On the 6th of January it was announced that Amy Grocock and I would be the new members of the Britcon/Off that couch fitness race team, what a way to start the year!
With the year already looking positive it was time to brave the cold and wet conditions on the 8th of January for the Lincolnshire Cross Country County Championships. It was a grim January morning at Biscathorpe. Having raced at Biscathorpe before I knew it was going to be a tough race with hills, multiple river crossings and cow poo to navigate. The race set off with a fast uphill start, after the first lap the top five positions had a good lead on the rest of the field. With the top 10 positions qualifying for the county team I had secured my place by finishing 5th.
With my three weeks of sun out of the way it was time to focus on the biggest event on the cross country calendar, the National Championships. The Nationals were being held in Woollaton Park in Nottingham. The race was set to see a large number of runners of all ages from across the country compete. The men’s race was the last event of the day; it was now time to finally start. With some 3000 men on the start line it was time to tackle the tough 12km undulating course through, bog, long grass, hills and other runners!
The gun had gone and with no time to think the Race was on. With an aim of making the top 100 I knew I had to give it my all from the start. My Running coach, Laurie Bland, was counting me round on the first lap, “87, 88, 89, 90 YOU ARE IN THE TOP 100 NICK GOOO!” Laurie was excited to say the least. With the top 100 being an aim for the last two years we were both very excited at this stage but the race was far from over. I could feel my legs becoming heavier and heavier. It came to the last 3km lap and I knew it was going to be the most painful. With everyone wanting to achieve their best the pace quickly increased. The finish line was so close but yet so far away, I dragged myself over the line to finish in 94th. Both Laurie and I were over the moon.
The 28th of April soon came, D-Day! I was longing for a new personal best. I knew I had to give it my all to break my previous personal best of 15:30 which I had been finding difficult to break since setting it two years ago. Ideally a sub 15 minute time would be awesome. To achieve this goal I knew I had to sub 3 minutes for every kilometre. Sure enough the first kilometre was very fast, with the top lads running off into the sunset I had to focus on hitting the next 4km markers in sub 3 minutes. Before I knew it I could once again see Laurie shouting and jumping up and down in the road. This was a good sign, with only a kilometre to go I gave it my absolute all to get the much wanted sub 15 minute time. The distance markers were becoming more frequent, 800, 600, 400, 200, I’d done it, 14:52! I couldn’t believe it. Finally all of the long, cold winter miles had paid off. Another goal achieved!
The attention soon turned to my first triathlon for the year, The Ancholme Sprint. My legs felt like jelly and so I knew I was going to struggle. With a 06:30 registration I clearly wasn’t firing on all cylinders as I had to make a quick drive back to North Kelsey to collect my number belt and goggles which I had somehow forgotten. With the swim completed it was time to hit the bike. Unfortunately there were road works in Hibaldstow with traffic lights; this therefore meant that there was chance we would have to stop during the race. Typical, I hit two red lights which meant I had to stop; although time deductions were implemented for those that had to stop, I still had time to make up. T2 was soon over and I was storming down the side of the Ancholme and up and over the bridge. With my 14:52 5km still in my legs from Friday I knew I had a strong finish. I passed some family and friends on the bridge with a few high fives before dropping down onto the final finishing straight. It then became clear that I had won the first ever Ancholme Sprint Triathlon. With the Eton Sprint Triathlon only three weeks away I was feeling positive and ready to compete in the ITU qualifying race.
