The weekend of 10th April, saw Claire and I open our tri account for 2016 at the challenging Halesowen sprint triathlon.

We traveled with ace elite para-triathlete Clare Cunningham who was using the race as a sharpener ahead of some key selection races for Rio 2016.

The men’s race had also been spiced up with the addition of multiple British Time-Trial Champion, Matt Bottrill. Matt has made the move triathlon this year and after only a few months of swim and run training is already giving us triathletes cause for concern with his incredible bike speed!

The longer than usual bike leg (25k), 400m swim and 5k run, was sure to make for a nail-biting “Top Time-Triallist” versus “Triathlete” battle. I’d done the maths and deduced that the winner would most likely to be decided by a handful of seconds!

Matt was off a little sooner than me, so I was able to watch (and time) his swim. Matt dispatched the 400m in just under 7 minutes.

Bugger! Annoyingly… not bad at all! I was hoping I might witness a drowning mess – but actually Matt looked smooth and controlled in the water. Once out of the water it was time for Matt to do his thing and build his buffer.

Clare Cunningham was out of the water in around 6:30 – Humbling stuff since Clare swims with only one arm!

The SS’s were up next and Claire started a minute in front of me. I’m famous for dreadful pacing in 400m pool swims, so decided to build into my swim. As luck would have it, I started in the lane next to Des Mcmanus – a quality Vet Age-grouper and fellow Kona Qualifier. Des would be my main competition in the Vet race and he set off like a rocket. By the final length though, I was back on terms and we exited the pool in tandem in around 5:45.

We ran the gauntlet of stairs and tarmac to T1 together and were still locked as we mounted our bikes. We completed a high speed lap of Halesowen’s inner ring-road before we hit the first climb. It was here I took the lead from Des… and never looked back.

Claire had a solid swim, a timing error added a minute to her split – but she swam a similar time to me. I passed her in the early miles of the bike and she was looking strong.

The bike course itself was a real test. The winds were quite strong and this was the first time I’d turned a pedal in anger on the new Giant Trinity (Wow! What a machine!). One minute I was spinning my 53/11 at terminal velocity, the next I’d be out of the saddle grovelling up a steep country lane. The course had it all.

I knew I had to limit my losses to Matt in this section so treated the bike leg like a hilly10 mile TT. I went full gas from the go and really working hard on the hills. That would have been fine of course…. had it been 10 miles. But it wasn’t, so my legs were starting to feel it in the closing miles – which seemed to drag on forever!

However – I hung on and flew back  into T2. I was back out and running inside 22 seconds.

DSS halesowen

The run was a twisty, rolling “out and back”. I’d run the first mile in both directions as part of my warm-up so I knew what was in store for me. The toughest mile was around the mid-point and the last mile was downhill or flat – so I knew I could run hard to 2 miles and then hold on for the 3rd.

I returned with a 17:50 spilt and felt like I’d got it all out.

A pensive few moments followed as we waited for the results to be finalised.

The news came in that I’d managed to take the win from Matt by a slim 21 seconds with last years winner, Ian Dempsey, rounding out the podium. Looking at the splits revealed just how critical transitions had been. I’d gained 21 seconds on Matt in T2 – without that, the tables might have been turned!

Emily Whitmore was dominant in the girls race with a sub 6 minute swim, great bike and super fast run to take the win…. and shame over 90% of the field in the process (finishing 8th overall). Jacqui Phillips took second and Claire returned a really strong run for 3rd.

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Clare Cunningham finished 8th and got some valuable, close racing, experience over a very challenging course. I really wish Clare the very best with her ongoing Rio campaign.

I was very impressed with Matt’s performance, he’s clearly been working hard to bring his swim and run up to speed. It’s great to see someone so excited by a new challenge and it’s a real honour to be able to share a podium with a National Time Trial Champion… There’s something I’d never thought I’d say!

There’s no doubt Matt forced me to up my game on race day and look for every last second. My only hope is that Matt continues towelling off between his toes in transition – to give me another shot at glory!

My kit and equipment performed faultlessly for this race. The Giant Trinity has got me pretty excited and I can’t wait to test it over some faster courses.

My Fast Forward F9R’s handled the varied terrain and changing winds beautifully.

I raced in my Champion Systems Elite Tri Suit which felt comfortable and aero throughout all 3 disciplines.

My Skechers Go Mebs were as fast and dependable as ever – I was able to literally throw them on in T2 which, as it happened, proved decisive.