2 days ago I completed a Sprint Triathlon. If I had told myself this two and a half years ago, I would have wet my pants laughing at the prospect, but there we have it. It’s true. I have the medal (and it’s my favourite medal too).
I think it’s important to remember where I started before I recount Monday’s exploits because I really and completely truly believe that if I can achieve a Sprint Triathlon, then quite literally anyone can. You can do anything you put your mind to if you want to do it enough. The fact that the idea scares you is not a reason not to try because the more the idea scares you, the greater the sense of achievement and more alive you feel because of it. Two and half years ago, the idea of running terrified me but knew that I needed to do something drastic to improve my health. I wanted to be an active, not lumpy Mum and I needed to set my daughters a better example. So I downloaded the couch to 5k app and over the past 2 and half years have persevered with what has become the most complicated relationship of my entire life. Running. I am not fast. I am not a natural runner. Most of the time I actively hate it. It makes me swear and often cry……but it has also given me more than anyone could have ever predicted. Not only a 4 stone weightloss, healthier heart, longer life expectancy (we hope), lower cholestorol, peace of mind, better sleep and the ability to eat (within reason) whatever I like as well as a haul of medals, but most importantly it has given me good friends, my squad, my tribe. I am part of a family of women who all met through running. I would not have met these people if it wasn’t for running; Hattie, Curly Sue, Merida, Miss Fonda, Ariel, Ruby Red, Captain, LA Blond, the list goes on and on. Two and half years ago I didn’t know any of them, but now count some to be part of my “inner circle” of great friends.
So if you are about to start on a couch to 5k course using whatever means you have chosen (app or running group), don’t be afraid of being afraid. Embrace it and remember that you can do it if you really want to do it…and one day it might lead you to a triathlon medal!
So enough of the mushy stuff….let’s talk triathlon. There is more to triathlon than swimming, cycling and running. There is also the complicated lesson of logistics. In order to participate in a triathlon you have to transport your bike to the venue and this requires a bike rack. Now we have a bike rack, but it comes out maybe twice a year and we always need to watch a youtube video to remember how to rack the bikes onto it. The Red Lady and I were due to start our swim at 7.41am, which meant in order to have enough time to get everything sorted out before we started we would need to set off at 5.30am. Ugh. I am not a morning person and I believe that the only reason you should ever be up at 5am is to board a plane for a holiday….but at this time of the morning we needed to be ready to go and faffing about getting the bikes on a rack wasn’t an option. Therefore the Red Lady bought her bike round on Sunday evening and thank goodness she did. After 45 minutes of trying to get the bikes onto the rack during which we all got covered in oil, we finally got the bikes on to then discover that the car would not go in the garage with the bikes on. Needless to say, there was swearing…..so the next morning, my very lovely Husband got up with me at 5am to help rack the bikes up and at 5.30am the Red Lady and I were away and off on our adventure. (Husband and daughters were to arrive later but in time to cheer me on for the run.)
When we arrived at Westonbirt House, the location of the Sprint Triathlon, we had to go and collect our race pack which had instructions for transition (the area where you go from swim to bike and then bike to run, essentially where you leave all your kit), lots and lots of stickers (to put on your bike and helmet) and race number tattoos. As I have already said, I am not good in the morning and nerves, coupled with my general ineptitude first thing in the morning resulted in my leg looking like this when I had finished.
So now as I was clearly looking professional….the Red Lady and I headed off towards the swimming pool to await instructions. The swim leg was 400m and I had been allocated “lane 2, position 1” which meant I was given a red swimming hat. The Westonbirt Sprint Triathlon is put on by a company called DB Max and they are brilliant. I don’t know if all triathlons are like this, but every single Marshall on Monday was superb. The lady in the pool explained with expert clarity that red hats would go in first and that there would 5 swimmers per lane, each wearing a different coloured hat and we would be starting in 10 second intervals. We were each in charge of counting our own number of lengths but there was also a person counting at the end of each lane who would help. If you are tapped on the feet whilst swimming, you must let the tapper overtake you at the end of the length then when you’re done you jump out and then you’re off to transition. Pretty simple. I was off first (being a red hat) and I did feel the pressure as I knew everyone would be chasing me. The Red Lady and a TMR Mum Jemima, was also in the same wave but a different starting position. Despite having practiced my front crawl religiously since January, I am ashamed to say that as I sat listening to the Marshall, surrounded by other triathletes (some of which looked fairly experienced) I lost my bottle and at the last minute changed my plan of swimming all front crawl, to swimming alternate breaststroke then front crawl. I was tapped on the foot twice but on the whole I was pleased with my swim. I had set myself the target of completing the swim in less than 12 minutes and my chip time (which you wear on a strap around your ankle) registered 11.35. I marked it up as a success.
What I hadn’t practiced however, was getting out the pool and getting to my bike in a soaking wet trisuit. I had practiced getting off the bike into a run but not the swim to bike. Westonbirt is also slightly unusual in that there is a 600-700m run from the swimming pool to the transition area (where my bike was) and I was surprised by how weird it felt. I got out the pool and ran to my towel, quickly dried my feet and put my shoes and socks on and tried to run. It wasn’t easy. My legs were wobbly and I felt strangely self conscious as there were lots of spectators walking around, getting in my way too ( “please MOVE I am doing a triathlon” – I muttered inwardly to myself, or words to that effect…) as well as swimmers in later waves walking to the pool. Everyone was offering support but as most trisuits are black, it’s impossible to see who is wet and who is dry so it was a confusing run.
