This weekend team paratriathlete Haseeb Ahmad teamed up with guide Duncan Shea-Simonds to take on the Avenger Middle Distance Triathlon.  Later this year the boys are planning to take on the WORLD RECORD for a blind athlete over the Ironman Distance.  Haseeb reports on the pairings first foray into Long Distance racing together…

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“When I was looking for a race that Dunc Shea-Simonds and I could do as prep for Barcelona later this year, I initially booked us to do the Cotswold 113 on 12 June. Then my wife pointed out to me that this clashed with a family wedding we had to attend and so the hunt was on for another race the previous weekend. Dunc suggested The Avenger Middle Distance triathlon set in the beautiful surroundings of Ragley Hall in Warwickshire. I inquired as to the run and was told that some of it was off road, so without giving it much more thought booked on to the race… a little off road can’t be all that bad can it?

All my training was going well and I was really excited about the prospect of racing on my brand new Matrix tandem and seeing what it could do. I also had some brand new kit through my sponsors at Racetime Events which I was looking forward to testing in race conditions. So, I packed my super sturdy Zone 3 transition bag the night before, with my kit, which has acres of room for all my race essentials. Dunc arrived at just before 5am on Sunday 5th June with the van already loaded with the Matrix tandem, and, off we set.

Everything went as smooth as clockwork as we arrived in time to register. We got marked up and then ready for race briefing where we squeezed into our Zone 3 wet-suits. I had been for a swim the day before at Race Hub where the water temp was sub 13 degrees, brrrr! I was really hoping that the water temperature wasn’t going to be that cold for The Avenger race. The Zone 3 Vanquish wet-suit was brilliant. Felt really good and very buoyant as well as flexible in the right areas. The Race Director announced that the water temp was around 17.5. Wow, what a difference from the previous morning!

Dunc and I worked out which end of the swim tether was mine and his and he took charge of the tether. We made our way down to swim start and dropped off our bags in transition on the way. As we arrived and was just about to get in the water I asked Dunc if he had the tether. He replied, “Oh, the tether, where is it?” I felt a mild pang of anxiety in my chest. He ran into transition to find it and in the meantime Claire Shea-Simonds (my coach) encouraged me to jog on the spot to warm up. Dunc ran back with tether in hand (phew), and then said, “oh well that’s my warm up I guess”. We tethered up (calf to calf) and entered the water which felt pretty comfortable and cosy compared to the previous morning’s swim. After around 3 minutes the horn sounded and we were off.

Unfortunately my swim goggles filled up with water. I have been struggling with my goggles of late. I must just have a funny shaped face. Well, there was nothing I could do but to try and focus on my technique. The swim felt quite civilised compared to some I have experienced and soon Dunc and I got into a rhythm. The swim was 3 laps of the lake and in the main left hand turns. This is always tricky as I then have to swim around Dunc as I am always on the right of my guide. I have tried swimming on the left but for some reason I just don’t swim as well. I started to fatigue coming up to the third lap. To be fair I hadn’t done a great deal of swimming at the beginning of the season as I had been concentrating on my marathon training. And, I must admit that towards the end the swim felt as though it was going on forever. The thought crossed my mind that if this is only half the distance of an Ironman how on earth am I going to feel for 3.8 Km? Eventually we were out! Hurray! Dunc knows that the swim is the least favourite of my tri disciplines and said “OK Has that was 45 minutes and it’s the swim out of the way”. I was quite disappointed as I was hoping to be just under 40 minutes for a 1.9 Km swim. I found out later that the swim was in fact 2.1 Km so I didn’t feel so bad and in fact I was right, it did feel longer than it ought to have!

In some ways it was quite nice that the transition was on grass as the run into T1 was very comfortable under foot. We made our way to the bike and Dunc started to help unzip my Zone 3 wet-suit which had served me well during the swim. I pulled the wet-suit down to the bottom of my legs and sat on the floor, stuck my legs up in the air and Dunc pulled the rest of the wet-suit off me. “In front of you mate!” Dunc shouted to me, directing me towards my helmet. A Giant aero road helmet which Claire had lent me. We rolled the bike out and as we passed the announcer I heard him say, “Here comes Haseeb Ahmad with his guide and their pimped out tandem. No doubt they will be putting the power on once they get going”. Once we were on the tandem and strapped into our shoes we just passed bike after bike. Our average speed was around 23mph. Unfortunately when we got to 42 miles disaster struck. It took the shape of a stone which punctured the back wheel. I just heard a loud bang and had a bad feeling. A few seconds later and it was an obvious puncture. We took the tandem off the road and Dunc very quickly changed the tire. This may have only taken around 4 mins but it was time lost and of course we had to get back up to speed. We also then had to take it easy as we were on tubs and the tire was not glued now to the wheel. However, with Dunc’s superb bike handling and skill we soon picked up a reasonable pace and rolled back into the grounds of Ragley Hall and into T2 in 2hrs 37.

