Will Thames

swim, bike, run, tech

Finally, I'm a Triathlete

It can’t be much less than a year ago that I bought my first copy of Runners World after recently taking up running again. With it came Triathletes World. I was even going to post it to a triathlete friend at one point, but ended up taking it on holiday to France with me as reading material instead. I didn’t even like swimming at that point, so the very idea of doing a triathlon seemed ridiculous. I’m not quite sure when that changed, but I remember thinking by the end of that long weekend in Champagne that it might not be so terrible an idea (hmm, perhaps Champagne is the clue)

Starting learning to swim again (I could literally just about swim a length when I started, although I have been able to swim further in the past) from July onwards meant that I missed last year’s triathlon season completely. I did, however, sign up to London Triathlon shortly after going to look at last year’s. The earliest triathlon I got around to signing up to (Sevenoaks Sprint got full while I dithered about entering) was the New Forest Triathlon, held at Ellingham Water ski lake.

I managed to wrap a New Forest holiday around the triathlon to take advantage of the bank holiday weekend, staying at a lovely B&B in Ringwood. Friday was spent exploring the Jurassic coast, visiting Lulworth, Durdle Door and Lyme Regis. Saturday we went to Burley and also Lymington.

Yesterday (Sunday) morning I got up at 5.15 to have breakfast before heading to the triathlon. The patter of rain on the conservatory roof was a little annoying - the weekend had so far been gorgeous. Luckily it had dried up by the drive. The walk from car park to transition area deterred me from taking my transition box - instead I just put everything I needed in my backpack, slung my wetsuit over my shoulder and pushed the bike. Registration was quick and easy, after which I ensured my transition area was suitably set up (towel, bike shoes with pre-rolled socks in, run top, bike jacket, helmet, run shoes and race belt in place). Once I saw a few other people were in wetsuits, I changed into mine, leaving my tri-shorts underneath, applying body glide under the arms, and gingerly headed over to the lake avoiding as much gravel as possible.

The sun was rising over the trees bordering the lake at this point, still quite low in the sky, so I hunted areas of grass out of shadow, in the hope that standing on them would warm up my cold feet a little. To some extent it did. We then had the race briefing, including ‘please cycle on the left’ - apparently a competitor had a fairly nasty accident last year not doing this! I then discovered I was in the first wave into the lake, and everyone started moving towards the lake. I hung back a little, wanting to avoid the cold as long as possible. However, walking into the lake, I found that the water was warmer than the ground, and the water wasn’t as unpleasant as I had feared. As a fairly poor swimmer, I headed to the rear of the scrum that is a triathlon start, and we treaded water for a minute or so, before the horn went.

I managed to keep a little space around me, avoiding the people around me, but ready to protect myself against thrashing feet, and after a while, the space opened up a little and the swimming got a little less cramped. I found that I was swimming fairly comfortably, not with perfect technique, but reasonable enough not to exhaust myself. I was also sighting regularly to ensure I was still on course. One thing I found was that I had little choice about which side to breathe - within minutes, the sun was high enough that I would be breathing into the sun on one side, so protected my eyes by breathing on the other side. Rounding the buoys that marked the course was often crowded, but I managed to avoid trouble. By the end of the swim, I was a little tired, but by no means shattered.

On leaving the lake, I felt pretty wobbly, but able to jog at a pace slightly quicker than walking to transition, where I wobbled out of my wetsuit, and into my bike gear. My transition clearly needs work, as the person next to me was in and out in a small fraction of the time I was there.

Once out on the bike, I started being overtaken. A lot. Some of the bikes made really cool whirring noises due to their aero wheels. Many of the bikes looked very shiny. I slowly got into the bike - I got some pretty good speeds out in the middle of the course, the winds and hills definitely played a part. The roads were lovely, and I quite enjoyed passing the group of 4 New Forest ponies, but cycling was my weakest link. I tried to keep cadence highish, and get a decent speed up, but the only bloke I overtook for longer than 20 seconds was on a mountain bike. I kept telling myself that if I got around in less than three hours (my goal times - 30 mins swim, 1:30 bike, 1 hour run, with transitions eating into those times) I could have a new bike, although I suspect that what I really need might just be more practice and a more flexible back (or perhaps a better fitting bike?).

Transition 2 was much quicker, racking the bike, removing bike jacket and helmet, switching shoes, moving race belt around so number was at the front (slowed down a little when the belt detached from buckle - stupid thing!).

The run was pretty horrendous - the first km was flat (and quick for me), the next few had a lot of uphill. My lower back was really giving me grief at this point, I was in a bit of pain. I plodded on slowly, and walked up the worst of the hills. This probably helped. By about 4km into the run, I was feeling a lot more comfortable. At the half way point, I took the offered water, swallowed some, breathed some (oops) and poured the rest over my head. Still far too many hills, so a few walk breaks at times, but most of my kilometre splits were sub 6 mins, which meant that I was doing well against goal times.

Peta was spectating at the finish, when I saw her waving, I returned her wave, it was lovely to see her there (she’d caught a taxi to the finish, rather than spend four hours waiting to see me during the race). I was able to gather a few more places nearing the finish, I was determined not to lose any places either, so when I noticed someone trying to pass, I picked up my pace. So did she. I picked up some more. So did she. It was an all out sprint to the finish. I have zero idea who won - there is noone with the same time in the race results. My theory is that she was from the second swim wave, so I was racing against someone who was beating me by 20 mins.

Peta came to meet me, I think she was torn between giving me a giant hug and staying well away from the dripping sweating monster, and we headed to get race tshirt, biscuits and tea, and we watched the prize giving, which was a first for me in a race, it did show that if you want lots of cheering, join a big tri-club!

I must have twisted my ankle (or sprained or strained or whatever) during the run - I even think I know when I did it, slipping off the edge of the road, and remember thinking, ‘ooh, that could have hurt, lucky escape there’ - presumably adrenaline got me through. Hopefully it will recover quickly enough.

So I am now a triathlete, and hope to remain one for a good while yet. Lots of things to learn (I need to improve my cycling, my core strength, and do better on hills on the run, improve my transition times, and continue to improve my swim, which may no longer be my ‘weak discipline’, particularly taking proportion of race time into account).

Final times: swim 1100m: 31:42, bike 34km: 1:21:30, run 10km: 56:11, total: 2:49:25. Position: 239th male (out of 263 who started, 253 finished).