The rules of the transition are plentiful but they all follow a common sense theme. You are not allowed to touch the bike until you are wearing your helmet and this follows that when you come back in from the bike leg, you are not allowed to take your helmet off until you have parked your bike. Safety, safety and safety. I didn’t rush in transition (I should have been quicker really and I will be quicker on future triathlons) but I didn’t want to break any rules. The Red Lady caught me up and we had a little chat as we prepared ourselves. I am quintessentially British and spend a lot of my life worrying about being appropriately dressed for the weather. One of the things I was most worried about on Monday (other than getting up at 5am) was whether I would be cold on the cycle. I would be wet…and hopefully travelling quite quickly so in theory could get very cold. Therefore I decided to put a Tshirt on for the cycle, somehow rationalising that this would keep me warm over a soaking wet trisuit!
There is a “line” at the edge of transition and you cannot get onto your bike until you are over it and also you are not allowed to cross the line coming back from the cycle whilst on your bike. Again safety, safety, safety. You must not ride your bike in the transition zone in case you hurt someone. The DB Max Marshalls were all positioned perfectly – as you headed out to the run the Marshall here had a loud booming voice, full of encouragement and enthusiasm, calling everyone “Runner” and telling us we could all “do it” and we were “amazing”. By contrast, the Marshall situated by the transition line entering and leaving the bike area shouted instructions at us reminiscent of a Sargeant Major but he had clearly decided that not one triathlete would forget the rule and risk disqualification on his watch, so barked at us loudly. It was a bit scary coming in as he shouted at me to “remember the line and get off your bike” but it was invaluable as I had spotted my family and was more intent on waving at them than remembering to get off the bike before the transition line.
As the Red Lady and I headed out to embark on our 24k cycle I felt excited. Now as much as I struggle with running, the opposite is true of my bike. Prior to Monday, thanks to my UGIDA, I had only managed 3 rides on my bike but I had always felt that this would be the strongest section for me and I wasn’t wrong. I quickly sped away and really began to push the cycle. For much of the ride I was on my own, surrounded my beautiful countryside and I found myself nodding to early morning dog walkers and then talking to the horses that were watching from the fields. “Good Morning Mr Horse” I shouted to them, like a crazy woman, but smiling. I felt truly happy. Also mindful of the advice of a professional contact, Mr Lapin, who had advised that I needed to “not come last and overtake a man” I made sure that I overtook the first man I saw (I don’t think he was very happy) and I was not last. I was ecstatic. I love cycling. I sped down the hills so fast that I wanted to squeal and pushed up the hills, digging in, not wanting to slow down. It’s a slippery slope though as I am already eyeing up cleats, new pedals etc but I am confident that I can be good (or at least not completely rubbish) at cycling. I mean, my enormous glute muscles must be good for something!
Finally, I got off the bike and almost into the arms of the enthusiastic Marshall as I set off on the run. My legs were wobbly and they felt very tired. I hadn’t been cold on the cycle as I had feared because it was warm and muggy and because I was peddling my little heart out. My average heartrate on the cycle was 150 beats per minute and I was hot when I got back. A trisuit is essentially a very large pair of spanx and it hides NOTHING. It is not an outfit for the body conscious but I think it says something about the atmosphere on Monday that in transition, I pulled my Tshirt off and ran in only my trisuit without really giving it too much thought. Westonbirt Sprint triathlon is an event for all types of athletes, all levels of fitness and all shapes and sizes, all doing their best and working towards that medal. I didn’t look out of place as I ran in my black lycra outfit. The run was nothing short of horrendous. It was here that the 5 weeks when I was unable to train properly due to UGIDA really showed. I had planned to run/walk the final 5k 3 minutes and 30 seconds, but this didn’t really happen. My legs didn’t seem to work properly at all but at the same time worked very fast. I couldn’t seem to take normal size strides…so was running in a fashion akin to someone in a Benny Hill sketch running to pat a bald man on the head with comedy music accompanying me. I was 5 minutes ahead of the Red Lady at the end of the cycle but she caught me up. We passed each other (the run was laps) before she caught me and she was clearly enjoying the run as much as I was as she shouted to me “I don’t like you very much at the moment”….. She didn’t mean it, I don’t think!!! 5 minutes later she had caught me and slowed down for a quick chat. I urged her on telling her not to wait and she was off. She was so strong on Monday and I am so proud of her.
On the final lap, I was really hurting but my cheer squad, Husband and Daughters, cheered me over the line and I was ecstatic. The finishers “high” was immense and I don’t think I have experienced a high as big since my very first 10k in 2016. I am a triathlete! I cannot believe it. I am very proud of myself.
There was 444 competitors on Monday and I came 380th in the swim, 385th on the bike and 434th in the run. I am always found out on the run.
Over a celebratory breakfast with Curly Sue this morning, we have formulated a plan which will hopefully help me to run faster (finally) and be stronger. I am going to redo couch to 5k but hopefully running faster and slow jogging the walking bits. I’m going to continue cycling (have I mentioned that I love it?!) and swimming but I’m also going to embark on serious strength training. I have ordered some weights and I will get strong. I want to do more triathlons and I’m also considering a wetsuit to try some lake swimming as I would like to do a longer Olympic Distance triathlon. But I don’t want my running to always undo all of the progress made by the swim and bike. I’m also entered for the Portishead Sprint Triathlon in early August so plenty to focus the mind.
So I enter a new phase….again! Get fast and get strong. Arm wrestle anyone?….