On Sunday I attempted, and completed, my first ever triathlon! I’ve never done a swimming or a bike race before so the combination of the two, and some running thrown in at the end, was something that I’d always found intimidatingly daunting. So much so, that if you’ve have asked me just a year ago if I wanted to do a Tri I wouldn’t have even entertained the idea. But this has changed since I’ve had my bike as I can now do 2 out of the 3 events, and the swimming bit would just make for more of a challenge!
I had such a crazy-busy summer planned and didn’t want to spoil the fun by having to train, so opted for a late September triathlon. Tri Project had one in Thorpe park, a fun environment, and a new event so hopefully not too many serious competitors to contend with. Excited by racing around a theme park, I emailed a load of mates and managed to persuade Holly and 2 others to take on the challenge with me. By race day our numbers had dwindled and just Hols and I were left standing. We were already winning.
The race pack had been really useful in telling us all we needed to know and we were feeling quite calm as we sat giggling to X Factor on the sofa on Saturday night. When you’ve trained as hard as us, you know you must be ready. Our focused and severe training had gone as follows over the last 6 months:
Swim: 1 practice swim of full distance and 3 shorter swims (all in swimsuit). 1 swim in wetsuit the day before the event as I’d never swum in a wetsuit before.
Bike: I was well practiced. Refer to VCA challenge. My biggest concern was getting a puncture 1 mile in and ending my race.
Run: 3 training runs in total. “It’s the last bit of the race, it’ll be fine…”
So a hockey match on Saturday and a fish finger sandwich for dinner was the final piece to my pro-triathlete-puzzle. I was ready to go.
At 4:30am our alarms went off and up we hopped. A quick check of Facebook confirmed that, yes, most our mates were still out partying. Excellent.
We packed up the car and set off in the dark. It wasn’t long before we came across a taxi loaded up with tri bikes. The closer we got to the event, the more pretty-looking tri & road bikes we saw. Uh-oh, we weren’t expecting all these good people! We parked up and pulled the bikes out from their squished back seat and put them back together. Issue number 1: Holly’s wheel was jammed, but in the dark we couldn’t see why so we went through to the starting point. With all our numbers/stickers/tags etc we were able to go through to transition and a bit of a jiggle and a wiggle later Hols bike worked again. Phew!
I got to work pretending to know what I was doing. A quick glance left, then right (no, not right, that’s Holly, who has equally little idea of what we’re meant to be doing, back to the left) and copied my fellow triathletes. Issue number 2: We forgot towels. How did we forget towels?! Instead, I threw my hoody down then popped my gloves, energy gel and race number (on race belt – defo helpful) on top. I put my shoes beside this with socks just poking out, ready to be rammed on shortly. I stood back and admired my neat, organised pile. Yep, I had this triathlon malarkey sussed.
We forced our wetsuits on and lubed up our wrists and ankles, just like everyone around us. Then, after a quick race briefing it was time to get down to business.
All the other groups had set off it was time for us to slide down the bank into the water. I was dreading the cold but it was actually rather pleasant. About 10 degrees (could be exaggerating, I’m not a thermometer, I don’t know the actual difference) warmer than the previous day’s experience so no brain freeze, hurrah! I practiced my treading water, pulled my goggles down and settled myself towards the outside/back of the pack, as advised “for a beginner”. Well sometimes not all advice is good. The whistle went and off we swam DIRECTLY into pond weed. Not just that little green stuff that goes on top, but thick weeds that clawed away at our legs and arms and wrapped themselves around our limbs. It was awful! There were shrieking ladies all around, whilst the ‘speedies’ over on the main race pack had a much clearer path and weren’t held back. So much for staying at the side! One girl got in so much trouble that she couldn’t move and had to be rescued by a kayak. But given the bad water conditions there were only 2 kayaks so what would happen if anyone else got into trouble?! I just doggy-paddled my way over the reeds until I found some clear water and was finally able to get more into my stroke. Turns out I’m not even that bad at swimming! When I was doing a proper stroke I was catching up with people so I just kept swimming, swimming, swimming until the end when I was hauled out by some kind volunteers and up onto dry land.
