This was a first for me. I guess I should have realised how competitive it was going to be as the clue was in the race title. It was billed as ‘A British National short course Quadrathlon qualifier’. Needless to say there were some quick people in the field.
I really enjoyed the event and did OK with a respectable finish placing, and was the second ‘veteran’ home. The 4 disciplines were swim 750 metres, kayak 4.4km with two portages (where the competitor lands the boat, carries it over an island and then re-enters the water), mountain bike 20km and off road run 5km.
Not owning a kayak and not having been in one for many, many years I had to hire one from the race organisers. Saturday, the day before the race, I turned up to find my rental kayak and have a bit of practice. One of the organisers pointed me to my boat and said he had picked me out a quick one. I asked him what the thing on the back was, to which he replied “the rudder”. Well this was certainly new to me as in my day one steered with the paddles. The rudder is moved by moving a small lever with your feet. Seemingly easy but I was to find that the affect of moving my feet to move the lever was to unsettle the boat. Anyway, I lugged the boat to the water and went to step in. At this point my rental man stopped me quickly and explained how to get in to the boat and keep all of my weight central. I realised very quickly that as the kayak was only just wide enough to get my rear end into at the top and that the boat narrows very quickly as it nears its bottom it’s about as stable as an unset jelly on a spinning plate. Needless to say, over a distance of about 400 metres I had the thing upside down 3 times. Each time I had to swim to shore with the paddle in one hand and the boat in the other and at the shore, empty the boat and then get in and try again. At this point I was thinking that Sunday’s race could be a long one. I got back to my rental man who asked me if it was quick enough and how I got on. I explained that it may be a quick boat but not whilst it was doing impressions of a U-boat. I asked him for a slower but slightly more stable steed. The second and eventual race boat was a monster of a thing that would have taken a U-boat to sink. I didn’t fall out during practice or the race but it has to be said it was no race machine. On top of its lack of speed it weighed a ton and with two portages I had to make sure I didn’t damage my back. With the boat now sussed I went home and started preparing my kit and thinking about Sunday’s race.
Bright and early I made my way to the race venue and registered and then started to set my kit up. At this point the ‘pros’ turned up. There were blokes walking around with ultra lightweight carbon fibre kayaks on their shoulders and two paddles in their other hand. I asked why two paddles as you can only use one? They gave me some answer about water conditions and using the optimum paddles to gain the best leverage. There was also a chap with his mountain bike and a spare rear wheel and he was going to ride the course before the race and see which wheel and tyre combination would be the best for the day’s conditions. Clearly some serious competitors.
I had also decided to wear different shoes for the kayak, cycle and run sections and wear gloves whilst paddling as during my short practice stint I had already got the beginnings of blisters (what a softie). As I was hiring a boat I also had to wear a life vest whereas those with their own boats didn’t need one. All of this was going to make my transitions longer than they need be but I was doing it for a bit of fun and wasn’t too worried about being ultra quick. We all donned our wet-suits and entered the water ready for the swim start.
The start horn went off and I started my swim. After 6 or so strokes I looked up to sight my direction only to wonder where the hell all the other swimmers were racing off to. I was settling in to my Ironman pace and they were going for it as a very short sprint swim. With that I picked up my pace and started to move a bit quicker. I came out of the swim in a reasonable position but the leader was way ahead of the entire field (more about him later). In to T1 and start to faff about with shoes, gloves, life jacket etc. and then pick up my trusty kayak and head for the water. It was a pretty uneventful paddle with the exception of all the people passing me. I lost 10 minutes on my close competitors in the kayak section and if I had even half a decent idea of how to paddle I would have actually been well placed in the overall finishing positions.
After the boat it was on to dry land and on to the mountain bike. I passed quite a lot of people and on my last lap was cycling the last steep hill only to be passed by the quick bloke from the swim. Annoyingly, he had finished the bike and was on the run, which used the same course, and ran past me! I finished the bike and completed a pretty uneventful run, apart from a sprint finish with another competitor which completely finished us both. All in all a thoroughly enjoyable event and I might be tempted next year but I could definitely do with some kayak practice!