Race day soon came; Hannah (my girlfriend) and I took to the road and headed south to Windsor for the weekend. With perfect racing conditions forecasted, I was looking forward to the event. The race was situated at Eton Dorney Lake and the course was pancake flat and sheltered. With my number collected it was time to rack my bike in position 443. I was actually quite lucky as I was in a really good position for transition. There were 72 competitors in the under 30 category. A small start line in the water meant it was essential I got myself a good position to start the race. With the swim being my second strongest leg I got stuck straight in and swam the 750m course in a time of 9:54. This put me in twelfth place and gave me a good lead into T1. The bike was always going to be hard work as it is my weakest leg. Everyone that I had previously passed in the swim started to fly past me. I tried to hang on to a pack of riders for as long as possible and I eventually entered T2 with a bike time of 45:39. This had unfortunately put me way down the rankings but with only a 5km run left it was my time to put the power down and start picking off other competitors one by one. This worked to my advantage as I had an aim to push myself towards on the long two lap straight. With the finish line in sight I pushed hard hoping that I had done enough to qualify. With a 5km split time of 16:52 I had ran the third fastest run split time. This gave me an overall time of 1:03:25, a placing of 9th in my age group and 25th overall.
June was looking to be a quiet month for a change, with only two races planned. First up was the Woodhall Spa 10km on the 4th. Being a fairly flat course it was hopefully going to be a potential personal best race. Another one of my goals for the year was to break my personal best of 32:24 which had remained the same for two years. With some of the best lads in the county on the start line I knew I had a chance of breaking my personal best as I could try to hang on to them and push myself. The first 5km was run in approximately 15:30 with a group of 5 setting a reasonable pace. All I now had to do was try and achieve a similar pace for the final 5km to get that much wanted personal best. 1st and 2nd place increased the place from about the 8.5km mark and I simply couldn’t respond meaning that I ended up finishing in 3rd with a time of 31:34. This new personal best meant that I had achieved another goal for the year!
The last race of June was one of my favourite local races, the two lap Croxby Crawl. The Croxby summer series is a local race held in the heart of the Lincolnshire Wolds. The 4.4mile lap has a number of large hills and that puts manners into you! With unfinished business from the 2016 two lap race, due to the race being cancelled, I was on a mission to break the sub 50 minute barrier that had not been broken since the 1990’s. With heavy legs from the Woodall Spa 10km it was certainly going to be a challenge. I completed the first lap in about 24 minutes and had roughly 25 minutes to complete the second lap. I managed to finish in a time of 49:05 which was a personal best for the course and the sub 50 minute barrier had been broken.
With only a few days to recover it was time to take on the Lincolnshire Edge, my first standard distance triathlon. Located at Cadney it was practically on my doorstep. As the Edge was my first standard distance triathlon I was unsure how to pace myself for the distance. The fact I lived local to the course was to my advantage as I had rode the course multiple times on both my Scott Foil and Planet X TT bike. Due to the uneven, twisty roads and little rises I found myself setting a faster time on the Scott. I therefore chose to ride my Scott on race day much too many people’s surprise. With the start called much to my surprise I had to quickly get my wetsuit on and get into the water. I started the swim at a reasonable pace and soon found myself in the lead. I exited the water in just over 20 minutes and entered what was an awful transition; I ran up and down the bike rack looking at multiple red and black bikes but couldn’t see mine, disaster! I eventually found my Scott and made way to the exit, I hit the bike expecting to be overtaken at any point. After 40km I was surprised to still find myself leading into T2. T2 was no better than T1, I was hopeless. I eventually managed to rack my bike after a few wise words from the race official regarding racking correctly. With T2 finally out of the way it was time to get the run under way, as I could see that I had a visible lead I set a reasonable pace but slow enough so that I didn’t use any unnecessary energy. I finished the run in a time of 34:59 which gave me a total time of 2:03. With a first place already in the bag for the Britcon Race team from Steve Grocock in the sprint I claimed the win for the standard distance. As this being my first standard distance I was over the moon with a win but also felt I had a lot more to give, hopefully 2018 will see a sub 2 hour standard distance.
With the disappointment of Grimsby still fresh in my mind I wasn’t in the best of moods. A couple of days had gone by when I received the news that I have qualified for the ITU World Championships in Rotterdam. The disappointment from Grimsby was soon pushed to the back of my mind with the good news.
So that is the last seven months covered. With many different aspects of racing, experiences both good and bad. The next time I will be writing my race report, I will have had experienced the ITU World Championships. They will mark an exciting point in my racing career as well as being an experience surrounded by athletes that I can learn a lot from.