Tom Foster (ORC, 02-07)

Tom Foster (ORC, 02-07)

Tom beats the field

For those in training - stick with it and great tale at the end... - Coached athlete Tom Foster (ORC, 02-07) has recently completed a couple of 'B' races and got some very good results, lets hear what he has to say about these races!

Unless your surname is Brownlee you typically are only able to really target and focus on one or two major races a year. These are known as ‘A’ races. In the case of an Ironman, your eggs are typically in that one M-dot shaped basket. There are a few of reasons for this:

Time: you can’t dedicate all the time you need in peak training more than once or maybe twice a year.
Money: Ironman (M-Dot especially) races are expensive. Not just for the entry, but all the other stuff that goes with it, accommodation, and travel etc.

Psychologically: an ‘A race’ just being an ‘A race’ is quite draining

With all that said, it would be foolish to just do one race per season. You need lower priority races to sharpen up and test stuff out. You approach these races differently, maybe less or no taper or try out a different strategy than usual or test equipment out. These are ‘B’ or ‘C’ races. The key is that your goals are different for these races and expectations are set as such. My A race this season is Ironman Wales so I wanted at least 1 Middle distance and 1 Olympic distance triathlon as B races in the lead up.

One of my favourite races in the calendar is the Pembrokeshire Coast Triathlon. A standard distance race around the west Wales coast, with a challenging bike and run it makes it an ideal loosener for something like ironman Wales. Best of all, it’s cheap to enter and well organised – as a well-established race the course has been the same for years so it all runs like clockwork.

My main goals for this race was just to race solidly and have a consistent performances across all 3 disciplines, especially the swim as I have been doing a lot of work to try and improve this in the pool so seeing it translate into a performance would be a huge positive.

After one-hell-of-a long drive from Guildford to Broadhaven (7 hours!!) I managed to arrive on the Friday night ready to race on Saturday morning. Everything pre-race went to plan and followed my usual schedule. The race start was slightly delayed due to the tide (something definitely outside of anyone’s control!) but to be honest that was welcome as it allowed some headspace to relax before the gun. There was a good amount of time for a bit of a swim warm up before the start, although the sea was anything but warm!

This race still has a traditional beach mass-start which is a bit of a rarity these days; there is some brilliant footage of the start here:
I ended up starting a long way over to the left of the beach, positives being I was out of the aqua-ruck, however this did leave a bit further to swim. The first 300m were a bit of a shock, the sea was a lot rougher than it looked and I ended up taking on quite a bit of water, which combined with the cold, made it quite a panicking situation. The key to this is to remember to fully exhale and get a rhythm back to your breathing. Once that episode was over I managed to settle in and set a good pace. Coming out of the swim I could see that it had gone well as there were so many bikes left in transition, an unusual sight for me.

The bike is a challenging course, with a lot of twisty road and short sharp climbs, I just wanted to set a solid pace on the bike and keep my power high. Other than seeing one guy crash out on a corner near Milfordhaven after he ignored a by-standers advice to slow down, the bike was undramatic. I came back into transition having moved up to 6th place.
My parents gave me splits to 2nd and 3rd place as at 5 and 2 minutes respectively (they are getting better, I get times now, not just: ‘oh he’s a long way ahead’). Ollie Simon who had led coming in off the bike was a long way ahead and it didn’t look like anyone was catching him.

The run being my forte, I felt I could pull back the 3rd place position, and just try and get myself as close as possible to 2nd. The first 3km of the run is nearly purely up hill, so this played to my strength and by the time I had reached the aid station on the flat I was up to 3rd. From here I just tried to push as hard as I could, knowing it was unlikely that I would pull back 2nd place I was keen to reap the training benefit from a good hard run.

I came home in 3rd a few minutes behind Ollie and James Hockin who had had a sprint finish for the win, with James just pipping Ollie, after making up 5 minutes or so on the run.

All in all I was very happy with the result, a strong field and on a tough course it showed I had some racing form. Plus it’s always a boost to perform well on your ‘home’ turf and to represent team Cranc in our native land was a real buzz.
My second B race was the Owler Middle Distance tri in Kent. This wouldn’t have been my first choice of race or location, however there are not that many middle distance races that fall into my Ironman schedule. That said it was the Triathlon England Middle Distance Championships so there should be a strong field.

