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Tri-hard … BAC’s Baldwin grinds to earn GB vest in St Neots season-closer

Steven Baldwin writes …
My first couple of triathlons of the year hadn’t quite gone to plan, I’d failed to perform at the level I’d hoped I was capable of. But I’d then backed those up with a second place finish at Hitchin Sprint Tri and sixth place at “Calfman” Triathlon in Olney so I knew my fitness levels were in a good place. I was determined to use that fitness to complete a last block of training, a final push towards one more big performance.

It had been pointed out the final St Neots standard distance triathlon on 2nd September was a qualifier for the 2019 European Triathlon Union (ETU) championship in Weert, Netherlands. I had completed the first St Neots Tri back in May (Although the venue was changed to Grafham Water) and it had been a disaster; the water was still freezing so I was shivering with cold, I had a mechanical issue on the bike and by the time I hit the run, I’d completely run out of energy and motivation.

Refusing to be put off by my previous experience, I decided it would be an opportunity to test myself against a high-calibre field so signed up at the beginning of August and paid the £10 fee to register my interest in ETU qualification.

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Steven’s suited up and ready to go. Photo by Sally-Ann Baldwin

The race was based at Riverside Park, St Neots and I had been to the event registration the day before to collect my goody bag (timing chip, race numbers and swim hat). This gave me peace of mind that on race day I’d have very little to do other than dump my bike in transition and get to the swim start. Walking around transition is always an intimidating experience, seasoned triathletes tinkering with their time-trial bikes costing more than most would spend on a car. Although I largely block them out and focus on my own race it’s worth being nosey, you may pick up a few little time-savers.

Swimming has always been my achilles heel. Although I had basic swim lessons as a kid, it never went any further than that. Since starting triathlon at the tail-end of 2016, I’ve taught myself front crawl and gradually improved. To begin with, I could barely swim a pool length without feeling out of breath and having to stop.

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Triathletes take to the Ouse. Photo by Sally-Ann Baldwin

The St Neots swim was a one lap course up and down the Great Ouse, setting off in multiple waves of approximately 100 competitors per wave. The race starts with the usual chaos as everybody jostles for position, limbs getting thrown all over the place. I always choose to start wide and steer clear of the scrap to avoid getting pummelled. Thankfully the river current was minimal although it definitely felt tough when making the turn to head back upstream. Unlike previous races, I didn’t push myself too hard and just focused on not letting my form drop. As you can’t read your watch while swimming, it’s difficult to know the pace you’re going until you exit the water.  I was astonished when I stopped my watch to see a swim time of 27:04, almost 5 minutes quicker than I had managed at Grafham Water!

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Photo courtesy of Nice-Tri

I quickly stripped off my wetsuit, put helmet on and on to the bike, all in the space of 57 seconds. Getting transitions right is key and a great chance to make up time on fellow competitors. In the lead-up to a race, I’ll always get a few practice transitions in to ensure it goes as slick as possible.

St Neots has a fantastic bike course and they’re roads I’m very familiar with. It’s a not-hilly-but-not-flat loop out through the Staughtons which you complete two laps of for a distance of 45km (5km more than normal standard triathlon). As it was an ETU qualifier, the event was sold out and this really showed on the bike leg. In the early stages it was very difficult to find space on the road and stay clear of peoples’ slipstreams. Following a fellow competitor too closely is known as drafting and can lead to time penalties and even disqualification if you’re caught doing it.

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Steven during the bike stage. Photo by Sally-Ann Baldwin

Those who follow my training on Strava will know I do a majority of my bike training indoors on a turbo trainer using the online application Zwift. This allows me to get a much more structured workout than if I was to just go out for a ride. It’ll tell me the power I need to produce and for how long, all from the comfort of my own home without any worrying about traffic, etc. It helps me understand how hard I can push on the bike but still at a sustainable effort. Since I started using Zwift, I’ve seen my bike speeds go up and up. I covered the bike course in 1:13:41 which equates to 22.6mph (or 36.4kmph) average, an approximate 1mph improvement on Grafham (approx 3 mins faster).

