Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Race Report: 2013 Virgin Active London Triathlon

I've got a lot closer to Virgin Active and the awesome Team Freespeed guys and girls since Mrs was announced as the winner of the "Be Team Freespeed's 12th Member" competition last month. It's all been a bit of a whirlwind actually! One of the main parts of the prize was to race as part of Team Freespeed at the Virgin Active London Triathlon.

We couldn't fit the race into our calendar last year, but had competed in the Olympic distance the year before. We enjoyed it, but had pretty tough days with a sudden hot weekend really taking it out of us, particularly on the run. Added to that it was our first Olympic distance triathlon, and it had seemed like a very long way indeed.

Last year in a fit of excitement I signed up for the Olympic Plus event - this is an Olympic distance with a double-length bike leg, so 1,500m swim, 80km bike, and 10km run. I stuck to my plan to race this, whilst Mrs would be taking a VIP spot in one of the Olympic waves, all decked out in Freespeed livery.

Due to her prize-winning obligations we needed to be around the expo all weekend, and with my race starting at 06:30 on Sunday we decided to get a hotel for Friday and Saturday night.

With the car packed with all our stuff I drove to work Friday morning. Mrs came up after she finished and we drove over to the ExCel exhibition centre in Docklands, scene of the weekend's activities.

ExCel exhibition centre is really very big indeed

Friday night we relaxed and took it easy. Saturday I went over to meet my good friend Mike who was volunteering at Wanstead Flats parkrun, so I ticked another parkrun off the list.

You won't miss Mike, resplendent in his parkrun volunteer hi-viz

Meanwhile Mrs was hanging out with Team Freespeed at the expo and when I returned I bumped into her as she was rushing out of the hotel with her bike - she was going to stand in for some VIP relay entrants who couldn't race. This is one of the responsibilities of the team, to get involved with the celebs on the Saturday's VIP waves.

Mrs in the dockside wetsuit removal zone

She swam and biked a sprint distance before handing over to someone from Cosmo magazine who did the run. One of the other Freespeed guys got in a relay team with Olympic gold medalists - women's boxer Nicola Adams and gymnast Louis Smith!

In the afternoon I went to get my machine ready for tomorrow's adventure

The last remaining "103" sticker from my Ironman adventures - good times, but time to move on

Mrs gave me a VIP hospitality pass, so I hung out there for a while and met a few of the Freespeed guys - they're all lovely and I felt very welcome even though I was a total hanger-on!

Magic cardboard gets you past the exceedingly large tattooed gentleman on the door

A good view from the VIP balcony!

In the evening we joined them for a meal at the local Italian where we met some of the sponsors. Under the guidance of team boss Richard Melik, Freespeed encourage deep long-term relationships with their sponsors, and this really shows. There are some really good personal relationships, and they're a well supported group. It was great to meet some new people, some I'd been friends with on twitter for a while, and also some new faces. Duncan and Liz, owners of The Tri-Life, were there too. They remembered me from the Wimbleball trianing day last year, and Mrs has been working with one of their coaches, Richard, for a little over a year now.

Carb-loading - if you can't enjoy a pizza in the middle of two race-days, when can you?

Sunday morning rolled inevitably round and the alarm went off at 04:30. Thankfully as we were so close it wouldn't take long to get over there otherwise it would have been an even earlier start. Breakfast was some salami and cheese slices. I really didn't fancy a carby breakfast, even though I was racing, so just went on feel. I did nibble my way through a Clif bar before the start as I set up in transition.

All ready in T1 - feels like it's been a very long time (probably because it has...)

Gameplan for the day was: Get through the swim; smash the bike; jog round the run. This is my first triathlon since coming back from injury, so remaining strong and not hurting myself is the prime objective. I'm not fit enough to be competitive right now, so relax, and enjoy the ride.

