before race briefing so I delay wet-suiting up and head to it.

Race briefing is its normal semi-humorous banter. Details of swim, bike and run are dispensed. Although I didn’t spot the ‘unfriendly’ town mentioned in race briefing until second lap, where the heavy marshal presence is in fact blindingly obvious.

This is the national chaps (again? this is the second this year and I didn’t set out to enter the NT on either occasion), does this make the competition tougher than normal? Possibly at the pointy end I suppose.

Running back to the car to get plasters and marsupial pouch counts as warm up, right? Some dirty looks from the BTF enforcers as I’m still pulling my wet-suit on as the first wave is setting off. Second wave leaves as I wander over to blue hats in the 40-44 category. There are two sets of blue hat waves: 40-44 and 45-59, jests ensue about making sure you’re in the right wave. I do like the tri crowd.

Swim – 1900m – 00:43:52

The swim is a rough triangle on Rutland Water, with a somewhat bizarre quick out-and-back-in-again at the end of the first lap. I think I saw the Brownlees do this in Leeds, so what’s good enough for the goose and all that.

With a count-down from three the horn went and we all launched ourselves into the water. Well, those age groupers who were competing in the NC did anyway – the completers amongst us were somewhat more gingerly treading over the rocks that formed the ‘beach’.

The usual friendly violence of a mass start, and then as we swim into the sun we’re joined by a bunch of red hats as they set off on their second lap.

Swimming into the rising sun means I can’t really sight the buoy on the first leg of the triangle, which means I’m somewhat erratic and prone to stopping to do some breast stroke whilst I find out where I’m going. Not much else to report on lap one: I could have gone quicker but was trying to be efficient. I need to be able to identify a suitable body to draft, as everyone whose toes I latched onto either were going too slowly or shot off into the distance.

Out around the final buoy, then back to the start to run across the timing mat to start the second lap. This was really painful underfoot:  I’m the first to admit I’m a bit of a wuss where these things are concerned, and I’m paranoid after Holkham where I cut my toe really badly. The upside is that as you passed the timing mat the PA lady yelled your name, which was A Thing.

Sighting on the second lap into the sun was possibly even worse than the first: I managed to go so off course I ended up swimming into a kayak: “Swim into the sun” came the cry. Yeah, thanks for that. Very helpful.

The bonus news is that there were no cramps.

Point of amusement on the second lap, I swam past someone who was walking – I knew it was shallow and a bit weedy at that point but I didn’t think to stop and walk. I overtook him so it must have been quite slow.

Although the swim was slower than I wanted it to be, I was working on long efficient strokes and it matched my realistic expectation. Jogging out into transition here were a large number of bikes still around so I can’t have been going that slowly.

T1 – 00:03:28

Into T1 I took my time, tried to make sure everything was right. Neck a gel. Helmet on, then shoes on wet feed. It was chilly so I opted for the cycle jersey, which unfortunately went over the race number belt (which I’d kept on for the swim). The BTF enforcers weren’t having any of this as I made my way to bike start, although, to their credit they did stop and help me out so it was in the right place. Jog over to the mount line and off we go.

Bike – 84k – 02:55:38

The bike course consists of a lap around Rutland water, taking in a couple of ‘ripples’ – three, apparently. The climbs themselves were not that long, but still leg-sapping, and separated the men from the boys. Overall, it’s quite a scenic course. The weather was neutral, as although the sunshine was good, it was pretty blustery and some of the descents felt uncomfortable with the bike squirrelling away in the wind beneath me.

There were plenty of marshals at the junctions: although some seemed to consist of unenthusiastic air cadets (who can only have just been in their teens) which didn’t really inspire much confidence of their ability to deal with an emergency. I’m probably selling them short.

There were a couple of BTF moto-marshals out too, allegedly also to monitor and stop drafting, but at the non-pointy end they didn’t seem too bothered if we were a bit bunched up.

The road surface wasn’t fantastic, but wasn’t too bad either, certainly I didn’t see the litany of punctures I’ve seen on other courses, but there was the occasional ‘Ooof’ as unseen potholes were ridden over.

One of the down sides to this course is that there are a number of long stretches along single-track A-roads: and I saw at least a couple of obnoxious drivers. I do have some sympathy – as the field stretched out there were lots of cyclists at barely legal drafting distances, and overtaking large bunches of cyclists isn’t the best fun one can have. There was some truly inexcusable stuff going on: in particular one nutjob in a corsa – a volvo was going past as a reasonable speed / distance and this red corsa goes by overtaking both it and the cyclist, he can’t have been that late for work, could he? Sort of ruined it.

A random encounter of a work colleague (I did know he was doing it but we’d failed to meet up) happens on the first big hill. Oliver must have started in the 20-30 age group so I’m not riding that badly. It’s good to stop, say hello, have a chat, spin the wheels for a bit and then leave him gracefully behind.

There is the ubiquitous and reassuring ‘whoomp-whoomp’ of solid rear wheels passing me by for most of it, and I’m steadily overhauling slower riders over the course of the first lap. It all gets a little more strung out over the second, which is no bad thing given the grumpy traffic.

Worth mentioning is at about 75% through the lap the stars align and we have a section of relative down-hill with a trailing wind and lots of speed-traps which say ‘24mph – good job!’ and the like. Very cheery. This then sadly comes to an end as the last mile or so of the loop you pay for all of this by going uphill and into the teeth of the wind.

