West Lancashire Summer Triathlon 2021 Race Review
I didn’t actually sign up for the West Lancashire Triathlon. Like many people, I signed up for the event when it was originally scheduled for April 2020, but it has been postponed three times: first to August 2020, then to April 2021, and now to 29th August 2021.
All this switching around was too much for my usually-decent organisational skills and I’d completely forgot I was entered… until I got an email asking me to confirm my swim time and my t-shirt size less than a fortnight before the event.
The West Lancashire Triathlon is a super sprint event: 400m pool swim, 18.5 km bike (11.5 miles), followed by a 5 km run (3.1 miles). The event is organised by Epic Events (who are great) and is held at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, in Lancashire (cough Greater Merseyside cough). To give you an idea of the event length, here are some stats from the last time the event was held (August 2019!):
Fastest and slowest times for each leg of the West Lancashire Triathlon in August 2019
The average time was 1:26:04.
Happily, I wasn’t going into this cold. Since mid-June I’ve been training for the Challenge Peguera 70.3 half-Ironman coming up in October. That’s a 1.9 km swim (1.2 miles), a 90 km bike ride (56 miles), and a 21.1 km run (a half-marathon - 13.1 miles)… so a little bit further than the super sprint!
To train for that I’ve been using a plan from 80/20 Endurance (specifically this plan), which includes six workouts a week and I add in two to three gym sessions a week. The idea behind the 80/20 system is that you do 80% of your work at a low intensity, but for the remaining 20% you have to push very hard. It’s a nice balance - the workouts are typically challenging, but I never feel too beat up (as long as I get enough sleep in, keep other sources of stress to a low, go easy on the crime fighting etc).
There are various options to the plan, based on whether you want to structure it by pace, power, or heart rate. I chose the heart rate plan because I like the autoregulation inherent in heart rate - if I’ve had a long week or I’m stressed, and my heart rate is slightly raised, it will be easier for me to hit my zones and so I won’t push myself too far. This is in contrast to, say, pace - if I’ve had a long day hitting a given pace will be harder and so my body would need more time to recover. Autoregulation for the win!1
So I am quite well trained, but not specifically for a sprint triathlon!
My main background is in running, which I’ve been doing since 2012. Swimming I’ve done on and off (more off) since 2014, but I only started cycling in 2020 and only consistently when I started the 80/20 training plan in June 2021. Cycling is easily my weakest discipline and the area where I can make up the most time (foreshadowing).
Previous results and target times
I’ve done a few triathlons in my time (nine since 2016 - mainly sprints, but some Olympic distances too - and an aquathlon), but I did very little in the way of formal training. As a result I went into the West Lancashire Triathlon feeling cautious but quietly optimistic about a new PB.
There are two events I used to get a rough prediction of my time:
- My most recent event, the Southport Triathlon in May 2021. This was an Olympic distance event (1.5 km swim, 40 km bike, and 9.5 km run) and my training for this was… sporadic training for this - and it showed. I maybe did one or two indoor bike sessions a week, sometimes none, from about February, with no structure or targets, and maybe a run or two per week too.
- My previous attempt at the West Lanc Triathlon, back in May 2018. Back then I only really ran.
I popped my Southport Triathlon time into the SportDigest triathlon calculator to get an estimated time for the West Lancashire Triathlon, and compared it to my previous go at the event.
Predicted times for West Lancashire Triathlon
|Leg||West Lanc Tri 2018||Southport 2021|
(*Note: as each transition zone is different, it’s pointless to use the (very long) Southport Triathlon transition time for estimating West Lancashire Triathlon times - so I’m just using the same transition time from my 2018 attempt).
As I said earlier, the average time for the West Lancashire Triathlon in 2019 was 1:26:04 - so my 2018 attempt was well below average, and this was mainly due to the bike leg. It’s encouraging that my estimated time based on the Southport Triathlon is quicker than my actual performance back in 2018, again largely because of the bike leg, especially since I hadn’t been training properly for Southport either. It would be great to come in the top 50% of participants at the event.
The 80/20 Endurance guidance isn’t too clear on how to approach an event, so I feel like I’m going in blind here. I gave an estimated time of 8 minutes for the swim, so I’d be happy with that. I won’t worry too much about T1 either, but I’ll try and get on the bike asap and not mess around with toilet stops or costume changes (apart from my padded shorts - necessary for my very uncomfortable saddle). Repeating my T2 time should be no issue either - I’ll get straight off the bike, lose the padded shorts, and start the run, finding my legs in the first half-kilometre.
