The Grafman: British Middle Distance Championships Race Report

This year’s British Middle Distance Championships, held at the Grafman, in Huntingdon, saw two of the Tri Training Harder Race team on the start list, Jason Walkley and Elaine Garvican. Both will be racing a full IRONMAN event later this year, but are in different stages of their training cycles.

What were your aims for this event?

Jason: To have a well-paced and consistent race to establish a good lead into my final 8 weeks prior to IRONMAN® UK in July.

Elaine: To draw a line in the sand and see where I was – a lot has changed in the last 6 months for me (new coach, new team, new bike, new swim stroke, new run mechanics) and much of that change is only just bedding in, so I was trying to focus on just seeing what sort of numbers came out from the day. Although, secretly, I also wanted a Top 3 in AG.

How has training been going in the lead up to this race?

Jason: Training has been going very well actually, despite having numerous external factors in my non-triathlon life going on, like fitting a new bathroom and being really busy at work. Despite this I have regularly completed 17 hours plus of training a week. Something I have rarely done in the past.

Elaine: I’ve put in the hours, but for a couple of reasons I haven’t been able to run much for several months.

Do you have a pre-race ritual?

Jason: Not really, I just get everything done that I need to and focus on the task in hand.

Elaine: For the first time ever, I followed a prescribed carbohydrate-loading plan, written by nutritionist Helen Money at the Bosworth Clinic. Once at the venue, I lay everything out in transition and walk through everything I’ll do, and in what order.

What were you most looking forward to about the race, and what were you not very excited about?

Jason: I always look forward to running off the bike but wasn’t looking forward to the cold swim we were about to do.

Elaine: I wasn’t all that excited about getting that cold lake either! We’d been told was only hovering around 13C and I don’t do particularly well in cold water, as I get hand claw, which makes any sort of effective catch pretty tricky. I was looking forward to racing my Boardman for the first time, but I had mixed feelings about the run; not having run further than 7miles since January, I didn’t know how well I would hold up over a half marathon. On the other hand, the opportunity to put in a long run was a plus!

How did your swim go?

Jason: It was up where I wanted it to be regarding a time, although I did struggle to begin with in the cold water. My chest was tight, gasping for breath and being in the ‘washing machine’ of arms and legs made me almost panic but I managed to hold it together until I got some clear water on the last 3 rd of the swim lap.

Elaine: It was pretty chilly, but thankfully there was no wind, and I’d done a pretty good warm up (both on land and then in the water) prior to the start, so I didn’t suffer anywhere near as badly as I thought I might. I got into a pretty decent rhythm until the first buoy, then took a kick to the head which took me 30 seconds or so to recover from. I sighted really well, so I’m pleased with that. My right hand was borderline dodgy – it didn’t claw, but it was hard to control and my fingers were all splayed, which is usually the precursor. So all in all, I was satisfied.

What did you think of the bike course, and did your ride go to plan?

Jason: I knew the bike could be a fast one if the conditions were right, so was looking forward to getting my head down and holding a good pace. My coach (Philip Hatzis) had plugged all my training data into an online calculator known as Best Bike Split (BBS) and that predicted a power output that I should aim for which, in theory, should leave me in my best state for the run. I was a little sceptical of this as it suggested I hold 248W NP, which I thought was a little low, but I thought what the heck and would give it a go.

The initial 20 miles were very much cat and mouse, where small packs of riders would pass me all drafting one another, then after a few minutes and a slight change in gradient or a headwind I would catch them up as I was sticking to my BBS power outputs. My power would drop by approximately 60w as I entered their slipstream, then when the time was right to overtake it would surge up to 350w or more because of the sudden increase in drag. I wasn’t until past halfway that the road became clear and I could finally sit comfortably just me and my numbers on the Garmin. I then overtook plenty of riders who had gone too hard or couldn’t cling on to the back of the faster riders anymore. I rolled into T2 in about 42 nd overall with a time of 2:29, and a power output of 248w NP, smack on what BBS had prescribed. More importantly I was feeling fresh for a good run.

Elaine: Yes, the first half of the bike course was pretty congested. The first 6km were really bad – bikes and cars everywhere, corners, downhills… There was often no way of overtaking, because packs of bikes were coming the opposite way. I got stuck behind cars twice on slight uphills and it was constant surge to overtake, or freewheel to stay back. At 10km there was a mandatory foot-down point at a right turn onto a T-junction – this was absolutely necessary from a safety point of view, but it then re-bunched a lot of bikes. There’s been a lot of complaining about drafting on this bike course. I do think it should probably havebeen enforced a bit more strictly, but in those early stages, there also needs to be some common sense.

I think most athletes know the difference between cheating and being only a couple of meters behind someone for safety reasons, while a car overtakes. There were a lot of crashes in that early section, a lot of which I think could have been avoided with a bit less Red Mist. After about half way, things got much better, but I was still overtaking people the whole time, which meant few opportunities to settle into a steady power output. It was good seeing Jason several times – it meant I knew I was approaching a turnaround point!

Jason: It was good to see you too as I could measure the gap to see how you getting on and give you a wave to boost morale. It’s always good to see a fellow team mate on the course to bounce encouragement off one another.

Did you have a plan for the run?

Jason: Yes, ease into the opening 3 miles, consolidate and maintain a pace I could cruise from 3-10, then see what I had left for the final 3 miles. A plan I executed well, never feeling tired or fatigued too much, I made up 12 positions to finish 30 th overall and 6 th in Age Group.

Elaine: Run to form, and try to survive! I really didn’t know what pace to expect, or if the wheels would fall off horribly half way through. I always try and bury myself in the last few kms if I have anything left. I have to say I didn’t plan to swallow quite as many bugs though….

Jason: I think I need to start winding up the pace earlier as more often than not I run out of course to catch those final few ahead of me. Something I will try in 2 weeks time at my next 70.3 event.

Overall, how do you rate your performance?

Jason: Probably around a 7/10. I lack the top speed at the moment but I know I am strong at a Base level, so with the next 7 weeks of training to get this raw top speed back, I am happy with the performance overall and gives me a solid result to build on in the lead up to IRONMAN® UK.

Elaine: Probably the same – I could have done everything quicker, but considering my woeful lack of run training, I can’t be too disappointed. I just about managed to run my way up to a podium spot too (3 rd in AG), which was a nice reward. It’s still very early season for me too, with IRONMAN® Weymouth still 16 weeks away. It’s a pretty good marker and somewhere to build from.

What have you learned for future races?

Jason: Trust the numbers! This will especially be true over the full Ironman distance if I want to run sub

3:20 for the marathon.

Elaine: I know I can push harder on both the bike and the run now.

How will you recover?

Jason: I am currently sat in the sun at the TTH training camp base in Portugal. It’s more of a relaxing week than training hard though, as the family are with me too. I’ll swim and run this week a couple of times and with the support of the in-house physio I can ensure I arrive back in the UK next week refreshed and my batteries recharged for my next training block.

Elaine: Immediately post-race, I downed a HIGH5 protein recovery drink, made up in milk. My coach gave me the following day off, and now I’m starting the next block of hard work. I’m also going back out to Portugal – can’t let Jason steal all the sunshine!

Jason: Remember your sunglasses for when I’m around you; if I was a superhero I would call myself bacofoil man because of my ability to reflect the sun!