2Lt Henry Eaton
A tougher course than I had expected Wiesbaden proved a challenging and rewarding race, not just for myself but for all the Army Triathlon Association and Army Air Corps Athletes involved. The build up to the race itself had, more or less, gone to plan. Two and a half weeks out I managed a top ten finish in the Inter-services standard triathlon, a few days later, and exactly two weeks out from Wiesbaden, I completed the London Ride 100 in 4 hours, 15 minutes. The following Monday I managed a respectable effort in a local 10M bike time trial - the aim of which was to assess my ability to achieve a decent power output following an intense and high volume week.
Not a bad normalised power for 10miles following a standard race and 100M effort only days before, 5% lower than what I could have achieved fresh - but a good sign that fatigue isn’t too much of inhibitor for my own performances. A point to note, you can see the effect of the change in gradient and the effects of a turn on power output mid-way through the profile above; the TT went down then back up the A303 with a turn around on one of the over passes.
As always though the taper is where things can unravel; a combination of a high (albeit necessary) training load, a step up in work and a last minute Dip/Tet/Polio vaccine left me feeling like I was in a pretty deep rut to recover from. Nonetheless, ATA head coach and Kona Coach Glyn Painter got me back on track to race, although it involved a lot more rest and days off than I am usually accustomed to before a race. Although this left me feeling a bit slow and sluggish it paid off as I felt fit and ready to go come race morning, though I think in the future I will put more swimming in as I find it necessary to keep my feel for the water and revise my feel for effort against pace.
The race commenced with a lake swim at a local water park 30km S. of Wiesbaden. Whilst the water appeared a beautiful turquoise blue in the pre-race recce, during the swim itself it was incredibly cloudy and murky. Combined with possibly the most technical (think aquatic navex) course I’ve yet come across in open water swimming, it made sighting and navigating pretty complicated. This was also the first time I have taken part in a “rolling-start” swim, where athletes line up according to their predicted finish times and are released in groups of five at five second intervals - a bid to reduce the anxiety and congestion many experience in the normal mass start swims. Whilst this did aid in reducing congestion I quickly found myself overtaking many athletes who were a bit too ambitious with their predicted times. Combined with a goggle malfunction early on I lost quite a bit of time having to navigate through the masses of overly eager swimmers. At the 1.5km point I was on target at just over 22minutes (slightly slower than my Standard racing pace, and bang on target) and proceeded through the Australian exit and onto the last 500m of the swim. Exiting the water in 30 minutes, the swim being about 100m longer than expected/or as a result of my poor nav - it was straight up the sandy bank into T1 and off onto the bike.
The Wiesbaden bike course is incredibly challenging. A recent makeover meant that this year the first 25km or so is relatively flat, utilising the German autobahns the average speed is fairly easy to keep around the 40km/h mark. A relatively flat section, this is where you can get an early shift on and I tried to keep my power output a little over the 310W I had planned to average across the 2 hour and 45 minute ride.
With a normalised power of 312Ws I was just over my target of 310W. The hilly course made it hard to keep the average power high, as the descents were steep and technical enough to prevent any power going through the pedals.
Around the 25km mark the hills start in earnest and I quickly found myself trying to hold a constant effort up hills, descents and twisting technical descents that ranged from anything between 6% to near 20%. It was at this point too that many of the early eagerness that was quite clearly evident amongst many of my competitors started to fade and the pack that quickly caught up with me on the autobahn began to dissolve around me. At the 40km point the bike course flows through Wiesbaden and up the longest climb of the day. At ~6km in length its a decent stretch, but the gradient is pretty favourable for keeping a steady pace. Here my average power picked up a bit to around the 340w mark for the 15minutes or so it took me to ride up. At the time I thought it would be fine, especially as I knew that following most of the major climbs were short brakes where pedalling had a negligible affect on speed. Once up the top the last 45km or so is a mixture of rolling (at best) and hilly with some steep technical descents. The Thursday prior to the Sunday race we as a team had checked out this section, in particular three switch back turns which, if you got them wrong, either ended up with a lot of time lost or a trip to hospital.
