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I wasn’t sure what to expect from this event but, despite a ridiculous 3:30am wakeup call, I managed to pull my fastest every sprint distance race out of the bag!

This was my first time doing the Royal Windsor Triathlon and I must admit I hadn’t been looking forward to it. The main reason for this was my wave start time, which was 6:24 AM! I’ve never had to race this early before and (not being a morning person) I wasn’t sure how this would work for me. In the end, I needn’t have worried.

We needed to arrive 90 minutes before my wave start so that meant getting there for 5:00 AM. When the alarm went off at 3:30am, I had only one thought in my head – why am I doing this?

This is a thought I often have on the morning of an event but I got myself up and had a quick slice of toast before getting into the car with Steve and headed to Windsor. The journey down was quite pleasant with the roads being very empty. We arrived just after 5:00 AM and parked at the leisure centre.

There was event parking being provided at a local school but the cost for this was £10 which I think is very cheeky of the event organisers when you’ve already paid nearly £100 entry fee. The leisure centre was next to the event car parking and parking there was free until 9am so we opted for that instead.

THE EVENT VILLAGE

It was a short walk under the railway bridge to the event village and once there I tried to get my bearings and find where I needed to go to collect my timing chip. I must say that for a major event the signposting wasn’t very clear. I had to ask a couple of people before I eventually found that chips were to be collected inside transition for ‘on the day’ participants.

I had almost not been able to take part in the event because I hadn’t realised when booking my place that racking all took place on a Saturday. I had been fortunate to be able to upgrade my entry to ‘on the day racking’ a couple of weeks prior to the race having realised my mistake.

Once I had my wristband, bike and helmet numbers checked I entered transition. As always it was cramped and as I was in a mixed wave (I usually opt for female only) I was positioned between two guys.

It was now 5:55 AM and my next objective was to find the loos! Annoyingly, there were hardly any toilets, despite this being a big event I counted a total of 18 Porta-potties. This is frustrating as with everyone on edge before the start, the queues for the toilets were taking 15 minutes. By the time I had gone to the loo, I had only 12 minutes before my swim start and I still had to get my wetsuit on and walk over to the start which was 10 minutes away. It all ended up being a last-minute rush to get my suit on and I was still pulling up my sleeves as the announcer was calling over the orange hats.

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THE SWIM

We were herded into a starting area and watched the wave in front finish their briefing and enter the water. Next, it was our turn for our briefing which was the usual run through the swim start and the course. Once that was done, we were told to slide into the water and swim over to the start line which was a few meters away.

The drop into the water was actually quite high up so plopping into the Thames at 6:30 AM was a bit of shock to the system but the water wasn’t that cold around 18C so it didn’t take long for me to settle in ready for the start.

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Soon the starter was shouting 30 seconds to go and I looked for a clear position near the front on the right-hand side closest to the bank. This was said to be the fastest line.

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All of a sudden the starting horn blew and we were off. It was a bit congested for the first 30 seconds or so but then it thinned out and I had some clear water ahead of me. After a few minutes, I tagged on to the feet of another swimming and stayed there for a while to get a drafting effect off of them. After about 5 minutes I left the swimming I’d been following behind as they slowed and I was getting penned in on both sides by male swimmers. It got a little more congested as we approached the red turning buoy but I had taken a good line on the approach so got round it with only minor contact with another swimmer. I was surprised to see the swim exit up ahead as it didn’t seem like we’d been swimming long enough. I upped the pace on the approach and pulled myself up onto the steps and climbed out.

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Initially, I didn’t think my swim had been that fast but when I got my results I had registered a time of 11:32. The swim distance was a little short of the 750m according to my Garmin at 658m but that still made it a very fast swim for me at an average pace of 1:45/100m.

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T1

The run into transition went on forever as the transition was massive. It was a bit uncomfortable on the feet running on rough pavement. Once into transition, I found my spot easily thanks to my rainbow towel and my drills were pretty quick too. I headed out to the opposite end of transition and the BIKE OUT sign. The run through transition to the mount was even further than the route in from the swim!

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THE BIKE

I must admit I was pretty tired by the time I clipped in and pushed off to start my bike loop and it took me a good 15 minutes to settle into a rhythm. The bike course was not on closed roads so there was traffic alongside us and this always makes me a bit nervous. Just as I started to head out of town, the rain started and soon the roads were wet which meant I had to slow down and take the turns much more carefully for fear of skidding.

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I didn’t know the course in terms of land marks to look out for to know how much further I had to go so I kept checking my watch and after 9km the roads opened out a bit and there were some steady downhill sections where I could really push the pace on. I was feeling much stronger now and managed to overtake quite a few people both male and female which gave me confidence.

The bike course was quite dull, not much to look at and fairly flat so no real hills for me to work which is one of my strong points.

When we arrived back in town, the traffic was being held at the roundabouts which was good as it meant I didn’t have to stop. Traffic is one reason I don’t like open road courses as I always find the fact that some people won’t have to give way and others will very unfair.

