Mumbles middle distance triathlon race report - Craig Burrows

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WhittleFit coached triathlete Craig Burrows raced the Mumbles middle distance triathon on Saturday and he had a rather good day, lets hear from the man himself what he thought about his race! 

After a very intense year (by my standards) of training and racing I considered the rescheduled Mumbles Middle Distance event a bit of a hindrance as opposed to an opportunity to race. My motivation for this race was similar to that I share for a wedding fare... muted. I even mentioned to James (Grandfield) that I had never DNF'd before, this could be the first. The truth was that I was tired after the Cardiff Half Marathon the week prior and the weather was becoming increasingly Baltic by the day, my head was already in winter mode.

Race Morning: I awoke at 5am to a barrage of rain doing its best to drown out my whining alarm clock, I immediately asked Lauren if we 'had to go?' If we hadn’t planned to spend the weekend in West Wales after the race then I’m sure she would have said no. I trudged out of bed, chomped my oats, packed the car and we left. We were 10 minutes into our journey when I realised that I had forgotten all of my race nutrition, great. So after a U-turn and another 20 minutes we were back to the same spot. Arriving at a race with 20 minutes until transition closes is ill-advised, I was a right panicky-pants. To cap off an already stressful few hours I gleaned a few choice words from the race briefing and they were 'swim', 'shortened', 'too windy' and 'dangerous'. The swim was now 2 x 750m laps and they would 'assess' the safety of the swim after the first lap. Great, my confidence and enthusiasm was rocketing by the second.

Swim: 30:30

I positioned myself at the front of the swim start, the idea being that I could start off fast, get warm, settle into a bit of a rhythm and hopefully cling onto some feet. This tactic failed miserably in the tranquil lake of Hamburg so I have no idea why I assumed it would work in the strong winds at Mumbles. The countdown concluded and we were off. The first 10 meters felt really good, as we were still running down the slip and yet to hit the water. As I entered the sea (for the first time since Long Course Weekend) it was like somebody pressed the throwback button to 2013 when I first learnt to swim, I was a struggling.

Any feeling of, well anything, went within seconds the cold water entered my wetsuit. I'm not sure whether it was actually that cold or if the miserable rain and chilling winds made it seem colder. Either way I was in some discomfort. I couldn't get a breathing pattern for the entire swim and the combination of persistent goggle leakage and the melee that ensues every swim start made for a miserable experience. I exited the water 43rd overall, 4minutes slower than predicted and I had a face like the clouds above me.

Bike: 2:55:09

I had zero intention of racing this event beforehand and after that swim I had little motivation to complete it. After spending most of T1 gathering my thoughts and wrestling with my arm warmers, I was out on the bike. The bike course consisted of 3 laps of rolling terrain over the Gower peninsula which was as testing on the mind as it was the legs. The climbing started almost immediately, this wasn't a course to ignore a pacing strategy. I slowly began to pass people on the first few climbs and it wasn't long before I was down on my aero bars and making up ground, it was just about getting warm at this stage.  I was about 20 miles into the ride when I pulled up alongside an athlete on one of the climbs, he turned out to be the leading swimmer out of the water and informed me that about 8 or 9 people had overtaken him. This changed my outlook for the rest of the race. I began to push harder on the climbs, take more risks on the descents and ignore the cross winds to push the flats. As a side note, I rode a full rear disc in this race which I expected to be unbearable but I handled well. In contrast I regretted using the visor for my helmet. I just couldn’t see and it spent all but the harshest of descents perched on top of my helmet. As I completed my 3rd lap and made the journey back into mumbles I was informed by fellow Whittlefit athlete, Guto Griffiths that I was the fourth biker home and I was now in a race.

WhatsApp Image 2017 10 12 at 18.08.19Run: 1:22:11

Heading out onto the run all I could think of was how much it was going to hurt, my legs were throbbing after the previous weekend and the last thing I wanted to do was give them another pasting. I gave myself a few minutes to see how I naturally settled before I made any pacing decisions. My last few months of steady run training had largely ignored pace in favour of a heart rate focus and as a result I had an immediate feel on race day of what was sustainable and what wasn't. Despite another Garmin freeze for the first few minutes of the run, I settled into a sustainable pace, breathing was steady but not labored. The route was 4 x 5k loops with a turnaround at 2.5k. I passed coach Mark (Whittle) on the first lap and he informed me that I was 2min 30 behind second place, this meant nothing to me as:

  1. I had never been in such a position that I needed to concern myself with those around me.
  2. 2min 30 is a lot to catch up over a 70.3 run in my eyes.