51 seconds after climbing off the bike, I was out on to the run course. The course comprises of four laps round Riverside Park, very flat but with long sections of grass. The previous weeks training with “BAC fast” had been aimed at locking into the target race pace, Paul Davies suspected this would be somewhere around 6:05-6:10 per mile. This target turned out to be bang on, without even looking at the watch I found myself running in this range. It was a largely uneventful run, just holding the target pace, passing plenty of slower runners with only one person overtaking me in return. I completed the 9km course (1km short of official distance) in 34:55, giving me an overall time of 2:17:50. It is difficult to compare triathlon performances because courses are rarely accurately measured but I feel this was comfortably my best to date and a fantastic end to my season.

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Steven fights to the finish. Photo courtesy of Nice-Tri

The ETU qualification process is quite complex and would put anybody to sleep. Long story short, I didn’t get any automatic spot as I was outside the top four in my age group. However, as my time was so near to the age group winner, I was able to get a rolldown (or fastest loser) place. So next June I will have the honour of pulling on a GB tri-suit and competing at the European championships as an Age-Grouper (amateur).

I hope by sharing my experience, anybody considering getting involved in Triathlon will act on it give it a go. It took me a long time to pluck up the courage to enter an event and I haven’t looked back since. For me it all started with a 29:14 Parkrun in 2015 and now I get to represent Great Britain as a triathlete, it’s actually crazy! You never know where you might end up.

Roll on Weert 2019!

The big 10 … BAC decathletes summon up Dutch courage

Two Biggleswade Athletic Club multi-eventers lined up against formidable opponents in the shape of two Dutch internationals at the recent Surrey Combined Events Championships. Dan Steel was competing in his last decathlon in a BAC vest, while Darren Janssen was competing in his first.

Steel said: “This was my chance to have a crack at the outdoor club record from 2015, after breaking the indoor record in January. There was a buzz around the athletes with Trystan de Weerdt and Niels Mijnsbergen in our event – the standard was going to be high. They would be in every single one of my races!”

Day one consisted of the 100m, long jump, shot put, high jump and 400m. Immediately the class of the Dutch athletes told. Steel said: “The 100m went almost as expected – a solid start but I was left for dead by Trystan. Not my quickest time this year, but OK: 12.27sec.”

Janssen was glad of the company from his clubmate. “This was the most nervous I had been for an athletic competition. I started the first of two days cautiously as I battled the nerves, but after the first event was over I soon settled in and started to just enjoy the day.” He put in a solid time of 13.11, while De Weerdt and Mijnsbergen finished in 11.36 and 11.51 respectively.

Dan Steel long jump 2. By Gemma Dixon
Dan Steel in the long jump. Original video by Gemma Dixon

The long jump saw the BAC pair start to find their form. “I started to feed off the energy that the Dutch were giving out,” said Steel. “But 6.12m was still down on my PB from 2015.” Janssen, meanwhile, posted a personal best 5.21m in the event. Then came the shot, and “things started to unravel” for Steel, with 9.03m his worst effort of the season, a metre down on his PB. Janssen was just 4cm further back, with 8.99m.

Darren Janssen long jump. By Gemma Dixon
Darren Janssen in the long jump. Original video by Gemma Dixon

Steel was concerned with his knee during the high jump, an area that had troubled him earlier in the season. He found himself using valuable energy needing three attempts to clear heights that were within him, but rallied to finish with a clearance of 1.68m. Janssen managed 1.50m while the Dutch pair both cleared 1.86m.

The 400m rounded out day one, and any doubts of the class of the opposition were dispelled as Mijnsbergen crossed the line in 51.43, with De Weerdt finishing in 52.72. “After 150m I was chasing thin air and my time suffered as a result,” said Steel, who finished in 57.44, while Janssen lamented his “poorly executed” performance as his “low point” of the day, as he finished outside 63 seconds.

