2023 Reading Standard/Olympic Tri
Sunday 3rd September 2023
Tim, Katie and Dave
(words by Dave, possibly took longer than the actual race)
Firstly, apologies for the length of this write up, it’s only a run of the mill Olympic distance, but I got started and kinda got carried away. Sorry also for the superfluous data, I wanted to reflect on any improvement I’ve made over the year, so used this race report to work it out and tell myself I’d improved one way or another.
So Sunday 3rd September saw me return to Reading for an Olympic once again. 12 months ago, the Cotswolds was to be the location for my first ever Olympic/Standard distance race, but BeyondEvents went bust shortly before. All the plans and training for my longest ever race were in the air. Thankfully., I found a Reading Oly Tri very close to the date and they still had capacity, so I entered. The race itself went okay back then, swim was okay (fog delayed start by an hour or so, we couldn’t see the buoys), ride was nice, but the run was a horrible (to me) 6 laps around the lake on the grass. I was on my last legs at the start of the run, so it ended up being a walk/run effort (and lots of counting for those who know my survival techniques) to get me to the end.
This year, I put Reading back in the calendar. Back to the distance, and back to improve that run. Thankfully their emails pointed to a “new” run course, hopefully that HAD to be better. The goal this time, faster times and a better run.
I arrived nice and early (gives me lots of time to overthink everything) and saw Katie Topp in the car park, and I knew Tim Heaysman would be there too (setting up the bike racking for them once again), so we had a nice TTG trio in attendance.
Getting to the start and registration was nice, this is such a well organised race. Into transition to get setup, bag handed over and then we were ready. Met back up with Katie and Tim at the swim start, we were broadly going off at the same time, but a swim hat malfunction for Katie caused a small panic and I popped back to grab my spare. In the end, no need as Tri20 (Reading Tri club) had spares they were giving out (and forcing on people wearing black swim caps!), nice touch.
Katie was off in the swim, and Tim and I stood in line waiting for our start, roughly trying to work out where to place ourselves. I was wondering why I was still standing next to my swim coach, but figured I could follow him for the first 20 seconds at least! We went off into the water, Tim first, me 10 seconds after with the rolling start. 5 metres into the swim, something felt off.. I’d forgotten to put my earplugs in. They were still neatly tucked in my tri suit sleeve. It’s probably been over a year since I’ve swam without them. Not much I could or wanted to do about them, I just decided to ignore it and relax and get on with the swim, consigned to the fact that my ear canal would slowly fill up with water, and it would probably be empty again in a few days!
I managed to relax into the swim pretty quickly, “ploddy like” in terms of visibility, so it felt like a home game. A couple of faster people overtook me, I over took a couple of slower people, but settled in with a good group about my pace. About 500m in, I noticed that I recognised the swim masked swimmer I was keeping pace with, it was Tim! I was trying to put some effort in on this swim, so I was glad to have a target to keep up with, so decided to try and stay on his feet/hip for the rest of the way, and amazingly managed it. We stayed together for the rest of the race and on the last buoy, I figured I didn’t need my arms for much more of the race, so put some pace in.
A good effort saw me coming out of the water at a chip time of 31:00.74 (c 57th out of 92 in the Standard race) and 2:04/100yd. Slightly slower than I think I used to be, but getting back to pace after the recent rhomboid/shoulder issues. Tim was clocked on the swim at 31:26.80, so I’ll love to thank him for dragging me round in his draft for over half that race.
Out of the water and into transition. Marshalls shouting out “watch out for the mat, it’s slippy”, yeah, slippy when wet, got that, around the corner and NEARLY went A over T, “oooooohhhhhh” I thought, that’s what you meant. Note to self, when marshals say something, it’s for a good reason and listen to them. Got to the bike and saw Katie about to set off on the other rack, so a quick wave and onto getting ready. Wetsuit off, helmet on, bike computer on, quick gel, socks on (yep, still doing that) and off…. Just about to leave transition when I noticed my race belt was still on the handle bars. Stopped (right in front of the BTF official, ooops) and popped it on and carried on out of transition.
Note to self, don’t put number on the bike, it’s not obvious enough.
Swim Summary :
2022 was 2:08/100yd and in 2023, that has improved to 2:04/100 yd, and the chip timing put me 1m18s up on last year.
