There must be dead animals on other sprint courses, but for some reason at Thorpe I tend to notice them. That and the smell of fermenting wood chips (that is – in my mind at least – exactly the same as the smell of Rooibos Tea) seem to be my enduring memories of The 2017 National Championships at Thorpe Park.
I’m guessing that these aren’t exactly the attributes the organisers of Thorpe are shooting for – they probably want me to remember the nice weather, warm murky, churned up water for the swim, the completely non-descript bike course on pothole strewn roads, and the horribly unimaginative run which could be so much better, the transition that’s full of recently mown grass that gets everywhere…
So, why do I bother? I do Thorpe because it’s close. Close enough that I can set off at 0620, ride there, and still be set up and early for the 0650 pre-race briefing. Close enough you can see my house from the bike route (not that any of the blighters I’ve hitched or spawned bothered to get out of bed to rattle a cowbell for me of course).
This year Thorpe was hosting the nation championships. Not that I really took that into account when booking, as well, it’s so close it’s stupid not too. The other draw of course is that Ben was doing it so I’d have a #racestrong buddy to, if not actually do it with, then wave at on the course. Or possibly just meet up beforehand. Or, given our history together, resuscitate after the swim, scrape up off the road in the bike or drag along in the run.
So, arriving on my bike (and having to jump a fence because you can’t get to the bus stop to the entrance as it’s locked that time in the morning, tsk!), the race pack was grabbed with no issues (I had to remind the lady she needed to see my BTF ID) and bike stickered and racked accordingly. As I had arrived there un-fashionably on-time, all the best spots (near bike out) had been taken, but I wasn’t that bothered. I don’t think they had wave specific racking last year but this time we were in specific rows. There were plenty of intimidating BTF enforcers around the place, but for some reason no-one was alternate racking down my end of the rack, which was… odd, and inconvenient.
I don’t remember bag drop from last year either, which is an improvement. What I do remember is the recently mown grass being nice and soft underfoot, and the remnants being bloody annoying and getting sodding everywhere.
Briefing was mercifully, err, brief. Course description followed by BTF man warning us about littering, excess baggage in transition and drafting. Then a quick wander over to the lake to watch the first group into the water.
Each wave had a hat colour, I was red, and (I think it was a few minutes early) without further ado, we were called to enter the water.
Swim 750m (00:15:08)
The water was a tepid warmth which lead me to question the wetsuit mandatory-ness – it was also very murky (possibly due to being churned up by the earlier waves). After several rounds of: “muble mumble muble” – “what did they say?” – “two minutes to go I think…” (repeat) a klaxon sounded and we were off.
The last race (Eton) I didn’t really expend enough energy on the swim – I took it far too easy, so on this one I thought I’d up the pace slightly. I’m glad I’d been to Thorpe OWS a couple of times this year to practice sighting and drafting as both came in handy, the side bonus of which was that the GPS track (and therefore, hopefully the route) was also much straighter.
No real excitement, breathing was kept under control. Past the second buoy we ran into the breast-strokers from the previous wave which was a bit perilous but got past without too much drama, and the only proper physical contact came when I swam across someone going around the last buoy, but there was no serious damage done to either of us.
Leaving the water I saw a fair smattering of swimmers in red caps behind so I wasn’t too far down the field at this point (the Vets 1 winner left the swim at 12 minutes so I was 3 minutes down already, although I didn’t know that at the time).
Up and out of the water and jogging back to transition. Bugger, couldn’t get my wetsuit undone during the jog to T1, so took a few more seconds than planned.
The plan for this race was to go minimalist and do the whole thing in just the tri suit rather than faffing with a cycle jersey, which saved quite a lot of time. So suit off, gel sucked in, shoes on, helmet on, grab bike start running (race belt was already on underneath the wet-suit).
At some point I need to try shoes-on-the-bike T1. Not this time though.
As already stated the bike course is very local to me, but it’s not a course that I would choose to ride for a number of reasons: the traffic at Staines roundabout is always awful (admittedly not a problem at 07:40 on a Sunday); the traffic generally whizzes up and down the roads at the speed limit; and there isn’t always enough room for parked cars + me + 2 cars going past each other which makes for hairy moments.
The road surfaces are pretty shocking in places as the roads are heavily used – in particular, up the B388 over the M3 there are lines perpendicular to the line of travel (I imagine that the tarmac is collapsing between the slabs that form the sub-level) that range from an unpleasant bump to potholes that almost require bunny-hops to get over – at least my sit bones thought so as I rolled through one on the way back.
