I'm still seeing lots of people cycling in September. Great! People seem to have really got into cycling in the UK in the summer and the continued dry, warm weather is helping. People are out early in the morning when I'm training and in the evening when I'm riding home from work. Lots of these cyclists have bags on their backs so they're in the habit of cycling to work and home again. Running alongside some atrocious traffic this morning (the kids are back at school and this is now "normal traffic") cycling has got to be a better way of commuting. Especially with all the great cycle paths we have in South Wales. Sometimes following a cycle path might give you a longer route but in may cases it's even shorter than driving as they follow old railway routes.
When autumn comes it's going to get colder, and then wetter, and then darker. One advantage of shorter days and darker mornings is that for many mornings on the bike you'll get to see the sunrise without having to get up early. Sunrise on the bike with no traffic and none of that horrible glare or reflections from the glass in your car makes for a proper sunrise. Sunrise in a car is annoying. Sunrise on the bike is lovely. It'll put a smile on your face. A sunrise seen between misty trees when cycling through the woods or the sun rising over the sea's horizon is a great start to your day.
It's that time of year, when summer is over, the mornings become cooler, and the kids go back to school. Most of us are getting back into our normal routines but some of us, like my son, are beginning new ones. He has started secondary school this week and he, like most of his friends, has been very excited about the start of this new phase of their lives. With it comes new freedoms and responsibilities, like walking to and from school on his own and with his friends, and managing his own learning and homework. Seeing him enter into this thing which to him is so new, different, interesting and a little scary is a reminder of the need for adventure no matter if it's small or large.
I've been in my current job for 10 years. It's a good job. It has good parts and bad parts. I have a strong routine, both weekly and through the academic year, but after 10 years it does get a little boring. And routine. When we get to this stage remembering how it felt to start a new school or a new job kicks something inside.
I've had a bunch of favourite races this year and it's difficult to pick out a number 1, but as a whole experience XTERRA is right up there and I can't wait to do another one. What's XTERRA? It's a triathlon with a 1500m swim, a 30km (ish) mountain bike and a 10km (ish) cross country run. In XTERRA obstacles are put in your way, and your race is made as difficult as possible. Something that summed up the mindset of the organisers for me was a big branch that had been part sawn through so that it crossed the bike trail at head height. Love it.
XTERRA England was held in the Vachery Estate near Cranleigh, Surrey; not a particularly hilly place. The course was created from a lake swim, grassy fields, and copses that were hacked, cleared, and filled with logs and fallen trees. The bike course had alternating twisty sections of technical wooded single track and fields, and the run course matched this with 6ft ditches and a huge fallen oak to jump/climb over and a long path on the back section. I think the course had been put together by Sam Gardner and Richard Stannard, and when Richard passed me on the run he seemed to have been enjoying himself.
As a triathlete I'm selfish. I'm well organised, manage my time well, train hard, get the hours in, do lots of stuff with my family and work hard (at work). But nonetheless to do what I do I have to focus this stuff around me. Racing is about me and my performance. Training is about preparing myself for race day. The idea of doing all this for another person is a bit of a weird idea for many triathletes, but when the idea of guiding a visually impaired triathlete was mooted it sounded like a challenge. At the base of it, what I do is about challenge so why not make it harder and do something new: try to guide another athlete to his best performance? I find it difficult to say "no" when someone suggests something new, difficult and interesting.
As I turned 40 this year one of my aims was to race in all of the Welsh Triathlon Championship events this year and have a crack at some medals. I've failed, missing the duathlon champs with a small gastrocnemius tear, and I'll miss the sprint triathlon champs because I've elected to race in XTERRA England instead and give myself a new challenge. I did make it to the Welsh Standard Distance Triathlon Championships at Llandudno a week after the Euros and then to the Welsh Aquathlon Championships the following week in Poppit Sands. Those races were rather good.
It's been a busy few weeks, which, with some prolonged work stress in combination with the training and racing stress (physical stuff, don't be a salmon, etc) has left me a bit knackered. The Ffit Conwy Llandudno Sea Triathlon has a cracking course. I was much better off swimming in a sea with a bit of swell than in a calm alpine lake, and the 2 lap course helped with pacing and tactics. I was having a chat with the starter in a kayak when she sounded the horn and started the race, so it was a low stress start too. Parp and we got going, failing to even start my watch and getting into a pairing chasing the leader around the buoys.
I raced at the European Triathlon Championships a week or so ago in Kitzbuhel, Austria. It's getting easier to prepare for logistically each year, and this time I travelled with a group of team mates from Cardiff Triathletes. We drove, with trailer, bikes on the roof (careful now) and a ton of camping stuff and had a great week in the Tyrolean Alps.
Kitzbuhel is a great location for summer racing; triathlon, biking or running. Big hills, warm lakes, winding roads and paths. The swim route in the Schwarzsee was pretty (and flat), the bike course was narrow, hilly, winding (maybe optimistically so) and superbly steep in places, and the rolling run course used a mix of narrow trails and tarmac around the lake. With 4 laps of the bike course and 2 laps of the run course in the standard distance race we got to go up and down a lot.
I took some photos at Cosmeston early on Sunday morning. For the first time the swim leg of the triathlon was cancelled and we had to resort to a duathlon. Nonetheless, it was still a great morning for those involved.
See the set of photos on Flickr:
I haven't raced any of the Parc Bryn Bach aquathlons, but I know that they're a popular weekly summer series. It's almost impossible for me to get to after work. I asked the family as it was a half-term holiday this week and they fancied going up on Thursday evening, and as I need to get some open water racing practice I thought I'd pop up and have a crack. The sun was out and it wasn't raining. Apparently this was unusual.
I like aquathlons. I'm not very good at them because I'm not a quick swimmer, but I like not having to pack very much. My entire transition set up is a pair of shoes.
My 3rd race in a week was the TTG Gloucester Triathlon, which is almost a home race as it's based near where I grew up. It's a good race for a test at this time of year, and so far I've been getting faster every year here on the same course. I'd recovered OK from the Whitford Point race and spent a few hours on the new race bike in the rain the day before which loosened up my posterior chain and got me better used to the new bike.
I'm nervous about swimming again as I've put so much effort into swim training over the last 6 months or so and I'm keen to see some improvements. The pool swim started well and I was enjoying myself by the end so it was a shame I had to get out. I swam pretty much the same time as last year, so no improvement there. Hmmm.
The weather was beautiful for the evening Whitford Point multi-terrain race on Wednesday. Multi-terrain is right. We had soft sand, firm sand, hard sand, flat sand, wavy sand, muddy sand, rocky sand, mussel bed-y sand, dunes, soft mud, hard mud, stone, Tarmac, grass, and gravel. The wind was strong on the beach too so it was an interesting race, as always. Which route to take? Who to run with?
The soreness in my left tibialis posterior muscle was generally just more pain on top of lots of other pain, but it slowed me a bit on some of the downhill sections. I think I paced it quite well, and ran the windy section like a cyclist. The placings were decided by the end of the beach and I almost held the back of the vest ahead of me except for some poor line choices. The beach was fun but hard, and the wooded section was great. I'm still poor on soft sand. Mud I can move through.
The final climb to the finish was a crazy, full on effort and fight with runners at my back and legs weakening and fading by the top of the steep section. A massive effort. I'm sure that hill gets longer. Great fun.
Second V40 and 6th overall. Good running.