Race Report – Woodhall Spa Sprint Triathlon

June 14th saw my long awaited debut at a triathlon. Preparations had gone reasonably well. The cycling was improving week on week, the days proceeding the triathlon saw another Witham Wheelers Ten Mile course PB at the club championships, then an entertaining first-time chain gang ride on the Thursday evening which averaged over 22mph for the 40 mile ride. The running has inexplicably been better than it has ever been and the swimming…. Well the less said about the lack of swimming training the better. An indication of how little training I did was that my googles broke mid-swim six weeks ago and it took me three weeks to get around to replacing them.

I was probably more nervous for this triathlon then I’ve been for many a year at a running race. What was immediately apparent the day before when preparing kit was that there is so much more to remember to pack for a triathlon than a running race. I  thought I had it all covered when my wife suggested I pack my swimming goggles at close to midnight – probably the second most important bit of kit required.

An early six o’clock wake up call and a military operation to get everyone up and out of the house before seven am went smoothly. The drive to Woodhall Spa was painless and we were there just under two hours before my allotted start time. We were very lucky to get the last car park space in the main car park close to the event. Had we been a minute or two later we would have had a lengthy walk which, with no buggy for the two year old, would have been interesting.

I collected my race number and caught the last few minutes of the race briefing. Nothing too complicated, just a few rules that had to be adhered to or face the risk of time penalties or worse. Back to the car and it was time to reassemble the bike, which thankfully was mostly painless. I changed into my Aldi special tri suit and went to rack my bike. An immediate school boy error was that most other entrants had bought some kind of box to store all the kit required for the run and swim. I had bought nothing and had to improvise with a plastic bag. Nothing too disastrous but it would make things a little trickier than necessary.

Once bike was checked over and racked up I went for a 10 minute run warm up. That at least felt familiar and I was pleased to see that the running legs felt good. After saying farewell to the family, who were firmly entrenched in the kids’ playground, I headed to the pool where we would begin the triathlon with a 400 meter swim. I was there 20 minutes before my start time and I took the time to check over the procedure and protocol and generally become more nervous.

At 9:36 I was called with five other swimmers to our lanes. I was in lane 4. The gentleman next to me I think was a fellow novice, a fellow novice also in an Aldi special tri suit, who was not convinced it was going to last the swim. I reassured him that I had tried the suit once in the pool and it hadn’t disintegrated, so I hope that put his mind at rest.

At 9:38 we were off and I headed off for a long 400 meters. The pool is 33m long and heated, which most proper swimmers dislike, but I rather enjoyed. My front crawl is inefficient and ripe for ripping apart from a coach and improving, but for now I just swam the best I could without killing myself through drowning. I counted down the lengths – 12 of them – which seemed to take an eternity, but I had my family standing poolside cheering me on which helped immeasurably.

Finally I’d completed the 400 meters and I clambered somewhat ungracefully from the pool, pulling off the swim cap and hurling my goggles at my wife, which she amazingly caught. I’d put 10 minutes down for my predicted time, and, according to the results, 10:00 is what I clocked, so at least I know I’m not very good at swimming very accurately. The triathlon was run as a time-trial so I was surrounded by fairly similarly untalented swimmers – the results show I set the 412th fastest time out of 663 who completed the swim. If I ever do another triathlon then it is clearly the swim where I can make some significant gains.

Another area where I can improve dramatically is transition. My first experience of swim to bike was nothing short of a farce. I struggled to find my socks in the plastic bag, then couldn’t tighten properly my cycle shoes. I struggled with the cycle mits then the gel number belt. I dithered over whether to wear a long sleeved cycle jersey, the temperature sitting at around 12C. After 20 seconds of further indecision I opted not to wear it and with the aero helmet on I wobbled off in my shoes to the transition line – where I stopped again to try to fasten the shoes before climbing the bike and heading off, having set just the 549th fastest time through T1.

