June 14th saw my long awaited debut at a triathlon. Preparations had gone reasonably well. The cycling was improving week on week, the days proceeding the triathlon saw another Witham Wheelers Ten Mile course PB at the club championships, then an entertaining first-time chain gang ride on the Thursday evening which averaged over 22mph for the 40 mile ride. The running has inexplicably been better than it has ever been and the swimming…. Well the less said about the lack of swimming training the better. An indication of how little training I did was that my googles broke mid-swim six weeks ago and it took me three weeks to get around to replacing them.
I was probably more nervous for this triathlon then I’ve been for many a year at a running race. What was immediately apparent the day before when preparing kit was that there is so much more to remember to pack for a triathlon than a running race. I thought I had it all covered when my wife suggested I pack my swimming goggles at close to midnight – probably the second most important bit of kit required.
An early six o’clock wake up call and a military operation to get everyone up and out of the house before seven am went smoothly. The drive to Woodhall Spa was painless and we were there just under two hours before my allotted start time. We were very lucky to get the last car park space in the main car park close to the event. Had we been a minute or two later we would have had a lengthy walk which, with no buggy for the two year old, would have been interesting.
I collected my race number and caught the last few minutes of the race briefing. Nothing too complicated, just a few rules that had to be adhered to or face the risk of time penalties or worse. Back to the car and it was time to reassemble the bike, which thankfully was mostly painless. I changed into my Aldi special tri suit and went to rack my bike. An immediate school boy error was that most other entrants had bought some kind of box to store all the kit required for the run and swim. I had bought nothing and had to improvise with a plastic bag. Nothing too disastrous but it would make things a little trickier than necessary.
Once bike was checked over and racked up I went for a 10 minute run warm up. That at least felt familiar and I was pleased to see that the running legs felt good. After saying farewell to the family, who were firmly entrenched in the kids’ playground, I headed to the pool where we would begin the triathlon with a 400 meter swim. I was there 20 minutes before my start time and I took the time to check over the procedure and protocol and generally become more nervous.
At 9:36 I was called with five other swimmers to our lanes. I was in lane 4. The gentleman next to me I think was a fellow novice, a fellow novice also in an Aldi special tri suit, who was not convinced it was going to last the swim. I reassured him that I had tried the suit once in the pool and it hadn’t disintegrated, so I hope that put his mind at rest.
At 9:38 we were off and I headed off for a long 400 meters. The pool is 33m long and heated, which most proper swimmers dislike, but I rather enjoyed. My front crawl is inefficient and ripe for ripping apart from a coach and improving, but for now I just swam the best I could without killing myself through drowning. I counted down the lengths – 12 of them – which seemed to take an eternity, but I had my family standing poolside cheering me on which helped immeasurably.
Finally I’d completed the 400 meters and I clambered somewhat ungracefully from the pool, pulling off the swim cap and hurling my goggles at my wife, which she amazingly caught. I’d put 10 minutes down for my predicted time, and, according to the results, 10:00 is what I clocked, so at least I know I’m not very good at swimming very accurately. The triathlon was run as a time-trial so I was surrounded by fairly similarly untalented swimmers – the results show I set the 412th fastest time out of 663 who completed the swim. If I ever do another triathlon then it is clearly the swim where I can make some significant gains.
Another area where I can improve dramatically is transition. My first experience of swim to bike was nothing short of a farce. I struggled to find my socks in the plastic bag, then couldn’t tighten properly my cycle shoes. I struggled with the cycle mits then the
gel number belt. I dithered over whether to wear a long sleeved cycle jersey, the temperature sitting at around 12C. After 20 seconds of further indecision I opted not to wear it and with the aero helmet on I wobbled off in my shoes to the transition line – where I stopped again to try to fasten the shoes before climbing the bike and heading off, having set just the 549th fastest time through T1.
Once I’d settled into the saddle at least now I felt I was tackling something I was relatively familiar with, having tackled a couple of months of time trials. The legs felt surprisingly stiff after the swim, but I soon began to pick off cyclists ahead of me. The 25km course is fairly technical with plenty of turns and some rough surfaces along the way. I tried as best I could to remain in the tuck on the tri bars and pushed at around 90% of what I have been doing in the time trials. The ride got easier in the second half as it turned out we had been mostly climbing gently for the opening 20 minutes or so. In fact I was just getting my legs used to pedalling when I realised that we were coming back towards transition.