Off I jogged, unzipping myself as I went and pulling my arms from my suit. I kept being told by the marshals to slow down as it was slippy, so I couldn’t really go very fast. I felt very dazed and confused too. I struggled my way out the wetsuit and then wobbled about putting my socks and shoes on. Next time I should take a little chair. Much faster if I could sit down and do it. Finally I was ready, helmet on, bike in hand. I ran to the yellow line and whizzed off on my bike. This bit was ACE, I was so much stronger in the bike section so started doing some overtaking which felt much better. I ended up reaching a comfort zone in the cycle at the same pace as ‘Red’ (a lady in a red top), but it was quite awkward as you’re not meant to draft but how do you avoid it?! Everytime Red overtook me I slipped in behind her, so my pace picked up and I shot past her, only for her to do the same a few minutes later. So we sort of bunny-hopped our way along. I was thrilled when our one and only ‘hill’ (hmm…slope) came up as I whizzed past 5 people, yippee! But then at the bottom of the hill there was a roundabout that we had to go the whole way around and my cornering just wasn’t as nippy as theirs so they made up some time on me. I then had ‘Blue’ to deal with, and she was determined not to let me past. I kept up my fight and eventually got ahead. These simple wins helped me keep a bit of pace on the bike, and I think if I’d have been with stronger people around me I would have gone a bit faster too.
Onto the run and without cleats I had a quick transition – “just hang up my bike, take off my helmet and GO!” …as well as a few extra seconds standing around, phased, thinking, “I’m sure I’ve forgotten something….what is it…hm…I’ve got my shoes….I don’t need a coat. Yes, I’m probably ready now”. The run was slow. Well that’s what happens when you don’t train! But I was determined not to stop so I just plodded along around the course, waving to Holly, who blew kisses back, whenever the course went back on itself, which was nice!
Finally, I rounded the bend for the finish line…off I sped, end in sight, racing towards it. But…it was weird. No one was clapping! Everyone was just chatting and standing in the way of the finish line as the organisers hadn’t left enough space at the end for a crowd. I almost had to bombard my way through the finish! I waited at the end, a bit confused but not wanting the same for Holly. As soon as she came into sight I started shouting, “HOLLY, GO GO GO, HURRAAAAAY, YOU DID IT!!” and made it much more exciting and clappy.
We went to claim our winners t-shirts and enjoy the little celebration of being told “well done, here’s your t-shirt” but instead there were just a few tables with different sized t-shirts and some volunteers saying “grab a shirt, here’s a jaffa cake”. It was a strange end to the race! We didn’t even know our times as there was no scoreboard and times were only available on laptops, at the front of long queues. So we headed off to the transition area to collect our things. My wetsuit had made friends, lucky wetsuit! 2 spiders, 1 woodlouse and a slug. Nice. I popped my onesie on (I’m surprised I was the only person with the post-race-onesie idea….it was perfect) and left the theme park, past queues of confused-looking adrenalin-pumped teens.
I spent the whole evening feeling sick – I think I got too much pond-juice in my system, eeeugh – and contemplating my potential times. I had already realised that improvements for next time will be T1 and my run, but I don’t think I ever want to take it too seriously. One of the best bits was doing the whole thing with one my best buddies. So with no times to go by Hols and I decided we could lie about it, no one needed to know our real times as it was probably only just under 2 hours. But we woke up this morning with an email about our results, and I can’t believe it! 1 hour 34! I don’t really know what good and bad race times are but this just feels good. I’ve never done a triathlon before so I could only really compare against other people to know if it was any good:
I was 44th out of 91 women and exactly (well one place better than) middle of my category too. Not bad for attempt numero uno, hey?!
With results to back me up, I can confirm: I am better than average!
(Times for my reference in future!)