Tuesday, 20 August 2013

No Rules

Henley-on-Thames Triathlon 18.08.13

You know that race weekend is going to go well when it starts like this…


RAC funtimes less than a mile from our house.

Little did I know that this would be only be the tip of the iceberg of our problems come race day.

I was racing at Henley-on-Thames Triathlon as a warm-up for the World Champs in September. The Sprint race was advertised as a 750m river swim, 14.5km lumpy bike and a 5km run, so basically an aquathlon with a short spin in the middle. Perfect. In actual fact, we swam around 650m (unless I was swimming at a pace that would’ve dropped Rebecca Adlington), cycled on a course that the number 80 bus was regularly passing through and the 4km run course was such a shambles it deserves a paragraph of its own (see below).

I went to register on the Saturday afternoon before the race but they’d lost all of the race numbers in the 300s, so that was a waste of time. On race morning, I set my alarm as late as possible for maximum hours of sleep, woke up everyone in Chantal’s house searching every cupboard in the kitchen for a bowl then wolfed down a big bowl of porridge and banana. It was only on my last mouthful that I looked at my watch to check we were still on schedule, when I calculated that in approximately 1hour20minutes the klaxon would go. Facepalm. I’d timed that terribly. I was so used to having a long journey to the race for my breakfast to settle. This porridge was not going to digest in the 10minute drive to Shiplake, no matter how much peppermint tea I drank.

On arrival into Shiplake to some interesting pre-race music blasting from the speaker, transition was already looking full of loud clothing, elastic bands and talcum powder. There were no number markings on the racks in transition, so that was a bit of a free-for-all. I should’ve realised then that there were going to be NO RULES at this event.

Down to the swim start; a 600m wind through some sharp corners, an Hors Categorie hill, some gravelled tarmac and a patch of stones. The only things that were missing from the run back up to T1 were some hot coals, a limbo and a zip wire.

The swim start, normally the most chaotic part of a triathlon, was the smoothest bit of the race. I got into second place quite quickly, overtook the guy in front before the first turn buoy, then extended my lead over him to 20 seconds. Coming back towards the swim exit, I could see a bobbing crowd of yellow hats in the water directly in my path – the organisers had cleverly invited the next wave into the water just as our wave was swimming through. I could see the kayaks were shouting at people to move, which they did, just in time, bar one partially bearded athlete in some familiar goggles – Olllllllli!

Obstacle 1: sea of yellow hats as I lead the swim

Attempting to swim through something resembling this was a challenge.

I jumped out of the water to a round of applause, which was nice. My first obstacle on the run up to T1 was a man kneeling on the course with his back to me tying his shoe-laces, right on the corner. I put my hand on his head as I turned the corner; although positioned in an annoying place he did double up as a good turning pivot. 
Obstacle 2: Man kneeling on course. Doubled up as a good turn pivot.

Within my next few strides up the hill, I had a dog run in front of me, then had to battle my way through a ton of other spectators and athletes who were making their way down to the water for the next wave.

 Running up the hill to T1 against a crowd of spectators similar to this.

The Aussie dude who finished the swim 20 seconds behind me (who was informed by a spectator: “Mate, you've been chicked!” before he could even think about getting on the pontoon) caught me up on the obstacle course to T1 then decided to mount his bike in the most novice fashion I’ve ever seen right in my path. To be fair to him, neither of us knew where the mount line was, and the marshall had no idea either. So we mounted on the main road, then cycled off in confusion. There is not much to report about the bike course; my legs felt like lead, I didn’t overtake the leader, but more surprisingly no-one overtook me either. I came back into T2 still in 2nd position overall to find people cycling around the transition area. Well, if you’re going to break a BTF rule, you might as well go for a biggie.

The run course had approximately n marshalls, n+1 signs, and Σ(n+1 signs) pointing in the wrong direction, where n=0. The course was an ABSOLUTE SHAMBLES. It was on a tiny path (not wide enough to pass another athlete) that was pretty rough underfoot. At first I thought this looked like fun – more of an exciting cross country course than the usual boring triathlon run courses. That was until I came across a kissing gate. Then a locked gate to keep cattle out. Then another locked gate that I had to stop and puzzle over the mechanism of its lock. Next was another kissing gate, and all of a sudden I was faced with a 4ft fence in front of me. Surely I don’t have to hurdle this? I decided then that I’d probably run too far and to turn back to go through all of the gates again. No marshal at the turn point, F3 events? Now that is a poor effort. Just to top off the worst race I’ve ever had, a wasp decided to pop by and stick its arse into me. Brilliant.

Despite having what I’ve just described as my ‘worst race’, I’m still pleased with my position of 1st female and only beaten by three men, and I’m told my running technique didn’t look too shabby. After re-reading the above again, I’ve realised I sound like a right moaning minnie. Well, what can I say? I’m English, what do you expect? But on a more serious note, I had expected better things from this race. F3 events normally run well-organised, well-marshalled events with the correct distances for each discipline. This shambles of a course failed on all of the above. But they did do a half-decent goodie bag.

Maybe next time, spend less money on impressive trophies and more on marshalling F3 events?

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