Will Thames

swim, bike, run, tech

Bala Middle Distance 2010


I arrived at Bala at around 4pm on Saturday so that I could registration out of the way and have time to just chill out. Saturday afternoon had glorious weather, the view out onto the lake was awesome. Quite a few people took advantage of the offer to swim the course - I figured I’d just save energy for the race. Lots of Pirates were gathered on the lake front.

After checking into my B&B, I rested up for a bit before heading into town where I grabbed a takeaway hawaiian pizza for dinner, eating it up on the castle mound. It was then time for the England v USA match - I found a suitable pub serving real ale and settled down to watch the game. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable, and some of the locals cheering USA at the end had a fair point! I stuck to two pints, and made sure I had water later.

I slept reasonably well considering, and got up at around 6.40 to organise myself before breakfast which I’d organised for 7am. I had scrambled eggs with lots of toast, and didn’t seem to suffer for it later. I left for the race at 7.30, got to the rugby club, checked my tyres and headed to race HQ to pick up my chip and get marked.

One mistake I made was dressing for the race - so once I got to transition I was wandering around in just my triathlon gear, and my arm warmers didn’t do quite enough. In the end I had to get into my wetsuit to protect myself from the wind - next time I’m taking a jacket and trousers.

After the race briefing we were offered a dip in the lake, which I took to flush my wetsuit - but getting in and out of the lake was excruciating as the floor was very stony.


Once back in the lake to start the race, via the counting pen, the race got off in fairly short order. I stayed to the back of the wave, and didn’t encounter too many people in the way. Lack of practice in my wetsuit this year really showed, and I spent a while just getting into a comfortable rhythm. I also hadn’t used bodyglide high enough on my neck, so it was a bit itchy. There were times that I definitely didn’t take the straightest line between buoys, but nothing major. It was a swim I was happy with, except for the exit - here again the rocky floor took its toll on me - I pretty much had to pull myself horizontally along the floor until I had to stand, and gingerly exited, stumbling quite a bit (my balance is terrible after a swim at the best of times). I suspect I lost two or three minutes just exiting!


I took my time putting on gloves, arm warmers, socks and other cycle comfort clothes, ready for the 80km cycle ride. My heart rate monitor wasn’t working well (doesn’t seem to after a swim - perhaps I should just put it on after the swim) so I just paced myself on feel, which worked just fine. On the outbound section, I noticed that I was struggling even on the flat and on small descents (e.g. grades of -1 or -2%) - I realised this was because I was cycling into the wind. One concern on the way out was that I realised I was accumulating altitude debt - the section finished much lower than it started. At the turnaround point I was about 1h33 into the bike, so was relatively happy with my pacing. On the way back, I had to repay the altitude debt, but I was benefited by wind credit - I found even 1% or 2% climbs no worse than I expected normal flats to be - the end result being that I negatively split the bike loop.

While on the bike I had an energy bar after 20 mins, and then just sucked on my gel flask (containing around 7 gels) every so often (it was pretty much empty by the end). I used around half of my 800ml energy drink.


I racked my bike, took my gloves off, I removed my left armwarmer, I put on my run watch, changed shoes, took my helmet off and headed out. In this process I forgot to remove my right armwarmer, pick up my run food (a pack of clif shot bloks) or move my number belt to the front. The kids at run exit told me the latter (I suspect they were telling a lot of people, but handy to be told). I set off on my run, trying to get my watch started as I went - it took about 600m to pick up the satellites (should have started it going as I entered T2 really - I turned on the bike computer as I got to T1). Having the watch tell me my pace every kilometre is quite handy to ensure I don’t go off too fast, but I was mostly pacing the hilly run by feel anyway. As I hit the 7km mark, I felt great considering I was a third of the way through. After that, it really started hurting as I did the 100m of altitude gain between 7km and 10km. Still, settled into a pace that as comfortable as it was ever going to be, and just pressed on. It wasn’t pleasant, but hitting the turnaround was a great psychological boost as I knew it was mostly downhill. I stopped to actually drink the water rather than sip and pour over my head, as I was feeling a little thirsty, but it must have cost me around 10 seconds - a price I was very willing to pay. The downhills were naturally faster than the ups but only the 11th km was much faster as there were still some ups on the return. By the time I hit around 17km, I was feeling it quite hard - I finished the last squeeze of gel at the last water stop and then just pushed on to the finish - I desperately wanted to finish strong, tempting though it was to slow down. My last two and a half kms were at a good pace and I really tore through the last kilometre, to finish well.

My half marathon personal best is 1h51 on an almost entirely flat Grand Union Canal (there were a few bridges and more human traffic there) so getting 1h48 on a 20km run with 170m of climb, after a 2km swim and 84km bike was astonishing to me. My target time for the Royal Parks Half has gone down by 5 mins now!

My results

Swim: 00:44:09 (515th) T1: 00:04:29 Bike: 03:00:25 (452th) T2: 00:02:09 Run: 01:48:03 (344th)

Total time: 05:39:17 (441st out of 662 starters)

I was extremely happy with that time, particularly as I had predicted a 6h30 time - I beat my bike prediction by 20 mins and my run prediction by nearly half an hour!

Lessons learned

This race was intended to be practice for Ironman Switzerland and also to give me confidence that my training is going well. I think it succeeded on both counts.

  • My wetsuit rubs a lot higher on my neck than I thought
  • Have a jacket and spare trousers for before and after the race to stave off the cold
  • Don’t drink too much pre-race, it’ll just be uncomfortable
  • Openwater swim practice is important!
  • Don’t forget to take run nutrition - I got away with it on the run here, but wouldn’t on an IM run!