Seaford is a typical seaside town on the south coast of England. Its pebble beach stretches west towards Brighton, and to the east ends abruptly in the famous white cliffs that border the Channel. It is the host to the South Coast Triathlon which just happened to be two weeks before the ITU World Championships in Rotterdam – perfect timing for a spot of race training.
I arrived 90 minutes before the race start (this would be considered last minute in Japan) to find the transition completely deserted and just a few people setting up reception. I collected my race numbers, and looked for my spot in transition. It turned out that you could rack your bike up anywhere, so I chose a spot right by the entrance to transition. I then waited for things to get going. I went down to the beach for the race briefing which basically involved a two-minute course description and the organiser asking for a show of hands of people who had done the race before. “Follow them!” he said. I realise now that in Japan race organisers need to understand the meaning of “brief”.
The course is simple if a little uninspiring. The swim is two loops parallel to the beach; the bike is 12 laps up and down the coast road; the run 4 laps up and down the promenade. The only difficulty would be counting to twelve.
I enjoyed the swim. It was a floating start, which always seems to create a cleaner race, and there were no overeager lifeguards forcing everyone to swim too close together. After the first turn buoy, I managed to pick up the feet of a couple of people going my pace, and from then on, I drafted to within a couple of hundred metres of the finish. This is probably a first for me – I never seem to manage to draft successfully – so it felt like a minor step forward.
My watch read 27:48 as I left the water, which was fine for a training swim, and ran gingerly up the pebble beach to transition. The first 100 metres of the bike course are on grass and sacking, which was a bit tricky on the TT bike, but soon I was grinding up and down the coast road, ducking under a side wind, trying to keep count of the laps. The road was closed to traffic, but occasionally a dog walker would amble across the road, a disaster waiting to happen. It was never going to be a fast bike with 24 dead turns, but I kept up a fairly constant 36 or 37 km/h. Good training without taking too much out of my legs.
My plan was to jog the run section, as the last thing I needed was an injury. This plan disintegrated 100 metres into the run when a marshal told me I was in third place. With a groan, I sped up the shingle path to the promenade and spotted the second place person just ahead. I passed him as we ran through a crowd of people sipping coffee at a beachfront café, who put down their cups to cheer us on. I then saw the leader off in the distance with a marshal riding ahead on a bicycle. Plan B: I would try to pass him and then just run fast enough to keep ahead. This plan lasted longer than the previous one as it took a couple of kilometres to catch him. Then it was me and the marshal who constantly blew a whistle to clear a path through promenaders and more meandering dog walkers. I was about to ease off the pace when the marshal started announcing “race leader coming through, race leader coming through!” This forced me to look like a race leader rather than someone out for a weekend jog. I held around 3:53 pace for several kilometres which was made easier by the occasional cheers of people along the course, mixed I suspect with surprise at the age of the person allegedly in first place. I crossed the finish line in a modest 2:19:56.
To my mind, racing is the best way to train for races. It is also a great way to evaluate your current level of performance. My swim was a shocking 29:00, but my Garmin shows it was 1.68 km, and the time included a run up the pebble beach. Likewise, my bike time was very slow, 1:10:16, but I measured the course at 41.20 km, and with 24 dead turns the time was not so bad. I managed 39:09 on the run which I measured at 10:14 km; if I could do that every race I’d be happy. But best of all was my transitions: I had the fastest time in T1 and the second fastest in T2. Getting through transition fast is a lot easier than scraping time off your swim, bike or run.
After the race, I had a curious experience. A stranger came up to me and said, “Hi, I’m your cousin”. I was a bit discombobulated as I had no idea what she was talking about, although she did seem somehow familiar. After much shuffling of feet and general embarrassment, it turned out that she was indeed my cousin, the sister of a cousin I regularly meet at family gatherings. The only reason she knew me was my name plastered across my tri suit. She was there to support her partner, Guy, who was using the race as a warm-up for Croatia Ironman 70.3. Funny old world.