Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The 2015 Huntsman Triathlon

Back at the beginning of October I competed in the Huntsman Triathlon, my first Olympic distance event. I delayed this blog post a bit owing to the fact that I wrote a short race report that was published in the December 2015 issue of 220 Triathlon magazine. Here's my full account of the race and my performance.

The Race

The Huntsman Triathlon took place on Sunday 11th October 2015. It is based at the Hawley Lake complex in Minley, Hampshire. The swim takes place in Hawley Lake itself; the bike through the villages of Yateley, Finchampstead and Eversley on the Hampshire/Berkshire border; and the run along the trails surrounding Hawley Lake.

The race offers both sprint and Olympic distance events. After a strong summer of racing and training I wanted to finish the season with a challenge, so I opted for the Olympic distance event (1,500m swim, 40km bike ride, 10km run). This would be my first event at this distance. Pulling together metrics from my training and other performances, I set myself a fairly aggressive goal of a sub-2:45 finish.


I didn't undertake any specific training preparation for the race, having trained all three disciplines strongly over the summer. I'd have liked to have got a couple more open water swim sessions in before the race, but other commitments made this impossible.

I did head down to Hawley Lake a couple of weeks before the race and took a ride round the bike course to familiarise myself with the route and conditions. This proved to be a valuable exercise and something I would suggest for every race, whenever time allows.


The morning dawned with pretty much perfect triathlon conditions: clear blue skies, almost no wind and a predicted temperature of about 12-14 degrees centigrade. Not bad for a day in mid-October!

I got up early and had my usual porridge with a 33Shake All-In-One Shake mixed in, prepared my drinks and nutrition for the race, had a final kit check, loaded the car and set off. Fortunately I'm only about 45-minute drive from the lake so it wasn't a too arduous morning.

I arrived at the lake with loads of time to spare. I headed into registration, which was very professional with iPads for looking up your race number. Interesting set of goody bag items including a nice beanie hat and a miniature blue cowbell!

Then it was off to transition to set up the bike and other kit. There was a really good atmosphere and lots of good camaraderie between the athletes. The only fault I could find was that the bikes were racked incredibly close together, not giving you much space to set up your kit.

The pre-race briefing was perhaps the best I have experienced. Lots of good information, nice and loud and clear and with a good amount of humour and anticipation building mixed in. Always Aim High Events seem to have got this part of the race preparation just about perfect.

The Swim

Leaving transition we all headed down to the swim start. The Olympic swim course was two laps around the lake in a roughly triangle shape. Getting into the water was a slightly painful affair as you had to walk across a small stony area and then along the stony lake bottom until the water was deep enough to swim in.

Just before I got deep enough to swim I felt something sharp on the bottom of my foot, but as the water was a chilly 16 degrees centigrade my feet went numb pretty much straight away and I didn't think any more of it at the time. A future suggestion to the organisers would be to have a small floating pontoon so that competitors could jump straight into deeper water without having to negotiate the stones!

After a quick swim warm-up we were off. I really wasn't looking forward to the swim as it's my weakest discipline and I'm still not comfortable with mass open-water starts: last time I attempted one I panicked and it took me a good few minutes to get my breathing back under control. This time everything went much more smoothly and I took great care to focus on exhaling properly, despite getting a few bumps along the way. After about 100m I managed to find some calm water and got nicely into my (somewhat slow) stroke.

The first lap went by quite smoothly and I was still feeling good. Slightly disconcerted when at the beginning of the second lap, the first yellow hat swimmers from the wave that started five minutes after ours started to overtake me! Still, I kept on with a steady pace and could see other swimmers from my own wave around so I knew I hadn't dropped too far behind. In the end I completed the swim in 33 minutes, which was about what I was targeting.


The main drama of my day occurred at the swim exit. The water was quite murky, so I couldn't really see the edge of the submerged concrete jetty that we were supposed to exit onto. Finally I found it with my knee. The concrete wasn't smooth either!

I managed to recover and clamber out, but, given my disrupted exit, I stood up far too quickly. A wave of dizziness came over me and I proceeded to fall sideways off the jetty, saving myself with a handily located race flag. Fortunately these things are quite strong! Not the most graceful thing to do right in front of the supporting crowd. I recovered just as the marshal came over to help and staggered slowly to my bike.

Pulling down my wetsuit I discovered a trickle of blood running down my leg from a small gash in my knee. I then noticed a hole in the knee of my almost new Huub wetsuit, which at the time seemed like a much greater disaster!

Here's my knee at the end of the race. Don't look too close if you are a bit squeamish about the sight of blood...

I managed to get myself focussed on the transition. It was all a bit slow as I had decided to wear socks due to the coldness of the water. That turned out to be a good decision as my feet stayed numb until well into the run and it would have been much worse without socks. Have you ever tried putting socks on when a bit dizzy? Probably explains why my T1 was just over 2 minutes long.

A message to the race organisers: can you please put some kind of matting or underwater padding over the end of the jetty please? I don't want other future competitors to have to experience the same wetsuit ripping, knee gashing experience that I went through!