Once I’d settled into the saddle at least now I felt I was tackling something I was relatively familiar with, having tackled a couple of months of time trials. The legs felt surprisingly stiff after the swim, but I soon began to pick off cyclists ahead of me. The 25km course is fairly technical with plenty of turns and some rough surfaces along the way. I tried as best I could to remain in the tuck on the tri bars and pushed at around 90% of what I have been doing in the time trials. The ride got easier in the second half as it turned out we had been mostly climbing gently for the opening 20 minutes or so. In fact I was just getting my legs used to pedalling when I realised that we were coming back towards transition.

There were two tips I took with me to this triathlon. The first was to put talc in my socks to allow them easy passage onto my feet after the swim. This worked a charm. The other was to drop down on to the small chain ring and pedal at more than 100rpm for a km or so before the end of the bike ride to help the beginning of the run, where I should try and maintain a high cadence of more than 190bpm for the first half mile.

Entering the bike to run transition.

As the transition came to me rather abruptly, I only had 20 seconds or so to spin the high cadence before I was screeching to a halt and unclipping the shoes from the pedals. No thoughts of trying to get the feet out of the shoes while on the bike. I kept things simple and waddled as best I could in my cycle shows to my bike rack. The second transition was still not that quick (dithered over removing gloves and sunglasses) but happily better than the first one – a mere 406th fastest and only 30 seconds or so slower than most of the quicker guys and girls as opposed to 90 seconds at T1. The bike ride though was a much more pleasing state of affairs – my split of 42:16 turned out to be the 56th fastest bike leg – only six quicker than me were not members of a triathlon club.

It was now the moment of truth – how would the legs feel after the bike and swim on the run leg? I know from a few previous attempts at a post bike ride run (Known as a brick run for reasons I know not), that it can feel alarmingly bad, as though the legs are almost disconnected from the brain in terms of working properly or feeling normal.

Thankfully the moment the run began they felt almost as though I hadn’t cycled or swam at all. I didn’t have to worry about the high cadence thing and cracked on with the run. The only difficulty I had with the run was that the Garmin – which I’d used on Auto Multisport for the first time, for reasons best known to the circuitry contained within, decided to swap my familiar pace guide of minutes per mile to minutes per kilometer. I didn’t have the foggiest what pace it was suggesting I was running and so could only rely initially on old fashioned tips such as it felt quite quick, it felt comfortable, and I was passing people regularly and not being passed.

It was though a huge relief that the watch beeped to give me a mile split – 5:31. I was a little shocked by this – this was the same sort of pace I ran at the BUPA 10K! Boosted by this positive split I pushed on again, not letting the somewhat dull course and the brief emergence of some warm June sunshine put me off. I ignored the drinks stop at nearly half way and clocked the second mile in 5:34. At this point we were running on a narrow pavement which was quite uneven and with not much room to pass runners. It wasn’t a huge issue but it slowed me a touch.

I recognised at a corner that we were heading back towards transition and I realised that the legend of triathlon distances being a little fast and loose in terms of accuracy would hold true, for it was no time at all that I was ushered off the pavement and into the finish chute, which, according to my now metric Garmin, was around 200 meters shy of 5km. I averaged 5:35 for the final mile and felt no ill effects after the finish – a million miles away from the similarly paced 5k I ran at Melton Parkrun just a month earlier.

First Triathlon – Done!


Once I’d had my transponder removed and I’d reunited myself with family, I went to get my finishing results, which were then verified the next day. The run split was timed at 16:37, which was the third fastest of the day and bettered only by the winner overall and the seventh placed finisher. That rapid run saw me finish in 1:12:44 which was good for 67th position, which was exactly a third better than my unstated desire to finish in the top 100. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done on the swim, bike and transitions, but there could be a future in triathlon – if I can get myself a load of money!

