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One down - two to go #RememberBen

timPby timPJul 13th 2015
So its the day after the Cotswold 226 and I can still walk, just!

What a great race, the organisation was spot on as I knew it would be, the combination of 113events and DBMax made the day run very sweetly. The volunteer marshals however made the day. They were without exception fantastic, efficiently carrying out their duties whilst enthusiastically cheering on all of the competitors a huge boost when times were tough.

The day started pretty early with a 3am alarm call at a local hotel, concerns about no one being about to check us out proved to be unfounded as the previous nights parties were still going strong! A short drive to the lake and I was setting up in transition at 4.15am.

The swim was a 2 x 1.9km laps in the lovely lake 32 at the Cotswold water park. Due to the recent warm weather the water temperature was pretty warm, in the week leading up to the event it was so warm that there was a danger that wetsuits would be banned. Wetsuits help weaker swimmers just like me and the thought of 3.8km without the extra buoyancy wasn't very pleasant. Luckily on Sunday morning the temperature had dropped and at 5.15 I entered the water for a short warm up before the 5.30 start.
One down - two to go #RememberBen
When the horn went off signalling the start the shallow water was churned up as 150 competitors headed to the first turn. Swimming is my least favourite of the three disciplines, I can keep going but just not very quickly so for this distance I have learned to be patient and just settle into a good rhythm and swim my own race. The first lap actually went pretty well and for most of the time I was swimming in close company of others. At a couple of points the lake gets very shallow and a couple of swimmers actually got up and walked for a bit, very strange! I started the second lap quite strongly, or so I thought. A check of my Garmin watch today showed that my pace dropped quite significantly, a little more endurance work is clearly required before Challenge Weymouth in September.

I exited the swim after just over an hour and a half, about the same as the previous times I had swum this distance, so okay but no improvement. After a pretty slick transition (well for me anyway) I left to start the first of two 90km bike laps.
One down - two to go #RememberBen
If the swim is my least favourite discipline then the bike is by far the favourite. I got a real cheer from Debbie as I ran to the mount line, jumped on and got into a steady rhythm straight away. My slow swim and relatively strong bike usually means that I have plenty of competitors to chase down, quite a motivator. I was worried that with the small size of the field the ride could get quite lonely. As it turns out the field was pretty well spaced out after the swim and there always seemed to be a rider in the distance to use as a target.
One down - two to go #RememberBen
One down - two to go #RememberBen
I hadn't managed to ride the full route prior to the race but had driven round a couple of weekends ago and it seemed to be pretty quick, rolling not flat but no major hills. There were quite a few exposed stretches that could be susceptible to the wind but difficult to truly tell from inside the car. Based on that view and a check on the weather forecast I had chosen to use a rear disc wheel (that Debbie kindly bought me a couple of years ago). For the first lap that proved to be an excellent choice and other than keeping a close eye on the road surface for weather damage it was a complete dream. I got to the end of the lap almost smack on my ideal schedule to be greeted by enthusiastic cheering from Debbie who had been joined by Jeremy, Ben's Dad.

The second lap started just as strongly but it was noticeable after taking the first turn that the wind had picked up. Five minutes later and it had started to drizzle, 20 minutes after that the rain became torrential. The next two hours have to be the worst conditions I have ever cycled in. The combination of the wind and the disc wheel were making the bike pretty frisky, rivers of water running across the road made cornering interesting and the spray from passing traffic on the two sections of main road restricted vision.

It was during this lap that I had my closest shave, my hands had become quite numb (I have Raynaud's which doesn't help) due to the soaking they had received and whilst out of the saddle going up an incline my right hand slipped off of the bar completely. I managed to stay upright but the bike careered across to the far side of the road. Luckily there was nothing coming but it was certainly a wake up call.

Shortly after that little incident the rain stopped and the sun came out, the final 30 minutes or so returning to the good conditions of the first lap. My pace had dropped for the second lap but considering the conditions nowhere near as much as I had feared.

All in all a really interesting bike course, plenty of variation to keep you alert just a shame about the weather.
One down - two to go #RememberBen
Having got soaked on the bike I took the opportunity to make a complete change of kit in T2. It felt really good to be pulling on the running vest we got made to commemorate Ben and I left for the run in good spirits.

The run consisted of a run from the lake to the finish line at South Cerney and then a total of four out and back sections to make up the full marathon distance. The surface comprised a mixture of footpaths, trails and a short section of road. I started out pretty strongly and I had high hopes of recording a reasonable run time and everything was going well for the first 6 or 7 km and then I completely blew up!

I'm not sure what happened, probably a combination of pushing a little too hard on the bike and not taking on enough nutrition. In the end the cause didn't matter, the result was the remainder of the run was a combination of run/walk with the walk breaks getting longer as the distance increased.
One down - two to go #RememberBen
Luckily my number one supporter worked miracles by appearing all over the run course to cheer me on, the thought of where she would pop up next really spurred me on (she was wearing a Garmin and logged over 18 miles during the day!). Coupled with the enthusiastic support from all the marshals it was enough to keep me strong until the end.

I crossed the finish line in just over 13 hours and 12 minutes, an improvement of 35 minutes against my one and other go at this distance 2 years ago.
One down - two to go #RememberBen
In the end the race result isn't important, the aim was always to complete a series of challenges in memory of our nephew Ben. The first two challenges fall either side of the first anniversary of the crash of MH17 so the timing is quite apt.

I had stuck two small pictures of Ben to the handlebars of my bike prior to the race and carried the same pictures in my run shorts. It really kept me motivated and reminded me of the purpose behind the race. I must admit I got quite emotional looking at his picture especially whilst on the bike.

The fund raising is going really well, what's really nice is the number of individual donations meaning that a good number of people have read about Ben and that was the point in the first place, to keep his memory alive.

Time to go now and rest up ready for challenge number two in less than 2 weeks.
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