The lead up to the race wasn’t the most smooth (for the organisers rather than me!) the swim nearly got cancelled completely because of algal bloom in the lake. They managed to find a back-up lake, but that was 20 miles away! This meant a split transition, fine in theory and when you have a huge race like Ironman 70.3 Staffs with busses and things to take people between the two, but I couldn’t imagine this event would be as well-resourced as the Ironman.

Anyway, this was less about smashing out a performance and taking the win, but more about getting a longer race under my belt, trying out some different equipment (wetsuit and bike shoes) and pushing the body outside of its comfort zone.

I arrived at the swim location in plenty of time for the swim start – practicing my early morning get ups! Mercifully the weather was much better than it had been all week, dry with light winds, the first 20 miles of the bike would have been lethal if the wind had been up.

The swim was a little interesting: the lake must have been generally shallow as it was wetsuit optional. Our wave, the first to start was about 200 people, which was a good job because there were some tight turns around buoys that would be carnage with many more. The other notable thing about the swim course was a sandy ridge that bisected the lake; this basically meant a stretch of about 10m, twice on each lap of the course where the water was so shallow that it was impossible to swim!

My swim time was showing a little slower than I would have liked, however the swim was also showing nearly 2100m so I could attribute the slower time to that. I came out in a good position, probably 14th but with a pack of other people. I made a concerted effort in the early stages of the bike to set a high pace and burn off as many people as I could early on. I also wanted to keep the power high as I was keen to test myself in how hard I could bike and still put in a good run. The first 20 miles were very flat and great for pacing, head down and Time Trial it. One small hiccup was that my spares box managed to lose its lid, I caught it just in time so spent the rest of the ride with my spares in my pockets and the lid down my top!

The bike after this turned on to country roads which made pacing really tough and quite sporadic. I was doing my best to ride as efficiently as possible, but with open roads and bind bends it was impossible to carry speed around corners.
I made it back to T2 in approx. 9th place with 3 other blokes. There were a couple of guys up the road, about 5-6 minutes ahead and some others further on again. I set out with one of my transition buddies at a stiff pace, and we soon moved up to 5/6th I kept the pace high and eventually broke away about 5km in.Screen Shot 2017 08 02 at 20.32.54
At 6km there was a turning where the Middle distance run course joined the bike course of the concurrent Olympic distance race, I was dubious about the signage at this point, but was pretty sure it was sending me the correct way. I paused in the road, then decided to commit. I kept running hard, I didn’t think I would pull it back for the win but thought a podium was a possibility if I could pull back 4/5 mins to the 3rd place. As I ran back towards transition I was looking out for people running the opposite direction, but I couldn’t pick anyone up that looked like they were in the lead. At this point I consigned myself to a minor placing so I just kept my head down and focused on trying to get a sub 80min run in.

I ran into the stadium and crossed the line. There was no announcement of my arrival so I assumed I was 4th or 5th. I could see a bunch of other blokes already congregated at the drinks tent but then the official came over and said:
Official: ‘Did you go wrong on the run course?’

Me: ‘Not to my knowledge, I have 21km on my watch and seemed to follow signs all the way around’.
At this point it dawned on me what had happened, the 2,3,4th place athletes had gone wrong on the run at 6km, later I found out the leader had gone wrong on the bike (hence he was miles ahead on the run, and I had unknowingly had passed him 1km before the finish)

Official ‘and you ran a 79 min half.......’

Me: ‘yeah, to be honest could have been quicker if it wasn’t for the grassy sections and the gate’
Official ‘So congrats, you won then’

In short, a period of much confusion ensued for about 4 days after until the revised positions were put up on the race website confirming me as the winner. A lot of anger was directed at the race organisers, not all of it due as many of the issues were outside of their control and it was also an exceptionally difficult scenario to manage with a split transition and multiple races happening at the same time. With that said the organisers could have been clearer with what was happening with the results rather than leaving us in limbo for days after the event.

So, B races ticked off – all successful. Thanks to Mark at WhittleFit for getting me into this form, let’s hope I can carry it into the coming months. Thanks to Andy at Cranc Cyclesport for working to get the team together, great to have a high performance environment that encourages us all to drive ourselves a little harder! And thanks to TORQ for helping out with nutrition!