It was, however a level playing field, and not everywhere can be Eton-smooth. So complaints are whiny are futile.
Getting to and from the bike course from transition involves using the service road which is quite slow & twisty. I managed to avoid crashing going around the turns. Once on the open road the course is straight (apart from the two 180’s at the roundabouts at either end) and mostly flat with long gentle inclines and declines along the route.
At the first 180, despite signs and a friendly marshal saying “Turn around here!” we still lost some-one to straight on. Did all that could be done by yelling “RIGHT!” at the top of my lungs, but was ignored.
Crossing the M3 I saw my first fatality of the race: roadkill squirrel. Event pointed and shouted ‘Squirrel!’ as per Blackadder. No-one thought it was funny.
Despite the ‘strict no-drafting’ policy and the visible motorcycle riders, the volume of riders on the road meant that keeping the regulation 10m between riders was a challenge. I didn’t see anyone stopped and suspect that there was more mouth than trouser in the policing of drafting.
This was my second race with the tri bars in place. More time is required with them as it’s still uncomfortable to stay ‘down’ on them for any length of time: both squishies being pushed against the saddle by my girth and tight hamstrings need work.
Generally the bike leg was ridden as hard as I dared: an average speed of just over 20mph on those roads is considered acceptable and left something in the tank for the run. Lost some places to serious looking TT bikes but gained an equal number of places by overtaking other fairly useful looking riders.
Crept back along the service road as fast as I could, re-hydrating as much as I could for the run, and crossed the dismount line in a shade under the predicted 40 minutes.
Bike racked, helmet off, shoes off.
Damned grass gets everywhere.
I didn’t talc my shoes because generally I don’t bother but I do think it slowed me down by a few seconds as I had to re-seat the tongues to get them comfy: possibly a by-product of not wearing socks for this one. Process improvement for next time. Dash towards “RUN OUT”… “Can you turn your number around please…” oh for fucks sake. Every time.
The run is a mixed surface two lap affair within the confines of the park. Sadly it doesn’t weave in amongst the rides as I think it should do, but heading out of transition, on grass, left onto a service road (past dead animal #2 – the dead pigeon), right so we’re parallel to Monks Walk (which I run quite often) with a sharp turn-around, past a large pile of rotting wood chippings (that is decomposing and smells of Redbush tea), back into the park for a bit, past the finish split, then back to transition and repeat.
By this point heat was taking its toll but still feeling strong, pushed quite hard to stay up with my fellow competitors. Slight cramp and sick feeling with the liquid consumed at the very end of the bike: reminder to self, drink more, sooner, on the bike.
Experimenting with ‘fuelling’ involved eating a jelly baby every kilometre, which seemed to work in terms of getting calories on board – although by themselves they’re touch dry and there was a tendency to breath out large chunks of baby mid-chew. I’m sure no-one minded…
By the time I got to the second lap there were a fair number of runners on the course so I was overtaking and overtaken in equal measure. Eating my last jelly baby as I crossed the line, meandered back to check results with Ben.
Overall 247 / 470
Gender 196 / 336
Veterans 1 Category: 30 / 46
Reading my blog from the same event last year, it seems there were more competitors in the Vets 1 category: and I certainly got around the course quicker, but my gripes with the event remain the same: a nice swim is followed by a mediocre ride and boring run course. I’m not fast enough to really be ~racing~ – I may be beyond the ‘just survive’ but I’d prefer a course with nicer views, or at least tree lined roads rather than what feels like riding through an industrial park.
Lessons learned: Talc shoes if no socks. Jelly babies are acceptable fuel at 1 per km, will
I’ll do it again, of course, it’s local, the price isn’t exorbitant and I love triathlon, and actually, at this point I’d be sad if they changed the course as I now have two reference times to compare against!
Speaking of which, the biggest improvement was T1, followed by the swim and fairly even 10% on the bike & run. Happy with that!
2016 2017 Diff % improvement
s 00:18:24 00:15:08 00:03:16 17.75
t1 00:05:59 00:01:34 00:04:25 73.82
b 00:44:37 00:39:38 00:04:59 11.17
t2 00:01:29 00:01:21 00:00:08 8.99
r 00:24:13 00:21:24 00:02:49 11.63