Any Stroke Will Do.

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October 20, 2014 by shortbloke

It’s been a tough year for this Short Bloke. Work has been difficult. There was a significant passing. Epic rides were missed. Training has been patchy. 2014 will be memorable for many reasons, mostly ones I’d actually rather forget.

So, when I and Tall Bloke met Geordie Bloke, Spanish Lass and their Small People in the car park of the Premier Inn the night before one of the most epic Triathlons of the year, I was feeling less than entirely confident. Much as I had last year.

TB had learned all about it on the drive down, in excruciating detail. By the time we got there he knew exactly how little training I had done, precisely how unfit I was feeling and how certain it was that I was going to be pulled out of the lake in a hoist. As is his way, he listened patiently and calmly suggested it might be a good idea to be a touch less negative.

I tried to take his words to heart and mentally prepared myself to just shut up and get on with it, hoping I would at least be able to compensate for a bad performance by taking some pleasure from the extremely pleasant surroundings at the venue. Yet again circumstance had conspired against me getting up to full fitness before this event. But that was OK. I would do the best I could and try to enjoy it.

I’ve the spoken before about Hever Castle Tri. Suffice to say it’s a tremendously well organised event in a stunning location. The lake is a little cloudy, the ride a little lumpy and the run has a wicked climb right at the end. But these are all minor gripes more than compensated for by the glorious surroundings.

There were some logistical issues for the Small People, primarily because the Big People were somewhat tardy clearing the shared transition area. As a result they suffered long delays getting registered. With the enormously impressive total of 2,000 odd under 16’s competing, it would probably have been better to have a dedicated and separate transition area for them.

It is worth noting that the Small People were in fact mostly huge, many far more muscle-bound and significantly stronger looking than most of their adult counter parts. It was inspiring to watch. It struck me that I may well have been watching future world champions spring out fo the lake and sprint with impressive strength up to transition.

The lake is some way from the transition area and the timings of the start waves meant that neither Geordie Bloke nor Spanish Lass were able to see their progeny both start and finish. One or the other. Not both. A shame but I’m not sure there is a good solution to that particular logistical problem.

The Blokes had a thankfully early start wave. As we shuffled onto the pontoon to hear the clear, detailed and concise race briefing, wet-suited up, I was not at all ready to go. My mind elsewhere, I was feeling stressed, unfit and tight.

And then we were in the water. 15 degrees is not that cold, but it can be a little shocking never the less. I took TB’s advice and immediately sank my face into the water for 15 seconds to speed acclimatisation. Once my head was properly wet, the rest of my body quickly felt more comfortable and I was soon ready to go.

I made the rooky error of starting in the middle of the wave rather than drifting out to the sides. As a result I was quickly getting clobbered by the eager and energetic swimmers around me. I decided to hold back, slip into a comfortable breast stroke and let the pack pull away. I was not feeling competitive and fully expecting to be amongst the last out of the water. A few seconds delay at the start was not going to make much difference to my overall time.

One small problem. The pack didn’t pull away. 400m in and I’m still trailing the back of the pack’s wash and getting beaten about the head by various flailing arms and legs. It was a almost 750m and after the turn into the river before the pack around me was finally thin enough that I could comfortably swing wide and over-take. Yea, I know, breast stroke the whole way and I’m worried about space for over-taking. Go figure.

So then I’m thinking, what do I do now ? I’m in a nice rhythm. I’m moving at a reasonable pace. I’m actually over-taking quite a few splashy types, struggling to keep their crawl rhythm going. It’s a nice day. The Stroke is giving me a nice clear line of sight ahead and I can soak up the beauty of the surroundings and the day. And I’m not exhausted. The hoist has been called off.

And then it dawns on me.

I can do this. Despite doing Breast Stroke, I am going to finish and I am not even going to be last out of the water.

So I stretched out my arms just a little bit more with each broad swept breasted stroke. I pointed my fingers and pushed the glide just a little bit longer. I pulled my ankles together just a little tighter at the end of every extension. I wasn’t going to crawl. But I sure as hell was not going to get pulled out of the lake in a hoist. It felt great and turned into a truly enjoyable swim.

On my Garmin (910 XT – the waterproof multi-sport one) I hit the step out of the water at just over 37 minutes. Shocking. My best ever is only 33 minutes.

The official time was 38.50, primarily because I was caught by a massive cramp in my left calf just as I lifted out of the water. Had one of the helper guys from Speedo not literally picked me up like a baby and forcibly stretched my leg out, I’m not sure I would have made it into transition at all. I’ve no idea why I get these cramps the second I exit the water, but they’re pretty consistent. Some research needed there I think.

So look, I can swim 1500m. Yes I can. I’ve done it 3 times now. The challenge remains the Stroke. Breast Stroke is all well and good, and actually makes for an enjoyable swim. But a smooth crawl is always going to be faster. These events are, at the end of the day, a race. It’s time to get that smooth crawl sorted out.

The lead I gained over the other Blokes in the water soon evaporated once we hit the tarmac.

I did OK on the ride but clearly I’m missing the concentration required to maintain maximum pace. As soon as my mind wanders, my cadence drops. If I’m going to do anything aside from improving fitness, it’s got to be learning to keep focused on pace.

Having seen TB and GB disappear into the distance on the ride, and having missed so much training, I had low expectations for the run. They were squarely met. Running really is all about fitness at my level. Whilst swimming is hugely influenced by technique, at the low end I inhabit, running is really all about how hard you can push.

Yet again, I have not run enough this season and as a result I spent the entire run watching streams of runners pass me on both sides. Nothing to learn there besides the importance of training.

In the end I crossed the line around 15 minutes behind TB and GB. As it happens, given how little prep I had done, all I really cared about by then was how great it was to still be alive.

And the best bit ? The most ironic thing ? When I checked my times, I had improved over last year in all three disciplines. By a small margin, but improved never the less. I had gone there thinking I may not make it at all. I went there convinced things were going to go badly. I was not in good shape last year but this year I felt even worse.

But things did not go badly. They went surprisingly well. And it felt great.

There’s one big lesson here.

I may not be the fastest, the strongest or the best prepared. I may need to resort to Breast Stroke.

But I can do this.

Most importantly, TB is right : judging performance is best done after the race is over. Not before it starts.

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