I’ve got a history with the Woburner, last year when I felt fit as flea and having trained well I entered the half Ironman event. A week before the race my knee went, I competed anyway but had to quit at the start of the run. It got worse- after a month’s recuperation-on my first bike ride back I got hit by a Land Rover and after a short flight landed on my head. That’s the excuses out of the way onto the race. Rather worried, the weekend of the Woburner had arrived and I’ve had more pies than I’ve done miles, but was still fitter than Dave Clarke who’d torn his calf and wouldn’t be doing the run. The day wasn’t going to be about racing for me it is going to be about survival.
The race was split into 3 waves starting 50 minutes apart- wave 1 was women, relay, and men over 54, -Wave 2 men under 42, -Wave 3 men between 42 and 54, (why don’t they just call it the middle life crisis wave). Dave and I are just either side of the 54 year split. As Dave wasn’t doing the run, if he set off a couple of hours before me he would have to wait many hours for me to finish- we came up with a plan and did something naughty, we swapped coloured swim hats and I took his place in the first wave. I had a moments doubt that I might not be able to pass as over 54 until I looked in the mirror in the morning and realised that I could probably get a bus pass if I wanted one.
We left the hotel at 5am and headed to Woburn. The transition area was huge and the racking roomy with plenty of room to lay stuff out. Joined very jolly group of old codgers, the nervous banter designed to cover the fact that we all should have been sitting down with the paper or doing some gentle gardening. Dave helped me on with my wetsuit (just wearing a pair of old swimming trunks under it rather than a tri-suit….. genius moment coming up) Dave insisted that I check the suit was mine because it seemed smaller than last year, he found a friend and they managed to zip me up. At the lake we walked down a grey plastic pontoon into the water, like the people in front of me I inelegantly lowered myself down to a seating position and shuffled off the edge into the water, I stood up and discovered that it only eight inches deep. Wading out to the start we discover the ‘deep water’ start is only waist deep. The hooter goes and we are off. It’s a complicated short loop and then 3 long laps to make it up to 1900m, the water is muddy and some sections are thick with weed. I am lapped on my second long lap but I’m a long way from last (many thanks to Chris Holland for keeping my swim honest) even managed a bit of a finishing spurt. Short run to transition and off with the wetsuit – on with my bib shorts (I’m not doing a 90km ride in a tri-suit with padding that has the comfort and cushioning of a ryvita cracker) then…. Genius moment….. little pair of scissors, snip either side of my trunks, woosh pull them out like Magic Mike. As I push the bike to the mounting point I decide it is time for some nutrition- unfortunately I have been persuaded by Dave as to what that nutrition should be- a pork pie- always works for him apparently. I take a massive bite, leap on the bike and like a hog roast with an apple stuffed in it’s mouth and set of with a greasy ice hockey puck of pie wedged between my dentures. Half way up the first incline I realise that my first deep breath has me snorting hot water crust. Note to self- when Dave got the award for best nutrition at the Westcroft awards- it may have been ironic. Like the swim the ride had a short lap inside the grounds to make up the distance, then after swinging round past transition again you head off onto the open road. In all the books and articles I’ve read about triathlon I’ve never seen any advice about how to tackle cattle grids. I, and most of the other blokes seemed to do it swearing in a rather wobbly vibrato. The ride is three circuits on lovely country lanes, in my spirit of self preservation I had plenty of time to look around and take in the view. I made the conscious decision to take it easy, never pushed it or even got out of the saddle. Route was pretty well sign posted but still managed to take a wrong turn by following another cyclist, by the time we realised our mistake we had done another hill, in turning round she fell off and I got to be chivalrous and it all added a bit of time. (Dave on the other hand got lost. It turned out to be a shortcut and he saved himself 20 minutes.) It occurred to me that I hadn’t done a ride this long since the woburner the previous year. The end of each lap took you through the Abbey grounds and past well manned feed station all calling out their various wares, ‘water bottle, electrolyte, banana, flapjack’ I rode past them all until the cry of ‘Jelly babies’ had me screeching to a halt and walking the bike backwards to collect a handful. At the end of the bike coming into transition who’s checking the dismount line- Colin the junior’s coach. He gets everywhere, it’s so lovely to see a friendly face. He’s like a shopkeeper in the Mr Benn books who appears ‘as if by magic’, and he always has a smile and a positive word.
The run, no excuses, I’ve saved myself on the bike and I gently jog to the ‘run out’ sign. As I stop my watch and switch it to ‘run’ it emits a loud beep. Apparently I’ve done all my steps for the day- if only. The run course cuts a wiggly line through the grounds along tarmac roads and gravel paths you run one side of the cones out and the other side of cones back to make a 5.25 km lap. The first one is hell as my legs adjust to being off the bike (brick session were another bit of training that never happened). The marshals were great, supporive and in many cases very funny. By the second lap things have eased off a bit and I know I am going to finish. By lap three I am dog tired, there is nothing in my legs, I’m down to walking and shuffling. Throughout the day various other distance races have been setting off and we have been sharing this run course with speedy juniors, serious athletes taking on the Olympic, and first timers doing spirits. As the day grinds on the numbers have thinned out and I look round me and all I can see is fat middle aged men, like me in lycra walking, some limping, some in pairs, others like me who didn’t quite manage to put as much training in as they hoped. I did manage to run almost all of the last lap, mainly, it has got to be said because just in front of me was a woman who had the same 3 blue lap marker bands as me and I didn’t want to be last. As it turned out the crucial spirit finish never materialised as she opted for a final drinks stop. Dave, a loyal friend ran with me up the final hill and utterly drained I rang the bell and collected my medal. I’m going to treasure the medal for two reasons; the first is for my epic perseverance on the day of which I am proud. The second reason is to shame me into training harder, to try harder. Members of the Westcroft Tri club have achieved so much, from the newbies who started from scratch to complete their first tri to members who represent their country and a whole range of personal achievement in-between. For them, their great results are a celebration of their commitment and effort- my results are a bit more like a warning, must----will try harder. Oh, by the way, did I say, looking back- still enjoyed it.