by Nick Rose
One of the first races I ever competed in was the Cleveland Long Course Triathlon in 2000. It was a tough course and one that people migrated to because it was a real test on the middle distance circuit. For some reason, I believed that the course for the Cleveland Steelman was similar so I was expecting a tough race with plenty of hills. As the race drew nearer people were telling me it was a fast course; maybe I had it wrong but it would be a better test for IM Copenhagen if it was fast and flat.
The trip started out as a weekend away for four lads to race on the Saturday and then stay over for a few beers. This changed pretty quickly after I found out that Ironman UK was taking place on the Sunday and I wanted to be back to support Fegan and a few others I knew racing in Bolton. In the lead up to the weekend, 2 of the group pulled out, one through injury, the other organizing a holiday at the last minute. This left myself and Nik Avraam, one of my training partners, to duke it out the next day.
The journey up was uneventful and the local hotel at Scotch Corner was excellent. I was already looking for reasons to come back and this, coupled with the cost of the race which is about half the price of most middle distance events, was making my decision very easy.
The race is held in Ellerton Park near Darlington which was about 15 minutes from our hotel. We left after a hearty breakfast, Nik taking this to the extreme – I have never seen anyone eat so much 2 hours before a race !
Once at the race venue there was an old-school, laid-back atmosphere to the race. Everyone was very friendly and there was no elitist preening going on – plenty of carbon and bike bling but on a more gentle, serene level. There was a good mix of male and female and judging by some of the nervous shaking, a few first timers.
Registration was painless, in the Lakeside Café, done and dusted in 2 minutes.
The lake looked pretty calm and the swim course straight forward, but unfortunately the weather started to close in around 8.30am and due to the race not starting until the very sociable time of 10am most people were wetsuited up at least an hour before the start which isn’t optimal. This led to more people getting in for a quick swim than normal as it was just as wet on land. I just checked my kit was in the right place and waited for the race briefing.
All standard stuff, no crossing white lines, no drafting, no dangerous riding, no littering and mind the temporary traffic lights ……… what?! Really ?? The council, in their wisdom, had decided to erect lights about 8 miles into the course. We were warned that under no circumstances were any racers to go through on amber or red or they risked disqualification from the marshal posted there for that reason.
The course was a 2 lap affair, follow the big pink buoys keeping them on your left, then when you’d completed your final lap, make sure you go round the last buoy and head for the bank.
It was starting to get cold so it was a relief to get into the water and get started. The water was lovely and warm but not too uncomfortable in a wetsuit. I started steady and as usual tried to find feet. Having only one speed in open water doesn’t help with the bursts of acceleration so anyone with a decent turn of pace was just moving away, I resigned myself to swimming alone until the next person came by. This meant I ended up leading the second group around the 2nd half of the first lap and most of the second lap. I felt comfortable as my open water swimming was starting to build in training and I felt more at home in the wetsuit than in the pool.
Out in 28 minutes and change for a distance of 1.85km, not too shabby.
Just under 2 minutes in transition and the 58 mile bike leg was next.
I was sporting our new team kit and felt very comfortable, the weather just holding back enough that I didn’t need arm warmers or a gilet. It was starting to rain harder but was still warm enough that it wasn’t too noticeable.
I was looking forward to the bike more than anything else, the course was a 2 x 29 mile lap layout and apart from the temporary lights to worry about it looked straightforward.
The reason I was excited was it was the first race I was using my new power meter. For years I have been able to train with power owning a Computrainer and an SRM on my road bike but never been able to race with it consistently. I normally use heart rate on the bike but trying to control adrenalin and transitioning from swimming horizontally can cause havoc at the start of a race on your HR so this method can be a bit hit and miss.
My target power was to hold between 240-250w average over the whole distance and if I could push on in the last 5 miles then see how I felt. I immediately set off chasing the faster swimmers. I had no idea how many there were but I was banking on about 10, from a field of 200 that would make sense to me.
I passed a few early on and with the traffic lights playing into my favour on the first loop I gained a little the first time, by the time they changed to green our group was about 5. This gave a decent group to legally work with and I hoped this would help reel in the remaining few. Unfortunately there are always a few that don’t stick to the rules and one guy began to upset the other riders by blatantly sitting in behind. What didn’t make sense was that he was quite strong and when on the front seemed to be pulling well but each person that overtook him was then drafted until he decided to jump in front again. One of the other riders had a few choice words and that seemed to work.
