Wimbleball

I’m looking forward to the day when I don’t think of my triathlon performances with reference to my foot surgery in 2009. Since then everything has been “best since foot surgery”, “fastest since” and the like. This years UK 70.3 race has certainly gone some way towards achieving that.

After my foot surgery I spent two UK winters in the southern hemisphere training and racing which meant through to Kona last year I’d done a continuous two year race season finishing eleven Ironman races. I was drained and looking forward to an off season long enough that all races were beyond the horizon.

This meant I was itching to go at Wimbleball and having had a consistent five months of training I felt I could race well. A restless nights sleep confirmed this as I only get that nervous when I know I should go well. Despite this I was determined to enjoy it. It’s a classic cliché I know, but last year I was so pleased to finally be running again that I thoroughly enjoyed every moment and raced with the biggest smile. I was aiming for the same again but faster.

Boy the water was cold but with the new wave start the wait in the water wasn’t as long. As last year it was an incredibly civilised swim start with loads of space and an IM Austria like start where it seemed no-one heard the gun but just generally started moving. I got on the feet of the lead guy in my wave but his sighting was pretty poor so left him to swim on my own. There were tonnes of people to pass and I only just avoided a couple of breaststroke kicks to the head. I exited the water 2nd about a minute down (should have stuck on his feet) but was announced as the first swimmer having kept my swim cap on in an attempt to warm up as I raced (barged) my way up to T1.

T1 was like a war scene. A new experience for me as I’m usually early through T1. Floor space only and then struggled to get out of my wetsuit with my numb hands. The crowding continued through the bike start. I had to canter up a ways to mount my bike and then worked far harder than I probably should to try and pass as many people as possible on the first hill.

In line with my enjoyment mode I decided to only look at the bike elapsed time. This is my local course so I have a good idea of how I’m going based on elapsed time. I didn’t care about watts or HR I just wanted to see how hard I could ride. As the crowds thinned I was helped by the constant stream of people ahead to chase down. On one of the descents before Upton I lost my gel bottle having only taken one sip. I didn’t worry as surely you don’t need that much for 3 hours. I took a piece of banana just in case on the second lap.

I knew my bike form was better than last year and it showed in the second lap where rather than fading I felt stronger and finished the bike in 2:48.

Dashed through T2 excited to see how my run went and keen to get my new off road FiveFinger shoes on. I’ll be honest I was thinking this is my first chance (yes, since my surgery) to show that running in these shoes is not slowing me down. It amazed me over the years how many people have suggested that if only I changed my shoes I would run like my old self. This not only indicated a lack of understanding of just how much my running had been set back but also an incredible belief in footwear technology and how much it contributes to your speed.

Unlike last year I hit the run hard, which makes for a quite different (i.e. more painful) experience. My smiles of last year were replaced with more grim determination. I knew I was leading my age group and felt I had the race to lose. Whenever I’m in this situation I just tell myself to work hard enough that anyone that does catch you deserves the win.

The course has a great mix of surface, terrain and slope. I felt great running on them all, strong and in control. I’d not felt that since … well for a while. I held my pace and did not fade. Though I couldn’t muster the external smile of last year internally I was beaming. As I came across the line some 17 minutes quicker than the year before I was absolutely chuffed to bits. I’d won my age group, at last, a goal I’d had the year I bust up my foot. I’d also stepped closer to my old running form and knew there was lots more improvement to come over the next year or so.

That much quicker than last year, after which I went pretty quick at Austria, certainly makes me excited for my next race at Ironman Roth. Perhaps after that I can finally stop prefacing all my performances with “since my foot surgery”.

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