Cotswold Classic race review

It’s official, I’m a triathlete! Cotswold Classic middle distance triathlon – done. Another bucket list race ticked off, although as ever when you complete a challenge you’ve been building towards for a while it feels a little anti climatic. I probably spent more time getting my kit prepped for the race than actually doing the race, not to mention the many many hours of training. However (and I’ll whisper this quietly) despite saying after the race I’m not doing another one again I think I might add this race to my calendar for next year also.

I thought just doing the race would scratch the triathlon itch, but having done it I think I have a real chance to go quicker by making a few simple changes. I generally come away from races happy that I’ve done the best I can but this time it’s really nagging at me to have another crack. My plan was to try to improve my marathon time next year so we’ll have to see how it fits in.

Smiling on the run, must have been lap 1

Smiling on the run, must have been lap 1

As you may have gathered the race went well, but not perfectly and I’ll come onto why in a minute. Everything started well, we got to the lake around 5am giving plenty of time before out wave started at 6.50am and also meant we bagged a decent parking space (my little brother was racing too). There were almost 900 people doing the race and parking gets tight very quickly. If you turned up to spectate after 7.30am chances are you wouldn’t be able to park.

What’s great about these races is that the organisers let you request your race numbers and wave, so if you’re racing with someone you know like I was you can get numbers together and therefore transition together. This also meant we could position our nice bright purple trug between our bikes making it easy to spot and have somewhere to dump our wetsuits. Tactical 3rd poo done in the portaloo it was time to zip up our suits and wait for our wave start.

The swim start was the bit of the race I was most nervous about, 170 people starting together has the distinct possibility of being complete carnage. But actually it was ok, there was a big space to spread out in and wait for the hooter and I positioned myself near the front and off to the right. I train in this lake so know it well, but even so the swim course has some interesting quirks. The lake is very shallow in places so a few times you quite literally hit bottom and I stubbed my toe a couple of times. There is also one section that involves swimming over a weed bed and having to pull bits of weed off your goggles.

I climbed out of the water literally next to my brother in 34 minutes which was roughly what I expected. Not fast but decent enough time without having to push too hard. The run through transition after the swim sure feels weird doesn’t it? I gave up trying to be efficient and take my hat and goggles off when I almost fell over attempting it. Some work needed on transition technique I think.

In tuck position and cruising, almost look like I know what I'm doing.

In tuck position and cruising, almost look like I know what I’m doing.

The bike course for this race is two laps of an almost completely flat course (700ft of ascent/descent over 56 miles) so it’s all about tucking into your tri bars and just keeping your cadence up. Despite the weather forecast conditions were perfect, around 15 degrees, overcast and no wind. I made a rookie error of dropping my energy bar as I tried to open it so only had gels to take during the bike. I took one every 40 mins which worked well but would have been good to have had some more substance too. Other than that not much to say about the bike, I was passed by a bunch of people on TT bikes as expected but managed to take a few people out on the solitary hill on the course.

The race finishes with 3 laps of the run course around the lake and surrounding area, parts have runners going both ways so it can get a bit hectic at times. It’s also 75% off road which was fine until the heavens opened during my 2nd lap and the nice dirt trail quickly turned into a mud bath. My aim was to do a 1hr 45min half marathon and was bang on track until the beginning of the third lap when I bonked good and hard. My legs stopped working, my vision went a bit blurry and I almost ground to a halt. Not helped by my brother flying past on the way to a 4 hr 35 min finish time.

The rain had set in and the bonk was just beginning.

The rain had set in and the bonk was just beginning.

I did a very slow trudge with occasional running sections to get to the next aid station where I hoovered up as much food as I could stuff in my mouth. Salt and vinegar chip sticks have never tasted so good and the change in my ability to run was incredible, it was night and day the difference vs. when I entered the aid station. The last 1.5 miles from there were easy and thankfully meant I had a smile back on my face when I finished.

My finish time was 5 hours 35 minutes, given I was aiming for 5 hours 30 minutes I’m fairly happy with that. But as I mentioned at the start the nagging feeling of knowing I lost 20 minutes on the run through bad nutrition is starting to get to me. ‘IF’ I could fix that and also get a bit more cycling in to shorten my bike time a sub 5 hour finish could well be within reach. Maybe.

If you’re looking to do a middle distance triathlon do keep the Cotswold Classic in mind (and it’s sister race in June). You won’t find a friendlier race, I really love the relaxed feeling of the race which starts with the race organisers. 113 events are friendly and flexible, it’s clear they want to make the race as enjoyable as possible and are always taking on feedback. Plus where else can you find a race director who talks about killer badgers in his pre race newsletter? The route is great, it’s a beautiful clear lake to swim in and the bike course is very scenic and quiet. Sure the run course is partly off road which won’t suit everyone but I like it. It’s also a good course for spectators, easy to watch the swim start and exit then find a spot on the run course. Ultimately it’s also quite a fast course with very little elevation on the bike or run courses.

Now all I need to do is decide between the June and August races next year….

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