So after a short midseason sabbatical I returned to the triathlon fold at the weekend. In truth there were a couple of reasons for my inactivity in recent weeks. One reason was the calf strain I had acquired the day after the Belfast triathlon and the second reason being that I just needed a rest as I had up to that point completed 6 triathlons since the June bank holiday weekend.
The recurring calf strain situation is something I am addressing as it occurred at exactly the same point last season, give or take a week. In fact it prematurely ended my reason if memory serves me correctly. So I am looking at my running biomechanics at the moment to see if I am possibly overstretching when my foot contacts the ground thus creating an imbalance. Ideally you are supposed to run with your feet making contact with the ground beneath your pelvis with your head directly above that in a line. When you deviate away from that head, pelvis, foot central alignment you have an increased tendency to experience injury. So when you are told to run with your head up theres a very good reason for it.
I am considering approaching a coach to give me pointers regarding my run form. I had considered having my run gait checked in one of the running shops but I have a big issue with this concept primarily because running on a treadmill is totally different to running outdoors, plus the main objective of run shops is to sell you running shoes. I would rather have a run coach watch me run outside and assess my form from head to toe in a real world context. So this will be on the agenda in the medium term.
So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I approached the Lough Key Forest Park Triathlon at the weekend. I had done some treadmill running but only 2 to 4km once the initial strain had subsided. I chose to drive up to Roscommon on the Saturday night as it was going to be an early start on the Sunday. Its funny I seem to have travelled the M4 a half a dozen times this year en route to many of the races I have taken part in, so I am very familiar with the towns and villages along the way.
I slept well and woke at about 6.30 am before having a bite to eat and some fluid. The setup in Lough Key Forest park was very similar to that in Blessington and for the Two Provinces in that the transition area was right beside the water’s edge thus making the whole affair quite intimate and leading to a short run up from the water. I do enjoy lake swims primarily because the water is less prone to be choppy and subject to currents. There were two waves based on participants’ predicted swim times so I found myself in the second wave, however when it came to my wave it was obvious some people in the first wave underestimated just how quickly the would complete the 750m swim as I passed them out despite their starting 5 minutes before me. The swim went well. I have a tried and tested strategy now in that I try to ignore the frenetic commotion at the start which is made easier by my starting out wide away from the melee. This allows me time and space to focus on myself. The first few strokes will always be a little faster but after a few metres I set into a rhythm which for me is 36 strokes per minute pace. This enables me to complete the 750 m comfortably even if I encounter a stray foot in the face from another competitor which is what happened, but it comes with the territory. Coming out of the water I saw my time was 14 mins 20 seconds with which I was pleased.
I had elected to complete the bike segment using runners and regular bike pedals rather than bike shoes and clipless pedals. In fact I have alternated between both methods through the season in an attempt to arrive at a definitive decision as to which method, clipless or not, suits best. The jury is still out. Apparently clipless pedals lend themselves to a more efficient pedalling stroke as opposed to the standard runners on flat pedals, but like I say I cant decide which is better for me. I can tell you I almost forgot to put my runners on as I was preparing to wheel my bike out of transition for the bike leg!!
Once on the bike I was quickly passing riders by the dozen as we made our way down a tricky country lane. Then it started to spit rain and immediately I was thinking of safety. Its far too easy to come off the bike especially when rounding a corner in the wet so I was choosing my line with as much care as possible. The first few kilometres felt quick. I had put my speedometer on the end of one of the tri bar extensions so I could glance down every so often. I am satisfied when I notice my speed is north of 35kmph much of the time. There were many descents and ascents and at one point I dropped down to my lowest gear which is a rarity for me. I was hearted by my progress and by not having to get out of the saddle at any stage to ascend any of the hills. There were a couple guys who I kept swapping places with as we worked our way through the field. I kept passing them on the hills and they kept passing me on the descents. There was one terrific section where we joined the motorways and had a brief period where we were doing about 50kmph for about 30 seconds before meeting another hill. All in all I was happy with the bike leg given it was 23km so 3km longer than what I would normally cycle and also given that I hadn’t done a race in 6 weeks and would have lost a bit of my racing edge. I averaged a speed of 32.4 kmph.
Now came the run leg. This would be the biggest test of my calf. As I said In hadn’t run in anger since Belfast in July. This would be the first 5km I would run since then so I was acutely aware that it was a real possibility that I wouldn’t be able to complete it. However as I began I was pleased to see that there was no abreaction to my lay off. The run route was more of a cross country route with its multiple undulations and one particularly gorgeous section through what can only be described as a cathedral of trees. It was clear I had lost some pace and I was huffing and puffing but I was managing to pass runners without being passed myself. I was relieved to see the finish line in one piece. The run time was a slow 22.14 mins but one without injury. All in alL I came in 22nd place out of 250 people and 4th in my age group so I was very pleased with that. On reflection not having competed in recent weeks hadn’t hampered me very much at all which means that I must have a basic level of fitness which stood to me. My task now is to get faster at all three disciplines. My only grievance about the Lough key Forest Triathlon was not receiving a medal. I may have made this point before but I always like to receive a medal for participating because I can hang it up and use it as motivation, I don’t quite get the same level of motivation from a t shirt or a hoodie ( although the hoodie we received was very high in terms of quality and has been worn since).
So a good day out was had and I’m trying to decide what my next race will be. I don’t want to jump right in with two feet again and endure another injury with the season 4 weeks away from completion. I have signed up for 2 more races so I may simply complete them and be satisfied we shall see. 😉
A hat tip to Mark Kelly for some of the photos.