Trek and Run were supported during this event by;
Photos by www.sportcam.net, Dave Sherman and Laura Kimberley
Without question, Dorney Lake is one of my favourite venues for triathlon events. The water is clear (well… as clear as open water can be) allowing you to follow the underwater rope holding the buoys in place (thereby making sighting incredibly easy), the cycle involves simple laps following a reasonably flat path around the outside of the lake, and the run section involves 1 or 2 laps of a flat out-and-back alongside the lake almost guaranteeing a fast finish. The venue itself also offers an indoor lounge complete with balcony offering views across the lake, changing rooms, indoor toilets (in addition to the usual bog-in-a-boxes), and of course the prestige of competing alongside elite athletes in a venue which played host to events in the 2012 London Olympics. For all of these reasons I was great to know I’d be opening my 2016 triathlon season with Human Race’s Nuffield Health Eton Sprints event at Dorney Lake.
Before we get into this year’s event, I need to reflect back quickly on the previous year… The 2015 Eton Sprints triathlon had been my first ever sprint distance triathlon and my season opener as I trained towards Ironman Dublin 70.3 – my first ever Half Iron Triathlon - and I’ll admit I didn’t have the greatest experience in the world… I‘d panicked in the swim starting with front crawl but fast reverting back to trusty breast stroke and possibly a touch of doggy paddle, and although my cycle and run hadn’t been too bad, I’d spent most of the race having minor panic attacks while thinking ‘why have I entered a Half Ironman? I can’t do this!!’. I’d also almost been disqualified by Triathlon England twice for 1) Forgetting to remove my cycle helmet as I went to start the run and 2) Racking my bike in the wrong place, and although I’d finished the event smiling (partly through a sense of achievement – partly because it was finally over) inside I’d felt dis-satisfied about the while experience – something which was exacerbated when I discovered I wouldn’t even receive a medal for my efforts!
Don’t get me wrong… the 2015 event had been great overall (Triathlon England encounters aside…) but I’d felt dissatisfied with my performance and so, as with most races where I’ve suffered, I had demons to slay so this year I was coming back with a vengeance! This event would again be my season opener as I prepared for two Half Iron distance races, but this time I’d made a huge effort to train throughout the winter especially concentrating on improving my swim, and I’d invested in a better-fitting wetsuit and a sexy light-weight bike. Basically, with the amount of effort I’d put in to training and kit upgrades, I decided that if I didn’t manage to knock off at least a few minutes from last years’ time, maybe it was worth questioning whether Triathlon really was for me!
We arrived onsite early as a couple of my Triathlon club-mates were taking part in earlier waves – Olivia would be setting off in one of the Sprint waves just before mine, and Sam – one of the quickest athletes in our club – would be competing in one of the junior ITU Qualifier age group waves. As always the walk from car-park to race village was incredibly long due to the sheer number of competitors (mental note – get there even earlier next time!) but Nuffield Health’s involvement meant an even bigger race village this year including two giant inflatable domes – one of which held a results computer (always a nice touch!).
The ITU Qualifier waves started heading off from 9am but my wave didn’t start until 1:20pm giving us plenty of time to relax and watch some of the other competitors. Registration was quick and simple and all of the volunteers were happy and helpful, and bike racking was simple with the racks clearly indicated and plenty of space for each bike and room underneath to set up your equipment ready for transition. I managed to catch Olivia as she started the run section and as the midday sun was really starting to blaze, it was my turn… As my start-time approached I clambered into my wetsuit, headed down to the race briefing (which was thankfully held on the grass beside the lake this year rather than while we were bobbing about in the lake as had been the case last year!) and finally I followed the crowd as we made our way into the lake ready to start.
