This weekend was my first triathlon, and 24 hours later I'm still buzzing, what a trip.
As I was driving home from the magnificent Blenheim Palace, the setting of the GE Triathlon, I spoke with a friend, coach and writer, Midgie Thompson. I met Midgie last year at the London running show, and she planted the idea in my mind that I might try a tri. Perhaps like many I had not really ever even considered triathlon as an option, mainly as I was a very poor swimmer, and 45 years old is an odd time to take swimming lessons right?
I think I decided, back then, to use the goal of completing a tri as the end point in acquiring a basic skill, namely swimming, that I had never learnt as a child, and I imagined being able to do a confident long swim in open water.
Yesterday this dream came true, and I'm feeling like I've conquered a personal Everest.
What it was like?
A sprint distance triathlon is typically a 750m swim followed by a 20k bike then a 5k run. The distances at Blenheim are almost that, the swim is the same but the bike course finishes at 19.8km, and the run is longer at 5.4k. (and the first transition from swim to bike is 400m, uphill!)
The first thing about a tri event is logistics. Unlike a run event where you pretty much arrive ready to race, is you've got a ton of kit to sort out.
Tri suit, wetsuit, googles, bike, helmet, fluids, race numbers, running shoes and then a few extras like talcum powder (to help wet feet dry inside shoes) and body glide (to help ease a tight wetsuit on).
Getting all the kit together and laying it all out at the transition area is a bit of an art in itself. Before you know it, you've got your wetsuit on, and are headed to the lake with pre race nerves! Before you get in the water the officials give you a safety briefing which if you are nervous like me you barely remember.
Before you know it the air horn has gone and you're off!
Looking back, for me this was the highlight of the day. The water was a pleasant green colour, not very good visibility, but it felt and tasted clean. I started near the back of the pack and quickly settled into my stroke. Consciously trying to remember to start slowly, with a long reach, a good arm pull and few small leg kicks. I found myself gradually overtaking the swimmers who were breast stroking, and before long the half way buoy has been passed.
Even in this moment I was celebrating, I was doing it, I was swimming in control in a lake doing the front crawl, not fast but well. YES! The turn around, about 150m from the end saw the water get more choppy, and I found breathing without drinking harder, but head down, sighting every 5 or so strokes soon had me at the pontoon where a helping hand pulled me out.
I looked back to see I was far from the last to complete the swim and this felt good.
Next was a long uphill run to the transition area. It took a few mins to recover from my head still swimming, as I ran up the path, but I soon found my bike. This is where you pull off your wetsuit, put on your helmet and shoes and dash for the start of the bike ride.
Now back on the more familiar world of two wheels, I started fast and soon began overtaking slower cyclists from earlier start times. The 6.7km lap at Blenheim has 2 hills so that makes the ascent a bit of a slog, and the decent an opportunity to go fast (I got up to 59 km/h). The course is fantastic, as you get to ride in the wonderful countryside, then speed through the cheering crowds back at the palace.
After the third lap its time to get off the bike and go for a run. Welcome to the world of rubber legs!
This transition was hard, it took nearly 2.5k before I could feel my feet and my legs started running properly. It felt like I was super slow, but I just could not get my legs to go any faster. It turned out I ran my first 2k at about 5:10 per km, and the next 3k at 4:38 per km, which is slower than I'd hope to run, but that's what you get after a swim and a bike first!
Then a dash to the line and it's over.
Sean and Rhys are met by Kristina and Bob.
What I learnt and what next?
As Martin Yelling says, the first one is all about learning. I've got 2 months until my next tri and the distances will double. My learning translated into an action plan.
- Increase swim training distance by 200m a week
- Get more help on swim technique, aim to bi laterally breath every 3 strokes by end of June
- Do some turbo training to improve leg power for a faster bike ride
- Do a brick session (bike 10k then run 2k - repeat 2, 3 or 4 times) every 2 weeks to help with bike to run transition.
I can't say how much I have enjoyed getting into tri. The real gift I think is that it has really bought fitness into the core of my life, I'm a convert, I'd encourage anyone at any age regardless of current skill level in any of the 3 disciplines to give Triathlon a try.
And that the Blenheim Triathon is a GREAT first place to give it a go, see you there in 2012.
Finally a huge thanks to all who have helped me on this path, every facebook and blog comment has given me a real boost.
Special thanks to coaches and training partners: Angela Kennedy, Rhys Rose, Tom Skipp, Francis Bond, Martin Yelling, Ian Corless, Mark Booth, Phil Szomszor, Keeley Bullock, Dan Bullock, Mike Antoniades and the Lanzarote training camp team.