British Sprint Triathlon Championships – report from JFD

Eton Dorney 17th May 2014

So it’s January, you’re unfit, fat and lacking motivation, what’s to do? Probably the most rational answer is to curl up on the sofa, get out the beer and Pringles and enjoy life. I’d just spent three years in a surprisingly successful attempt at achieving a place in last years World Triathlon Championships, and now really just wanted to retire, but mindful of the relentless abuse and criticism I’d get from certain club members, that really wasn’t an option.

So it came to pass that last Friday saw us loading up the White Van in secret, keeping our dog in the dark until the very last minute that he was having a two night respite session in the luxury local pet hotel.

I wasn’t prepared to continue the quantity of training I’d done in the past, so devised a plan reducing this by 22% (well it was actually 22.35%, but I’m a lot less anal about data now), and also reducing the number of races. No doubt you’ve all noticed how much more sociable and generous I’ve become?

Anyway, it’s up to a pre-booked Premier Inn (£29 for the night) in Bracknell that we wend our way. Last year I got a reputation for being able to conjure up a traffic jam out of thin air, and horror of horrors just before Exeter we grind to a halt. I could just imagine Anne wetting herself if she heard, but after only a few minutes we are off again. There was a bit of a psychological drama on the M5 just abreast of Bridgewater when we realised that Humphrey the camel wasn’t there, just like Hana with her hanky I need to know that Humphrey’s looking out for me. The black dog of depression doesn’t last for long though as it’s a beautiful sunny day, we have the windows open, Brenda’s driving, when a large horsefly type insect zooms in and straight up the leg of her shorts. She uses all three lanes of the motorway in quick progression whilst extracting it to the tune of language which is even bluer than the sky! When she accepts I’m not laughing anymore, and of course it wasn’t funny anyway the world is good again.

Dorney Lake is a modern world-class rowing and flat-water canoeing centre set in  spectacular 450-acre parkland near Windsor. The site hosted the Rowing and Kayak events during the Olympic and Paralympic Games for London 2012 and was voted top Olympic venue by an exit poll of spectators. It is privately owned by Eton College. The lake itself is 2.2km long with 8 lanes 13.5m wide and a minimum depth of 3.5m. It took 10 years to build.

We arrive, park-up and have a wander round. The Olympic rings are very evident, and although now 8 years old, the facilities all look immaculate. The river Thames flows along the eastern side of the park, but is hidden by hedges, although the throbbing of the diesels propelling the floating gin palaces along can be heard. There is a fair amount of activity on the lake, teenage girls are rowing up and down the lanes, they all look very fit, I’m quite happy to watch, there is something hypnotic about the rhythm of the stroke.

There is other disturbance in the water, we’ve been aware that there are several vee waves moving about. As one comes nearer we see it is a large carp just below the surface; should make the race interesting.

The swim is 750 metres, being 350m up a lane, across 3 lanes then 360m back to the exit ramp. The bike is 21.2km which is 4 laps of the parkland road surrounding the lake. The bike route probably doesn’t deviate by more than a couple of metres in height, has wide fast corners (except for two), and a chicane. The run is pan flat alongside the lake on the road you see the bikes following the rowing on TV. It is a 2 lap affair making 5km, running up one side of the road and returning on the other.

Mindful of keeping up the standards of a Hana type review, we both view the facilities, these we agree are clean and modern. A lorry is also just offloading a platoon of standard green turdi. We try them as well and they were up to scratch, but on the day of the race, there is a problem. The carpark is 20 mins walk away from the facilities, it would have been a good idea to have some placed here.

I do my 25 min loosening up run to the end of the lake and back. I’m hoping that during the swim leg the cold water will anaesthetise my feet so the muscle tear I’ve recently got in my left instep won’t cause problems. I’m also nursing a long term injury involving the lower abdomen which has made me change my running style to a shorter stride. As I say, the hardest part of any race is getting to the start line in reasonable shape.

Off for our night of luxury at the Premier Inn. I’ve always been impressed by this brand, particularly if you can get one of their special deals. This one doesn’t disappoint, and it’s recently been refurbished with air con added. I immediately set this to the brass monkey setting. We have a meal at the adjacent Brewers Fayre, without Anne here to discipline us we binge on the red wine. Back to our room, the temp. is just about right (frost on the inside of the windows), and we settle down to a rare treat; television (we don’t have a TV at home). I’m in a tee shirt but Brenda’s wrapped in a hoodie shivering. There are no adult channels, so we settle for a who-dun-it. I don’t get much sleep because of the sound of chattering teeth.

