British Middle Distance AG Champions Race Reports
Mark Livesey, British Middle Distance Championships – Aberfeldy
I cant normally do this race due to a number of reasons, the first being its location (proper up-North even for Scotland). But Caroline, Poppy and myself were heading off to Tiree (Hebrides) on holiday afterwards, so it fitted well. It was not great timing as I have already done 2 Ironman events (Texas and Austria) this year, and the Outlaw (Iron-distance) only 3 weeks previous. So to say I wasn’t feeling sharp would be an understatement.
I have done Aberfeldy race before - around 8 years ago. I knew the bike route was challenging and there was likely to be unpredictable weather. That’s why I chose to ride my new Atom road bike from Langdale lightweights ( bike review to follow very soon) and not my Langdale Diablo TT bike and I’m glad I did.
As expected the weather was dreadful on race morning with very strong winds, and rain. It was difficult to stay warm with the air temperature sitting at around 12 degrees. This also changes your tactics in transition with the additional difficulty of trying to put on warm clothing on a wet body. Its times like that I remember why I love racing overseas in warmer climates.
Swim – Loch Tay 1.9km
I watched Caroline go in the first wave 8 mins before I was due to set off in the Vets wave and I immediately noticed that 90% of the swimmers had got their line wrong to the first buoy. This was due to the strong winds and waves from the left blowing the athletes off course to the right. I decided to start at the very left of the field even though it was slightly longer in distance, but I knew the wind and waves would assist me during the first 600m before the course turned left.
Rather unexpectedly the horn sounded (you couldn’t hear anything in the wind) and caught the Vets wave a little by surprise. Luckily I’d just squared away my goggles and I was good to go. Immediately I noticed the majority of the wave to my right getting pushed further away. Pretty quickly I was left swimming with just one other swimmer who actually stopped after around 400m to check and see if he was actually swimming the right route. After that I found myself leading the Vets wave (something that doesn’t normally happen with my average swim). The water conditions weren’t that bad and the one good thing about swimming in a Scottish Loch is it doesn’t taste too bad. I got out in around 28mins.
Due to the weather conditions I decided to put on a gillet and arm warmers. I didn’t fancy getting cold on the bike for 2.5 hrs. I did however forget my toe covers for my shoes so I had to endure cold feet that didn’t defrost until 3 miles into the run.
The bike course has two major climbs on it (out and back) with the rest of the bike route taking you around Lock Rannoch (rolling). I was glad I had chosen to ride my Langdale Lightweight “Atom” road bike with some bolt on aero bars. It is such a smooth, light, responsive bike and with freezing hands the DI2 Durace electronic gearing came into its own. I must admit I lost a little time to the low profile bikes on the flat- but I more than made this back up on the climbs and decsents.
I was surprised at how many disc wheels I saw on race day. Vindication and confirmation for choosing the road bike and shallow wheels presented itself on the first descent where I managed to catch and drop a number of riders on their TT bikes + discs! I was caught by Andy Turbull on the first major climb. I looked across at him and saw he was working a little bit harder than I was. I knew holding his pace would compromise my run - so I let him slowly pull away. That was the best decision I made all day. I was caught and overtaken by a number of cyclists for the remainder of the ride but I was totally unaware if they were in the first wave or a relay team. So I just concentrated on holding my race pace and staying warm.
The cross/head winds were brutal, and this coupled with rain didn’t make the ride an enjoyable experience at all (you couldn’t see the beautiful scenery). I caught Caroline (first wave) on the bike at around the 45kms. I slowed a little to have a quick chat when she told me that she had snapped her rear derailleur cable which meant she only had two gears for the rest of the ride; they were 39 – 11 or 52 – 11 (more in Caroline’s race report). She told me she was fine and that I should crack on. Cold feet, frozen hands (so pleased I had DI2) battering winds, all normal summer riding in Scotland! I entered T2 (split transition , never the best way of doing things) and handed my bike to the bike catchers! Sadly however they didn’t catch my bike, they dropped it. Tip for the event organiser, don’t use children to catch £5000 worth of bike please. Time 2.36
They dropped my bike, damaged saddle and bars - bonus!
I was told by a number of officials leaving T2 that I was 4th in the Vets wave. That just added to the confusion regarding my position. I now had some work to do to finish on the podium. The run was pretty straight forward apart from a choke point leaving the village and crossing a very narrow bridge which had traffic on it, cyclists on one side and runners on the other. You then found yourself crossing two lanes of traffic and cyclists (that’s the event organiser in me critiquing even when racing). I managed to negotiate this without loosing too much time.