A quick calculation shows that if that improvement continues in a linear fashion, I’ll be at 1 minute/100 yds before my 65th birthday. I’ll take that.(I recognise it may not be an entirely linear trend, but I’m not letting maths get in the way of my goals)
Starting out on the bike, the Garmin was doing funny things. Wouldn’t display the data correctly and seemed to be a little confused about if it had the route or not. It settled down, but still wasn’t right, so I decided to ignore it. Recent chats have pointed to me deciding to worry less about data on the ride and more about effort. Today I wasn’t going to go easy on the ride and “save the legs”, but (hopefully) give it a good go. I’d made a mental note of the rough key points on the course, so as I progressed past the mandatory foot down point and past the war memorial, I knew the first part was over and it was knuckle down for the middle third. Somewhere along this route (I forget where) there was a brief moment (in keeping with all drafting regulations) where I overtook Katie and Tim over took us both to give a nice TTG group of three. It didn’t last long though as Tim went off into the distance and Katie and I wondered where all the gears had gone from our bikes at the hill continued.
The roads were broadly in good condition, the turns well signed and the junctions brilliantly marshalled. Very little wind, just enough sunshine to make it pleasant but not overbearing, I had to concentrate to keep reminding myself to put the effort in. Not entirely sure how much effort, but somewhere between not enough and not too much. Before I knew it, it was back to the start and into transition. Put the bike away and swapped the shoes, necked a quick gel and headed off for the run. I don’t think I spent too long in transition, and Gordon’s chastisement of some relaxed 113 transitions, I’ve tried to forget about putting a cup of tea on, and get back out ASAP.
A nice enjoyable ride. Last year was two laps, this year, they made it a larger single route. I liked both. I *think* I put extra effort in this year, and I know I’ve done far more training on the bike compared to this time last year. So harder to compare this with different routes AND my Garmin was a little slow to get started, so I’ll just go with Estimated Average Power in 2022 was 124w, and in 2023 that was 126w. 2022 average speed was 17.2mph, and in 2023 it was 16.8mph, but elevation in 2022 was 650ft and in 2023 with the new course, that was now 817ft. In real terms what does that all mean? Not sure, let’s go with “possibly slightly better, but we’ll never really know”
2022 T1 was clocked at a leisurely 4m28s and 2023 saw that come down to 3m42 (41st out of 93). I’ll say a bit of effort made up some time, but perhaps could have shaved a little more off if I hadn’t forgotten my race belt.
2022 T2 was clocked at 3m02s , and 2023 saw that come out at 2m19s.
Overall, back in 2022, still relatively green and nervous, I was about 60th out of 70 males on T1, and in 2034 I was about 44th out of 67 males. Small gains, but I’m glad I’m getting a little more confident and practiced in my transitions. I don’t expect to be ditching the socks or doing a flying dismount at any point in the future, but somewhere in the middle of the pack one day would be great.
Well, this was always going to be my main concern for this event. It’s my main concern on all the bloody triathlons. I used to be just a “barely average” runner, so do enjoy it (up to 13.1 miles, then enjoyment turns to pain). Both the 2022 Reading Olympic and 113 earlier this year saw me having to run/walk to make it to the end. This time I wanted to just run the whole thing. Pace didn’t have to be amazing, I just had to keep the legs turning. I was hopeful the new course with it’s promise of just a single lap of the lake and then off to some canal towpath somewhere would be the surface and change I needed to get me to meet the goal. Out of transition, I started out trying to control it. Caught up with someone else but we had similar pace, so I just sat in behind and tried to overcome the memories of those painful 6 laps from last year as I rounded the lake, through the grass. It reminded my of Newent parkrun, but the bit on the field where they hadn’t cut the grass or filled the holes in. Note to self, should run more at Newent to toughen up.
