World Championship Triathlon Qualification Report

A Run in Arundel by Jon Ford-Dunn

(editors note – First paragraph has been modified for publication)

It’s been over 2 years since I’ve written a race report, having left the field to Hana whose articles are always a delight to read. Long may she continue.

At home in the minuscule portion of wardrobe space I have been allocated hangs a very embarrassing piece of clothing, it’s right there sandwiched between the gimp suit and the gold lame mankini; its a GBR team jacket with my name on the reverse. It’s never been worn. Back in 2015 I had to withdraw from the ITU World Championship Age Group Triathlon Championships in Chicago when I suffered a prolapsed disc in the lower back. It’s been a long journey back(when I started running again my ankles knocked together from the nerve damage done), so when I saw the Worlds were being held in Rotterdam this year (14-17th September), based on what looks like a flattish course I thought I’d try and qualify so I’d finally get to use the jacket.

If you haven’t gathered this report is not just of a run, but also a swim and a cycle. Which is known as a triathlon, several years ago it was very popular amongst Truro RC members, there was even talk of being affiliated to the BTF, but numbers have since dwindled. It is a great sport in terms of injury prevention, the three disciplines giving a good overall body workout, and if you are injured, you can usually do at least one of the other disciplines to keep your aerobic base going.

I sat down just before Christmas and set up a spreadsheet of the training I needed to do. It’s a daunting task; it’s very easy to just plonk down any old plan cobbled up from a triathlon mag, as long as the training hours look impressive. That is the road to disillusionment, you need a plan, that progressively builds both base, intensity and body strength, fits in with your day to day life plus gym and swimming pool hours, and allows time for the most important element, recovery. I spent hours agonising over whether to adopt a four or three week training block and what local running and cycle events to enter for high intensity training.

My event is the Olympic (or standard) distance event, that’s a 1500m swim, 40km bike,10km run, it’s essentially the Blue Riband event of triathlons, and to be certain of qualifying you have to place in the top 4 in one of 3 qualifying events (Chester, Ripon or Arundel)

Prior to this year, Cornwall hosted a large number of triathlons, but due to the demise of both Tempus Leisure and Freak Events local events were looking scarce. I’d entered Chester Triathlon in June as my qualifier, but need to do at least two shakedown events prior. None are available locally so travel up-country to compete in both a sprint and Olympic distance event in late April and early May, which show that training has been going well. The week before Chester, Brenda is laid low by some nasty virus, which I am determined not to catch. Oh dear, two days before the race I try and ignore the sore throat, headache etc. I even get to the start-line thinking I can race my way into it, but all that happens is a DNF. Two weeks later I attempt Bude Tri. I really struggle with very high heart rate and no speed. I’ve entered Arundel (in Sussex) on 16th July as my qualifier backup and it’s just a month away, I’m keeping training, but the virus is still lingering. With a week to go I do a parkrun and achieve a personal worst at the highest heartrate I’ve seen. I then do a power output test on the cycle turbo, and there is no power. I don’t think I’ve ever been less confident.

The headquarters for Arundel Triathlon have been set up between the very fine Norman Castle and the River Arun which it was built to defend. You can register for the event on the Saturday afternoon, which I have decided to do, and also to meet Anne Maskell (late of Truro RC) who has also entered. By the time I arrive ( 2 mins late, which gets me that look), Anne has already registered. I walk over to the parking meter, put in my £2.20 and receive no ticket. Get my money back, inform the others in the queue it’s not working, and join the crowd at another one. Keep very quiet when I realise that it actually costs £2.50! Saunter back to car, put ticket on dash, whereupon it promptly disappears from view down a gap by the windscreen. Look for it in engine bay and underneath—no sign, also no more change. Manage to swap a £5 note for coins, but have last attempt at hoiking the ticket out with a few sheets of folded A4, success. While I’ve been messing about the queue for registering has increased. Eventually get registered, and then set off with Anne to show her the cycle route. I’d recced it several weeks ago on my mtb, and even then at 8 am on a Sunday morning it was busy. I was having to use my elbows to fend off mainly 4×4’s towing horse-boxes, perhaps the horsey set see terrifying cyclists as a viable alternative to fox hunting. It is on dual carriageways and A roads, and the surface is pretty good. Halfway around the course we pop into my cottage for a bit of chilli concarne (this is not a euphemism) followed by strawberries and raspberries (neither are these). Ever helpful I try and encourage Anne to increase her swimming speed by showing her the photo of a 25lb pike I’d caught in the river two days previously. She’s not impressed as she’s more concerned about the human sharks who’ll be swimming alongside her. Continuing the course back to Arundel where I drop Anne at her hotel. I arrive back at the cottage where Brenda says we’ve been invited to a neighbours party, and that she feels she should show her face. She’ll be just 10 minutes; over an hour later she staggers through the door, admitting to drinking only just over a bottle of wine. At least she gets some sleep.

