The standard triathlon day began with an early start. 5am. It was dark. I was tired. Not just normal 5am tired, but really tired from yesterday’s exertions. But there was a world championship to race so I got up, got breakfast, got my bits and pieces together and we jumped in the taxi. There were no trains running at 5:30am on a Sunday morning… I wasn’t keen to pay what could end up being 40 or 50 francs for a taxi that might not even be able to get us anywhere near the start, due to the closed roads. But there was no choice.
The taxi went the long way round, to say the least, right around the by-pass to the north of the city and then down the west and along the waterfront until we hit the closed roads. This was as close as we would get, so we coughed up the 60 francs (obscene money) and walked to the start. Time was getting tight, and I hate rushing on race morning. There’s plenty of time in the race for the heart rate to get high, but you want to keep the pre-race heart rate under control…
In the end it worked out just about OK. I got the bike sorted, got the drinks and gels put onto the bike, got everything else done, and we walked up to the swim start. Wetsuits wouldn’t be allowed. Damn. At such an early hour, it wasn’t exactly roasting hot. I felt a bit depleted. A bit tired. A little bit not keen to get in the water, especially without a wetsuit. I’d be glad when this was over.
I went for a quick jog to warm up. Immediately I needed the toilet. I’d already been first thing after waking up, but your guts can do funny things in the day(s) after a race. Queuing for the official port-a-loos wasn’t an option as I’d miss my race start – the queues were too long. There was a smaller toilet block around the corner, without too much of a queue. The New Zealander ahead of me in the queue saw I was in a hurry and let me go first. This was a very selfless gesture…
There wasn’t much time to hang about. I joined my start pen just after 8am. With 90 seconds to go, we were called into the water. I did the same as yesterday, away off to the right. There were so many entrants in my race, they had started it in two separate waves, and the first wave athletes were already off a couple of minutes ahead. There was a bit of a breeze. It wasn’t exactly rough water, but neither was it flat calm. I’d just have to get on with it.
Within a minute or two of the start, my goggles started leaking. They have never leaked before. It was so bad that I had to stop twice to clear them out. My eyes didn’t feel great as a result. The swim just went on and on and on. Sighting was difficult. It was a rough swim. I never really warmed up. It was inhospitable. My cold water wimpishness and my fatigue from the sprint race didn’t help. There was no quick way out, I just had to keep swimming.
It was such a relief to finally be shorebound, with the big tree to aim at. If everything had been perfect I’d have hoped to swim around 22-23 minutes. I was over 27 minutes. It felt a lot longer. Oh well. The bike and run couldn’t be much worse.
I was a bit of a mess in transition, feeling absolutely beaten up. I could barely see, as my eyes had water in them for the entire swim and now wouldn’t stop watering and wouldn’t focus properly. The race certainly hadn’t got off on the right footing. But there was nothing else for it except jumping on the bike. My eyes took ages to settle down. Everything took ages to settle down after the swim. Drafting wasn’t allowed in this race and I had to be really careful not to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. A penalty wouldn’t have helped my mood.
Going up the first hill, I knew right away my legs were a long way off how they had felt on the same hill yesterday. A standard distance bike is 40km (twice that of a sprint distance), but it always feels much longer. It was just a grind of a bike. Gritting the teeth and grinding it out. The same amazing smooth roads, but just not the top-end performance level. Usually in a race your legs feel full of life after tapering down. Not today…
Big wide open roads to the west added on the extra distance. Motorbike marshals and referees buzzing all over the place. I needed to pay good attention to hydration and nutrition, much more so than in the sprint race.
The bike did somewhat settle down eventually and I found a rhythm of sorts, and an output that felt OK. There weren’t many overtaking me, but I figured that the fast people were long gone after the swim. There was more space on the bike compared with yesterday, and it wasn’t as fast and furious and exhilarating, nor was I as fast and furious and exhilarated. It really was just a case of grinding it out. In the end I held around 250 watts for 64 minutes (my Garmin worked the whole time). If I’d been fresh I’d have hoped that might have been nearer to 270 watts.
Such a great course
But I kept telling myself to stop dwelling on it, and that I had a silver medal in my pocket, and that today was never going to be great. In the end, 64 minutes was pretty much right up there. Another minute or two faster and it would have been right among the fastest bikes of the day. It was the swim that let me down today.
I got off the bike, ruined another set of cleats running through transition in my bike shoes, whipped on a pair of socks and runners, and started to run. I knew exactly what I was in for. 2 laps of yesterday’s hilly course. 10km. I felt OK running, but not great. I carried a couple of gels. I put them down the front of my tri-suit for when I’d need them, and they fell right down to the crotch area. Not a good look. And an even worse look to maintain pace while trying to “massage” them back up to my chest where I could retrieve them.
I hadn’t needed to pick up water at the aid stations yesterday in the sprint race, but I wanted water with the gels today. All three attempts to pick up water from the volunteers ended with the water going flying everywhere and I didn’t grab a single cup successfully. I’ll need to work on this…
The hills were tough. It was getting warm. I went through 5km in 20 minutes, which was disappointing, but that was the pace I had. I was running as hard as I could. Or has hard as I dared. I didn’t want to be slower than 40 minutes for the 10km. It was starting to hurt badly. There’s good hurt that you can rip through, that you relish. And there was this.
Getting under 40 minutes for the run became the motivating target. Again I don’t think anyone passed me in the run. I survived the hills. I was dying for a drink. I kept going. The finish area was great – the course went right past the finish chute, then doubled back, then doubled back again to the finish line. It was a fun section, with great crowds. Or at least it would have been a fun section if it wasn’t at the end of two tough races and I hadn’t been right on the limit.