The rest of the bike passed without incident until the final roundabout where the marshal was giving directions around but then the next one didn’t indicate that it was the third exit and I nearly took a wrong turn and had to adjust. This was annoying as he also told me to slow down and take the turn wide, I didn’t go the wrong way because I was going to fast, I went the wrong way because no indication was being given as to the correct direction!

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After that is was only about 300 yards to the final right turn and the dismount line. I had completed the bike section in 44:29 minutes which was pretty good considering the slow start.

T2

I unclipped on the approach and stepped off quickly just before the line. Now it was the long run back into transition. I don’t even remember this really but I managed to find my spot again and quickly took off my bike shoes and helmet and set off towards the RUN OUT. My T2 time was 2:33 minutes which I feel was pretty good.

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The run out was along the same path as the swim in and despite signs telling swimmers to keep right, a guy got in my way and I had to push past him with a quick ‘excuse me!’

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THE RUN

I always struggle with the run and have been trying so hard in training to improve all aspects of my running. Despite some positive numbers in training sessions, so far it had not translated into race performance.

The first clue that this might be my best run yet was exiting transition as I overtook swimmers running into transition. I felt like my form was good, I was flowing well and I didn’t feel that knackered.

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Once out onto the course I turned right at the turn around to start my first lap. The sprint was two laps of the run course and I didn’t know what to expect from this either. I had read a few course reviews/guides and all said that there was a sharp hill 300 meters in. I also knew that a section went out and back on the Long Walk in front of the castle.

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I was feeling ok and as I approach the castle, the road did start to pitch upwards to a very steep incline that curved around the castle. This was pretty tough going but I powered up making sure to lift my knees and I started overtaking people. The road then flattened out before pitching up again.

I was breathing hard now but passing other runners was spurring me on to keep going and as we cut down a narrow street, the road began to slope downhill. I tried to relax and let the gradient do some of the work for me. I reached some large iron gates and now I was onto the part of the course called the Long Walk, I could see the turn around in the distance. The path was still sloping downwards at this point but I could see it would be all uphill on the way back.

My watch buzzed to indicate a distance marker and I caught a glimpse of my pace 5:39min/km!? Usually, I would start thinking, ‘I’m going to fast, I can’t keep this up, I’m going to back off’ but this time I just thought ‘No, I feel good and I am going to keep pushing’.

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I reached the turnaround and started to head back uphill, it was hard going but I just focused on keeping a good turnover and breathing steady. By the time I reached the top, I knew I must be approaching my max heart rate. My tactic throughout the run was to attack the hills and relax on the downhill sections. This worked really well and, even though I was maxing out up the hill, the recovery down meant I was able to keep the pace up on the flat sections.

I was surprised how quickly the run passed and on my second lap back passing the castle I realised I hadn’t looked at it once! I took a quick look for what could only have been a few seconds and then went back to focusing on the road ahead.

THE FINISH

I was now only meters from the finish and I still felt good, I made sure to keep the pace up all the way to the finish. I couldn’t quite manage a sprint finish but was excited to cross the line. This was the first race where I felt like celebrating at the finish line, I was ecstatic with my run, my best performance over 5KM EVER!

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I completed the run in 27:39 minutes. I had thought that maybe the run was short like the swim but it was actually just over 5KM at 5.22KM. I had averaged 5:18min/km which for me is fantastic. I knew I had it in me!

My finish time was 1:33:10 and I came 16th out of 35 in my age category which I am really pleased with. That is my fastest time for a sprint race ever. It’s difficult to compare events like for like as they are all slightly different lengths and terrain but I do feel this was my strongest performance yet.

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Would I do it again? Someone described the Windsor tri to me as ‘One of the most icon triathlon events’. Personally, despite the hype, I don’t think this event was as well organised as Blenheim and It’s not one I’d choose to do again. I did enjoy it once I finished it though!

Thanks to Steve as always for getting up stupidly early and supporting me 🙂

UP NEXTED

I have planned my season more carefully this year after burning out last year and I now have a two-month break before my next event.

Up next is Woburn Triathlon at the beginning of September. This is my Olympic distance race and I am planning to up the ante with training in the interim.

I am seriously considering entering the Outlaw Half next year which takes place in May. This is a half Ironman distance race so a strong performance at the Olympic distance this year is crucial.

I don’t really have a benchmark other than my previous Woburn sprint distance time and my finish time from the London Tri but that was a very different course to Woburn.

I would love to be able to complete the Olympic distance in under 02:45:00. My Olympic time from London was 3:33:30 which was very slow but this was straight after my accident at Blenheim so I was super nervous on the bike and it was a boiling hot June afternoon for the run.

My plan for the next two months is to really build on the bike and run fitness, add in more distance and try and get my swim under 25 minutes for 1500m. It would be great to be able to make this a breakthrough year in all distances. Wish me luck!