Both alarms go off within seconds of each other at 03:15, yes that’s right 15 minutes past sodding three in the morning. Why? Well two reasons, one is the volume of traffic that is about on Sussex roads early on a Sunday morning, and two, the need to get the swim in during the short period of time that the river has slack water (the River Arun has the second fastest tides in the country moving at anything up-to 6 mph). We leave the cottage at 04:15, and are back again 10 minutes later, I’ve left my gels behind. Whichever way I spin it, it was my fault. I am conscious of Brenda sitting beside me looking smug.

We arrive, park the van, and go to the transition area to set up. Anne arrives, and we take some time looking at the entry and exit points for the three disciplines. I then go for a run, two reasons; I can’t compete without a warm-up, and I need a pee, and seeing the queues for the turdi are so long (there will be no Hana type investigation of them), I set off jogging up a farm track. Relieving myself by a field gate being intently watched by a herd of cattle I say “chilly morning ladies” I just get some giggly moos as a reply.

It is a 900m walk along a stony track to the swim start, and it’s obvious that several haven’t read about this as they’re doing it in bare feet, ouch!

There are 9 start waves, with just 3 minutes between each. I’m in wave 5 the largest. We assemble in our waves on the bank, waiting to be called forward. It’s always at this point when I look around at my fellow competitors that I feel I don’t really fit in, they all look like whippets, as though their last square meal was suckled at the breast (as babies, stupid).Whereas I not so much a whippet, perhaps a retriever. The swim is 200 metres upstream, followed by 1300 metres downstream to exit. I position myself right at the front to get a good start, this means that as people pass (as they will) I’ll get a bit of a pull from them, it’s a bit risky as you usually get hit by a few fists and a fair amount of kicking. I lose my nose clip and my goggles have filled with water, so I’m having difficulty seeing, but apart from that all’s fine. It’s a bit of a jostle as we exit the river having caught up with swimmers from previous waves. I manage to find my bike without drama (many a balls up occurs at this stage) and start pedalling. The first 5 miles is on a lovely smooth dual carriageway, the air is pleasantly warm and the view quite pleasing as I am starting to overhaul the TITS (totty in tri suits) from earlier waves. A bit of a revelation occurs, my heart rate is not high, bliss! The race passes the drive to our cottage and two of the neighbours have come out and are waving flags, nice touch. The course is now getting quite congested with cyclists, and it is not that easy to overtake, but the long climb to the top of the South Downs strings everyone out. The last two miles is a blisteringly fast downhill with speeds topping 40 mph. I arrive back in transition with the commentator announcing me as being in 2nd place.

The run comes next, in essence it’s two laps of a 5km course. 1.7km is pan flat, 1.7km is a steady climb and 1.7km a steady descent. Runners reading this will be thinking, yes! my event. You’d probably be wrong. The ability to run well off the bike, having been competing at high intensity for over 1.5 hours is not a done deal. Here’s a bit of a challenge to the club’s super fast runners, give triathlon a go! Still worried about the virus I decide to keep my heart rate fairly low, and toddle off up the road. There is lovely scenery, I’m running up a tree lined road, both straight and flat, castle to my left, water meadows to my right, after about a mile I turn through a set of enormous iron gates into Swanbourne park and alongside the lake where all sorts of birds are awaiting the crowds and their breakfast. We’re running on flint and chalk tracks now, and climbing up to the top of the Downs, where we pass Hiorne Tower (a castle looking folly). It’s then all downhill through the town centre to repeat.

It’s at the start of the last lap that I realise my ploy of competing in bare feet to save seconds in transition was not a good idea. My feet seem to bleed quite freely, not helped by beach based triathlons where sand and sweat in the shoes combines to form an excellent grinding paste. So, if a race doesn’t really matter I wear socks, if it does I apply several coats of spray on plaster to my feet. It’s been quite successful, but recently I couldn’t get my usual brand, and the one I’m using isn’t much good. My feet are starting to squelch in the blood in my shoes. I convince myself I can see the guy in the lead about 100 m ahead, so risk elevating the heart rate. As we get to the top of the hill I am on his shoulder, now I have a dilemma, do I stay where I am and out-sprint him at the finish (if I can) or overtake him and hope he doesn’t overtake me. It occurs to me that while I’m faffing, others could be catching me. I go for it, I’m now running scared, convinced that he’s on my shoulder, the last 300m are along a stony track, until you turn into the open and the finish chute. I’m really starting to struggle now, my legs are tightening up badly, 300m appears too far, I must look like an old carthorse on his way to the knackers yard. I can’t even raise a sprint to the finish, but as the commentator says I have won!

So the final result (better not leave Anne out, who made it a double for Cornwall by also winning her age category).

1st Place:Anne Maskell (50-54) swim 25:11 bike 1:10:20 run 45:31 total 2:23:02

1st Place:Jon Ford-Dunn (60-64) swim 23:26 bike 1:09:05 run 46:21 total 2:20:30

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