Through the race village again and I’m finally able to grab a full water bottle. Blessed relief. Neck that and a high-5 electrolyte drink on the second lap.

Following the nutrition plan seems to have gone out of the window as I’m only doing an energy bar every 45 minutes: which is a bit lower than the plan says.

Not much more to report. Those missed long rides were missed: minor back and saddle ache towards the end and I was glad to get off into T2. Next time I won’t skimp on the longer rides. Probably.

T2 – 00:02:21

Even less to report in T2 than T1. Rack bike, jersey off, shoes off, helmet off. Socks on. Shoes on. Feet and in particular toes numb as all buggery, but the bricks that Fink has me do mean that there isn’t too much jelly leggedness.

Shamble towards run out in good spirits.

Run – 20k – 01:55:38

The run is a “twice there & back again” circuit around the eastern end of the lake: from the activity centre to “Kerry’s church” – I was told to look for it and on the first lap I even saw a wedding party having photos done.

The run is mostly on paths with the occasional interlude of grass and off-road to keep it interesting., although not enough to warrant off-road shoes.

The track was worryingly narrow in places, especially as it was open to the public who seemed intent on cycling down the middle, or if you were in the under three set, wandering backwards into the path of the athletes at random and inopportune moments.

There were plenty of feed stations (unlike the bike) manned by some enthusiastic youngsters and their parents.

Wave to at least three others who are wearing the same dbh tri suit as I am. On the second lap get a “race suit buddy high five” which is a thing. I guess entertainment is otherwise sparse on the run?

Second leg of the first lap catch Oliver as he goes past. Not the last time we pass each other like ships in the night and get a high five on.

On the second lap I see GlennRs, head down, only realise it’s him too late and only manage to get a shout in.

Make some friends on the run: short woman who leaves me for dead – suspect my pace dropped rather than her speeding up. Plus, a guy who was breaking his middle-distance Cherry.

As we round the perigee the second time, Cherry and I look across the lake and a conversation along the lines of “I don’t think we’re going to beat the rain home” ensues. We don’t even get to the turn along the eastern end of the lake: hail bounces off the path in front of us and I’m glad I remembered my cap as I’m able to angle the cap to stop the hail stinging my face. There is a certain amount of bonding going on as a group of four of us trudge through the torrential downpour.

Soap is emerging from my left shoe: I must have used some to clean off the blood from Holkham and didn’t rinse it out enough.

I feel for those who are going to be out for long in this. But then it passes as quickly as it arrived and the sun emerges again.

Throughout the run I’ve been able to hear the strains of “Blah Blah Blah VITRUVIAN!” yelled with great enthusiasm over the PA. Cherry ups the pace and I can’t match it, and I’m over the line “Mumble Stephen Muble Racestrong VITRUVIAN!” is yelled with great aplomb, and it’s all over.

Back in to transition to collect my now soaked belongings: happy to report the Blue Seventy transition bag is waterproof as advertised.

Overall – 5:40:57

66th of 101 in AG

Finished in 5:40:57 – allegedly a PB at ‘half’ distance but this was shorter on the bike and run than Holkham. I will have to extrapolate from data to see if I was quicker. It’ll be a travesty if I am.

Post-race report from Greg (who was live tracking as he’s nice like that, and he’d entered but was a DNS) said he thought I’d had a good swim and bike, and then lost interest a bit in the run. I think this is true – not because I’d really lost interest, but my legs weren’t quite there. This could either be a nutritional thing, or probably, and more likely, a lack of long brick thing. Of the three fat bricks on the plan (3 to 4-hour bike followed by a 45-minute run) I managed one, and that was with a shortened bike.

Looking at the ‘Good, Better, Best’ aims from a previous blog, I’m going to say I hit the middle: I crossed the start line, didn’t drown, crash or walk (except for a few bits on the run where I was rehydrating) but the average speed on all three was below where I wanted to be. We’ve been working on swim turnover rate with the tri club and mine is too low over this distance. It’s not like I need my arms (or core) for anything else… is it?! The run and swim was all lack of training so I know how to get that back.


I did enjoy it. I didn’t see anyone post-race as I had to dash off as I was playing a gig that evening: which is a shame, it would have been nice to hang about the lake and chew the fat with the two other competitors I knew and all my new friends.

Apparently, this is the 15th iteration of the Vitruvian, it shows as it’s a slick operation. The marshals were friendly, the briefing good and the general feeling was that everyone had a job, and knew how to do it.

In terms of swag, you got a black branded hoodie for showing up, and a non-technical tee for finishing, plus, a medal that I think I’ve lost already (it is probably in the tri bag somewhere, I had it when I got to the car).

If I was to do it again I’d almost certainly camp – primarily not impose on Kerry’s hospitality, but also to have an extra half an hour in bed.

Having said that I’m not sure I will be doing it again (unless there’s a club outing or similar): having to get out of the water for a lap on the swim was rubbish and painful, the cycle course was ruined for me by the A-road Saturday morning traffic, and for some reason the run just didn’t inspire me (although this is probably me more than the run itself) – at least it was flattish.

They need more feed stations on the bike: one wasn’t enough (particularly as I hadn’t filled up before the race).

The littering of my fellow competitors was probably the worst I’ve ever seen on a course, no matter the length. I hope the air cadets had a chance to sweep the course afterwards. All sorts of rubbish: water bottles, gels, entire tool kits.

I’m damning it with faint praise. It deserves better.


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