The bike makes up the longest portion of the event, in terms of both time and distance. I’ve also done much more bike training than I ever have before, so I think it makes sense to be aggressive on the bike leg and then just hold on for the run where I’ve got more experience honed over many parkruns. The logic here is that I can shave more time off by doing better on the bike than I can the run: the fastest 5k I have in me is probably around 20 mins and the slowest is probably 25 mins, whereas the fastest bike I have in me is about 40 mins, compared to my slowest of nearly an hour - a difference of 20 mins compared to 5 mins for the run.
Anyway, all of this was written before the event… let’s see how it went!
I was due to start at 10:31, with a race briefing at 10:15. I had probably over-carbloaded the day before and woke up feeling a bit bloated and overall a bit meh. A coffee later, and I was in the car to pick up MamaJ. The event had been running since 6:30 am, with slower finishers starting earlier and those at the pointy end of the field beginning later, based on swim time.
I checked everything into transition, but I was paranoid I’d forget my bike rack number coming out of the pool. Neither of us had a pen to hand, so I had to write my number of my arm using MamaJ’s bingo dabber (2/10, would not recommend but the shade of pink made me look fruity).
The briefing was your standard affair, although the warnings about aggressive overtaking in the swim lanes was undermined somewhat by the agressive (and dangerous) overtaking we could see happening in the pool, with seemingly very little consequence. The standard rule is that if you need to overtake you tap the toes of the person infront, and then overtake at the end of the length. The standard rule is not “just bomb it down the lane and swim over everyone you can”, but yet that is what was happening before our eyes.
I was nervous for the swim. I’m not the most confident swimming and if I push too hard and get out of breath I have a tendency to panic - so I told myself I’d take the first length slowly (as the nun said to the bishop). Reader, I did not take the first length slowly. I had a free lane ahead of me and I decided to just go hard. My heart rate shot up from 74 bpm to about 115 bpm, and I had to breathe on every stroke. I was less Michael Phelps and more Michael Helps-me-please. To stop the mild panic setting in I just kept breathing on each stroke and worked out how much of the swim leg I’d completed. That kept me busy mentally, I got back into a rythm of three strokes per breath, and before I knew it I had 100 meters left, then 50, and then I thought ‘yolo’ (as the kids say) and pushed very very hard for the last 50 meters. I got out the pool and made my way to transition feeling pretty good and shouting ‘thank you’ to the event marshals and spectators alike.
T1 went smoothly - dried myself, bike shorts on, socks and shoes on, got some water (mostly) in my mouth, and then helmet on and I was off.
I was, to be honest, dreading the bike leg - it’s the longest leg, and typically my worst. I was worried I’d fall off the bloody thing (like I have twice during my training) but I also had faith in my training and thought I’d just be aggressive, seeing how far I could push without burning out. You can see the course here but basically you have three laps, with around 30m to climb each lap. But what goes up must come down, and it was here I hit my max speed of 38.7 kmph. I was very happy that even on the climbs I didn’t really drop below 22 kmph, which I reckoned was my average speed the last time I attempted the event.
My average heart rate on the bike was 170, which is much higher than my standard traning heart rate. I’d say the bike leg was challenging but it wasn’t difficult - I could easily have done another lap, I think, and kept my pace up. The end of the bike section took you through Edge Hill campus, a real speed killer as you had to go around tight bends and avoid bollards and people (well, mainly bollards - they’d damage your bike. People are bouncy).
Mentally, I kept myself entertained by constantly checking my pace and whenever anybody passed me I’d say something encouraging - usually “You’ve got this Keith” or “Stay strong Kayleigh” - although being painfully English I said all this under my breath and I’d be mortified if Keith or Kayleigh actually heard me. Regardless, it felt good to hype up other people - triathlon is a sport where you do really feel part of a community, even a miserable atomistic individualist like me.
I was so focused on getting through T2 quickly that I forgot to take my padded cycling shorts off - I can only imagine they made me look like a Kardashian.