It was at the 70-75km point that the hills and my earlier eagerness on the opening 45km began to bit me. I had gone through the majority of my nutrition as planned, plus a half banana and half an energy bar, that I only pick up if I feel I need it, and around 3 litres of water. This feeling of fatigue towards the end of any 70.3 or Full is relatively normal and should be expected (along with the feeling of impending doom at having to shortly run a half or full marathon). The last, much shorter, climb back to the top of the hill leading in Wiesbaden was very welcome as a I knew that shortly I would be enjoying the well earned (and much needed) 6 km descent back into town. Here I knew I could claw a decent amount of time back and, tucking into the most aero position I could (though not quite as bold as Chris Froome had been during the Tour) to descend at a respectable 90km/h. Having reached the 82 km point in around 2:44 and then finishing the 90 km bike in 2:49, the fast descent definitely had its benefits! Unfortunately, not rocking as an expensive set of carbon wheel as my coach, Glyn passed me on the final turn into town to just pip me into T2 (note to self earn more money and buy more expensive gear). Whilst slightly down on my expected time of 2 hours and 45 minutes, having held an average power of 312 for the duration and raced sensibly, I was happy with a 2 hour and 49 bike split for the most difficult 70.3 bike course I have yet to complete.
Into T2 I quickly proceeded through the changing tent and out on the half-marathon, feeling positive having finished the bike without mechanical or puncture and my legs feeling refreshed given the change of discipline and position. The initial 5km went without problem and I quickly began to close down and pass several of my 25-29 competitors. As the first 5 km went passed in around 19 minutes, I was on target for a 1:24 half marathon with a bit of room to spare.
Unfortunately, and despite using the first two aid stations to get more water on board, after 5km my stomach began cramping. With a hope that this would pass I managed to hold off walking/stopping for another half lap, but from here every 5 minutes or so another cramp would almost double me over in pain and I had to walk. To add to it, as one bout of cramping came through I felt sudden twinge in my right achilles tendon, bringing a sudden awareness to that foot that made me drop the pace that little bit more. At around the third lap point the cramping became so incredibly intense that I had to stop for around a minute. Whilst I managed to avoid a “Paula Radcliffe” moment, I couldn't’ stop the longest bout of wind I have ever experienced. This seemed to alleviate the systems and I got back on track, but was soon back to standing still waiting for another cramp to pass. This happened every 5 to 10 minutes and, frustratingly, many of my age group competitors (and a couple of female pros) that I had managed to catch and pass caught me - my ranking dropping 4-5 places in a matter of seconds. Even when the finish was a mere 400m away, I could not overcome the intense pain in my stomach and kick into a sprint finish, instead I had to stop and walk several times.
For those of you reading this who are just embarking in this sport, these cramps could be the result of a number of things. Possibly too much gluten pre-race; Wiesbaden offered a lot of decent Italian restaurants so pasta and pizza were the easiest, cheapest and best quality sources of carbohydrate nearby. More likely, however, was that my race day nutrition - several powdered sachets of High5 2:1 concentrated into a gel in a 750ml water bottle - was not diluted enough through taking on enough water through the aid stations (though I did managed to get about 3 litres down). This meant that the nutrition was too concentrated to pass through the lining of my gut (think back to GCSE biology and osmosis) resulting in a blockage - hence the cramping and wind.
Overall, though finishing what had been a well executed race with a slow (for me) run of 1:31 was bitterly disappointed at the time. Having had time to analyse the race, specifically the run and on bike nutrition, I know that a sub 1:25 half marathon was well within my grasp (just from taking into account the amount of time I had stopped or walked to get those cramps to pass) as was possible a 4:45 race overall. With this in mind, as well as having achieved a 2nd place in the military division (even if it was 21st in the 25-29s and one hundred and twenty something overall) and a slot to Kona it was not a bad day out of the office at all! With a knowledge of the course and climate under my belt too, it would not be out of the realms of possibly to go under 4:45 and possibly compete for the military division win or even age-group win next year.
With my A race of the season now over and having trained non-stop since leaving Sandhurst in December, its time for a short week long break to rest and recuperate before building up to the Inter-Services middle distance (Half-Ironman) in mid-September and then on to the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in October to compete for the Military Championship title!
I know I speak for everyone in the ATA, when I say thank-you to all of our units for supporting us in these endeavours as well as to the Army Sports Lottery for providing all the financial support that helps us get to these incredible events.