The swim: 1,500m, 0:33:09, 61st out of 129

Bike racked, wetsuit on, and into the start pen for the briefing. The 06:30 Sunday wave is the only Olympic Plus wave, so I was in some very capable company - including Team Freespeed's Richard Hobson (1st overall), Matt Molloy (2nd overall), Declan Doyle (4th overall), Catherine Faux (5th overall, 1st female) and Alison Rowatt (11th overall and 2nd female). Very very capable company indeed! We stepped carefully down the stairs and out into onto the dockside. Support was fairly thin at that time in the morning, and we made quick passage into the water.

Despite thinking "I really must go for an open water swim soon" all the way up to this event, I hadn't. This was the first time I'd even put my wetsuit on since IM Wales last year! I've gained a few kg since then, but thankfully the zip still went up. I positioned myself on the inside so I could swim straight down the line of yellow buoys, and towards the back as I was a bit nervous about my capabilities and confidence. I haven't swum that much at all lately.

We started, and almost immediately I was in trouble. The old feeling of rising panic came on, and my arms and legs went tingly and weak. The guy in front of me set off by doing breaststroke slowly, and with lots of other people around and no recent "argy-bargy experience" I couldn't get around him - or make any real forward progress at all.

Very frustrating, very annoying, and (sadly) very predictable. I eventually regained my composure (as I always do, in the end) and by the time we'd made the first turn I was moving up the field (again, as always). I found I kept getting boxed in though, and couldn't find a way round moving road-blocks of athletes. In retrospect I should definitely have got some in-wetsuit training done, and I should have had more confidence in my strength and started nearer the front with people more my speed. I'll chalk it up to experience. Not too bad in the end, plenty of people behind me, time for a little bike ride.

Transition 1 (swim to bike): 07:19, 101st of 129

My T1 was slow, but that's fine. My mental plan said "take as long as you need", and I was determined to follow the plan. My wetsuit came off quickly, and I walked the couple of hundred metres to my bike. I know that coming out of the swim my heart rate spikes high, so I Just wanted to relax and be calm as I set off on the bike. Mrs was in transition too, allowed in to rack her bike for her lunchtime race, so she came and chatted to me - a lovely surprise, and a nice addition to the race experience.

I even stopped for a sit down and to put some socks on - what's the rush?

The bike: 80km (50 miles), 02:29:13, 38th out of 129

I love the bike leg, and even though I wasn't aiming to place highly I had already decided to go for it on the bike. The course for Olympic Plus goes out west from ExCel, past the Tower of London, and right up embankment to the Houses of Parliament where there's a turn point. This route, taking in so many famous landmarks, and the opportunity to ride on these roads flat out with no traffic to worry about was part of the reason I picked the distance. It didn't disappoint either. Coming out of the swim far down the field meant that I had a lot of people in front to pick off - part of the fun of being a good cyclist and poor swimmer is the first part of the bike is great fun! I flew past people, keeping my cadence high and setting my sights on the next person.

Giving it some, as best I can at current fitness/fatness levels!

The Olympic Plus was three laps of this route, and on the second lap at the ExCel end there were starting to be cyclists form later waves. They weren't going as far so had a turn point that was closer. This led to congestion (all be it manageable) at one end of the course, and then the far end still owned by the Olympic Plus wave. I pushed hard, noticing I was a gear down in some places on lap two, but preferring to keep my cadence high rather than push a big gear. I didn't take any food at all on the bike, and just drank water. Let's see if I really can race on a much higher fat:carb ration than I have before. With 8 months on an LCHF diet (Low (usually!) Carb, High Fat) I should be well adapted.

I didn't get overtaken at all on the first lap, I lost a couple of spots on the second, and by the third there were more waves on the course and I couldn't tell who I was in my race. I stuck to my guns and pushed hard on the return leg of the third lap - I knew my run would be poor, I was under no illusions about that, so wanted to see what I could do on the bike.

I was very happy with my position, and was within 30 minutes of all the Team Freespeed guys and girls. Given 6 months without cycling at all, and then only a couple of long rides since picking it up again (a "3 hills route, short" of about 80km, a "3 hills, normal" of 90km, and a 110km ride while Mrs was racing the Shock Absorber last weekend). That's barely enough training to have made any difference at all. I think if I can get some good time on the bike then I might be fairly competitive next year.