I started out quite conservatively on the run, cautious of my heart rate (it averaged 177 bpm on the run - high for me, but at least it wasn’t zero), but after the third km I knew I could hang on for the rest of the run and began to push harder: my average pace dropped from 4:40 mins/km to about 4:20 (nice) mins/km - in hindsight I should have pushed the pace a bit earlier, but oh well! I still managed a sprint finish and crossed the line to a very enthusiastic man on the microphone saying well done.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting a cheer from MamaJ - I looked around for her but she was walking over looking sheepish and saying “I just missed you”. Turns out she received a text so she went into the shade to read it, and missed me crossing the finish line. Then I asked if she saw me finish the bike or start the run, and she said no. Why? She was asleep on the grass. This was all topped off by her leaving my phone in the women’s toilets while I was having a shower. Thankfully it was handed in at reception and as a ‘congratulations/sorry’ she bought me lunch at The Sandpiper in Bikerstaffe (it was worth doing the triathlon just for the food alone - it was amazing!)
In a desperate attempt to build up suspense, I’ve avoided giving my times… until now! I’ve given both the “official” results from Epic Events and the times from my trusty Garmin Fenix watch2 (which I absolutely love, best Christmas present ever). I’ve put my results into the table below.
Predicted vs actual times
|Leg||West Lanc Tri 2018||Southport 2021||Actual||Actual|
I’m actually ecstatic. I shaved over 20 mins off my previous attempt - and while the bulk of this was by not being an absolute Snorlax on the bike I still had a quicker swim (by over 1 minute!) and managed to keep my run time constant. That was far beyond what I was expecting and I think it’s a testimony to the 80/20 Endurance training plan and just putting in the work.
What I find really encouraging is that the last time I did this event my performance was well below par - I came 325th out of 520 overall, 225th out of 267 men, and 93rd out of the 102 people in my age group. So the bottom 40%, bottom 20% and bottom 10% respectively. This time I came 118th out of 441 overall, 106th out of 293 men, and 45th out of 103 in my age group - that’s top 30%, top 40% and top 50% respectively. I mean, I won’t be qualifying for Kona any time soon but I still see it as a massive improvement.
|Leg||Leg Position||Overall Position|
|(Male, out of 293)||(Male, out of 293)|
As the position table shows, relative to the rest of the field my swim was actually my strongest discipline! Usually my run is my strongest, although there was only a 7 place difference in this event - and relatively speaking I was still under-performing on the bike. There is plenty of area for improvement here!
If I were being overly critical, I think I could have pushed a bit harder on the bike and much harder on the run. I still had gas in the tank when I crossed the finish line, and I’ve known 5ks where I’ve really had to dig deep to hold a pace and finish it - and that was not today. On the other hand, I finished in one piece and I haven’t broken my body. Not too shabby for an event I didn’t know I was doing a fortnight ago!
If I were to do the next iteration of the event in April 2022 (and I’ve managed to convince MamaJ to give it a go - do I know any life insurance brokers?), I’d probably try to get a few practice bike rides in on the course and really hammer those hills.
Finally, I’d just like to give a shout out to the event: the West Lancashire Triathlon is a well-organised, friendly event that’s accessible to everyone. The bike and run courses are easy-to-follow and the support is ok. The staggered pool start is very well organised, and the volunteer length counters are amazing. There’s no finisher goody bag but I’m not sure I need a free sample of a gel, a granola bar and an electrolyte tab I’ll never use. I’d highly recommend the event for any first timers. Or verterin triathletes - the April edition is the perfect start to the tri year!
Next up I have the Challenge Peguera event in October. I’ve tried to predict my times based on the 2018 West Lancashire Triathlon, the Southport Triathlon 2021, and this event.
Predicted times for Challenge Peguera, Mallorca
|Leg||West Lanc Tri 2018||Southport 2021||West Lanc Tri 2021|
(*Note: as each transition zone is different, I’ve just used a rough estimate based transition time of the median five finishers in Challenge Peguera 2019).
I’m happy to see my new predicted time puts me 2 hours quicker than the prediction from my last stab at West Lanc Tri, and even 35 mins quicker than the Southport prediction. Regardless, I’ll be happy with just finishing Challenge Peguera!
After Challenge Peguera I’m going to take a few months off - I’ll do some light maintenance training alongside more gym workouts, before gearing up for the Ironman UK. I’m tempted to do a vlog series about my training for it - let me know if that’s something you’d be interested in watching.
Anyway, thanks for reading - time for recovery carbs!
Ps. If you’re on Strava, follow me here: https://www.strava.com/athletes/davidjeffery
The purists amongst us will note that my Garmin time doesn’t quite match up with the results page time. This is because I set the transition to start as soon as I got out the pool, rather than when I crossed the official timing pad. I’m not trying to pull a fast one, honest! ↩︎