2019 was the fourth edition of the race, having been introduced in 2016. It occupies a special place in my heart, as it was the first ever triathlon I competed in, and the bike is slightly rolling and fast, which suits me down to the ground.
The swim takes place in Boundary Water Park, and for the first three editions was two laps of a (theoretically) 500m course. Due to the race’s position in the calendar (2nd or 3rd weekend in April) however, the swim has varied in length with the water temperature. This year the water temp on race day was 10.5oC, and the swim was altered to a single lap of 750m.
I was a little jumpy in the morning, as it was the first time racing with my 4 ½ month old daughter in tow (and all the paraphernalia that involves) but we got to the water park in good time, and I got set up in transition. Four Scarabs were racing this morning – Ben, Katie, Kevin and I, and once we got ourselves organised were stood by the waters’ edge and chatting to keep nerves at bay. The usual safety briefing out of the way, it was into the water (with the requisite involuntary gasps and cries of “s*** that’s cold” all round). I’d opted to go without booties but was wearing two swim hats and swim gloves so that I didn’t completely lose feeling in my fingers – it’s difficult to get your shoes done up with blocks of ice for hands.
After a couple of minutes acclimatising in the water (and dipping my face in the water a few times) it was time for the off – all swimmers lining up between two buoys, and awaiting the starter’s horn. I got a decent start, and settled into my stroke, but immediately thought that something didn’t feel quite normal – then it hit me. I’d left my nose clip clipped to the edge of my wetsuit neck, and had forgotten to put it on. Typically, I swim with a noseclip on at all times, so this threw me for a second, but I managed to settle down, control my breathing and breathe out through both mouth and nose when underwater. The benefit of a single 750m lap became clear pretty soon as well, as it was maybe 300m to the first buoy, so a few minutes to get into a decent stroke, find some clear water, and then start concentrating on pushing the speed up. In previous years I had not had great success with the two lap swim format – a short first leg to the first turn buoy means that you get people all-out-sprinting to the first buoy, and all the washing-machine effect that results, with people being ducked under, goggles going askew, involuntarily taking on water and generally having a bad time. None of that this year. I could see that there weren’t a great number of swimmers ahead of me when I approached the second turn buoy, and was very encouraged when I exited the water to a T1 without many people visible.
T1 was a bit scrappy – gloves off, helmet on, get the wetsuit off, race belt on, shoes on – not the worst I’ve done but by no means the best. I had racked my bike in the position nearest the water exit, and Ben and Katie had done the same but the opposite i.e. right next to the bike exit, so a little nod and a wave to each other as I left T1. Onto the bike, right onto the Holmes Chapel road, and off down the road. I spotted a rider in red and black ahead, and aimed for him, catching him and holding his wheel for a few minutes, had a quick chat and agreed to take turns at the front. We worked together well through Holmes Chapel, down the road to Goostrey, and then made pace with a couple of guys who were pressing on and managed to gap us, before we reeled them back in after Jodrell Bank. Coming up to the Chelford roundabout, I heard a woman appear behind our group and shout instructions, telling us to take 30 second turns at the front. If I’m honest, that narked me off a bit – I would have much rather they took a pull at the front and made it clear they were willing to work before setting terms, so I squeezed as we exited the roundabout, hunkered down with my wrists on the bars and pushed on TT style, managing to put a few hundred metres between me and them. I’m a bit hazy now on what happened next, but I think they caught up as we turned left towards Seven Sisters, and we started working together again more – the group stayed together for the end of the first lap and most of the second, with three riders including me working together on the second lap to get some distance on the field. I didn’t know at this point where we were in the race, so was stunned to find that the three of us crossed the dismount line in 2nd, 3rd and 4th places.
A quick shoe change, a shouted enquiry to Dave Quartermain (the organiser) to ask where 1st place was (some 10 minutes up the road) and it was off on the run. I am not a quick runner, and have suffered with a back complaint for the last 18 months, so felt achey and cramped in the lower back as I got out on the road, with a couple of shouted words of encouragement from my wife. I manged to get into a steady pace within about 1 ½ or 2km, having passed a runner who was having an unfortunately-timed attack of cramp in the calves, and spent about 10 minutes in 3rd place, which (as far as I know) is the highest placing I’ve been in any race, ever as an adult. Once over the M6, and turning left the faster pursuers started overtaking me, including first female (who it turned out was the one who joined us on the bike at Chelford). Round the final corner and onto the straight for lap 1, and my wife shouted to say I was in 10th place (which I was still buzzing with). On the outward leg for lap 2, I found it easier mentally to be overtaken, as those overtaking could be (a) on their second leg and so pushing me down the finishing order, or (b) a minimum of 20 minutes behind me and no threat to my overall placing – it wasn’t something I knew for certain, so I couldn’t worry about it too much.
The final km began to get a bit painful, and I had to work to keep my run position tall and stable in order to stop my back hurting, but managed to cross the line at a steady pace, ending up in 16th place! Ben was not long behind me, and Katie finished well within the hour, with Kevin a little while after.
To date, it was my strongest performance in any race, and I was hugely proud of the work on the bike, but also the swim that put me in a position to work with the quicker bikers. The run needs work, and transitions could be a fair bit quicker - my swim-to-bike transition was a question of admin, and not doing things in the right order, while my run legs don’t adapt very quickly after T2. These things can be improved with practice.
All in all, it was a great morning of racing and a big morale boost for the future.
Male Winner: Arran McCloskey (Bib 86)
2nd: Richard Tennant (Bib 110)
3rd: Shaun Gilmour (Bib 61)
16th: Dan Piercy (Bib 94), 750m swim, 58km bike, 10km run in 2:53:47
Female Winner: Stephanie King (Bib 124)
2nd: Cathy Atkinson (Bib 2)
3rd: Linzi Nuttalll (Bib 22)