Martin’s Cotswolds Story – First Success at 70.3

My Experience of the Cotswolds Classic

The setting for this race is near Cirencester in the Cotswolds, a lovely, quiet and scenic area of the British Isles.

The most important thing for me in this race was pacing. Illness leading up to the race had robbed me of a vital block of training and so it was to plan B, getting to the finish line rather than racing.

The alarm went off at 4am. Although I’ve done this many times the nerves were still there, the continual checking of my kit. Once should be enough, how can it change, but still I do it.

I realised that for the first time I’d slept the night before a race, a first for me! That was the first indication that things might actually work out for me this time. I haven’t enjoyed the best of fortune in the past when it comes to long distance but perhaps those capricious triathlon gods would finally smile on me today! But that feeling didn’t last too long.

The cleaners had been in the previous afternoon and now my timing chip strap was missing! All I could do was hope that I could get a strap at the race start. After a lot of running around and anxiety I managed to get a spare at the start line. Panic over!

The Swim

The swim course was one lap around the perimeter of lake 32 of the Cotswolds Water Park.

The Whiteoak group was placed together in wave 8, the final wave. The lake temperature had been high for weeks making many people very nervous. But the last two nights the air temperature had fallen dramatically overnight and by race morning the lake had dropped to 22 degrees to the relief of most competitors.

When the klaxon sounded I set off, as always, at an easy pace in order to settle in. I couldn’t afford to go into the red this early!

The pack was swimming away from me but I ignored that and concentrated on my own strategy. There were swimmers behind me so at least I wasn’t losing touch with the race completely.

I remember thinking that at 22 degrees this was a nice temperature and this would be the coolest that I’d be today. I completed the swim at a nice even pace and exited the water feeling ok. So far, so good.

T1

I took my time in transition and made sure there were no mistakes and I didn’t forget anything. With 56 miles ahead of me I couldn’t afford to get this wrong.

The Bike

The bike course was two laps of mostly quiet countryside with about four miles of busy main road at the beginning and end.

The main road section passed quickly and then I turned on to the best part of the route, the quiet country roads and was soon riding through a series of small quiet  villages dotted around the first of two laps of the bike.

Just like the swim I had to get the pace right. In the past I’ve got this wrong and paid the price on the run! It was imperative this time that I save as much as possible for the run and so rode a slower and easier bike than normal.

I saw, literally, dozens of riders at the side of the road fixing punctures or waiting for the bike mechanic to turn up and silently prayed to be spared that fate. Returning down the fast spine road to the turnaround point to complete the first loop I headed back out to start lap 2.

With about 10 miles to go on the bike it started to feel harder than it should have done. The time was around 12pm and really hot. It was only going to get hotter so I slowed a little more to save my legs. At this point I had no idea how I was going to be able to do the run. The prospect of a half marathon later seemed too daunting so I pushed it to the back of my mind and concentrated only on getting to T2. I’d worry about the run then.

T2

Just as in T1 I took my time. Rushing now could lead to disaster, remember racing was plan A. This was plan B, get to the finish.

The Run

The run was a course of two halves. The woods, a scenic trail with lots of shade was a real pleasure to run. The road section, exposed and the heat oppressive, was not at all nice.

I knew that I couldn’t run a half marathon. With the wear and tear issue on my left knee it had been years since I’d run anywhere near 13 miles. I’d come prepared with a run/walk strategy.

As I ran hesitantly out of T2 I felt a couple of small muscles around the knees and quad area pulling a little so I started walking in the hope that my legs would settle down. After walking for a few minutes I tried to run again, gingerly, it worked. I found now that my legs felt better and I could run, it was slow but I was running.

 

All I thought about was getting to the end of lap 1 and run/walking would give me the best chance of that. I daren’t even think about lap 2 yet.

At each of the three aid stations I took on as much fluid and salts, in the shape of peanuts and pringles, as I could manage. As much as I did I knew that it wouldn’t be enough!

It was so hot now, verging on unbearable. I kept my run cap doused with water and took full advantage of the two points on the course where Marshalls had hose pipes spraying water. Everyone now, young or old, fast or slow, was run/walking.

 

I caught up with Rob, who was now on his third and final lap, and we ran together for a short time chatting. That lifted my spirits.

I completed lap 1 and, surprisingly, my legs felt good and I was able to complete lap 2 just the same. I found now that I could power walk when not running.

I caught up with Paul, who was now on his final lap, which, again, gave me a lift. Whilst on lap 2 Chris caught up with me and after exchanging a few words pushed on. He was running well and looked good.

The support was truly amazing. Who people had come to support didn’t matter they cheered everyone. The Marshalls were fantastic, the best I’d seen anywhere.

One lady held up a placard as I approached which resonated with my own mindset. “FINISHING IS YOUR ONLY OPTION”.

 

I ran through the timing point to start lap 3 and received a massive cheer from all the Whiteoak guys who’d already finished which gave me a big lift.

Early into lap 3 the wheels came off. My legs started to cramp. Every muscle below the knee and in my feet now kept locking up. I could run no more! Walking got slower and slower and I had to keep stopping and wait until the muscles freed up and then walk slowly on. This happened every few minutes for the rest of the lap.

One lady from aid station 2 walked with me to ensure I was ok. I must have looked as bad as I felt. For the first time doubts began to invade my thoughts but my determination remained strong and in stubborn defiance of logic and reason the worse my legs got the stronger was my determination.

We then saw Danny, who’d pulled out with leg pain, and he walked with me and gave me amazing support. The sweeper turned up on a bike and added support.  I was now the only one left on the course. The stops became more frequent but my determination and their support never wavered.

With 200 metres to go I was at a standstill, my legs refusing to work, and the thought of the ironman crawl-off in 1997 came to mind. I didn’t want to finish that way but I wasn’t leaving without that medal. Not this time. Eventually I got going again and even managed a very painful jog up the red carpet.

 

Everyone but the guy on the microphone, the Marshalls and the clean-up crew had gone but I didn’t care I’d finished!

With amazing support from everyone especially Danny who walked with me to the finish and Pauline who was there waiting helped me to recover and got me back to the hotel.

This time the gods, at last, had smiled for me.

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1 Comment

  1. Author

    Awesome achievement, well done Martin!

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