Race: Cayman Triathlon 2009

Sunday was the Cayman Islands Triathlon. I, along with a couple of hundred other delusional souls, was standing on the beach in the rain getting ready at 6am.

Don’t ask me why, but back in about February I decided it would be interesting to get fit enough to do an Olympic Distance Triathlon. This was only shortly after I had been given the all clear to start exercising again after the enforced 12 months I had off with my Achilles and various foot problems from the last marathon, which still haven’t cleared up 100%, but are good enough to race. I also decided at the time that I would sign up for the Disney Marathon in January too.

So basically the last 7 months or so have been spent training my butt off for both these events. The first 3 months were spent just building my base fitness up as I was starting from absolutely no fitness at all. I did some research and found that TrainingPeaks.com was a highly recommended site for tracking training and actually providing training plans. So I signed up and purchased the first two “base” building plans. The idea behind it is that you do all of your workouts with a heart rate monitor and you stick to the zones on your plan. This can lead to a lot of frustration as in zone 1 you can be hardly running at all, especially with the heat here over summer. However, having spent my money I decided to do it properly and slowly I became fitter and fitter. The idea behind keeping to the heart rate zone is that it helps build your “engine” so you build up the strength of your heart for pumping the blood around and getting as much oxygen as you can as you train, so when you then step up the training in the final weeks before the event you build to eventually peak on the day.

The last 4 months have been pretty much all about building on the base with more high intensity workouts, mixed in with the longer runs I started about 2 months ago for the marathon training. Anyone following my Twitters will have heard me moan about the amount of stuff I was having to do. At the peak I was doing 12-13 hours a week, with one day off every 2 weeks or so. A normal week would comprise of Masters Swimming on a Monday, followed by an hours run or cycle, Tuesday would be an hour cycle followed by hour run, Wednesday normally “just” an hour run, Thursday back to Masters, sometimes followed by a cycle, Friday would be cycle and run normally. The weekends were where the longer workouts happened, Saturday would be the big Triathlon workout with maybe 1.5-2hrs on the bike followed by either an hour run or a mile swim. Sunday was the long runs for the marathon which started at 10 miles and reached 18 last week and will be 20 this week. So for 2 months I was basically up both Saturday and Sunday at about 4:30AM for a workout!

I had even been going to see a nutritionist once a month to make sure I was fuelled for the race and training correctly. I got that part of my training completely wrong with the Cayman marathon and put on nearly 15lbs just from thinking I could eat what I wanted as I was training a lot. This time though I ate the right stuff and was able to workout a lot harder than I ever have done. I still put weight on, but this time it was all muscle. Last August at my lightest I was 173lbs with a body fat % of about 17%, before Sunday I was 187lbs and body fat of 15%, so it was certainly money well spent!

Also, anyone who knows me will know that I am not exactly a fish when it comes to swimming, my fastest ever Flowers Sea Swim was 2 years ago with 47 minutes. This year I did 57, and that was with 2 months of training under my belt. The times from last years Triathlon showed that the slowest person out of the sea was at 43 minutes, and that was in very rough conditions! So it wasn’t looking good from that point of view. Add to that the fact I was going to be doing the bike section on a 10 year old Mountain Bike that has NEVER been serviced other than a quick squirt of WD40 and it was beginning to look like there was a real possibility of coming dead last!

So I was more than slightly nervous when I got out of bed on Sunday morning. The rain did clear up before the 6:45 start, which helped, but by then the whole transition area was covered with puddles, which made it awkward to get all my running and cycling gear setup without it being wet by the time I needed it.

Anyway, we lined up, they blew the horn and we all dived in and started splashing away. Anyone who has ever done any open water swims will know the hell that is a mass start. There are arms and legs everywhere, normally very close to your face and with the water all churned up it is almost impossible to see where you are going. I tried my best to avoid the worst of it and started off to the side from everybody. Once the race settled down I started to feel pretty good, although it still seemed like a really long way until the finish line. As the sprint distance athletes started at the same time, it meant that we had to do 2 laps of the same course which involved getting out of the water, running around a marker on the beach and diving back in. Which was actually pretty cool, as there were so many people cheering it felt really good. It wasn’t quite the same as I got out of the water at the end as just about everyone had left to go and watch the bike section.

