Despite the disappointing news that the swim section of the South Coast Triathlon was almost certainly going to be cancelled, Rob and I set off as planned for Seaford on Friday morning. The weather was calm and clear and despite the weather forecasts to the contrary I clung valiantly to the hope that there would be a miraculous turnaround and the storm would divert to somewhere less important.
It was not to be. As we disembarked at Seaford, the wind started to pick up. We made our way to the registration tent, which was being buffeted in the wind, and noted that the sea was already starting to churn. The idea of a paddle became less appealing by the minute. My heart sank when I examined the contents of my bag and realised there was no swimming cap. Clearly the organisers had already given up on any possibility of a swim.
I diligently laid out my kit and stickered up the contraption ready for the race, but truth be told, my enthusiasm had already died. The swim was always the bit I was looking forward to the most and a triathlon without a swim is not a triathlon at all. The wind was already fiercer than anything I’d cycled in before and I was far more scared by the prospect of cycling in a storm than of swimming in one. The speeds were due to double by morning.
It was therefore almost a relief when I woke up the next morning to an email saying the entire event had been cancelled. The wind speeds had actually reached nearly 100kph, which was even worse than forecast. During the night the triathlon team had had to start dismantling the course structures and had made the completely correct decision to fall the whole thing off. By the way, I was really impressed with the way the organisers, UK Triathlon Events handled this – they kept everyone informed throughout with clear emails with explanations and deadlines and responded personally to posts on Facebook. I could see they were as disappointed as we were and they offered everyone free entry for next year’s triathlon (or another of their events) – you can’t really ask for more than that, except perhaps the swimming hat.
There was only one thing to do after that, and that was head to the nearest parkrun, which (after the rather ironic cancellation of Seaford parkrun due to triathlons on the course) was Peacehaven. Peacehaven is a bleak and unloved place, a handful of dilapidated bungalows perching nervously between a cliff and a bustling A road where you can catch buses to slightly less forlorn places such as Brighton and Eastbourne. The description of the parkrun didn’t exactly set my world alight either – it alludes to a mixture of “pea shingle” (whatever that might be) and grass round the back of Peacehaven Football Club.
Let me tell you that this description really sells Peacehaven parkrun short! It is actually a really lovely venue. The whole course has an amazing view over the South Downs. The “pea shingle” is actually a very good surface (I would call it “knobbly tarmac”) and even the grass was in pretty good condition with no major ankle breaking potential. It is a three lapper, with the first lap being slightly different from the other two. Lap one begins with a downhill on “pea shingle”, followed by a grass uphill, grass downhill, grass uphill, pea shingle flattish bit, then back to where you started. The second lap omits the grass uphill and takes a shorter pea shingle route to the grass downhill. It was quite a tough rollercoaster of a course with 75 metres of elevation overall. In ordinary circumstances, the flatter western side of the course would be the easier and faster bit, but this week this was the point where one started to run directly into the wind. It was like running on a treadmill! I felt like I was running on the spot and going precisely nowhere! In the end I had to put my head down and plunge as aerodynamically as possible into the gust. I was therefore not in the least bit surprised to clock a sluggish 38:51 finish time. Incidentally, Run Britain Rankings gave this run a Standard Scratch Score of 6, which means the hardest possible conditions, and rated it as one of my best ever performances.
Peacehaven continued to surprise and impress as we had breakfast in the charming little cafe (which I noted also sells cocktails) and delicious vegan cakes and milkshake at the all-vegan Road Shack Diner, an incredibly friendly and welcoming place and a refuge from the wind which was getting stronger and stronger. The less said about our attempt at a walk along the seafront the better – I’ll just let this picture do the talking.
Sunday was a better day in that the weather was merely unpleasant, rather than brutal and possibly life threatening. Much to our relief, the South Coast Run went ahead as planned and without major calamity. The wind did very little for my pace, but as I’d got a PB four days previously I didn’t think it was a great idea to try for another and was perfectly content to finish in 1:15:40. Rob, on the other hand, decided to make a break for it and as I counted the runners coming the other way I realised he was in third place (although he will be quite to point out that this is because “all the fast runners were doing the half marathon instead”. Personally I think coming third in a public race in under 40 minutes automatically qualifies you as a “fast runner” but there you go).
We were hoping to proceed with a bike ride and swim, like a virtual triathlon, but the sea still had a big red flag on it. Considering that Rob is scared of drowning in the shallow end of a lido, he was remarkably keen to go in anyway. I wasn’t, and so we got the contraptions out and went for a “nice little ride along the promenade” to Newhaven. This nearly turned into World War III because Rob decided it would be nicer to ride alongside the massive fucking A road with cars doing a million miles per hour and I was scared of getting blown into the middle of the road and threw a tantrum and got off the bike. I got my own back by choosing the alternative route back which involved a lot of pebbles and potholes (definitely not pea shingle) which my fat wheeled hybrid contraption with suspension dealt with a lot better than Rob’s skinny ergonomic road bike. There was a comedy moment where I swerved a tourist and realised far too late that I was now cycling off a large step but fortunately the bike coped with this far better than I did.
After that there was only one thing left to do and that was spend ten hours drinking the produce of local breweries. The fancy rehydration tablets we’d brought for after the triathlon ended up being used to mop up hangovers instead.
By far the worst part of the weekend was waking up on Monday morning with a stinking hangover, nearly throwing up in Morrisons, having to wheel the contraption back to London in the pissing rain, finding the lift at Victoria broken and having to wheel it to Westminster with a progressing need for the toilet as the toilets were also broken, then getting home and instead of unpacking a medal, unpacking my unused race pack instead.
I have felt pretty glum since I got home – months of anticipation ending in a race that didn’t happen – and there is still a massive sense of failure even though obviously it wasn’t my fault or anyone else’s that the triathlon was cancelled. As a consolation, I managed to find a very small (50 people), low key triathlon that takes place in Canary Wharf in six weeks time. It’s not quite the same as a weekend by the seaside and terrifyingly, it’s an open road cycle (although I don’t think there will be much/any traffic at 7am on a Sunday morning). And there’s a free place in next year’s South Coast Tri for us to look forward to. Surely the weather gods can’t be that cruel two years in a row?