Still feeling fresh I decided not to try and disassemble the bike into the back of the car, and set about riding the 30 odd miles back home which was a pleasantly leisurely affair. I had chance to mull over my first triathlon and whether I actually enjoyed it. I concluded that it on the whole it was a good experience but I am not sure whether I enjoyed it that much. That, more than anything, was down to it being a sprint triathlon. All three disciplines are over so fast that it was all a bit of a blur and I didn’t have the opportunity to appreciate the surroundings or maybe embrace the experience with fellow competitors and spectators like you arguably can at longer events or at an event where you are taking part just to finish. The same holds true of my comparative dislike of shorter running events like 5k and 10k over the longer disciplines. So, to conclude, it wasn’t the discipline I didn’t enjoy, it was more the type of discipline that perhaps isn’t my cup of tea.

It’ll probably be another year before I tackle another triathlon, but I hope to do a duathlon in the Autumn, fitness permitting. Until then it is work on the cycling, the swimming and the running…

Trainer Obituary – Nike Free 4.0 V2 (Grey and Yellow) – 28 August 2013 – 20 September 2014.

Nike Free 4.0 V2 (Grey and Yellow)
Nike Free 4.0 V2 (Grey and Yellow)

Replacing a long succession of Nike Free shoes, the Grey and Yellow Nike Free 4.0 V2 were the first Free’s I’d worn that were more minimalist than the 5.0 or equivalent. Any initial fears over their suitability were quickly dispelled and they became a favourite and much worn pair of trainers – amassing 860 miles and just shy of 103 running hours.

Originally intended as a fast run pair of trainers, they proved so comfortable they were regularly used for long runs and recovery runs too. Their shining moment came at the end of July 2014, when, at the Lincoln Wellington 5k, they were a last minute substitute for the Nike Lunaracers that were aggravating an Achilles blister. They raced to a 16:55 PB and so currently hold the distinction for having the quickest average pace for a race I’ve currently run.

Making their swansong at the Grantham Running Club Handicap 10k in September 2014, and run in for the last time on an easy paced 10k run on September 20th 2014, they were retired for running purposes, to be replaced by a black pair of Nike Free 4.0 V2s. 

Despite being heavily worn and with the uppers beginning to fall apart, they are seeing a life beyond the running grave as they are being used on the elliptical trainer while I convalesce from long-term injury.


An Unexpected Break

Pretty much no matter what happened after the Robin Hood Half Marathon I had every intention to ease up on the running through October. With the PB there I’d achieved everything I’d wanted to over the year – the elusive sub 2:45 the only exception, but even then I was very happy with the personal best that had left me a two forty something marathon runner for the first time. The plan was to do pretty much nothing but easy paced runs, enjoying social runs with the club and no plans to race unless something came about that caught my eye.

The immediate aftermath of the half marathon went entirely to plan. The day after: an easy six miles with no issues at all; a day later just three and a half miles at easy pace with my brother who had come all the way from Montreal to enjoy the delights of Wyndham Park (Not strictly true). The next day I was at a loose end so I made my first visit to the Grantham Running Club Wednesday night group and enjoyed an easy paced 12 miles.

I was working at home on the Japanese GP which meant early wake up calls. By Thursday evening I realised I wasn’t tired enough to be able to get myself to sleep at a reasonable hour to wake in the middle of the night, so I chose to run again with Grantham Running Club. It was another easy paced 12 miles with a couple of quicker miles thrown in the end. Still I was feeling good, if a little tired.

Friday was a day off from running, but I went out again Saturday afternoon for a seven and a half mile easy paced run. The legs felt better as the run went on, but I noted that there was some slight sciatica pains in the right glute and the Piraformis felt tight – as did the right neck and shoulder which I put down to working too long at the desk. Sunday – and after a fairly tragic Grand Prix which saw the serious injury suffered by Jules Bianchi – I had to get out for a few miles to clear the head.

From the off I sensed things were not as they should and I should have stopped. What kept me going was that the run was going to be short (under five miles), the right hip ache subsided after a mile and the pace suggested nothing too much was amiss. Worrying signals though appeared later in the run when I appeared to get a weird spasm at the top of the right glute that lasted a minute or two then subsided.

