Yesterday (the 8th November), I took part in my first ever triathlon event along with Caius (also doing his first ever), Liberty’s Boyfriend (who has done a couple before) & our friend Kian (another first-timer, though braver/more mental than Caius & I and did the longer distance discipline).
I was seriously under-prepared after my training somewhat stopped two months before the event through a combination of laziness, Summer Holiday chaos and moving house. I approached the ‘Fun’ challenge (a 200m swim, 20km cycle and 2.5km run) having never cycled 20km in one go before and incapable of running 2.5km without walking ¾ of it. I could do the swim in the 5 minutes 40 seconds I had put down on my entry form though – so I had that going for me at least.
The day arrived and off we went, checking in and getting our race numbers written on our upper arms and calves, sticking race number stickers on our bikes and helmets and attaching our race numbers to our race-belts. All of that done there was nothing else to do but walk down to the poolside to wait for our slots to rack up our bikes and get ready to go. It was a very long walk and I was out of breath by the time we got there – not the greatest start to the day…
By the time the boys had all set off I was left standing waiting for my number to be called out to set my bike up and was gradually feeling sicker and sicker with fear. I was all for walking back to the car and hiding there when the person standing next to me said quietly, “Is this your first one, too?”
She had the running number before mine so we waited together and were both relieved to discover that neither of us had ever cycled the distance in one go before and were equally baffled and nervous about the whole thing.
We helped each other to rack our bikes and arranged our running kit beside it before going to the poolside for our race briefing and then lining up to start.
The brine pool where the swim took place was a surprisingly comfortable temperature and the swim was nice and simple. There were three roped lanes, you swam up and down the outside of the first lane, ducked under the rope into the second lane and went up and down, ducked under the last rope, swam up and down and then got out. Easy peasy.
My swim went fine, I did it all breast stroke apart from half of the last length where I slipped into front crawl because my right arm cramped up and I needed to stretch it out. I also kicked someone/got crashed into by someone when they tried to overtake at a stupid point. I had literally just pushed off in the second lane, I hadn’t even had time to do my first stroke before they pushed off and bashed into my legs which put me off a bit. (Having nosied at the results table I can now see that they came 4th overall in the Fun event – not that this excuses them)
Despite all that my official time for the swim was 5 minutes and 4 seconds – a little faster than my predicted 5 minutes 40! (According to my watch I did it in 4 minutes 58 seconds but the official timer doesn’t get stopped until you get out of the pool and I stopped mine when I reached the end of the distance. I then hit the wrong button on my watch and lost my timer and gave up on timing myself.)
Then it was a wobbly walk to my bike (I vaguely considered running but the way my legs quivered when I took a tentative step I decided against it) where I was greeted by shouts of encouragement from my friend Meggy & her Mum who had very kindly made the journey over to cheer Caius & I along. Spurred on by their enthusiasm, I got my trainers, t-shirt, race-belt and helmet on, wrestled my bike off the rack (my arms weren’t very happy about being used at this point) and headed for the exit to start my cycle.
At this point I tried one of those energy gel things that we had been given before we started. It was supposedly orange flavoured with extra caffeine but I have never met an orange that tasted like that. I only managed to swallow half of it before giving up, washing it down with water and getting on my bike to set off. I won’t be trying another one of those again in a hurry I can tell you that much!
Off I went on the cycle which had been described on the event details as (and I quote) ‘mainly flat with some undulations’. All I can say, having finished it, is that if they were undulations then I would really hate to meet an actual hill.
Cycling is my weakness. I am a nervous cyclist and I have only been out my current bike about 5 times ever and never long distance, I still haven’t worked out which levers to click to go up and down gears and get it wrong every other time. It took a while for me to settle into a rhythm and after about ten minutes I got bored of looking at the numbers on the backs of people overtaking me – everyone was overtaking me. And that was fine, really, because I’m not a cyclist and I wasn’t falling off which was about all I could hope for.
There were a few hairy moments with cars overtaking in dodgy places or overly close (shiny white Audi thing, I am looking at you), a moment where I thought we were all going to die as a motorcyclist overtook a lorry overtaking me on a bend (idiot) and a couple of terrifyingly fast downhill sections but I think the scariest thing in the whole course were the two sections where they had coned off a cycle lane through some traffic lights so that we didn’t have to stop. It was the tiniest lane ever, I genuinely thought I was going to hit the cones despite the fact I was cycling so slowly I had almost stopped.
I did quite enjoy being overtaken by a black Ferrari, a fully kitted out Subaru and a classic Aston Martin though. Nice bit of eye candy to distract from my burning thighs.
The atmosphere on the cycle was quite nice though, lots of people asked if I was okay as they overtook or shouted things like ‘We’re half-way there!’ when we passed the 6 mile marker.
The best moment for me though was nearing the top of one of the nastiest ‘undulations’ that went on forever steeply, then got steeper. I had run out of gears to change into and was genuinely considering falling off into the hedge and giving up when a man cycled past me (ridiculously quickly), flashed me a grin and said ‘Come on, if you can get up that – you can do anything.’
I was almost at breaking point and that smile and simple little sentence gave me the push I needed to get up the last bit of the hill and carry on. I wish I had been with it enough to check his number so I could have seen how he did in the end but I was too exhausted at that point to read numbers.
On and on the cycle went and I began to seriously resent mile markers (I’m sure the gaps between them got longer) and HATE humpback bridges (seriously, who invented those? I would like a word with them) but suddenly I began to recognise where I was and the end was in sight.
As I slowed up to dismount an odd thought occurred to me – despite it being the furthest I had ever cycled and the most ‘undulating’ course I had ever done without getting off and walking (I usually get off to walk up bridges never mind mountains), I could have carried on without much trouble.
I had completed the 20km cycle in 1 hour, 25 minutes and 4 seconds.
I then had to make my legs work and rack my bike again before heading out to do the run. Meggy & her Mum were there again to cheer me on and I could have cuddled the hyperactive cadet that gave me a cup of water. I tried to jog but to be honest I mostly walked ‘fast’. I chatted with other people who were as shattered as me and pushed myself as much as I could to get around the two laps of the field.
It made a massive difference seeing the kids, Meggy & her Mum, English Folkfan and the others who had already finished at the side encouraging me too and I somehow found the energy to really run the last bit through the finish.
I did the run in 23 minutes and 3 seconds and have never been so happy to stand still in my life.
I was greeted by Kate who had been with me at the start – she had finished well ahead of me but waited to see me finish which was lovely of her.
My final time was 1 hour 53 minutes and 11 seconds.
I had been hoping for under two hours so as far as I’m concerned I smashed it!
To top it all off, Caius & I have so far managed to raise £390 for The Candlelighters Trust in sponsorship which is fantastic and means the world to me. (Our sponsorship page is still open here, if anyone wants to help push our total to the magic £400 point.)
And I am now vaguely considering doing it all again next year… maybe