The pair regrouped for day two, with Steel 117 points back from where he hoped to be in order to take on the BAC record. “Not an impossible task, but difficult.” Janssen was managing a “minor niggling hip injury”, but felt well-rested for the competition ahead,

First up was the 110m hurdles. “I had a bad race,” said Steel. “But my time was my third-fastest ever – I’m really not sure how!” His 19.38 and Janssen’s 21.09 were once again thrown into sharp relief by the class around them, as both Dutchmen went well below 16 seconds.

110m hurdles. By Gemma Dixon
Steel and Janssen take on the Dutch pair in the 110m hurdles. Original video by Gemma Dixon

Steel’s run at the club record was almost derailed entirely after two fouls in the discus. “This was very nearly a disaster – two throws outside the sector, one very safe final attempt of 23.04m.” Janssen took the opportunity to get one over on his clubmate, and did so in fine style: “I was able to set a new personal best, finally breaking the 30m mark!” His best effort went out to 30.94m, just 1cm down on Mijnbergen’s mark.

Darren Janssen pole vault. By Gemma Dixon
Janssen in the pole vault. Original video by Gemma Dixon

Janssen continued his resurgence in the pole vault, equalling his PB in the pole vault with a fine effort of 2.60m. Steel was struggling with his knee but rallied to clear 3.10m and suddenly found himself ahead of schedule in his record chase.

Dan Steel pole vault. By Gemma Dixon
Steel in the pole vault. Original video by Gemma Dixon

The penultimate event was the javelin, and Steel “was desperate to create a gap knowing my final event wasn’t going to be quick – so I was hitting the Jav with everything I had”. He sent his best effort out to a fine 37.10m, with Janssen managing 32.19m.

Now all eyes were on Steel’s own club record of 4610 points. “My javelin meant anything under 5:24.5 in the 1500m would do it. I tried staying in touch with the leaders early on but again got isolated. Luckily one of my rivals passed me with 250m to go and it kicked me back into gear. 5:18.53. It was also quick enough to stay ahead of my rival overall Mark Andrews of Holland Sports by five points, he’s beaten me for the last two years so I was delighted to get one back!”

Janssen said he was “let down by my overall fitness and stamina coming into the final event”.  “As a result, I was only able to muster a poor performance in the 1500m as a dragged myself round.” His time of 6:32.52 gave him plenty to build on, and he remarked: “It was a disappointing way to end, and I felt deflated. However, I am determined to use this negative as motivation to improve my overall fitness across the winter months.”

Steel’s final tally was 4641 points. “After 3 years of disappointment trying to break the club record again, it was good to prove to myself that I could get back to the results of 2015.”

Decathletes. By Gemma Dixon

Janssen said of his first experience of decathlon: “The overall event was really challenging, but really fun, and I’m looking forward to competing in another one. I’d like to thank Daniel for mentoring and motivating me, the club coaches – especially Alison Ridley – for helping train me, and BAC for making me feel welcome when I first joined the club. If anyone wants to give athletics a try, it does not matter about age or ability, it’s all about having fun and I encourage anyone to come to Biggleswade AC and give it a go.”

England international high jumper Leonie Brunning was another in multi-event action, competing at the English Schools’ Combined Events Championships in Bedford. In the intermediate girls’ heptathlon, she managed 13.41sec in the 80m hurdles, 1.65m in the high jump, 8.94m in the shot, 29.88sec in the 200m, 4.71m in the long jump, 25.69m in the javelin and 2:49.78 in the 800m. This gave her a score of 3,790 points for a creditable 26th place overall.

Brunning joined Steel at the Eastern Combined Events in Peterborough last weekend. Dan was disappointed to have to withdraw early on due to injury, but Brunning came second in the under-17s womens competition, which took in five events. She managed 13.24sec in the 80m hurdles, 9.35m in the shot, 1.59m in the high jump, 5.08m in the long jump and 2:51.82 in the 800m.

Teagan Blake and Leonie Brunning. NO CREDIT PLEASE
Teagan Blake and Leonie Brunning.

Teagan Blake, competing in her first multi-events competition, lined up in the under-15s field and came an fine 10th with a points total of 1,870. Her performances consisted of 3.55m in the long jump, 14.30sec in the 75m hurdles, 7.24m in the shot, 1.33m in the high jump and 2:54.63.