Woburn Abbey Standard Length Triathlon – September 2019


This season started off fairly poorly. I was always going to have a gentle year after two fantastic 70.3 races in 2018 (compounded with winter of niggling little injuries – two half marathons in quick succession probably wasn’t the best plan on sore knees) but it wasn’t the intention to have my first race in September!

One consequence of not almost-constantly training for a half iron is that I appear to have put some weight back on. By some, I mean a friend described it as “smuggling a wok under your tri suit”.

Excuses abound, but none-the-less, I was up at 0630 and consuming a customary bowl of porridge and coffee before driving the hour or so to Woburn Abbey. Wave 8 wasn’t due to start until 1030 but after the debacle of parking at Hever Castle I’m shy of turning up with just enough time to spare.

I shouldn’t have worried: after parking up, registering, scoping out the swim and run courses and decamping to transition I was early enough to have started the Woburner 70.3 in my age bracket. Unusually (IMHO) we had numbered racking spots: probably as it was going to be packed on Sunday, although it was half-empty for the Saturday race – I had an empty spot next to me.

The day was chilly – more autumnal than late summer so I decided to add a gilet, arm warmers and light gloves in T1 and have a cap at the ready for the run.

Fuelling strategy was simple: breakfast of porridge, 1L weak trailwind after racking, swim, more dilute trailwind on the bike, run with just liquids.

Ran into Stu (the primary reason I’d entered this race) in transition who had come to the same conclusion. Took some naughty pictures together in transition (they were being pretty draconian about mobile phone usage) before wandering to the swim start for race briefing (a bit late, predictably, as the slowest Woburner had delayed the course reconfiguration and they didn’t want us swimming over the women who’d been released ahead of us).

Standard fare briefing (“Swim course is here, Ride out over there, Two Laps, Obey highway code, No Littering, Be careful of the pink caps if you overtake them”) they informed us that there was a KOTM strava segment up the hill at the end of the run. Not something I’d be bothering with, but worth knowing the last 500m of the 10.5km run was going to be unfriendly. 

Made some new friends whilst waiting to be released into the wild. Everyone is friendly and there to have fun.

Swim (Predicted time: 00:45mins (incl T1) – Actual 00:27:10)

Without much further ado we were pointed at the pontoon and into the water. It was chilly rather than cold-cold although water down the front of the suit was still unpleasant.

Almost without warning “Go!”, and we were off. I wasn’t positioned quite as I’d wanted to be and so was right in the middle of the scrum up to and around the first buoy, but slowly the field spread out. I did accidentally swim over a pink cap at this point – it can’t have been much fun for her.

After this, I settled into a fairly smooth rhythm at probably something just above CSS as the race had got the better of me. I tried to find someone to draft off but although there were plenty of options I found it hard to get into the right position as the water (advertised as “crystal clear”) was pretty opaque and I’d either swim into them or lose them completely and have to readjust (and *then* swim into them).

The swim was two laps of a fairly convoluted course, but I felt good – 1500m seemed to go by much faster than initially anticipated and I came out into the dock feeling good and having really enjoyed the experience. A quick wave to Chloe (Stu’s support team, official photographer and I assume, fan club) and it was off to T1.

T1 (00:04:34)

I was quite slow through T1, mostly because of trying to get arm warmers over wet arms and socks over wet feet: I can imagine TRO and Gerp rolling their eyes at this point and making sarcastic comments about crosswords and cups of tea, but I’m glad I put on the extra warmth as it meant I wasn’t cold on the bike.

It also took me a few minutes to detangle my mane as it had to be tied back to fit under the swim hat but then cycle helmet wouldn’t fit over it. Happily, it’ll all come off as soon as it’s long enough for The Princess Trust to accept it as a donation (minimum length of 17cm) so I shouldn’t have this problem again.

Bike (Estimated 01:45:00 – Actual 01:28:16)

Leaping on my trusty steed out of T1, up the gentle incline and onto the flat to take us onto the course proper through the grounds of Woburn Abbey. This segment of the course was beautiful if a little treacherous under-wheel with single track road with gravel piled in the middle. Over a cattle grid (somewhat alarming) and we’re out onto the public roads. For some reason, I’ve sorted everything out apart from my right glove. “I’ll sort that after I’ve taken on some nutrition” I think…

As it’s a 20k-ish loop there are a number of competitors on the course – Woburners had to loop it FOUR times, the poor sods, so I caught and passed any number of them along with the tail end of the ladies wave. I, of course, was overtaken any number of times too with the subsequent waves catching up. Everyone was friendly and I didn’t see any obvious drafting or littering although there were a number of dead water bottles and gel packs discarded around the place.

Many of my fellow competitors didn’t appreciate the cycle course, complaining it was too ‘hilly’. They clearly don’t ride in the Surrey hills as often as I do as I thought it was a delight. It was two laps with a couple of km on closed roads, the rest on quiet country lanes.  Road surface seemed to be pretty good in general, with several bits having recently been resurfaced.

The only iffy bit when the cycle course coincided with the entrance road to the race which meant we had a high volume of (sympathetic) cars with a mixed speed of cyclists on narrow roads, making getting past them difficult if you obeyed the “don’t cross the white line” rule.

I only saw one motorcycle outrider on the course: predictably this was just after I’d been overtaken (going downhill) and then caught up the overtaker going back up the other side without enough puff to pass him properly which could have been constituted as drafting if motorcycle man was being mean, but he rode past without comment.

The marshals were reasonably frequent and friendly enough.

Again, I really enjoyed myself on the course. Felt good all the way around, put in a good shift. Arrived at T2 feeling tired but happy. Still wearing only one glove.

T2 (00:01:44)

Wobble back to my rack position (not enough bricks) and discard everything except the gilet and head out. Bugger, left the cap, no matter.

Run (Estimated ‘an hour or just over’ – Actual 01:03:46)

I should have taken the gilet off. I should have done more bricks. I should have done a LOT of things, but I didn’t, and the run hurt, quite a lot.

I’d briefly glanced at the course profile on the run before the race and dismissed it with a wave and gallic shrug. This may have been a mistake.

First the good: It being an out & back (which we did twice, Woburners, four, poor sods) I got to see all my new friends from transition, lots of Phoenix and Evo tri club tops, and of course Stu in his RaceStrong gear.

Then the bad: the surface was appalling, there was a hill – which was bad enough – but there were cones placed down the centre of a quite narrow path making you run on the very edge which was broken up in places – especially on the hill.

The first time I descended something in both my thighs (the muscles, probably) went… NOPE! And I had to slow to a walk until it levelled out again, at which point I was able to run… until the hill up, when I had to power walk rather than jog. This pattern repeated on lap 2.

Finally it was time to conquer the hill of death, crossing the strava start point I did briefly consider speeding up, but there wasn’t any point really, so I just shuffled onwards over the prow of the hill, high fiving one of my new buddies who was loitering near the finish chute, and over the line.

Grabbed a medal, bottle of water and Erdinger and wandered around to watch the rest of the field amble up the slope.


I swim faster than I think I do. Or rather, I can apparently maintain sub-2-minute 100m for 1500m.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed a race: even though I’m not racing anybody but myself over the course, I still get a high from pushing as hard as I dare. I really enjoyed it.

I need more training in terms of volume if I’m going to do standard length tris.

I need to lose weight.

The race speed graph doesn’t lie (see below) – I perhaps went a little hard on the bike and then blew up in the run. It was hard work.

I think I was under-fed for the run. I didn’t take anything solid on the bike and I could have easily had a clif bar or similar which would probably have helped a little on the run.

Time to start thinking about a 70.3 for next year!

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