The Bike

I don't remember much about the first ten minutes of the bike. I was busy dealing with trying to stem blood loss from my knee and assess the gash to see if I needed to stop and seek medical attention. Fortunately the cut didn't look too bad and after about ten minutes it finally started to clot and stop bleeding. All the faffing probably cost me about a minute on the bike overall. Once I'd got settled in I picked up the pace and started to catch and overtake some other riders.

The bike course was an out section followed by two laps and then a back section in to the lake again. The laps were quite varied. The first half of each was quite undulating with some narrow roads and tricky junctions, as we worked our way from Yately and on to Finchampstead. This part wasn't helped by a number of very hesitant cars who were struggling to overtake some of the slower riders. This tended to cause a bottleneck of faster riders stuck behind them and a fair amount of frustration from those trying to chase a fast time or a specific position. Still, I guess that's the nature of non-closed road courses.

The second half of the lap was a long straight flat section through Eversley Cross and back into Yately, which gave a good chance to recharge a bit before the returning to the hilly sections. I continued to make good progress, keeping up with some fairly fast riders, gaining positions and only being overtaken by a couple of aero-helmeted missiles on slippery bikes that cost nearly as much as my car!

Mid-way through the second lap I overtook a rider who didn't appear to be in the race (well he wasn't wearing a number anyway). He then tucked in behind me, hanging just a few meters back off my rear wheel. I'm not sure what he may have thought when the race marshal car pulled up beside him and had a word about drafting rules! Still, good on the organisers for taking the time to keep a good eye on people who might be attempting to gain an unfair advantage.

After the two laps it was then time to head back towards Hawley Lake. The return section has a big long hill on it, so I'm glad that my course reccy from a couple of weeks prior had prepared my for this. I'd saved enough to push up the hill without leaving myself too drained for the run. It was then a nice downhill and flat back into the transition area.

My finish time for the bike was 1:19, which was about four minutes faster than my course reccy from the previous week. Very happy with this time considering the distractions at the start and the number of times I got bunched behind hesitant cars.


Not much to say about T2. All went smoothly and I was out in under a minute, even though I had quite a long run pushing the bike, as I was about as far away from the bike in point as it was possible to get. Picked up an extra 33Shake Chia Gel and I was off.

I'd considered doing the run in my trail shoes as it was going to be mostly off-road and we'd had some rain earlier in the week. In the end I decided to stick with my normal Saucony Kinvara 5's and this proved to be the correct decision.

The Run

The run was a 10km route, made up of two laps through the woodland circling the lake. It was a bit more hilly than I was expecting with a few areas of quite uneven terrain. Still, it was a beautiful morning with dappled sunlight filtering through the trees and I love running in conditions like this.

It took the first lap before my feet finally thawed out and I got some feeling back in them, but I'd got into a good running flow way before this. I managed to settle down into a good 4:20/km pace with some slower bits up the hills. I would have liked to have gone a bit faster than this, but the terrain pretty much dictated that this was about my best pace. I steadily worked my way up the field, picking off a number of other runners along the way. Then it was a strong finish for a time of 47:40 for the run.

The Finish

I crossed the line with a finish time of 2:43:14, which was just under two minutes better than my target of 2:45:00. Got to be pleased at that given the eventful swim exit and T1. This was also my first Olympic distance event, so doubly pleased with having put in a good performance at this longer format.

I have to mention the post-race goodies, which were way better than anything I've ever come across before. There were the obligatory bananas or course, but there were also bowls of trail mix, various sweets, broken up chocolate bars and a superb selection of biscuits! You even got a little pick-and-mix cup to put then all in. Superb!

There were also cups of Erdinger Alkoholfrei on offer. It's strange that even though I'm a non-drinker and hate the taste of beer and larger, that for some reason I really like the taste of this stuff at the end of a hard race.

Always Aim High don't usually do medals, instead preferring to give out lovely slate coasters with the race name and details on. This has pride of place on my desk and reminds me of the race every time I have a cup of tea. A nice touch.

After gorging myself on sweets and biscuits I headed over to the St John's Ambulance, where they did and excellent job of cleaning up my cut knee and assessing that it didn't need any further treatment other than a good bath and a sterile dressing.

It was at this point that the feeling started to fully return to my feet and I started to feel a pain under my left foot whenever I stood on it (if you can remember back as far as the swim entry and that sharp feeling while entering the water). Removing my sock I discovered a small hole in the bottom of my foot right through to the raw layers of skin underneath. I expect it would have bled quite nicely had it not been for the cold water and the general numbness of my feet! It took a couple of weeks of painful walking for this one to heal fully, but there don't seem to be any ill effects.


Overall, the Huntsman Triathlon was a great event. The organisation was pretty much perfect and you could tell that Always Aim High Events have a real passion for running the best triathlon they possibly can. The quality of the field was very high, so if you are looking for some serious competition then this event is definitely worth considering.

The lake made for a good swim and both the bike and run routes were challenging but not beyond the ability of most triathletes. Marshalling was good all the way round. From my point of view I'd be much happier if they could improve the swim entrance and exit to give them a bit less potential for injuries!

I was very happy with my performance, especially as I beat my goal time. I'll certainly be looking at returning next year to go faster and have a much less eventful swim.

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