Brecon Titan race report: Craig Burrows
A year ago when I sat down and penned my Brecon Titan 2018 race report I remember thinking, ‘I’m never doing that again, it was bloody brutal’. Fast forward ayear and I’m sitting down, recovery tights firmly on, about to write my Brecon Titan 2019 Race report. As if getting married isn’t punishment enough for one year.
The resubmission of torture on my body by virtue of DB Max’s Titan, was very much an ‘if it aint broke’ reaction to the premature end to my 2018 season. Getting hit off my bike by a car 3 weeks before IM Wales was as much a mental blow as a physical one. I had sacrificed a great deal in the pursuit of the Tenby dream; foregoing holidays with Loz, social events, football - not to mention the 25hr weeks of training over the summer months. Not being able to compete was a tough pill to swallow.
So I thought it would be logical to try and replicate the form I had last year by doing the same races. It made sense in my head and I suppose the desperation to get my fitness back made me think that if it worked once then it can work again.
Pre-Race: 2019 had seen a bit of a turbulent start and one that I hope has now settled down into the ‘normal service has resumed’ mode. Between a new role at work, a wedding, a bike crash and no London Marathon to occupy my early months I felt that 2019 hadn’t really got going yet.
Swim: We had news during the week that the swim had been shortened from the usual 1900m to 750m due to temperature. I would usually be rejoicing at this news but given the amount of time I’ve spent at masters swimming club this winter I was looking forward to judging progress. As soon as I got in the water I wanted to get out, it was baltic and I fully agreed with the shortened swim. This wasn’t a day to judge progress this was a ‘get it done’ day. The usual frantic start was quickly followed by the feeling of being short of breath, as if my wetsuit was getting tighter and tighter. Great, I thought, swim progress has been made, I had lasted more than 100m before the panic attack this time. After a bit of splashing and flapping around I settled down, switched off and swam into T1. Nothing glamorous but I didn’t care. (Swim: 13:39)
Bike: T1 seemed to take an absolute age. The compulsory attire of a rear light, high viz clothing and a waterproof jacket will give you some indication of the weather we were facing; biblical. Visibility on the moors was poor and the rain didn’t help handling or descending either. Plan of attack was to stick to last years power numbers, I wasn’t in the shape to push new boundaries, I will leave that for later in the season. Having raced the course before I found the best tactic is to split the bike up into various sections. The moors, the mountain, the rolling lanes, and the lollipop bit. The first 10k to the top of the mountain is all uphill (obviously, as you’re going to the top of a mountain). Fresh legs and a chilly body will make you want to smash these early climbs.... Don’t do it! I had a power limit for the minor climbs and I did my best to stick to this despite this aforementioned early adrenaline and desire to get warm. Before I knew it I was descending the Iron Mountain and onto the rolling part of the course. By the time I had reached the bottom of the mountain I was already 5 minutes slower than I was in 2018, I was a right panicky pants on the brakes this year in the wet. The rolling hills can be a bit of a leg sapper but providing you keep a regular cadence and use your surges wisely, you can keep pretty good speed in both directions. The wind seemed compliant down in the valley and progress was being swiftly made.
The middle ‘lollipop’ section of the course takes you on smooth, fast A roads with Defynnog, a short, sharp 18% climb sandwiched in the middle. The legs were beginning to feel it by this point, and as a result I approached this climb with caution. I have a guide stuck to my toptube to remind me of my targets on flats, minor climbs and major climbs. My potty mouth most of the way up indicated that this would be a major climb. After a very speedy return to Brecon, courtesy of a fast descent and a 54t chainring I was about to embark on the final climb back up the Iron mountain. The climb, despite being long (5km), is not particularly steep and it is a case of finding that ‘comfortable pain’ effort and just work. My target power for the climb was 100% of FTP, the same as last year. I ended up being a fair bit below this, probably due to my mental limitations as opposed to physical. This is one negative of repeating a previous race - you remember the painful bits. My ardent stance on not standing, even on the steepest of climbs means that I can be slightly slower ascending than others but the tradeoff in my head is fresher legs on the run and a better pedaling rhythm. By the time I landed back into T2 I was almost 10mins slower than last year, a combination of weather, lack of bike legs and the fear of the impending run to come, no doubt. Still, a pleasing bike and 7th fastest of the day. (Bike: 3:12:13)
Run: As I ran into T2 I had a quick scan of all the bikes in there, I counted 12 (in the Wave 2 pen). I had some running to do if I were to move up the field. There are two ways of approaching the Titan run course; the first one is to treat it as a normal, evenly paced half marathon and run it as such…… good luck with that. The second, and the approach I use is to break it up into the flats, the ups and the downs.
Each lap is roughly 4 miles which is made up of 1 mile of flat around the lake, 1.5 miles of uphill and 1.5 miles of downhill. I didn’t have a particular running pace in mind this year, mainly due to the limited focus on running that usually occupies my early months. I had no idea how my legs would respond to the bike. My strategy was run comfortably hard on the flats, within myself on the hills and fast on the downhills. Simple?
I knew from a few minutes in that this was going to be a slog, I usually feel good for the first few miles but not today. HR was high and I was struggling to put out the speed. I circled the lake, put on a brave face for Loz and began my first visit up to the golf course. I’ve only been to one golf course before, and that at last year’s Brecon Titan. Must be why I hate golf so much.
First lap done and I was making progress through the field, but the different wave starts and my blurry, tired eyes were making identification difficult. All I could do was keep running, it just didn’t seem as easy this year compared to last. I kept seeing the same faces every lap, only slightly sooner each time which meant that they were gaining on me, they also looked far more comfortable than I did, almost enjoying it you could say!
By the turnaround point on the final lap my quads were screaming at me, my mind was exhausted and I just wanted a Mcdonalds (Big Mac specifically). The only thing keeping me from walking it in was my pride and competitive nature. I was being pushed all the way to the finish by my competitors and I have the utmost respect for them. That is after all, why we race.
I don’t mind being beaten or overtaken by anyone, it’s part of sport, what I don’t like is being mentally weak. The ability to grind things out and push through the pain barrier has always been something I pride myself on. Today I was hurting and was very very close to not pushing through. I repeated to myself “Don’t walk Buzz, you never walk”. I was only 1 mile and 1 climb from the finish but I wanted to stop so badly. As I clambered up that final mountain (slight major exaggeration), scraping the dirt behind me I knew that was it, just a downhill to the finish remained. As I descended that pesky golf course for the final time I had no idea where I was positioned in the race (my guess was about 7th or 8th) and neither did I care, I just wanted to finish. I entered the finishing chute to the sound of the race announcer calling my name in 3rd place. Wow, third place! I was genuinely both shocked and elated as it turned out that I was only a minute slower on the run that the previous year but I had to work so much harder for this one. I took a moment to embrace Darren and James, who had pushed me right to the very end and finished mere seconds after me then I began filling my face with jelly snakes. What a day! (Run: 1:30:39)
Final stats: Total Time: 5:02:15 (3rd Position)
I was so happy with this Brecon Titan performance not just because I managed to sneak onto the podium (that was amazing btw) but because I didn’t give up despite being the closest I have ever come to doing so. I kept racing right until the end and the reward was that Brecon Titan gave me my mojo back. I have Long Course Weekend next, Cotswolds Classic in August and then my A-race, Ironman Wales in September, and I can't wait for all of them. Hats off to all that raced in those grim conditions, it’s a tough course in the sun let alone monsoon season. A true test of character.