Fatigue from the Japanese Grand Prix set in and coupled with the right glute / hip / Piraformis and lower back giving some trouble, I took a couple of days off. I next ran on the Wednesday and managed seven and a half unhappy miles. The aches and pains didn’t slow me, but I was getting nagging aches in the glute and on the outside of the hip. I knew something wasn’t right but couldn’t figure out what was going on. I’m no stranger to running with hip and lower back pain – it’s been a perennial struggle over the years when I’ve more often than not had something going on, but this felt different and I could feel the problem cascading into a wealth of issues.

With that run done and another Grand Prix (the Russian) to work on, I decided to take another four days off. Normally with that length of rest I’d expect significant improvement from a problem which hadn’t actually caused enough pain to slow me when I ran. On the Monday following the Russian GP I headed out on the morning on what was meant to be a familiar and easy 10km run. Before I went out I did a lot of massage to try and free up the tightness that still felt prevalent in the hip. I noted that the Sacroiliac joint felt quite sore, but didn’t think that much of it as it often does when the whole hip and back area is giving trouble.

The first three miles were fairly uneventful, save for some nagging, somewhat strange, aches in differing parts of the right glute and hip. The fourth mile saw me struggle a touch, I found it slightly harder to run, but was still not overly concerned as I’d clocked the quickest mile of the four at 7:05. I stopped for a quick toilet break in Wyndham Park and leaving the cubicle I set off again and things felt a fair amount more difficult but still the pace suggested nothing too much was amiss, going faster yet with a 7:01 mile.

I stopped at the traffic lights to cross the road at five and a half miles, less than a mile from home. I ran around 100 more yards when suddenly a searing pain ran through and around my right hip and into the upper glute which saw me stop dead in my tracks. Instinctively I went to stretch for a few seconds then tried to run on, which, about as quickly as it took me to try and push off with the right leg for the first time, I realised was a really impossible affair. Although I sensed the injury was potentially serious as I limped slowly and painfully the remaining half a mile home, I was surprisingly calm despite having resigned myself to a lengthy spell away from running.

Sometimes when you pull up injured when running, a couple of hours later the pain disappears and you already think that, with a bit of luck, you’ll be back running again the next day, or, at worst, in two or three. This was clearly not one of those injuries. I was in a world of hurt, downing Voltarol, just about able to hobble around the house with the right leg feeling like it was going to give way completely. By the evening and I was using walls to prop me up when trying to move around the house. I was crawling up the stairs. My wife was threatening to drive me to casualty.

I stubbornly refused her suggestion, convincing myself that things would improve in a couple of days. A couple of days later and things hadn’t got any worse, but they were certainly little better. Nevertheless the instinct to do any kind of exercise overwhelmed me and I found myself out in the shed on Old Faithful, my elliptical trainer purchased back in 2001 when I was struggling with injuries that restricted my running. I used it a lot for around five years until I passed it on to my parents who in turn returned it back to me earlier in this year. The display may not work any more, it’s a little rusty here and there, but the German built machine still runs true and is usually great cross training when running isn’t possible. Except this time.

The pain in the hip and glute was bad from the off and gradually grew in intensity until it was only just bearable to continue, and even then I barely managed 35 minutes before grinding to a halt, then hobbling incredibly slowly and painfully back into the house. The trainer was super painful; walking was worse than the trainer. I was pretty miserable. I had to find something to do.

Saviour of sorts came in the bicycle which I went out on the Friday – four days after the injury kicked in. I managed 31 miles. There was some discomfort, especially when I had to leave the saddle on the climbs, but it was tolerable and easier than walking, so I figured this was acceptable exercise. I went out the next day and managed 39 miles – the right hip area became really painful at around halfway and for a while I thought I’d have to abandon the ride. Strangely though the pain subsided and I felt nothing more from twenty miles to the finish. It was only when I climbed off the bike and began hobbling around again I was reminded that this injury was going nowhere fast.

