since ironman uk and an easy week following that race, training has been going well. i have been finding that i'm recovering less quickly - whether this is as a result of the slightly more intensity focus that my swim and bike sessions have had recently or residual fatigue from the 10 hour race i'm not sure (i suspect the latter actually) but either way i've certainly been training less hours than my typical weeks, but really enjoying the training that i am doing. a good race at UK, and i feel that although my slower bike split does highlight where i really do need to do more work it was the best performance that i've managed in a while, has re-motiveated me and i'm enthused about racing again as well as my long term training and athletic development.
So, I approached Trevor at Blacksheep sports and he kindly offered me a start in the Little Woody this weekend. My flat mate Alex was signed up for the full iron-distance Big Woody and was planning to make his way there by train and then do race with out any support. I'm sure that he would have managed fine, but it's better to have friends along for a big day - especially those who can drive and know how to pitch a tent ;o) - and it provided me with a chance to fulfill my hankering to do a bit of racing myself.
I believe that this was the 4th running of the event in the Wye Valley/Forest of Dean, with 49 signed up for the Big and 172 for the Little Woody races it would be a low-key event, enabling me to race for fun and test my fitness without too much pressure, and provided everything that I enjoy about these sorts of races. Onsite accommodation was 'bring your own' with access to a college gym toilet and shower facilities, plus a marquee heated by half a dozen constantly boiling tea urns to shelter form Friday evening's torrential welsh downpours. Sorting out transition bags in the boot of a car in the dark, soaked to the skin was not one of the happiest moments of my race career, neither was missing the race briefing due to being hopelessly lost on the way both to and from dropping bikes off for racking at the remote site of T1, but there was a jolly atmosphere of camaraderie on the campsite as the competitors wandered the make-shift campsite with bottles of water and head torches before settling down for their pre-race sleep.
Saturday morning we woke to a clear starry sky - the forecast was for a dry day, and the sigs looked good. The 20 minute bus journey to the swim start (how did it only take 20 min!!!) was very warm and cosy, and it was with a certain amount of reluctance that the wetsuit clad passengers disembarked. We, The Little Woody competitors, had arrived just in time to watch the start of the full distance race, which we did from the cliff tops around the flooded quarry pit of the Dive Centre. Apparently there are all manner of submerged aircraft and vehicles in there to amuse training scuba divers, but despite it's depth the pit was surprisingly warm.
The water was also beautifully clear as well as being well sheltered from winds on account of the steep sided pit that it was in, and in all the venue made for a very pleasant swim with perfect conditions for fast times. I exited the water after my two laps in just over 27 minutes - that's a damn good swim for me. I was swimming hard for the first lap, then forced to find feet to follow on my second lap due to steamed up goggles (get some de-fogger!!!) and aware that i had a few people on my feet by the occasional toe -taps that i was getting. As I climbed out of the water, it turned out that eh swimmer behind was my own sister, from Tri London. She'd done well to stay on my feet and proceeded to run past me on the jetty. From here it was a further long run up out of the pit to T1, most people stripped wetsuits, slipped on some shoes and walked or jogged up this incline.
My bike transition was fast on account of already having stripped my wetsuit and completely forgetting that competitors were responsible for packing up their own swim gear in and depositing it in bags onto the transport truck. I just rode off and left mine, then worried about my £400 Speedo wetsuit for the rest of the race!! Right from the start the tome of the bike course was set by a series of steep hills, winding descents on roads washed with mud and debris of the previous day's rain, and sharp bends. Similarly to the sort of riding at IMUK, there may not be too many distinct killer climbs, but the constant change of pace, braking and accelerating, coupled with short sharp hills can make for a very wearing ride. I'd say that the bike course was certainly comparable to that at Wimbleball, both for scenery and difficulty...and then it's an extra 10km longer (i'd have known this if i'd been at the briefing!). Being a smaller event, the route was entirely marked out with arrows but not marshaled at every turn and certainly without the privilege of road closures or traffic control on junctions, however, as far as i know everyone managed to follow the route safely and without getting lost. I felt great and was really enjoying the first 85km of the ride, maintaining target power and feeling in very focused, and of course expected to grit my teeth and get on with that final 5km.....i did have a little sense of humour failure when that final 5km turned into 15km, with a couple of real steep hills thrown in for good measure!
I was pleased to finally be hobbling my way through T2, chucking on my run shoes and limping around the college fields and...my tent! The run route then quickly turned us onto a lovely series of trails and paths through the edge of the Forest for a two-lap out-and-back route. The surfaces were great for running, soft but not muddy, and generally sufficiently wide to accommodate a small race in two directions. The terrain was gently rolling but not hilly - although feedback from those who did the full is that it got steeper on each lap! - and made for good fast running, once my run legs decided to join me for the day. It's always nice to have a couple of turn-arounds: to keep an eye on your competition and to give a bit of support to your fellow competitors. I was impressed to see my sister and another girl dukeing it out for second place about 16 minutes behind me after the first turn-around, and between them they'd pushed the pace sufficiently to close for another minute 3 miles later. with no-one to chase and no real fear of being chased down, I admit that i was not really testing myself running - i was not using any pacing device but felt that I was maintaining my Ironman pace after the first few km and perhaps a little faster on the final few. I avoided developing any real pain in my legs due to a slightly easier pace and the wonderfully soft surfaces, which is just perfect for a 'training' race. My run split was 1:32 which leads me to suspect that the course may be about a mile short, but i was not complaining given that i felt i'd earned it on the bike!
Finishers were greeted across the line by Trevor, the race director and there was plenty of refreshment available. I spent the afternoon taking advantage of this, and the free massage whilst supporting Alex and packing up our campsite in the sunshine. I collected a beautiful plate decorated by a local craftswoman for my win, and will have my name added to the perpetual trophy - another local artist's work. So i guess i'll have to race again next year in order to return it!. Perhaps the BIg Woody? Not likely!!!
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