The remainder of the run took you down a very nice, quiet bit of road that had accurate 5km markers on it and aid stations (no coke though)! I was trying to find out from marshals where I was positioned in the Vets race but I was getting conflicting answers. I felt ok on the run and my splits indicated I was running around 6min mile pace, giving me around a 1.20 half marathon. I eventually caught Andy Turnbull (Vet Cat) at the 11km point, I asked him what position he was in and he said 1st place Vet, he then corrected himself and said 2nd place when I ran past. We did the normal customary good race, etc and I pushed a little bit harder to establish my lead. That said, for the remainder of the run I didn’t actually know if I was leading the Vets race or not and I didn’t know when I crossed the finish line that I had won either!
General Race Comments
The majority of the marshals were fantastic especially those who stood out in the wind and rain all bloody day - thank you very much. The race was organised pretty well, but it didn't stop me and Caroline leaving the event feeling a little disappointed considering it was the British Middle Distance Triathlon Championships.
All in all not a bad day considering the amount of long distance events I have already done this year. Its nice to have the British AG title again after winning it years ago, but also to come 7th overall against some very good professional triathletes and scalping a few of them in the process.
The highlight of my weekend was riding with my daughter (Poppy) on her new road bike on Saturday on the run course and seeing a red Squirrel twice - very exciting. Also watching Caroline dominate yet another race having done the majority of her ride on the biggest gear. I certainly would not have carried on. I am very proud of her mental strength and determination. This is why she is a double Ironman AG Champion and now the British middle distance AG champion. BOOM!
Caroline Livesey – British Middle Distance Champs (Aberfeldy)race report
I have always wanted to do Aberfeldy but never before had the opportunity. It’s an area I know pretty well and I love a tough bike course. I guess I should be careful what I wish for in that respect…(read on)
The week before the race Mark and I checked out the weather and made the decision to race on our road bikes. I love the Shiv, but it is twitchy on descents and in strong winds it’s a bit of a beast. So I tarted up the old Specialized Tarmac (circa 2007) and clipped on some bars. I should also have had a better look at the cables…
Race day dawned with some true Scottish weather. 35mph gusts, 13 degree (tops) air temperature, and drizzle. Truth is that I have my race day routine so well rehearsed that I don’t notice things like weather. I go through the: breakfast, get to race, prep transition, warm up, wetsuit on -routine and focus on each as it comes. But once standing in my HUUB wetsuit in the holding pen I looked out to the swim course and was pretty overawed by the dark water. Grit teeth, man TF up. The bagpipes helped; I’m a Scottish lass and that beautiful haunting lilt never fails to fire me up.
Usual chaos. Total inability to see anything except the swimmers in front of me (lots). How Mark managed to sight I do not know. I swallowed half the loch (which I agree tasted pretty nice)- and just fought to survive in the frenzy and swell. I thought the water was pretty rough and very cold (despite my fabulous HUUB wetsuit) and I was so pleased to get to the swim exit. I fell off the ramp as I tried to climb out (they could have done with a few more helpers pulling people out) –but probably this is a product of me always being super dizzy after swimming since losing my hearing in one ear. All in all I had a pretty poor swim.
I just remember a friend shouting that I was in 8th position. “I have work to do” I thought. Best get on it.
Bike – 2:49:55
For those who are not familiar with the Aberfeldy bike course – it starts by climbing out from Loch Tay over Schiehallion, drops down a steep descent, loops Loch Rannoch, and then climbs back up that steep descent and back over into Aberfeldy. It’s a stunning route- and on a nice day it would be exceptional. I felt pretty good for the first 10km, passing 4 girls within the first few minutes. Then my rear gear cable snapped, sending my chain straight into the smallest cog at the back. I had my TT cassette on, so it was an 11. I knew straight away what had happened, and I should mention at this point that a friend had warned me the day before that my cables were “a bit rusty”. I guess maybe for that reason I didn’t flinch. I thought “well its your own fault”. I was pretty near the top of the first climb, so I grinded up to the top (passing two more girls who must have wondered what the hell I was doing in my biggest gear) wondering where my day was going to end. I was pretty sure that there would come a point where I would not be able to make it up a big hill with only an 11, and I would have to quit. I was almost certain that I would not make it back over Schiehallion. However, I had Kona at the front of my mind- and I couldn’t waste a good training opportunity. So I carried on. Hypothermia almost set in on the descent and lead in to Loch Rannoch and to be honest at that point I kept going only because I thought if I stopped I would probably die of exposure. I was grinding away in this massive gear, which was only occasionally the right one, trying to work really hard to warm up against the gale force freezing hoolie. I thought at that point that making it to the run was unlikely -so I had nothing to loose on the bike. When I went into the lead (passed girl number 7, and a spectator shouted “first lady”) at 30km or so I was astounded. I was convinced that girls would soon start coming back at me. I couldn’t believe it when I made it back to the bottom of the big climb without being passed.
