Swim, bike, run, write.

The Training Diaries: Grafman Middle Distance Race Report

You know you’re up too early when even the dog refuses to emerge from underneath his pile of blankets to greet you. There was a time in my life when I’d be up and about at 4am because I was yet to make it to bed after a night out. These days, the pre-dawn chorus alarm call can only mean one thing: race day.

I entered the Grafman middle distance as a training race for Ironman Zurich. One of my takeaways from Ironman Copenhagen last year was that I needed to get better at holding my own in a busy pack during the swim, so I’d be less bothered by all the kicking, grabbing and dunking. Grafman tends to pull a good crowd, so I figured it’d be a good opportunity to get some more swim experience under my belt. Naturally then, the swim ended up being cancelled. We arrived at registration just after 6am, surrounded by a thick, slightly ominous fog. Standing in transition, you wouldn’t even have known the lake was out there. The organisers pushed the start back by an hour or so, hoping the visibility would improve, but with the clock ticking, a gaggle of triathletes shivering and the sun struggling to make its way through the clouds, the call was made to keep us all safe and cancel the swim. The race would start with the bike, setting us off time-trial style in waves based on our racking position.

Without the swim, I decided to use the race to test my bike numbers and see what power I could hold over the 56 miles without breaking myself and having to walk the half marathon. The day was all about getting a really good, tough training effort in so I wanted to make the most of the race day adrenaline and push myself a little further. Clad in my Stolen Goat Sunday best, I focused on tucking down on to the bars and tapping out a good solid effort. I found myself holding around 15-20 watts higher than I’d originally planned, and I felt good. I’ve been putting in a lot of hours on the turbo trainer recently and those Zwift sessions have definitely paid off – these legs like to pedal! The bike course at Grafman is predominantly flat, with short sharp hills to test your legs every now and then. This is my favourite kind of riding. Fun, fast and enough of a challenge to keep it interesting. Of course it wouldn’t be a Jenny race day without some sort of directions-related muppet moment and at one of the last turnarounds I got confused, very nearly zoomed off in the wrong direction whilst pushing a high gear and ended up having to stop and spin myself round to set off back on track. Shout out to the marshal for managing not to laugh too loudly at my idiocy. Soon, after losing some more time getting stuck behind a tractor, I was heading back towards Grafham Water and making my way into transition 3hrs after setting off. My average pace over the 56 miles was faster than I’d been able to hold for a sprint not that long ago so I’m really pleased with the progress there and I can’t wait to put my legs to the test on the Ironman Zurich bike course.

The run was a bit of an unknown for me on this occasion. My running had been going really well – a couple of weeks earlier I’d managed to set a brand new 10km PB (47:58) and a new half marathon PB (1:43:46, taking almost 8 mins off my previous best) in the space of a week without really meaning to and I was flying high. But such is the triathlon rollercoaster and a couple of days later I suffered a bout of plantar fasciitis that meant I had to back off and spend more time swimming, cycling and grumpily icing my left foot.  It’s more or less healed now, but the plan for Grafman was to put in a good effort on the run (the sooner you finish, the sooner you get beer – right!?), whilst staying in control and not risking any damage to my foot by overcooking it. The run course takes you on a double out and back, first heading along the dam (through a cloud of tenacious flies – I’m sure one of them is still living in my left nostril) before coming back towards transition and going on an undulating off-road loop. Thankfully, my foot was feeling okay so I just got into a rhythm, switched on my little in-built metronome and put one foot in front of the other – mainly focusing on not accidentally trampling one of the many small kids who had ventured out on civilised family bike rides and were instead faced with hundreds of tri-suit wearing weirdos, jumped up on energy gels. I felt strong all the way until the end, putting in a 1hr 53 min half marathon off the bike. It’s definitely not the time I was hoping for when I entered, but considering that I ran that time for a half marathon in 2017 and threw up for several hours afterwards from the effort, I’m pretty happy that I can comfortably do that after 56 miles on the bike these days, on a day where I’d decided not to push too hard on the run. 

4hrs 55 mins after I started, I was crossing the finish line, downing a pint of Erdinger and meeting up with Graham, my parents and the dogs – the best support crew a lycra-clad girl could have. I came home with 3rdplace in my age category, 20thfemale overall and a lovely patch of sun burn on the back of my neck – the sun finally showed up to the party on the run and this pale gal most definitely missed a spot with the sunscreen. With 8 weeks and 4 days to go until Ironman Zurich, Grafman was a nice confidence booster. It can be hard to trust the process, but I’m feeling positive about the weeks to come and I’m so excited to take on Ironman #2.

It’s a testament to the progress I’ve made, the fact that I can tow the start line of a half ironman (sans swim) and consider it as “just a training day”. That’s not to say a 56 mile bike and a half marathon is an easy feat (my aching quads three days on will vouch for that!) - but the distances don’t terrify me like they used to. Back in 2017, I trained for 9 months to “just get round” at Ironman Zell am See 70.3 and I can remember lining up at the start with doubts in the back of my mind as to whether I was capable of completing it. The last 2 years have given me confidence, trust and respect for my body. I put it through hell some days, and I’m proud of what it allows me to do. And that’s what this triathlon madness is all about for me. Taking each day as an opportunity to see what I can do, to push myself that little bit harder and to keep progressing.
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