Race day dawns. It is a glorious day, not a cloud in the sky and no wind. We get to the venue and I register. We have three stickers today, one for the saddle stem of the bike, and another for the front of your helmet, a third is affixed to the front of your swimming cap. You have a wrist band and a left ankle fitted timing chip. Oh, yes you also have your number on the race belt. You can grab a few free Powerbar gels. An event tee is provided, it’s grey with blue and yellow text and decals. On the back it has “Do Triathlon”. FFS what does that mean, it’s about as memorable as “Finisher” and “Survivor”.

I’m in the third wave start, there are about 67 of us, it’s kept for those who won’t be troubling the organisers for many more years. We lower creaky joints into the water. For one of our number it’s familiar territory  he’s been in four Olympic Games as a rower. Triathlon must be a bit of a step up? Oh by the way the waters hot (over 16 degrees) so no chance of my feet being numbed.

I have a plan, speaking to one of the organisers yesterday I’ve found that the lane marking buoys are fixed to a cable running along the bottom of the lake. I’m going to follow that cable so I don’t do my usual zig/zag motion. There is plenty of room on the start line, so when the starting klaxon sounds the start fightfest is minimal. The water has that familiar dank pungent taste that is derived from it passing through the alimentary canals of various living beasts. It is easy to see the cable and I’ve managed to achieve a reasonable rhythm without causing any life threatening injuries. We exit the water via a non-slip ramp and then pass over the timing mat into transition. (Total swim time 12:51 equal to a 400m of about 6:50).

Just checking no fish down my neck

Manage to find my kit and without too much faffing depart for the bike leg. We are now mixed in with the wave that had started 25 mins before us, it consists of women in the 35-44 age categories. Usually I would find this a distraction, but the course is so fast, and I’ve pumped my tyres up so hard (170 psi) the vibration is such that I am unable to focus. So although I’m passing lots of TITS (totty in tri suits) any aesthetic merits are invisible to me.

Must shave my legs
As mentioned we have to do 4 laps, so I don’t screw up I’ve put 3 tape tags on my bars and rip one off for each lap. All is going well, but the pace is relentless and my neck is starting to hurt from staying on the tri bars. I get overtaken by only one competitor, but he then gets cramp and I repass him, to have him overtake me just before transition. (Cycle 21.2km in 34:41, just under 24 mph)

What happened to the non drafting rule? Bastards.
Found my place in transition again without any drama (why can’t I always do this?); running shoes on and out of transition into the 5km run. I can see the athlete that beat me by 2 mins in the World Champ Sprint Qualification race at Bristol just 25m ahead. He was the highest placed Brit in the World Champs and I feel that perhaps I can get my revenge. It is very hot (24 degrees) and even with the adrenaline I’m starting to feel effects of my injuries, even worse he’s starting to get further ahead! At each drink station I just empty the water over my head. My heart rate is rising but my speed is not. I am not enjoying this, the worst thing is as you come up to each turn you can either see people moving further ahead, or after the turn see people catching you. I’m up to 94% of my max. heart rate and am just hoping to hold on for the finish. My rival ends up beating me by 36 secs, which is at least an improvement on last year. (Run 5km in 21:55 pace 7:00 a big disappointment after my 6:40 at Liskeard Tri.)

Finish at last
At the finish we are given a recovery drink Vita Co Co, it’s one of the latest must have supplements containing coconut water (as kids we knew it as coconut milk), it comes in orange or lemon flavours and is an acquired taste!

We had access to the boathouse showers and mindful again of Hana I trudged off to test them. Modern, clean showers with plenty of hot water used by the worlds best oarsman: and me!

I last did this event in 2012 when I was 6th. The intervening two years have seen a great increase in the competitiveness of the event. In my age group there were in excess of 17 GB athletes, so I was very happy to once again achieve 6th place.


Age Group 55-59

  • 1st Kevin Partridge 1:08:02
  • 6th Jon Ford-Dunn 1:10:37

To put it in perspective the following day they held the Eton Super Sprint Tri over the same course, but with a swim of 400m instead of 750m. Taking this into account my time would have placed me 18th out of 650 competitors.

The Cornwall contingent did amazingly well, with Neil Eddy getting first overall and first in category in 59:22, both Dave Bartlett (1:00:07) and Michael Birchmore (1:00:26) getting 2nd in category and Alice Nicholas (1:08:19), 5th lady and 3rd  in category.