It is always an uplifting experience returning to the homeland – experiencing that which is is all too familiar and yet being able to appreciate even the little things through a new set of eyes. I landed back in London on Friday, promptly picked up my tiny little (manual) hire car and headed off for Maidenhead, my base for the weekend, along the tiny, weany, slow little roads that were apparently both the M25 and M4. For anyone who has not had the pleasure(?!) of driving in the UAE, once you have then both of these major UK highways will simply remind you of the suburban ‘side roads’ that lead to most residential areas in Dubai. And the driving will seem like the most civilised ever!
With the Windsor Triathlon this weekend, Maidenhead, which is a hop, skip and jump over the M4 from Windsor, was to be the base for the weekend, with new favourite website, Air BNB coming to the aid, enabling me to easily hire a townhouse with room enough for the family to venture down to hang out and provide moral support on race day. It was a great chance to spend some quality time with my energetic little nephew, meet my cute-as-hell new niece for the first time, and catch up with mum, dad and sister, whilst also getting to celebrate Fathers Day in a stunning setting.
Saturday was all about registration and bike racking, with the decision to make life easy by renting a bike for the race yet again being a simple one to make. No hassle with dragging a bike box through airports or using all of my luggage allowance on an item that ultimately I will get to use for one day, maybe two during the trip back. Given that the bike course at Windsor was relatively flat, as I recalled from last year, I thought it would be fun to treat myself by renting a TT bike, especially as I have never actually ridden one before. Now I know that race day is not the time to ‘test’ new kit, especially a bike, but I figured that given this was an Olympic Distance race and not my A race of the year, why not just have a bit of fun and try it out. I must admit that I wasn’t quite prepared for the aggressiveness of the position and was glad that it was only 42km and not the full 180km of September’s Ironman. Still, when it came to it I was able to seriously turn on the power, get down and aero and just fly!
Bike racked and ready nice and early, I had the chance to catch up with some good friends who joined the family and I for lunch in Windsor before opting to don the tourist hat and take the obligatory trip up to Windsor Castle. Needless to say it is one impressive place and we even had the pleasure of being present for the return of the Queen herself, with the Union Jack being replaced by the Royal Standard flying high above the keep and letting everyone know Her Majesty was officially in residence. Sadly our paths did not cross on this occasion. I was, after all, far too busy 😉
With less sleep than was either ideal or intended, the alarm sounded to signal race day had arrived. I have been on a high fat, low carb diet now for a few weeks and so my usual race day breakfast was out the window in favour of a lovely fruit and avocado smoothie, and gels on the bike being replaced with dates. Thanks to being a bit OCD all my kit was laid out and ready to go, complete with my Tri Dubai suit, meaning we were out the door nice and early, just in time to sit in traffic for an age en route to the venue!
With the usual pre-race rituals adhered to – I don’t need to elaborate on this I am sure – it was time to don the wetsuit, get in the zone and promptly panic that I was missing my swim start on account of suddenly seeing a load of pink caps already bobbing in the water. The benefit of rushing down to the start just in time was that there was no time to dwell on the fact that the River Thames is both a disgusting colour and pretty darned cold, as I hastily donned my own cap, goggles and simply leapt in, jostling for position as it became immediately apparent how strong the current was today. Incidentally I soon realised that I had in fact joined an earlier wave instead and so was actually early instead of late. The main confirmation came when I arrived in T1 to see that I was apparently the first from my wave to pick up my bike, which seemed odd considering I knew for a fact that I had not been first out of the water!
Against the Current
The Windsor Tri swim sees athletes head up river before turning and swimming back again, with the current particularly strong today, meaning that the first leg was a slow slog whilst the difference on the turn was immediately apparent as I literally felt as though my suit had been fitted with jet packs. Swimming that fast with such little effort was a crazy experience, although with the exit around a reverse hairpin bend, the ten metres to the pontoon was a tough and energetic affair – actually quite good for ensuring blood was moved to the legs ready for the run to transition and the bike leg.
Although the water running through Windsor isn’t the clearest or cleanest looking, and it is generally recommended to avoid swallowing much of it if at all possible, the swim is a great experience as there are very few times when you’d get the opportunity to see somewhere like Windsor from such a novel vantage point. Coming from the current summer heat of Dubai the cool waters of the Thames were, in fact, fantastically refreshing and despite a few slightly freaky moments involving stray river debris which I initially imagined might be jellyfish, the swim was an enjoyable experience. Maybe not as fast as I had been hoping for at 29 minutes, but given the strength of the current up river I was still happy with it.
Aero and Away
T1 was by my standards a fairly speedy affair and with new TT bike in hand, it was off to the mount line and a 42km foray into the Berkshire countryside. I did let my warm weather softness shine through however as I donned gloves once on the bike, feeling swiftly glad that I had and opting to keep them on for the remainder of the race. However, the significant difference in temperature between that which I am used to training in and today’s race meant that keeping my core cool was simple, and I barely had to touch my bottle, only really taking on fluids to help with eating my on-bike dates. The TT bike was fast but I can’t say comfortable and I was pretty glad to hop off and get the run ticked off.
I remember the run being tougher last year, especially with the first of three steep climbs up to Windsor Castle being foisted upon athletes almost straight out of transition, so I guess it is simply testament to the value of training that I really enjoyed the 10km, with a real emphasis being placed on keeping good form and maintaining a respectable, steady pace. The route is great, with a climb through the centre of town to the Castle, before turning and heading back down the hill – a welcome respite for burning legs – before a short section heading out of town, looping back and taking us over the river into Eton and up the high street before turning at the college and returning back to the turnaround just outside transition.
Windsor’s run route is one of the best on account of the picturesque nature of the landmarks that it takes runners past and through, and also by virtue of the fact that the support from the crowd is pretty consistent, and fantastic, along most of the route. The final stretch which takes runners towards the turnaround and then eventually the finish is simply electric and it is almost impossible not to feel like a conquering elite storming home to claim the World Championship title with the level of ear splitting and raucous support that every athlete gets during these final seconds – worth the sign up alone!
With another decently weighty medal in possession and post-race photos taken, it was time to return the bike (sadly), dump everything in the car and find somewhere to get down to some serious eating!
This was the second year of running this race and I definitely felt stronger and more confident this time around, with my Tri Dubai suit being worn with pride and the benefits of training in such a fantastic place shining through on the day. Anyone looking for a fun, picturesque Olympic distance race will do well to sign up for Windsor, with 2015 being the 25th anniversary, and the fact that it is consistently voted the best race of the UK calendar is testament to how much fun it is.
Remember, you can support my Iron Vet challenge for veterinary charity WVS (Worldwide Veterinary Service) at www.ironvet.net.