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Sunday, 4 October 2020

Swim first, then ride, then run - how hard can it be ?

Jack Rees pedalling in the desert for Ribble Weldite at the Saudi Tour in February

You may have guessed from the title that despite the opening picture the sport of triathlon is the topic of this one. This is the first episode of a series of three posts and this one will answer the question: Can a full time cyclist, my son Jack, transition (pun intended) into the sport of triathlon in just three months and compete successfully over the very demanding 70.3 distance at the Outlaw X Triathlon ? a 1.2 mile swim followed by a 56 mile bike concluding with a 13.1 mile run. More accurately can two top level racing cyclists do it ? Jack and Ribble/Weldite team mate Jacob Tipper. Episode two will be a closer look at training and equipment and the final episode is going to be on the 'big ticket items' the crucial things that make the difference, the stuff that any cyclist or multi-sport athlete who wants to optimise their performance should know about.

I have written posts on triathlon and Ironman in the past here Origins of Ironman and A postcard from Lanza a place where I had my toughest ever race day and here Conversation with an Ironman . I have a lot of great memories of my own time in the sport, although I competed for twenty eight consecutive seasons I was never much better than average to be honest, but I definitely had a passion (read obsession) for the sport. One thing that I was pretty decent at though was grinding out a finish and my 100% completion record was probably my best achievement. Looking back now at my training diaries, as research for this post has had me shaking my head in disbelief at the stuff I used to do and the mistakes that I made which I will share you in episode two.

Lake Zurich 07.00 hours 17th July 2005 the start of Ironman Switzerland, yes that's me in the centre of the picture in black wetsuit and yellow swim cap. Not what I would describe as one of my 'Glory Days' I made the classic mistake of starting too near the front and as a result IM athletes from every country in Europe promptly swam straight over the top of me, not a great start to the day but I survived (just) and got round for a finish. 
                     The Ribble Weldite Team at the opening of the Saudi Tour in February Jack centre and Jacob second from the left.

After an impressive showing in Saudi followed by a warm weather training camp, the team were soon back in action at the Eddy Soens Memorial, a classic early season race held at Aintree racecourse in Liverpool and with five riders in the top twenty it was a great result and the 2020 season was shaping up to be their best ever. For more on the team hit this link to my post on last years Tour de Yorkshire

                                        Jacob Tipper taking the win at the Soens for Ribble Weldite (pictures courtesy of  VeloUK)

                                                                                                        Jack at the Soens
Competing consistently at the highest level in one sport is difficult enough but is it possible to add two more disciplines in a very short time and compete in one of the biggest UK triathlons of the (depleted) 2020 season ? I'll let Jack take over from here:


I have been competing nationally and internationally as a cyclist for nearly ten years with the now UCI Continental team, Ribble Weldtite Pro Cycling This year was shaping up to be our biggest yet starting in February with the Saudi Tour a five day stage race with World Tour teams. I followed this up with an intensive two-week training camp in Calpe Spain with the team to prepare for the big races to come. Then everything changed. The uncertainty around COVID slowed things down massively and provided what felt initially like an almost infinite amount of time, the framework, competition and structure of a typical year gone. It felt like an chance to set some new challenges and fresh objectives, initially just as something different to focus on, a distraction as much as anything else. JR


My interest in triathlon no doubt stems from early memories of great family holidays to exotic destinations while 'guess who' pursued his quest for M dots. My own endurance sport journey actually started with swimming which led me to dabbling in multisport for a while in my early teens before developing a real love of cycling, which has been my singular focus for the last fifteen years. JR        

                            The Outlaw start - not the way I remember triathlon starts but we now live and race in very different times.


The swim was the most challenging part of the day without a shadow of doubt, despite having a bit of a background in swimming as a teenager. In the lead up to the event my pool swim training had gone better than expected, but anyone who has swam in open water vs in a pool can attest to the stark contrast between the two environments. Prior to race day I managed to experience open water swimming for the first time, just once, in hindsight this was a bit of a mistake (lol) and it certainly didn't prepare me well for the big day. JR


The night before the race the decision was made to shorten the swim due to the low air and water temperatures. Because of the current restrictions the swim was an individual start with 6 secondss between each competitor, this was brilliantly managed by the organisers, but meant no time to acclimatises to the water on what was already a pretty cold day (6 degrees at the start time of 7.25). I didn't really race in the lake, it turned out to be a matter of survival and completion. I never really adapted to the water temperature and just got through with of a mix of head up freestyle and panting like an animal. It was an understatement to say I was quite relived to exit the water, and quickly made a mental note to self 'need much more open water practice going forward' JR

I can definitely relate to Jack's 'head up freestyle panting like an animal' comment. In the picture above from 2004 I am at the Wetherby triathlon doing the same thing in the very cold River Wharfe that had been swollen by several weeks of heavy rain ... another day out that didn't start well.
Above Jack on the bike leg at Outlaw he looked fast and he was fast - aerodynamics, one of the 'big ticket items' we will take a close look at in Episode 3
The Outlaw bike leg was one big lap, a mix of undulating country roads and A-road sections. The bike went really well, I focused on riding to speed whilst watching the power on the course. It was really challenging to have no one to race with on the bike, instead I focussed on making my way through the field as best I could. The bike was always going to be my strongest discipline. I finished the bike with the 30th fastest bike split in a field of well over a 1200, which I was pleased with considering my relative inexperience of pacing a 56 mile bike to leave enough energy to run a half marathon after. JR
The run was three laps of the Thoresby Park Estate, a mix of cement roads, grass and trails and was quite undulating. I held together reasonably well running pretty much evenly across the three laps and coming in within 3-4 minutes of what I had hoped for. That makes it sound like it was a formality ... it wasn't ! The run is by far the most demanding of the three disciplines - especially for a bike rider and with the added difficulty of mixed terrain, something else that I hadn't really prepared for. It was not only the furthest that I had ever run off the bike it was the furthest I had run - ever. I was digging pretty deep by the second lap with the off-road sections really taking a toll on my legs. During the third lap there were definitely some dark moments, I just tried to focus on the simple advice "just keep putting one foot in front of the other" JR

So the answer to the question posed at the top of the post is YES and they can do it and pretty well too ! 46th place for Jacob Tipper with a 4 hour 20 minutes and 4 hours 34 minutes for Jack for 102nd from a field of over 1200 finishers is impressive. As you would expect some important lessons learned that we will look at in the next two episodes. Thanks for reading.



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