Legs were okay enough, so it was still a case of just getting it done. We came off the lake and onto some gravel path, an improvement. I mean still a terrible surface, but it wasn’t the grass of the back end of the lake and had now started to join up with the runners coming back on the return leg. They didn’t look happy, but hey, that’s on them for going too fast. The gravel path turned, and my hope of the blissful tarmac of the towpath was instead replaced by a farmer’s field. We were at this point running in a narrow rut in the field, only really enough space for one runner, so when we had to pass the oncoming runner one of us had to move onto the longer grass. This was now really tiring the legs, the surface was banked, so the stress was uneven, but again, I just gritted my teeth and got it done, there was a towpath somewhere, I saw it on the course map. We did then turn and the towpath was there. It was no running track, but it wasn’t the field. The legs settled a little, I had a peak at the watch, time was slow, but it wasn’t a walk, so I just kept going, ducking the branches here and there. I then saw Tim again, coming back along the path, he’d obviously hit the turnaround point and was on his way to the finish. “They’ve shortened the run” he shouted and was gone. I think that’s good news I thought. Although why had they shortened it? Perhaps there was another bloody field later on and there was a sit in protest until the got rid of yet another cross country segment? The next question was then how much had they shortened it by? This was at about nearly 2 miles on an out and back 6.5 mile run. Running still coming at me, so was the turn imminent, or had they gone from 6.5 to 6.4 or something? I cracked on, the legs heavy, but still going. I normally run with my own drink, but recently have been trying to run lighter in races and use the aid stations. After about another half mile there was the aid station. An ambulance and someone on a stretcher. Always a sad sight, but these things happen. Far better to see the professionals doing their job with everything they need, than come across someone in distress and not knowing when or what help will arrive. The situation seemed quite calm, and I just grabbed a cup of water, downed it and got back on to the run. I got about 10 metres further down path where a marshal was stood in the middle of the towpath, arms wide. “You have to stop and turn around, we have shortened the run. ” he said. Thankfully, having already been informed by Tim about this, I could just nod and 180 and get back on with finishing this. I saw Katie on the path on the return, and shouted to say it had be shortened and roughly the distance point I turned on. My mind then thought about that bloody field again. On the positive side, I hadn’t walked yet, the run was now probably shorter by at least a mile. I could do this. The field came and went. I didn’t like it, but by the time the counting kicked in, then end was near. We had the gravel path again, this time I appreciate it, and then back onto the lake path, which I hoped I correctly recalled would be a shorter continuation of the full lake lap. Before I knew it, cones started to appear and the tarmac of the carpark presented itself. I could hear the noise of the finish line, and I tried to run a little taller in an attempt to make it look like I had more in the tank than I did. But I crossed the line, and the primary goal of the day “don’t walk on the run” was done.
So a different course, possibly slightly better underfoot but still a horrible run surface along the lake and field. In 2022, my mile splits started at 09m40 and then went steadily downhill. Mile 4 was 10m50s back then and an average pace of 10m52s . This year the first mile was sub9, miles 2 and 3 were 9m38 and 9m30 respectively (field was in miles 2 and 4) and an average pace of 9m33 for what ended up being a 4.2 mile run. I’ll never know what that run would have been like with those extra 2+ miles, but they would have been on the canal path, so hopefully I could have carried on strongly (canal only mile 3 was 9m30s).
I crossed the line and a medal was thrown over me, a hat presented, a banana provided and an attempt to persuade me to take a Mars bar, then she asked me “have you been stung”? I’m not entirely sure when or how I learned of the events of that run, but it then started to become apparent that there had been a bee attack on a large number of runners out on the tow path (later understood to be European Hornets). Chatting to one guy at the finish, he was stung 20 times all over his head and back. First aid at the finish were administering anti histamines to people who had been stung and giving them spray to relieve the stings. In the end, it sounds like they were just unlucky that day. Apparently that path is run and cycled regularly by many Tri2o members, and was run that morning for the final recce, but no one had any idea that this was a possibility. Hopefully everyone who was affected by it made a full recovery, and hopefully the runner at the aid station was also back on his feet in good time.
At the finish line, myself, Tim and Katie caught back up again. Each of us having had a different experience of the course shortening. Tim was held for 10 minutes or so on the course while they tried to work out what to do, and Katie was made to run around the carpark at the aid station. I got the simpler (and quicker/shorter) “turn around”.
After some snacks and a sit down, we made our way back to transition, grabbed the BTF official to ask her to take a photo of us and then went on our way. All in all a pleasant day, I felt like I put a good shift in and was glad to get the “run/walk” monkey off my back.
The post race email on Monday included a photo of the (by then) “very calm” Hornets at 1700 the Sunday afternoon.
I’m glad that was the first time I saw them, I thought this sport was dangerous enough without having to add “Hornet Attack” to the list of things to try not to think about..