What a month Part 2:
Well, those of you who follow my progress will know how these two races went. But that’s not to say these races haven’t been extremely powerful learning experiences. This 2 week period would define the belly of my season, and the truth is that it has but not in any of the ways I expected. You dream of the success and you fear the possibility of not being good enough, but just as in life what you don’t expect are all the variables in the middle.
I was training hard 2 or 3 days closer to LCW than I would have liked, but trying to peak for 2 races like this is difficult and you have to slightly prioritise one and I had opted for the Outlaw. Due to the real world it’s been over 2 years since I had finished and Iron Distance race, and I needed a podium at the Outlaw to confirm my Pro licences for next year. But LCW is closer to my heart than any other race and I was fully prepared to sacrifice the Outlaw for a win at LCW if the situation came up. Having done a talk and some interviews I had revealed to myself how I felt. I don’t plan what to say and quite often I find speaking publicly or blogging actually reveals my inner thoughts, so after getting it all out I felt ready and was excited about getting in to the bay.
I was quite calm before the swim, and the look of the bay seemed to match my feelings, but as the hooter went off that quickly switched to chaos and tension. I stayed calm enough and found open water within a 5 mins. I knew I couldn’t prepare for a rolling sea, but I also knew that I was swimming well enough to manage my emotions through this situation, and my sighting technique and regularity was firmly ingrained so I had done what I could in training and that gave me calm.
I’m not sure how the swim felt for everyone else, but for me things seemed to change dramatically after the first buoy. The sky seemed darker and the waves seemed higher, but this could have been my impression given how different this was to the calm lakes I swim in. I tried to battle it for about 10 seconds before deciding to bend rather than break. I relaxed and tried to adapt and learn with the conditions, which actually made me smile. I embraced the challenge and excepted I was doing my best and other than the cramp in my Calfs which came and went for the next 2.5k (5 hr drive+not enough stretching+not enough taper) I generally enjoyed it I swam the first lap in 29 mins and the cramp riddled second lap in 34 mins.
Having not made the top 10 I wasn’t starting off the ramp this year and tactically this was a much better situation for me. I find chasing is much easier than being chased, especially as time comes down or as you pick people off. The gap between Ollie’s start and mine was about 9 mins which was conveniently the same time gap that we had during the race. Markus I knew very little about, but judging by his appearance on the Bike at the start his goal was the go very fast, and as he had 2 mins on me the plan was to catch Ollie and then work hard to catch Markus which would have put us all very close together. I don’t remember cycling on many days where weather has been so bad in so many ways. Cold, wet, windy and misty, but I was still very much up for the challenge. In hindsight I clearly went off too hard, I wasn’t sure what Ollie was doing up the road, but I knew that if I caught him the worst case scenario would be that I would have to follow him home, and although there isn’t much pride in that, there would have been a good chance of the win as a result. I caught Ollie after an hour which was much quicker than I thought it would’ve been. It turns out he had time for a piss and a bit of sight seeing while I was burning the full box of matches as well as the lighter fluid to get to him. As soon as we linked up we were taking hard turns on the front, whilst dealing with some challenging weather. On one of the coastal runs my deep section front wheel literally got blown out from under me. After the shit has been washed off my saddle by the rain I started to find the my turns were shorter, and hanging on to Ollie was becoming harder. On each descent I would lose 20m and then put in a surge to link up again. At this point I excepted that I was going to have to aim to stay with Ollie and give up my pulls on the front. I have recovered from these situations before though, and although I was concerned about things I hadn’t given up. At this point I thought it would be polite to let Ollie know I was struggling a bit as I was preparing him for the fact I wouldn’t be coming through for a pull anytime soon. I may be a bit alternative but I’m also a Gentlemen! About 3 mins after this, on a pretty bumpy descent I felt the all to familiar vibrations and rumble of a flat. I’m ashamed to say that my first thought was thank God I don’t have to risk my face following Ollie down anymore hills, but this was quickly followed by a very familiar, hollow, angry sadness. Anyone who’s followed my progress this year will know punctures are a standard occurrence for me during races, so I have multiple options for repairing. Fast/risky but back in the race, slow/careful but get to the end, or somewhere in the middle of the two. I went for option 3, but the spark had gone and I also knew deep down that any chance of linking up with Ollie again had gone as well. I kept riding as I knew things could turn around, but just before the run back in to Tenby the back end started to bounce around again and I knew that I had yet another double puncture on my hands. I stopped by the food station in the car park and started to change it, but I knew deep down the right call was to switch my focus to the Outlaw. LCW means a lot to me and this hurt me deeply, but I had about 3 Mars bars, thanked out loud to all Gods of all faiths that this had happened so close to Tenby and not out on a wet, lonely, Pembrokeshire B road because I was so cold my manhood had retreated behind my bladder. That goes out to anyone who saw me waking back through Tenby in full length cycling kit. Normally things look a bit more manly than that.
As I nursed the reality of losing another goal to a puncture I actually found I got over it rather quickly. I love Tenby, I love LCW and I still had a nice long training run to look forward to tomorrow.
This run actually became one of the most magical experiences I’ve had whilst racing or exercising. My time in Tenby has always been magical but highly pressured and with those shackles off the run was like a journey down memory lane. Each part of that run course contains a place where Ive discovered something new about myself, and travelling at training pace I got the chance to take it all in and look back fondly. There were a lot of people supporting me who knew my name and gave me encouragement, and it made me realise that hopefully I’ve had a positive influence here as well. Running with Michelle who won the women’s marathon was also very enlightening and incredibly motivating. She was strong and a very worthy winner. This sport contains so many quality athletes at all levels, and people walk through walls to get out there and push themselves, and being able to hear their stories is the main thing that will stay with me when everything else has gone.
Well done to Markus and Ollie. This year even without the puncture I wouldn’t have won. I would have needed different conditions in the swim and a few more days tapering to have seriously challenged. But to have had the experience I had was better than winning. LCW and Tenby has been very defining for me and an event and place I will never forget.
Outlaw to follow shortly.