James Emery is the Manager of TORQ's Triathlon team. He's a keen triathlete having raced all distances from sprint to Ironman.
Chris decided to have ago at one of the growing number off-road triathlons that are popping up around the country. Being an elite road-based triathlete, this was a step into the unknown and a huge learning curve. Whilst the race did not go quite to plan due to mechanicals, he learnt a lot and still came 7th, with well-placed swim and run splits. This is his report…
I was excited, not just because I got to visit Scotland, but also because this would be my first experience into off road triathlons. It seems I picked rather a tough race to start off with, realising this only on the first loop of the bike course, which I had only seen a couple of hours earlier at registration due to the race taking place on private land.
The weather was hot and the sun was out (the first time in a race for me this year). I set up my transition as normal and then went on my usual warm up run and my legs were feeling good. After a quick race briefing, it was time to get into my 2XU wetsuit and make my way to the swim start where the water was a warm 20 degrees.
The horn sounded and I swam hard up until the first buoy to try and gain some clear water. I reached the first turn buoy about 10 seconds behind the leading swimmer, but felt comfortable with my pace and decided to follow his line as my goggles were filling up with water. There was very little change in gap between us for the remainder of the swim and I exited the swim about 15 seconds down, but wasn't worried as we had a good lead over the chasing athletes. Wetsuit off, helmet on and it was time to experience the bike course.
Up, up and more up was how it went for the first 4k. I pushed conservatively knowing that I had the same to come on the second lap. A couple of athletes caught and passed, but I decided not to chase. A short descent over a bridge, a bit more climbing and then a water crossing where I proceeded to catch my front wheel and drop my bike. Back on and back up, the climbs were relentless and my chain was jumping off of the cassette, which was damaged following it's drop. Due to the heat I had to keep drinking and fuelling every 10 and 20 minutes respectively, consuming both TORQ Energy and Forest Fruits gels. Nutrition wasn't going to be a problem today.
I rode on knowing I just had to deal with my bike - the chain was inhibiting gear changing and jumping off whenever it decided. Over the hills crest it was sharply down and I could coast to stop the chain from jumping, along the Loch side and through another water gap and I was onto the second lap. I held the same pace knowing it was sustainable. Now knowing the route, the lap passed a lot quicker, but not before a few more athletes had passed me. More up and more down and I was back at transition with a whole lap completed without falling off. Bike racked, helmet off and it was run time. I knew I had lost too much time on the bike to be in contention for a top 3 position and decided to try and run myself into a top 5.
About 2k in I caught and passed another athlete - I surged past and he didn't follow. I ran on over undulating terrain until the turn point at about 5k where the route climbed steeply, similar to the bike. I was working really hard, but could hear someone gaining on me who eventually caught and overhauled me and we ran together for the next 3k where it continued up.
The run levelled out and we made our way across a field full of tussocks. You couldn't see the ground underneath and I rolled my left ankle, falling to the ground. I told my running buddy to go on and proceeded to find my feet after a short delay. After a brisk walk across the field, it was time to run again, this time downhill back to the finish. It was fast, but I was more cautious than normal and in spite of this, ground was being made on the athlete. Back onto the flat he was still about 50 metres ahead and I just couldn't catch him before the line, I finished in 7th place overall Not where I was hoping to be, but with the events I had experienced and my lack of MTB background, I think this was a good result.
7 weeks until the National Xtri Champs and I am back training hard. With the 2nd fastest swim and 3rd fastest run overall, I am confident I can feature at the top end of this race overall. Time to work on those technical bike-handling skills!
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