Sometimes the memorable races are the most monstrous, says Triathlon Plus and columnist Phil Graves

Phil Graves Blog: Graves' ExpectationsThis month I’m inspired to talk about the weather and races. This comes about after I raced Ripon Triathlon last weekend – one of the biggest races north of the Watford gap service station, and a race local to me that I like to support. Weather-wise it was perfect. That was until we all started to rack our bikes in transition, and the heavens opened. As luck would have it, the announcer came to interview me, and about halfway through it started spitting, three-quarters of the way through it was raining, and by the end it was hailing (some of the biggest hailstones I’d ever seen), which resulted in the quickest mass clearing of a transition area I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

Everyone huddled like sardines into several small gazebos for a couple of minutes (me being the productive type, got out my phone to conquer my latest interest, Angry Birds). Now all this would have been OK if it had just happened once – but we went like yo-yos, from trying to dry our bikes and set our transitions up, to sprinting for any type of cover as the heavens opened and bucketed water on our heads!

With a delay of half-an-hour we were all off, and the race went fine. But it’s so funny how triathletes respond to the weather, and it made me think of some of the awful conditions I have had to compete in over the years.

Surprisingly enough, both the most memorable races were in Wales – one was the National Junior Duathlon Championships at Bryn Bach Park and the other the National Junior Triathlon Championships at Llanelli.

I’ll start with Bryn Bach, and a race which saw a 40 per cent dropout rate in both the senior men’s and women’s field. If anyone out there can find a higher dropout race in an elite national championship then let me know. All I can remember is everyone huddling around one radiator in the café watching more and more people come in from the race after dropping out looking frozen to death in the smallest and thinnest pieces of clothing one has ever seen, and some of the lowest percentage body fat scored ever recorded.

It wasn’t that it was cold – it was just that it was wet and cold, and anyone who has raced Bryn Bach will know there is a huge ascent followed by a fast descent. The windchill on this descent was just crippling, made even worse by the fact the elite race was eight laps, so had to be done eight times in the rain, with temperatures hovering around zero. It was brutal, I was just lucky we had to only do half what they had to do, but it is right up there with the toughest races I’ve ever done.

So, just down the road to Llanelli and a very similar race, but this time it was a triathlon, and to be honest I’d have rather just stayed in the water. For another national championship race the weather was so bad you could count the spectators on one hand. Super-high winds, freezing temperatures, rain, rain and even more rain. It took me longer to put my shoes on in T2 than it took to do the rest of the race.

Ali B went on to win this one, and Jonny B went on to win our junior race at Bryn Bach – and people wonder why on earth they are the best two athletes in the world right now. Well, it’s pretty obvious they are made from Yorkshire granite. I’m more limestone – I feel ever so slightly porous. All in all, the weather is what makes racing in the UK that little bit more special. You never know what’s going to happen. I have been places where it’s 25 degrees and sunny every day and it just gets old – you crave for something to happen, for some excitement. So, next time you’re out there in the driving rain and you can’t feel your feet, think – you could be a lot worse off, you could be somewhere sunny in shorts and a T-shirt. I’m down to do Ironman Wales, so I’m hoping the Welsh weather gods are a little more kind this time round.

This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine – click here to subscribe