A bit of "helmet hair" going on here
The second half of the run must have been better than the first half and my legs must have worked their way into it, as I ran under 38 minutes. Not bad in the circumstances. I crossed the line thinking I had raced as well as I could with what I’d had. I’d had one of the top runs of the day, and I finished 22nd overall out of 123 finishers. It hadn’t been a bad race.
I reckon doing the sprint race had cost me 3-4 minutes on the bike and in the run, and my swim hadn’t been much better than a disaster, there were easily another 2-3 minutes there. Take 7-8 minutes off my finishing time and I’d have been right in the mix. But it was what it was. I’d absolutely settle for 2nd and 22nd. I was glad to be done. The racing had been great. The world championships, super courses, tremendous support and weather, but now it was over.
And now I could finally relax a bit. I chatted a bit with a few Irish, including our team manager. The staff had been putting in long, long days. We found a great table in a cheap-ish but functional restaurant along the front, and I fairly enjoyed an hour or two of recovery, chip butties, crisps, and yes, some beer… Then we ambled down to the race expo area where I fairly enjoyed some more recovery with burgers, pizza and possibly more beer. And some music. “Oh life…” The rain didn’t look like it was starting any time soon, which was great.
They were opening transition for bike collection shortly and hordes of athletes were queuing to collect their gear. It was scorching. For many, the event experience was over. For me I was really happy to be heading back to the expo venue that evening for the awards ceremony (and more good recovery food and drink…)
Before that it was back to the apartment (via the train – I was absolutely not cycling or walking up that hill), and I set to work – dismantling and packing bikes, clearing up, washing dirty kit in the shower, and trying to get as much done as possible to make the final packing tomorrow morning as easy as possible (particularly as there might be a hangover involved tomorrow morning…)
We headed back to the waterfront and had a couple of drinks in a bar overlooking the lake as the storm and the rain finally rolled in. It was quite spectacular. The far side of the lake vanished in the mist. Oh well. We hadn’t done badly for weather. The bikes had stayed dry. We’d had good weather up to now. I hoped the rain would clear before the awards ceremony, which it duly did. Fantastic.
I’m glad, as an athlete, that I don’t need too many drinks to start feeling it, because at a tenner a pint in Switzerland it could quickly get expensive. At the awards we had vouchers for free food and drink anyway. Superb. It was really good fun, meeting a few of the other Irish, having a bit of craic, watching the ceremonial stuff, queuing for the podium, chatting to other medallists, going up on the podium, getting the medal, meeting Roisin (Ireland’s other silver medallist), taking photos, reliving it all. It was brilliant. Such a good atmosphere. Podium, burger, beer. None of these things in isolation happens very often. All three together? Probably a unique occurrence. I enjoyed it.
As the ceremony drew to a close, the rain started. We made a dash to a nearby pub. I had another burger and another drink. Chatted all things triathlon. There was an Irish guy there who had been to Kona in the 80s. A few were heading down to Nice for the half Ironman world championships the following week. A tentative agreement was made with the media officer to meet tomorrow at around 1pm at the station, for an interview, as we were on our way to the airport. All too soon it was time to get the last train home.
There was scope for a bit of a lie-in the following day, as we didn’t need to leave the apartment until around midday. When I finally got up, it was all action, getting all the packing done and getting everything tidied up and cleaned up, and eating the last of the food. My head actually felt OK, surprisingly.
Always a relief to get these closed, and back from an airline in one piece
I was sorry to leave, it had been a great place to stay, with a great view. But you don’t get something for nothing, it hadn’t been cheap and another cost of the view was the hill… I ended up not meeting the media guy at the station. I walked all around the whole station for 20 minutes in my green Triathlon Ireland top, and finally decided that we had to head to the airport. A few minutes later he texted to ask where I was… I had to apologise.
It was good that we had left when we did, because the queues at Geneva airport were unbelievable. The whole world was heading home, with their bikes. It was so slow. I went and picked up a mobile phone which a team-mate had left behind at the airport car rental place. We must have queued for well over an hour and just as we got to the front of the queue, they called anyone remaining for the Liverpool flight to come to the front. Typical. We just about had time for a great feed at the airport before boarding.
The drive back up to Edinburgh was punctuated with a stop at the famous Tebay services. The best services in the world…? Tremendous food. Plus if you buy a main meal, they will give you kids’ meals for £1. So I always have “kids in the car” when I’m at Tebay. For £10 I had a burger, steak pie and lasagne.
It was after midnight when I got back, and there was no-one available at this time to help with the bike boxes up the stairs. So reluctantly I had to leave them in the car overnight. I covered them with blankets and hoped for the best. They were still there in the morning. Then it was a case of building them all up again and getting all the washing and cleaning and tidying done.
What a great trip. What an unexpected silver medal.
Next will be a week of fairly easy training and recovering, before a 3-week block of training for Kona. I haven’t quite decided how I will spend this three week block: train straight through for 3 weeks (tough, usually I only do 2-week blocks), or train for a week, have an easier week, then a final tough week. I will have to put a lot of emphasis on heat training, which is uncharted territory for me as I’ve never had to do this before. Heat training will include sitting in a sauna for a long time, turbo training in the flat with the heat on full blast, and wearing a lot of clothes when out running. I’ll need to be careful not to get dehydrated. But it’s all for Kona. I’ll do what I have to do. Or what I think I have to do. Bring it on!
Training done was as follows: