Triathlon in a post-Covid world

Well, it’s been an interesting few months hasn’t it?  Lockdown, no travel, and life altering events across the world.  While it’s been a hard time for many, there have been a lot of positives to come out of Covid.

In the UK we were fortunate during lockdown in that we could get outside for exercise once a day.  It was also a time for companies to find ways to deliver their services, mostly online.  The rise of Zwift, virtual events and online training really took off. The situation around the world really pushed everyone to change their business model and to find ways to bring people together. 

Ironman stood up virtual duathlons each week and enabled you to sign up and participate for free. My coaching group @TriTrainingHrder launched group rides and training sessions several times a week on Zwift.  Regardless of wherever you are in the world, people came together to keep training. 

On the other hand, it’s been a really tough year as everyone’s races have been cancelled or turned into a virtual event (if you’ve been that lucky). With having several international races this year (forget the training camp and vacations I had planned), I faced all of them being cancelled, but without much notice from the race directors.  It was obvious that these races were not going forward, but they didn’t want to make that call. 

In June 2019, I competed in the Cotswold 113 (a local UK middle distance race – 1.9k swim, 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1 run).  I used it as a warmup race before Ironman Austria. I decided to enter the race again for 2020 so that I could smash my time from 2019 and qualify to race for GB.  Welp…plans change.

The organizers of the race maintained great communication throughout lockdown and were working with British Triathlon and the UK government to make the race happen.  Every few weeks the participants had updates from the organizers as to the state of play.  While the original race was scheduled for June, they pushed it to August 2nd

The Cotswold Classic 2020 would be the first triathlon to be hosted in the UK post full lockdown.  They needed to set a precedent for the industry and prove that triathlon can be executed safely and socially distanced (ironic, since it’s a solo event).  The team were able to execute the race really well.

So, what does triathlon look like in a post Covid world?

Pre-race

First and foremost, the communication from the @113Events team was hands down, stellar.  Many events require you to check in the day before the race.  That would not be allowed, nor would spectators.  The entrants were sent their race bib and bike sticker in the mail prior to the race.  The events team put together a really great pre-race document of how things would flow for race day AND a pre-race video, making up for not being able to run a live and in person briefing.

Without having to check-in and or do anything on the Saturday, it freed up my time to do something else. For those new or not involved in triathlon, it’s a massive commitment with the day before a race usually filled with tension, having to check-in and faff about…a lot.

Because I had raced a 70.3 distance 4 weeks prior (not an event, just a little self-contained event with my tri club), I wanted to treat race day like a training day. Putting together the effort over the last few months, hopefully low stress and just enjoy the fact that we are so privileged to be out there ‘racing.’

Due to months of being limited to pool/lake access, the events team opted to offer 3 swim options (no swim, 300m, or 1900m) and 3 different timing categories.  But it was explicitly stated that it was an ‘Individual Time Trial’ …not a race.

Checking in and Racking

Check in occurred on the morning of the race, which I honestly love. Show up, get your stuff sorted and go.  It saves me loads of time on the day before the race, I also tend to sleep better, not thinking about what I forgot. There was a bit of a queue, they had to take your temperature then show your racing license at the table. You enter transition with your mask on and find your name on the rack.

The race was setup in alphabetical order, the last names beginning with ‘A’ were first. It was the first time in my life where I didn’t miss my maiden name, Yoho.  I found my number, and on the rack was my swim cap and timing chip ready for me. With masks on, it was a bit surreal to see so many people in one place, the first time in 5 months. 

Once my bike was racked and kit setup, I was ready to get suited up in my wetsuit (oh and btw, this was almost a non-wetsuit swim due to water temps).  Once the wetsuit was on, I could remove my mask and exit transition. 

The Race

Racked and ready to go, I stood by the swim start with my wetsuit on just staring at people.  Yes, people, together, it was great!  When I mean together…I mean 2m apart.  We had to maintain 2m from one another at all times, which is pretty easy to do on most legs of a triathlon.

The swim was organized into 6 (I think!) waves. Each alphabetical group was assigned a 15-minute slot to start.  Again, there were 3 options: no swim, a 300m start and a 1900m start.  Each had a different start chute at the lake so you could choose where to start. I fortunately had been swimming in the lakes since May when they opened, so I was ready for the full swim.

There were zero spectators around, the race organizers had an announcer that was full of energy at 6:30am announcing the swimmers into the water. The organizers did a great job in keeping people jovial and creating a fun atmosphere even without the spectators. Where you’d usually have a mass start, each individual athlete in the wave started 10 seconds apart.

I entered during the second wave and the lake was fairly clear as far as UK lakes go, and the water was pretty tropical. I had a strong swim this day. Sun was out, temps were mild, couldn’t have asked for a better start to the day.

I made sure to exit the water in style.

Upon exiting the water, you had to self-exit, no assistance.  The race organizers were there shouting at you when you exited the water. You have to give them credit, they were full of energy and enthusiasm (as seen in the second photo above), which really didn’t make you miss the crowds as much.

Going into T1 they ‘neutralized’ the transition so that if it was crowded, you could wait to reach your bike and your gear. They gave you 10 free minutes for T1, I’d say that’s the time to have a bacon sandwich and a coffee! While I did take my time in transition to eat my banana and get my stuff on, I still managed a sub 5-minute transition time.

The bike is certainly the easiest portion of the race to socially distance. Considering British Triathlon rules are 12m between competitors, that is easy to maintain. On the bike you had to be self-sufficient, as they were not providing feed stations on the bike course.  There was a kind of emergency feed station, they had water and gels only. In order to use it, you had to rack your bike, use hand sanitizer, grab the item, then sanitize again. Honestly, it’s just too time consuming for me, but in a pinch it would suffice. I had enough nutrition on board to thrive on the 56-mile bike ride.

The bike was fairly well spaced out from competitor to competitor and while spectators were not allowed at the venue, there were spectators lined up in a few places on the course.  Overall, it was a pretty quiet and uneventful ride. It was not my best day on the bike, but it was not terrible. I have been having some saddle issues and I really couldn’t get things dialed in before race day.

It was great to see the few spectators on the roadside that did exist, it really helped break up the monotony of the two laps on the bike. My tri club had a few spectators at the bike turn point and it was great to see them at the turn and return on the bike.

Heading into T2 there was another time neutralization, this time 5 minutes. I could roll into T2 at a leisurely pace and get my bike racked, run shoes on and get started on my run.

The run course is 3 laps and there were 2 feed stations. Again, spectators were not allowed near the race venue, but since the race took place in a country park, there were picnickers and visitors that were staring at us as we ran by 😊 When coming out of the first 2 miles of the loop, we reached the main road and there a couple groups of spectators cheering us on. It was a delight to see people and to hear them cheering for you!

The feed stations were setup with 2 tables. The volunteers had water and gels laid out, no other nutrition, so you also had to be fairly self-sufficient on the run. There were hand sanitizer stations before entering the water stops to ensure hands were clean. The volunteers could not hand you any drinks or gels, regardless, everything was well set up.

It was great to see Gemma, Lynda, Mike and Louise (and Gemma’s boys) cheering for us on the run, that is where you need it most! Near the end of the run loop, the organizers had placed a few marshals with a megaphone screaming at us. Their enthusiasm was awesome! The marshals, the organizers had such great enthusiasm the whole day, that is really tough to do.

My run that day was not ideal, and it was not how I had trained. My run was consistent, just slow. My legs never picked up their pace and while it was disappointing, I didn’t have any issues with nutrition or pain on the run. It just wasn’t my day to hit my run goal.

Since spectators were not allowed near the race venue, there was a camera live streaming the finish line.  Once you crossed that finish line you went straight to drop off your timing chip (if you can stand after running dehydrated in the heat), get some mandatory hand sanitizer on your hands, then grab your goodie bag.  Then it was time to collapse on the grass!

Cotswold Classic Triathlon – 2.8.20 – organized by http://www.113events.com

Overall, it was a great event ran very very well from 113 Events. Most importantly it felt great to get back into ‘racing’ and seeing other people around you. It will be interesting to see how the next few races of the season shape up!

2 thoughts on “Triathlon in a post-Covid world

  1. It’s very interesting to read your post about how the triathlon was organized! I follow road cycling and I’ve seen what measures were taken there … but as you also said, it is not so difficult to ensure social distancing while cycling. Good luck with your next races!

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