This year’s setup meant we had to swim 20 metres from the bank to the pontoon start area and although it was only a short distance, this gave a chance to dip my face in the water, flush my wetsuit, and most importantly – check I could still swim! As silly as that may sound, when you’re not a confident swimmer nothing is worse than suddenly having to swim from cold within a seething mass of limbs, so those few strokes gave me a quick mental boost, and as the starting horn sounded I felt comfortable enough to launch straight into front crawl from the off, and I managed to continue front crawl all the way though until I climbed out of the water 750 metres later! I completed the swim section – my weakest discipline - in 16m14s! Over 5 minutes faster than my previous time of 21m42s!! But even more importantly, I came out of the water feeling great and ready to carry on…
Transition 1 was around 40 seconds faster than the previous year, again partly due to the fact I felt great rather than the minor post-swim panic attack I’d suffered last time, and then it was wetsuit off – bike helmet and shoes on – tri-belt and GPS watch on - then off onto the cycle section… Now there isn’t much you can say about the Dorney Lake cycle course as it’s a reasonably simple 5.3km loop of the lake repeated 4 times, however the crowd support was excellent as we passed the race village and despite a bit of wind across the lake on one particular stretch of the route, thankfully this section passed without a hitch! As I climbed of my bike after the 21.2km admittedly I felt much better than I should’ve, telling me I hadn’t pushed myself as much as I possibly could’ve, however I’d again manged to knock time off my previous year’s result – this time dropping from 41m57s to 39m33s and keeping me well on track for an overall improvement… Just T2 and the run to go!
Transition 2 passed without a hitch in around the same time as the previous year (but most importantly remembering to remove my bike helmet this time!) and then I was out and on to run course… By this time some clouds had drifted in and the day had cooled slightly making it ideal weather for running, and although last year had involved two out-and-back loops, the route had been adjusted slightly this year so I’d be running a single out-and-back stretching the entire length of the lake.
This would’ve normally mentally drained me (and I was slightly disappointed as I’d been looking forward to seeing my friends and family halfway through the run) but I was in such a great mood after a great swim and cycle that I absolutely flew through the run and even managed to jump in the air for my finishers photo! Well… technically I jumped in the air just after the photo was taken so I didn’t quite achieve the ‘hang time’ effect I’d been going for, but I’d managed to finished the run in 22m21s – over 2 and a half minutes faster than my previous time of 24m56s!
As I passed through the finish line I was handed a pint of Erdinger Alcohol Free beer (something I used to dislike but have developed a taste for after encountering it at so many races!) and A MEDAL!! I know I shouldn’t be that excited about a simple piece of metal and ribbon, but I love having something to show for the events I take part in, and the lack of medals was one of the main complaints I, and a number of other people online and whom I’d spoken to, had made about the Human Race events in 2014 and 2015. However it’s clear Human Race have taken notice as they now offer medals at all of their 2016 event – great news! I made my way to our group to pose for the obligatory post-race sweaty athlete photo (Olivia had also had a great race and was grinning ear-to-ear!) then I headed to the results tent to find out my overall times…
Remembering my main aim had been to beat my 2015 time (and a secret secondary aim had been to knock at least a few minutes off), I was over the moon to discover I’d achieved a time of 1 hour 22 minutes and 54 seconds – over 11 minutes faster than my 2015 time of 1 hour 33 minutes and 56 seconds - PLUS I’d finished feeling great! My finish time also meant I’d finished in 144th place out of 520 participants which although nowhere near trophy territory, it gave me a great confidence boost to know I’d finished in the top third of participants compared to the previous year when I’d finished 251st out of 325 participants feeling like absolute dog-shit!
Whether you’re new to triathlon or looking for a great early season opener on an incredibly easy course, I really can’t recommend Human Race’s Eton Dorney events enough. The venue is amazing, the volunteers and marshals throughout the course are brilliant, but most importantly the experience is outstanding and one which is improving all the time. Thank-you Human Race!
To find out more about Human Race’s range of swim, bike, run and triathlon events including the 2017 Nuffield Health Eton Sprints, visit http://humanrace.co.uk/events/ and use code DORNEY to receive 15% off entry to the Windsor Triathlon!