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It was lovely to hear all the cheering by spectators as we ran next to the tandem. We racked the tandem and I took my helmet off and found my shoes. I decided to wear socks as it was 13.1 miles I had to run so wanted to be kind to my feet. I heard the competitor next to me say “I can’t feel my feet”. I had the same feeling plus my hands were still numb from the cold. I struggled to get my socks on and then I really struggled to get my shoes on, under race conditions everything seems to take twice as long and seems doubly difficult. I guess this is where practicing transition is so important.

Shoes on and it was time to run. All the way through the bike section the tops of my hamstrings were screaming out to me and now I could feel them throbbing. My glutes also felt tight as did my neck and shoulders. Yes, I had worked hard in the swim and bike sections and it was payback time! Those of you who do triathlons on a regular basis will have that feeling of heavy legs and everything feeling very tight. Despite having done numerous brick sessions over the past few weeks nothing was going to quite prepare me for a 13.1 cross country run after a 56 mile bike leg. The ground was uneven and started off as a gentle downhill grass section. However, I could feel every dip and rise…boy was it painful on already tired legs. The course was also very twisty and turny. Dunc was doing a fantastic job telling me what was coming up, and despite this he somehow came across me slightly in the first 500 meters or so and tripped over my legs and fell. Fortunately it was a soft landing just before the wooded section. As we went through the woods Dunc commented on how beautiful it all was. We were one of the first to be on the run route and it was so quiet. I heard the lovely sound of bird song as we ran along the trail. However, the serenity was soon to be broken by the splashing of feet in deep puddles and mud. The footing was so tricky and I felt the effort was laboured. This section was also very narrow and Dunc did his very best to keep me on the flattest driest parts. Unfortunately my right hand brushed against some nettles which stung considerably. “Suck it up” I told myself, “You are going to meet these lovelies 3 more times.”. I also had managed to twist my right foot, the one which I had a stress fracture early in 2015. The rutted ground was very unforgiving.

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Out of the “Woods of Doom” as Dunc aptly named them and on to road, yes, beautiful tarmac. Except that we now had to deal with oncoming traffic. Once off the perilous road we went on to gravel and around the gardens, through archways and back on to fields. The second loop of the run lap certainly felt better as my legs loosened up and got a little more used to the sudden change in camber. I heard Claire shout, “good running keep up the hard work”. It was great to hear her voice of encouragement and that of Dunc’s mum Janet. It was really warm now with the temperature going up into the low 20s. I stopped off at pretty much every feed station and downed a gel and water – good practice for IM where we will be walking each aid station and taking on board a good amount of nutrition and water, unlike in my marathons where I only take a sip out of a bottle and chuck it away.

The last lap was certainly the hardest. However, the way in which the course was split up into different sections certainly helped psychologically. It really broke up the run in my mind. With only 400 meters to go Dunc applied the pressure and told me to finish strongly. I always respond to my guides when they ask me to dig deep and I did. Getting over the finish line was wonderful. With the run section completed in 1.40. Not bad for the longest and most challenging XC I’ve done to date.  I finished 19th overall and 5th V40 in 05:09:06.

My thanks goes to my brilliant guide and friend Dunc who I have grown to respect as an athlete and value as a close friend over the years. Our first race was in 2010 competing in the National sprint Paratri champs at Home Pier Point. I never thought I would be teaming up with him to do a middle distance or even a full Ironman as we are doing on 2 October 2016. My thanks also to Racetime for continuing to support me as well as our team sponsors Zone 3 and Skechers. Also a massive thanks to my wonderful coach Claire Shea-Simonds for her belief in me and being a great friend and inspiration.

Next big race is the National Paratri Champs in Liverpool where I will be guided by the awesome Carl Shaw, fellow Racetime team member.”

Thanks Haseeb for this great report.