At this point I had caught a glimpse of some flying pink on the return leg of the first lap. It was Simon Moore from the Cr@p Tri relay team looking very strong, little did he know that he would pace me for the rest of my run. I completed the first 5k and was in third place at this point. The thought of a podium didn’t even enter my head, Mark and Lauren had other ideas though as they diligently watched the seconds evaporate between myself and two in front of me. I was running well and feeling comfortable but Mark encouraged me to keep it steady as he could tell I was chomping at the bit to push on, wise words.

The third lap was everything I thought the whole run would be, painful. My Cardiff half legs kicked in and the niggle in my left calf had manifested itself into a painful nuisance. I crossed paths with Simon exactly where I had hoped to (meaning my pace was on track), we exchanged some motivational words and carried on. My real motivation was not far behind him, both the race leader and second place were now in sight. I moved into second place meters before the turnaround point and then overtook the race leader shortly after that. The bike didn’t see me pass and as a result both him and I were confused. ‘Maybe I wasn’t leading? Maybe he was one lap ahead?’, I thought. With no leading bike next to me and no way of knowing what was going on I just kept running, I’m a bit like Forest Gump in that respect, if in doubt, I just run.

The final lap was a surreal feeling. By this point the sun was out and the Cr@p Tri supporters had informed the bike that I was the race leader and he duly found me. I was indeed winning the race, me, winning a race! I had to make sure I finished strong, I would never get a chance like this again. The only caveat to my plan was that my face was a lovely shade of ‘duck egg white’ usually found on living room walls, my legs were on fire and my feet were in pain. This was hurting but it would all be worth it if I could hold on. I ran past Lauren for the final time as she morphed from fiancé to coach, excitedly bellowing instructions into my hollow brain. The bike chaperoning me informed me I had about a 90s lead with 4k to go. I had some room to maneuver so I eased off the pace until I felt more comfortable and tried to enjoy the journey to the finish line. The support from the crowd was amazing on that last lap with people making the effort to call out my name, congratulate me and cheer me as I passed, never before had I felt so proud. I tried to reciprocate by thanking as many people as I could, I was getting emotional. I passed Simon for the final time and he even stopped momentarily to clap me before rounding off his own season with a fantastic relay team win, an amazing gesture of support.

I approached the finish line to the uproarious support of friends and fiancé. I crossed the line with a total time of 4:53:18 and most importantly, the winner of the Mumbles Middle Distance Triathlon.

What went well? The obvious response to this would be to say the result, but the race was rewarding for many, many reasons. After such a disappointing swim to make up so much ground on the bike and actually end up with the fastest bike split of the day was very pleasing, my bike has been a slow burner over the last few seasons but this year I have felt like the hard work has come to fruition.WhatsApp Image 2017 10 12 at 18.08.501

The pacing of the run also pleased me. Despite the total distance being about 1km short, each km split was within seconds of each other and although I eased off for the final Km’s I still ended up having the second fastest run split of the day, second to only a very speedy relay runner.

Even better If: My swim was disappointing. The combination of lackluster focus and poor motivation prior to the race played a part in my swim outcome but it is clearly the weakest link and one that won’t just be improved by increasing volume. I plan to work on improving my technique and swim fitness over the winter months ready for next season.

What Next? In the immediate future I plan to just relax, eat what I want, train for enjoyment, get back to the gym for strength work and go on holiday. Long term, 2018 will hopefully adopt a similar structure to this season. An early season London Marathon, A few mid-season 70.3’s and an Ironman as my A-race later in the summer.

2017 has been an amazing year for me both athletically and personally and one that I will struggle to surpass. I have set personal bests in Marathon, Half Marathon, 5k, 70.3 and Ironman distance races and won my first ever solo and relay race as part of Team Cranc…. oh, and the best bit…. I got engaged!

Roll on 2018.