I managed 45 minutes on the elliptical trainer on the Sunday. It wasn’t as painful as the first time on the trainer, but bad enough compared to cycling that this wasn’t a viable exercise at the moment. Walking though was the biggest pain of all – a miserable hour or two limping around Meadowhall Shopping Centre was not a memory I’ll remember too fondly.

That next week I got out on the bike a couple of times – again there was some soreness but nothing too unbearable. The same couldn’t be said for the walk to the doctors I finally made that week, which was fairly tortuous. When the doctor saw me she thought I was either physically disabled or injured. I explained it was the latter. I have a fairly dim experience with GPs and sporting injuries, but my doctor was decisive and effective, firstly giving me some far stronger painkillers to try and at least have me walking a bit better and secondly requesting an MRI be done on my back and pelvis to see if something was amiss.

I was also scheduled to have a sports massage that week which I attended. It was a painful affair as always, although the most painful bits were shuffling around on the bed. The glute medius was highlighted as the main area that seemed amiss which struck a cord as my injury book at home highlighted that if the glute medius was injured – the simple act of putting on trousers whilst standing would be difficult. For me it was nigh on impossible.

I concluded in my mind at that moment I’d torn my gluteus medius and was looking at a 6-8 week lay off from running. Cycling was the only really viable option, and that week I went out twice – firstly a 39 mile ride where the hip was quite sore, then a couple of days later an hour’s criterium style multiple laps of the housing estate I live on. This 1.2 loop may sound monotonous to the extreme but it was actually good fun, and to my surprise when I uploaded the event to Strava, I hadn’t been the first to ride the circuit I thought I’d created.

So much fun it was, the following week on the Monday I cycled three hours of this circuit, two hours before lunch and an hour afterwards. The wind was strong and I struggled, but at least I was exercising and the hip / glute wasn’t too painful. The weather was then too bad to ride for a few days so it was Saturday before I exercised again – a start of a new month – November would, I hoped, be a fresh start after the calamities of October. I intended to exercise regularly but at mostly low intensity to mimic the base training I had intended to begin if I were running before marathon training began in earnest in January.

I went back on the elliptical trainer, where the pain was bearable but not great, I was happy to manage an hour. That Sunday I went out on a late morning bike ride before work on a 45 mile loop. In the opening miles I caught and rode with a guy from Witham Wheelers, the local cycling club, who suggested that I should try out a Sunday ride with them.

The next day and I went out on a longer ride – 68 miles – which was a bit of a ramp up from what I had done before. The good news was that the hip / glute pain was markedly less evident both on and off the bike. I put it down to some massage I’d done the evening before when I thought I felt something release. The less positive news was that I died a thousand deaths on the hills in the final quarter of the ride – a reminder that whilst I was running fit, this doesn’t convert wholly to other sports.

This day (November 3rd) marked a definite sea change to the status of the injury. The hip ached for the following week when walking, but I was able to walk the kids to and from school with just a moderate limp and none of the searing pains that had frequently stopped me in my tracks. I was also able to go on the elliptical trainer every day for the rest of the week – three sessions of an hour, one of an ninety minutes, and on the Sunday two hours. This would have been impossible a week earlier; now aside from the Tuesday and the Sunday, there was virtually no discomfort at all when exercising. I was much happier – aside from running, I could exercise when I wanted and with little pain.

Monday November 10th and following another hour on the trainer on Monday, Tuesday morning saw an early trip to the hospital for the MRI scan – happily just a few weeks after it was requested (I was expecting it to be in the New Year). By now I was walking with no difficulty at all and just the occasional ache in the glute. The scan itself was uneventful save for the torture of trying to stay perfectly still for twenty minutes – a task for a notorious fidget that proved a monumental battle of mind over body.  I celebrated the scan with a 38 mile ride on the hills of Belvoir – again ache free except on the hills.