Transition 2 (bike to run): 04:40, 100th of 129

Again a nice gentle transition with no stress. No Mrs with me this time unfortunately, but I took the time to make sure my shoes were well fitted, wiped my face with a small towel, and even gave my glasses a quick clean! Them it was off out onto the run course to show off the IM Talk tri-suit (bit disappointed it fits again now, it was too big by the end of last season!).

Run: 10km, 1:02:10, 116th of 129

I set off with the aim of keeping my cadence as high as I could. I knew I would be slow, and people were streaming past me, but i was mentally prepared for that so didn't let it get me down.

Lavatory provisions were pretty poor (or I didn't notice any of them) so I had to avail myself of some bushes on the first of the three laps! The course has changed since last I ran it, now three laps that wind around a bit more rather than four laps with a long desolate out and back section. I was very slow, but apart from walking through the water stations and drinking some water, I ran the whole way. I didn't feel hungry, but I felt like something was depleted - though no where near the feeling you get before "bonking".

The going was tough in the 06:30 at Docklands! Kia-Kaha!

I decided to top up on the second lap with a gel from the Maxifuel stand. The lemon and lime flavour tasted vile - I'm just not used to such concentrated sugar any more - but it hit the spot (mentally or physically, I'm unsure) and by the second half of lap three I was able to pick up the pace a bit.

I finished in possible the slowest 10km I've ever run - BUT (and it's a big BUT, that's why it's in capitals) - the furthest I've run this whole year before this race was 5km, and I'd only run 5km twice without stopping, so it really is early days. I had to keep the effort down (minimise risk of injury), and from that perspective it was a success.

All done!

FInal placing: Olympic Plus distance, 04:16:29, 72nd out of 129

Mrs was at the finish line waiting with a big hug. What a fantastic event - I'd done it, my first triathlon of the year. Can I say I'm "no longer injured"? Probably, yes, but have to make sure I don't get carried away. It's so common to bounce back too hard and get all excited and just injure yourself again. I have a few races coming up and with care I'm sure I can get through them all.

Pretty good bling too!

All in all it was an excellent weekend. Mrs raced well too, and it's fair to say we've both been massively re-infected with the racing bug. The Team Freespeed group were brilliant, I can't wait to meet them again - thank you for letting us hang out with your crew!

Richard and Jenny, with the adorable Leo and Noah

Mrs after her race, rockin' the Freespeed kit!


  1. What a wonderfully upflifting race report. Thank you, Norm.

    1. Yes, it was a very motivating day - it's nice to share some good positivity after feeling like I've been complaining about my ITB for ever. Thanks.

  2. You're back! Which is fantastic to see.

    (Wanstead Flats parkrun. It's in Wanstead and it's flat.)

    1. Yup, getting there - onwards and upwards! Apparently there is light at the end of the tunnel, it's just sometimes the tunnel has a curve so you can't see it at first (as I think I've said to you before).

      Wanstead Flats was indeed flat - but it was a relly hard run. Hot and only my second non-stop 5km, found it very hard. Have to say I was a bit worried about what would happen on Sunday, but it all turned out OK in the end.

      Thanks for reading and commenting :)

  3. That was a good read Norm. A very positive result all things considering. You're on the move again, and the only way now for you is up! My friend always tells me that it's all about baby steps and he's right. Once you've caught the racing bug, you ramp up your training and start making your way up the field!

    By the way, your bike looks really smart!

    1. Yup - baby steps. I'm not going to be "racing" properly until next year, for the remainder of this year it's all about conditioning and getting fit and strong again. Next year? Who knows, there's a while to think about that yet. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Hey Norm, it's Claire (physio) here. I came across your site and was so chuffed to see you are back competing. WELL DONE!!! Soooo chuffed for you. onwards and upwards!