The bike was probably the best section of the day for me, I ate my banana in the first mile or so and then settled down to churn out the miles. The course consisted of two loops down to nearly Hurleys and back on the bypass, the police and marshsalls were out on the course to make sure we didn’t have to stop at any red lights or roundabouts, which helped my time massively. I had set myself the target of beating 1hr20m which was as near as makes no difference 19mph, and worked out to be averaging 3m12s miles which is what I could see on my watch. The first lap was quite uneventful really, although some of the looks from people on their expensive time-trial bikes as I went past them on my creaky old thing were pretty classic. I did the first loop in under 40m so I was on course to get the time I wanted. Then potential disaster struck about 2 miles into the second lap, I ran over a bit of glass and was sure I was going to get a puncture and with 10miles to go it would have been curtains for my race. It turned out that I did get a puncture, but fortunately it didn’t actually go completely soft until I got back to transition, for which I was mightily relieved! I was also trying to make sure there was nobody ahead of me on a mountain bike as I wanted to be the fastest person for that category. I had to chase down one other person on the last stretch back from Hurleys, but it turned out they were part of a team which wasn’t really an issue for me, but I overtook them anyway!

Getting back to transition I was almost exactly 1hr20m so was feeling pretty good, until I looked at the race clock as I got my running shoes on. From where I was standing it said 2hr07m! Which would have meant I must have done a 45-50m swim, which I knew couldn’t be right as I had been putting in 35-37m miles in training. It turned out that the clock I was looking at was missing 3 of the segments on one of the numbers so it actually said 2h00m. By the time I left transition it said 2hr01m22s so I had 58m to get back to beat my goal, and to be honest I wasn’t sure I was going to make it! My legs were not feeling particularly spritely, even though I hadn’t gone flat out on the bike. The problem was because it is a mountain bike the geometry of the tubes means that it gets rather uncomfortable trying to stay in a tuck for that amount of time so I had stiffened up in certain areas and it wasn’t helping my running. Neither was the wind that had been growing all morning and was about 30km/h by the time I was running headlong into it out towards the Grand Caymanian, it seemed a lot longer than 3 miles to get to the turn. I also didn’t have my music to listen to as I had left the iPod in the car due to the rain as I didn’t have a bag to put it in to keep it dry until I needed it. Eventually though I made it to the home straight, thinking I had probably done just about enough to beat 3hr but not sure as I was so tired I couldn’t do the calculation in my head of the total race time to what my watch showed which had only been running since the start of the bike section. As I was coming down the last couple of hundred metres I still couldn’t see the finish clock, but could hear the announcer say “Coming in 3 oh 1”. which I took to mean someone was finishing at 3hr01m! I was devastated, I had just started to sprint towards the finish, and suddenly I couldn’t be bothered, I was going to miss my goal by a minute. Fortunately I was wrong, it was actually number 301 finishing not the time, as I turned the final corner I saw the clock at 2hr54m20s. Sudz has a couple of photos of me finishing as I come round the corner not looking too happy and then one with a big grin on my face as I realise I was going to make it!

My final time was 2hr54m49s which isn’t too bad for someone who can’t swim on an old bike! Although it is not an official category I believe I was also the fastest to finish on a mountain bike which I am sure makes me a National Champion for something!

I can actually say I thoroughly enjoyed it, the training was a lot, but the fact it was only ever 1hr of anything and then switching to something else meant it wasn’t anywhere near as boring as marathon training which is hours and hours of running. Having said that I am on record as saying I won’t do another one as with Spud arriving next Spring there is no way I will be able to devote as much time to the training as I could this year, and if I am not going to be any better than I am not sure I want to do it. I have also put a stipulation on doing another one as being I need a new bike and as the one I want is about $5K it ain’t gonna happen!

So now I am just over 5 weeks away from the marathon, I was out on the bike the day after the Tri and will be out again tonight for a bike and a run. I have 20 miles to do this weekend, which I am not looking forward to very much as I have to do it on Saturday night, with the Cayman Marathon being Sunday morning I won’t be able to get out on the roads.

We will see how it goes, and I would say to anyone thinking about doing a Triathlon, if you have the chance, and you can devote the time to the training then do it, it is worth it. As long as you have a realistic goal then you have something to aim for and the sense of achievement is awesome!