The results of the scan were actually with the doctor later that day, alas I couldn’t get an appointment to have them revealed for another eight days. Wednesday and Thursday saw 90 minutes on the trainer; Friday and Saturday, two hours. With no pain at all in the hip I relished the only discomfort being the fatigue in the quads which were clearly being worked in ways that they aren’t normally when running. I was spurred on by watching old videos of the Tour de France, each 90s EPO fueled ride keeping me both amused, yet inspired, to continue exercising.

Sunday morning saw my debut with Witham Wheelers. I’ve not ridden with a bike club for 14 years and even then I only ever went out with a handful of riders. It was soon apparent as we waited in town on a misty, murky morning, that this is a popular club and it was going to be a proper group ride. I had the option of an intermediate or faster group. I went on the advice of the guy who I met a couple of weeks earlier and went with the speedier cyclists. The 57 or so miles flew by, After taking a few miles to get use to pack riding etiquette I loved riding in a pack and the speed benefits that produced. I took my turns at the front and was surprised that, for the most part, I was able to comfortably keep up the pace, especially on the hills. The mid way coffee stop was something of a culture shock for a runner, the notion of stopping mid-run for 30 minutes before continuing on your way would be absurd, yet this is apparently very much part of cycling culture. The last ten miles of the ride were a blur as the hammer was put down by the quicker riders. I hung on as best I could – struggling a touch with a cross wind, but it was a thrill to be working out hard with no pain.

Bringing this up to date, Monday and Tuesday saw two hours again on the trainer on each day – by now the quads were begging for some relief. I’d planned on the Wednesday to give them one last trial with a 65 mile hilly ride, but just a mile after setting off my mechanical luck ran out and I punctured. Fortunately I was close to a bike shop to get the punctured inner tube replaced (I had tried, but failed). No sooner had the air gone in the new tyre it escaped again with another puncture. By the time I was good to finally ride, there weren’t enough daylight hours left to ride 65 miles so I went back to the 40 mile route I rode a week earlier. To cap an unhappy ride the Garmin decided to have a paddy and all data was lost, so my determined efforts on some of the Strava segments will forever remain unknown.

After the ride it was off to the doctors to discuss the results of the MRI scan. The results were interesting and not what I’d expected. The spine was essentially okay save for some mild degeneration here and there. I almost lost interest until I read the final couple of sentences:

“Pelvis and Sacroiliac Joints: The SI Joints themselves are normal. There is however an oblique fracture running through the right sacral ala, extending from the superior aspect of the right SI joint, down and across to the right S1 neural foramen.”

A FRACTURE!!! No wonder it had hurt! The doctor explained that it was a fairly small bone and that there was little that could be done except let it heal naturally. She requested a bone density scan because typically this type of fracture doesn’t occur in young adults. She asked lots of questions about whether I smoked or drank too much, suffered from eating disorders (all more or less negative) and whether I was a regular user of steroids (I’ve never knowingly taken any banned substances was the stock answer given). She focused on the corticosteroid Prednisolone which rang a bell for reasons I couldn’t at the time fathom, so much so I asked her to check my prescription history, which proved negative. It was only when I left did I realise that Prednisolone was the substance that cyclist Chris Froome infamously received a Theraputic Use Exemption for earlier this year when he was suffering a bit during a race. I’d confused his medical history with my own.

I will get physiotherapy to rehabilitate fully, perhaps also to see if there were muscular reasons that caused the break. Running is off the menu until I get the all clear, which is mentally quite challenging as I am walking now normally and it is tempting to see if everything is okay. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can get those trainers on again – in the mean time I have a cycling club to join and other dreams to pursue, a good time maybe to start that training for the Ironman I’ve promised I’ll complete. In some ways the news hasn’t changed my mindset from when I believed I had a torn glute, the change is that I need to wait until the fracture has healed completely, otherwise it will could be a re-break and the cycle continues. Information is fairly scant on the internet about the injury, I’ve read anything from six weeks to nine months – I very much hope it is not the latter, but if it is, then I am resigned to the wait.

Hopefully I’ll come back stronger, but I’ll just be happy to come back.