There were two tips I took with me to this triathlon. The first was to put talc in my socks to allow them easy passage onto my feet after the swim. This worked a charm. The other was to drop down on to the small chain ring and pedal at more than 100rpm for a km or so before the end of the bike ride to help the beginning of the run, where I should try and maintain a high cadence of more than 190bpm for the first half mile.
As the transition came to me rather abruptly, I only had 20 seconds or so to spin the high cadence before I was screeching to a halt and unclipping the shoes from the pedals. No thoughts of trying to get the feet out of the shoes while on the bike. I kept things simple and waddled as best I could in my cycle shows to my bike rack. The second transition was still not that quick (dithered over removing gloves and sunglasses) but happily better than the first one – a mere 406th fastest and only 30 seconds or so slower than most of the quicker guys and girls as opposed to 90 seconds at T1. The bike ride though was a much more pleasing state of affairs – my split of 42:16 turned out to be the 56th fastest bike leg – only six quicker than me were not members of a triathlon club.
It was now the moment of truth – how would the legs feel after the bike and swim on the run leg? I know from a few previous attempts at a post bike ride run (Known as a brick run for reasons I know not), that it can feel alarmingly bad, as though the legs are almost disconnected from the brain in terms of working properly or feeling normal.
Thankfully the moment the run began they felt almost as though I hadn’t cycled or swam at all. I didn’t have to worry about the high cadence thing and cracked on with the run. The only difficulty I had with the run was that the Garmin – which I’d used on Auto Multisport for the first time, for reasons best known to the circuitry contained within, decided to swap my familiar pace guide of minutes per mile to minutes per kilometer. I didn’t have the foggiest what pace it was suggesting I was running and so could only rely initially on old fashioned tips such as it felt quite quick, it felt comfortable, and I was passing people regularly and not being passed.
It was though a huge relief that the watch beeped to give me a mile split – 5:31. I was a little shocked by this – this was the same sort of pace I ran at the BUPA 10K! Boosted by this positive split I pushed on again, not letting the somewhat dull course and the brief emergence of some warm June sunshine put me off. I ignored the drinks stop at nearly half way and clocked the second mile in 5:34. At this point we were running on a narrow pavement which was quite uneven and with not much room to pass runners. It wasn’t a huge issue but it slowed me a touch.
I recognised at a corner that we were heading back towards transition and I realised that the legend of triathlon distances being a little fast and loose in terms of accuracy would hold true, for it was no time at all that I was ushered off the pavement and into the finish chute, which, according to my now metric Garmin, was around 200 meters shy of 5km. I averaged 5:35 for the final mile and felt no ill effects after the finish – a million miles away from the similarly paced 5k I ran at Melton Parkrun just a month earlier.
Once I’d had my transponder removed and I’d reunited myself with family, I went to get my finishing results, which were then verified the next day. The run split was timed at 16:37, which was the third fastest of the day and bettered only by the winner overall and the seventh placed finisher. That rapid run saw me finish in 1:12:44 which was good for 67th position, which was exactly a third better than my unstated desire to finish in the top 100. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done on the swim, bike and transitions, but there could be a future in triathlon – if I can get myself a load of money!
Still feeling fresh I decided not to try and disassemble the bike into the back of the car, and set about riding the 30 odd miles back home which was a pleasantly leisurely affair. I had chance to mull over my first triathlon and whether I actually enjoyed it. I concluded that it on the whole it was a good experience but I am not sure whether I enjoyed it that much. That, more than anything, was down to it being a sprint triathlon. All three disciplines are over so fast that it was all a bit of a blur and I didn’t have the opportunity to appreciate the surroundings or maybe embrace the experience with fellow competitors and spectators like you arguably can at longer events or at an event where you are taking part just to finish. The same holds true of my comparative dislike of shorter running events like 5k and 10k over the longer disciplines. So, to conclude, it wasn’t the discipline I didn’t enjoy, it was more the type of discipline that perhaps isn’t my cup of tea.
It’ll probably be another year before I tackle another triathlon, but I hope to do a duathlon in the Autumn, fitness permitting. Until then it is work on the cycling, the swimming and the running…