Around this time last year, I was moving home and decided that I’d set myself a target of learning to swim in 2020. Since I wouldn’t bother to learn without a target, I set a goal: complete an Olympic distance triathlon in under 3 hours in 2020. Target set, I picked an event. The Birmingham Triathlon on 28th June seemed reasonable. My running and cycling were fine and all I needed was to learn to swim. Easy, right?

When Covid hit, all plans went up in the air and the Birmingham Triathlon got moved to 26th September. Alright, if it’s still on, let’s go for it! September arrived, the event got moved to Alderford Lake in Shropshire, I hired a van, booked a BnB and made my way down. Time to put the things Shaun and Iain taught me in the pool to good use!

The morning came and it was a chilly one! There was a fair bit of procrastinating about getting my jacket off! Wetsuit on and registered, a temperature check confirms I’m not bringing any unwelcome guests with me. The cool air has me dreading the water but it does have a small benefit: the lake doesn’t feel quite as bad in comparison!

Following the new time trial format we’re all having to get used to, I was soon off on lap 1 of 2 around the lake. Learning from previous experience of sunlight in the morning, I brought my tinted goggles, only to discover they don’t fit my face properly. So, 1500m swimming with my right eye closed shouldn’t be too difficult, right? At least I kept on-course for most of the swim, unlike the chap just behind/in-front/to-the-left/to-the-right of me! I’m taking some good karma from pointing him in the right direction a couple of times, though catching my face 50m from the exit wasn’t the thanks I had in mind! 😂

Exiting T1 hoping my cleats don’t pick up too much mud!

Coming out the lake, I didn’t have a hill climb to contend with this time (looking at you Blenheim!) and a nice jog over to transition soon helped me warm up a bit for the bike. Looking at my watch: 40 minutes. Not my fastest but good enough. I wasn’t in a hurry to get the nice, warm wetsuit off but I was soon stripped down and moving my bike through the we grass to the bike course.

The bike course is two laps through well-signposted country roads. With the exception of a couple close-passing van drivers, all went well and felt as safe as can be on open roads. The first challenge was getting my legs warm enough to actually get up to my power zone. I must have been a bit colder than I thought because it took 10 minutes to get over 200W! The course itself was mostly flat with only a single sloping incline towards the end of each lap with a nice straight descent out. I went with a simple game plan: keep over 200W, push up to 250W on the hill, then get aero on the descent to catch the riders that put a bit too much into overtaking me on the climb. Aerodynamics beats power every day of the week 😉

You always feel lower down than you look in the photos

I took a nice break in the second lap when a petrol tanker overtook but got stuck behind someone in front. A good chance for a flapjack to keep my energy up for the run later. I decided to take it a little easier coming into T2 and backed it off a bit. Average power about 200W and a bike time of 1:17. Could I have gone faster? Maybe, but after Blenheim Palace, I decided that preserving my legs for the run would keep me out of the pain locker for longer.

I wasn’t timing my transitions but I was working off the idea of, as long as I stay under 50 minutes for the run, I should be ok. The whole course is on grass, so I wasn’t expecting to set any 10K PBs today. I was caught by surprise putting my running shoes on and realised I couldn’t feel my feet! Maybe I should have went with thicker socks this morning!

I think I caught some runners not social distancing

I start moving to try and get some feeling back. Feeling pretty fresh, I kick up my pace to around 4:45/km. I figure I can put a little time in the bank in case I blow up later. For comparison, my Blenheim Palace 5K run started at 5:15/km and quickly slowed to 5:45/km. I think my cycle plan was working.

2 laps in and the numbness is gone but the pins and needles are in full flow. I’m feeling good, cheering other runners on and hearing some cheers coming my way. By lap 3 I’m feeling the burn but a well-timed cheers gets me pushing on to 4:40/km and a little quicker at times. Lap 4 comes and the pain really sets in but at least I can feel my feet again!

Running into the finish line feeling good!

The weather is warming up as I hit the finish line and grab a chilled water. These hydration tablets are great for giving me a kick but 2 hours of the stuff has me choking for something with no flavour!

The announcer calls my name and I hit the finish line with a run time of 46 minutes: only 2 minutes off my PB. Not bad at all!

A quick, socially-distanced, chat with some of the other competitors and I head to grab my bike out of transition. Funny thing I notice is a doppelgänger bike just next to mine in transition. That was a double-take moment!

Double-take to make sure I’m at the right bike!

My official time comes through while I’m driving home: 2:53:16! Well under my 3 hour target! I’m happy with that! I have to also thank Anne and Tom for lending me some carbon rims while mine are still waiting on repair! They were easily worth a couple of minutes there!

With my main goal complete, I’ve pretty much completed my season for 2020. Things took a little longer than I originally planned but I got there in the end. Next up, let’s see if I can go better. I feel like I can improve on that 40 minute swim and I’ve got some scope to improve on that 1:17 bike time without destroying my run. Let’s see what 2021 brings!

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