After lap 1, we were down to a couple of stronger riders. I knew I needed to make a gap before the run as it’s not my strongest discipline but it would be hard to shake everyone off. I decided that the power numbers were working and I didn’t really have to break cover too early. I worked legally with the last guy up until we hit the lights again where we were joined by one other before we left and the marshall let us know we had one more out front of us. So at the moment I was in the top 4.
The chase was on. We caught and passed the last rider with around 15 miles to go and I settled down for the timetrial to T2.By the time I got to transition I had moved into the lead, there was only one guy left with me and he was having a few nervous moments cornering due to him finding the deck early on the first lap.
My power was spot on, I had held 245watts and although I felt I had pushed occasionally above my limit to hold my place I was feeling good. Time was 2 hours 26 minutes and average 23.5mph.
T1 was about 1 minute, I needed all of the time I could gain in transition. I left first, followed by my biking ‘friend’.
My nutrition had gone well to this point. I had recently switched back to my favourite SIS Smart Gels and these were working well on my stomach. I carried 4 into the run, stuffing 2 into my tri suit pockets for later.
Myself and chaser chatted for a while, he started by telling me that he knew another Buccaneer Tri racer – this was pretty random as there are only 5 of us and we have only been racing in kit for about a month – it turns out he was the guy that Adam passed to take the EtonMan Middle Distance crown a few weeks earlier. I immediately thought of telling him I was a better runner but no one would believe that! So I said nothing, I needed to hang strong.
It was about the 1 mile mark I heard another set of feet on the gravel behind me. At last the runners were starting to come through. I expected a few more but this will do for now. He pulled alongside, asked about anyone else up front to which we both replied we were it, and he slowly pulled away. He went on to put a 5 minute gap into me by the finish.
The course was certainly varied, offroad, tarmac and then a section along the river meant I could check out the chasers if there were any. After this you head back to T2 and then through a caravan park and this is where I tried to throw all of my hard work away. As you enter the caravan park the route wasn’t clear and the signage was rubbish. I chose the obvious path and continued down the track but the actual route turned right across the grass ! So I ran around the whole caravan park instead of through it adding 0.2 miles on and meeting the guy in 3rd at the other end, neither of us at the time knew if we had gone the right way but I wasn’t stopping to work out; I had given him hope and needed to sort that out.
The second lap started with me checking my heart rate and deciding I was best not knowing, it was already over 170 and climbing. I do have the ability to run high for long periods of time but I don’t suppose that’s what you’d call efficient – might need to work on that. In the meantime I was concentrating on not getting overtaken. There is always a chance of being caught with 13 miles to cover so the next 4 miles I spent wondering when the catch would be made whilst also thinking about how good second place would feel. The latter was winning, I pushed harder. I then started looking back far too much, getting worried that someone was coming for me. I decided I was better to hold the pace if I could and let the HR climb, rather than relax.
The last mile hurt a lot but I just kept thinking how good 2nd would feel so I pushed, coming into the village was a great feeling, I knew I had clear space and wouldn’t be overtaken. The laid-back race atmosphere was still evident as the finish line was a mat on the floor and a few people standing around but it didn’t matter to me, I loved it, good result and first good race in Buccaneer Tri kit.
I really enjoyed the race and would certainly try to make a weekend of it next time. The race is extremely good value when compared against other middle distance offerings; when we’re looking at paying almost £100 for a half ironman (the non WTC ones!!) this is a bargain at £50. Registration and signage at the start is clear as to where we needed to be for the swim and race brief.
Having temporary lights on public roads is something that no one can foresee and the racers were informed clearly about the rules of the road. I believe at least 1 person was DQ’d for going through but they have no complaints. The bike section has a few slow turns but in the main is on country lanes and quite pretty if you have time to pay attention. This is also a good course for spectators as we go past the transition area onto lap 2.
I enjoyed the old-school atmosphere, homemade flapjacks at the finish, families helping at the aid station, friendly organizers and helpers. All leads to a positive feeling leaving a race with a long drive home.