The Wales Triathlon race report: David Hawkins

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The Wales Triathlon would be my second ever middle-distance triathlon and after months of hard training since then, I’m gunning for a big PB today. Unfortunately, the forecasts of strong winds and rain are accurate and according to the crazy folk who have been for a pre-race swim (no thanks!), the water is absolutely Baltic, but I’m stood here with my good friends and training buddies Lars Luckoff and Hopcyn Matthews so we’re in good spirits and looking forward to some friendly rivalry on the course.

The claxon goes and we hit the water. They weren’t exaggerating! This has to be the coldest water I have ever swum in! I’m no good in the cold, I just don’t function. My hands and feet go numb and I am even more prone to cramping.  There is only one option. Swim hard, find some fast feet and get this done as soon as possible!  It’s a 2-lap swim with an Australian exit and the first lap has gone well. As I run to the start of lap 2, I check my watch and am pleasantly surprised by my pace. But I also notice that lap 1 was 1,300 metres and it was supposed to be 950. I’m confident that I have swum reasonable straight which means the course must be ridiculously long…not ideal. For a brief moment the self-doubt kicks in as the swim is by far the worst of the 3 for me and I haven’t really trained to swim hard for 2,600m! The second lap is slower but still ok and I finish the swim in 44:20, which puts me in 29th position.

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 T1 could have gone better. Predictable......I get cramp in both legs and drop to the floor to wriggle out of my wetsuit. I then struggle with my totally numb hands to get my shoes on but I don’t lose too much time and I end up exiting T1 right alongside Lars. This is dangerous. Lars is a beast on the bike and I know that I should let him go, but sometimes my competitiveness causes my brain to bypass the logic department during thought process. So I try to stick with him up the initial 5k climb. After a while I look at my watch and notice my heart rate is up at 170bpm and the instructions of coach Lawrence echo in my head… ‘less than 300 watts up the hills, save your energy for the run’. I back off and that’s the last I would see of Lars until the run. I’m slightly relieved. I can race my own race now.

Initially I gain lots of places quickly but then it all gets very spread out and I cycle for long periods completely on my own. These are the toughest sections, especially with the wind against and the horizontal rain driving directly into my eyeballs. I need a carrot to chase. So I push hard, harder than I have ever pushed over that distance and one by one I pick up a few more places. I head into T2 with a very pleasing 2:37:47 bike split and am told that I’m now in 6th place.

T2 is smooth…at first…but as I run out of transition and loop back to start the run course I realise I haven’t picked up my gels. In desperation, I attempt to climb over the metal fencing back into transition but am immediately reprimanded by an official, who then kindly agrees to go and get my gels for me – legend!

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So finally I’m off onto the savage Fishguard run course. 4 laps of torturous, energy sapping hills. I set off too fast as always and quickly realise that the legs are not quite there. The efforts on the bike have taken their toll. I realise I need to be conservative so I immediately lower the effort level and plod along steadily. The first 3 laps are great. The support is fantastic (thanks Heather, Laura and Ricki!) and it’s great to see Lars, Hopcyn, Andy Jones and Martyn Lewis every now and then for a high 5. My pacing has been very consistent and I’m feeling ok. However, at the start of lap 4 I’m in trouble.

My legs have gone, there is simply nothing there. I assess the situation. There is absolutely no chance of catching 3rd place, which happens to be Lars who is absolutely smashing it. So this is about trying to hang onto 4th. I’ve got a bit of a cushion but Hopcyn has just moved into 5th and he’s flying, making up time on me every lap. I decide I’m going to walk the hills and push hard on the flats and downhills, rather than risking a total bonk. Thankfully this works and I have enough of a cushion to see it home in 4th, behind Lars in 3rd and Hopcyn in 5th.  Everyone seems more than happy with the result and we celebrate with more high 5’s and man hugs.

I finish in a time of 5 hours, 4 minutes, 39 seconds. A PB of over 40 minutes on a tough (and long) course in tough conditions. This surpasses any expectations I had before the race and I am over the moon with the result. The next task is to try and recover in time for the Cardiff Triathlon on Sunday!