Now I have never ridden up Schiehallion from Rannoch before. I hadn’t seen that part of the course before riding down it on bike an hour or so before. I didn’t really have an idea how steep it was other than what I had heard pre-race. Most people think it’s a beast. But I live in Nidderdale (Yorkshire). I can honestly say that I was pleasantly surprised- it didn’t kick up to any nasty “Lofthouse” type gradient (my local hill-rep hill). I managed to grind my way up it in an 11. There were a few spectators who shouted at me to change down my gears. No kidding! I was putting every ounce of single-leg-squat strength into every single pedal stroke. I was pulling at my handlebars so hard and squeezing my core so much to just keep the pedals turning that I thought my stomach muscles were going to cramp. When I rode past a guy with a disk wheel on the steepest part of the climb I remember hearing him using some profanities. He must have thought I was insane or stupid! As I topped out that was the first time I really knew I was going to finish the race. Only the descent to do, and I had the perfect gear for it!!
I cant undo my shoes on the bike, my hands are numb. Legs are toast. Feet are numb. Cant get shoes off even now I am sitting down. Please someone help me!!!! No – ok – just watch me struggle (I know – I am a spoilt Ironman brat who is used to having everything done for me in transition). I also wanted some info – position, time to the next girl, anything. I was not even 100% sure I was in the lead – but the guy on the mic didn’t enlighten me.
Run – 1:26:38
I went out of T2 hard – wondering how long it would be before the bike epic caught up with me. I was strangely calm though – but a bit confused that there was no lead bike with me. I thought that meant I was probably not in the lead – and the spectators on the bike course shouting “first lady” had been mistaken. The run route is really fabulous. For me, it’s a perfect route – interesting, rolling, and easy to break into 4 chunks. I liked the fact that it was marked out every 5km, and when I went through the first one in 19:30 I knew I was running well. I felt good – my stomach was absorbing the gels brilliantly (proto-col Green Magic power) and my legs were ok. As I came to the turn around point though I saw 2 girls ahead of me running in the other direction. They were both running super well, so I hoped they were part of the relay teams, but I couldn’t be sure. I thought one was Cat Morrison…(Pro-triathlete, turns out it was). I hit the turnaround, went round the little hilly triangle, and started to head back. The next girl I saw was at least 6 mins back on me – fairly safe I thought. I still ran hard, although I have to admit to becoming a bit complacent. I realised if the girls ahead were racing as individuals I was not going to catch them anyway – and I thought those behind were too far back. Little did I know that Nikki Bartlett was chasing me down, so close that I hadn’t seen her at the turnaround. That’s when a lead bike and some splits would have come in useful!!! She passed me in the last mile – running strongly and too fast for me to keep pace. I also have to admit to being slightly in shock as she rocked up alongside me – mentally I was just not prepared for that. She ended up finishing just 30 seconds ahead. Gutted. Great race from her though – with a great run to take her into first place. The girls ahead had indeed been in relay teams – I was second overall and first in my age group. I was super chuffed to have run a 1:26 - 6:36 min miles – and around an 8 min PB for a half-marathon for me.
Post race I have to admit I was a bit down. It was such an epic day of highs and lows, and the rollercoaster and hard mental battles took their toll. I was gutted not to win, but realised at prize giving that I would not have had any recognition anyway as the Scottish champs seemed to take over. It was strange to have led the race for almost the entire day, to have come second overall, but not to get a mention or to get to stand on the podium for the “top three”. Call me old fashioned but races should always acknowledge their top three athletes no matter how many other prizes they give out.
I have scratched that Aberfeldy itch now – it was an epic – and a race that taught me some pretty valuable lessons and reminded me what tough really means. Roll on Kona – it wont be as windy as that anyway