My first triathlon

I’ve been cycling and running for a while now, and when I mention this, people always say: Ah, you should try a triathlon. To which I usually reply that I loathe swimming. But in the back of my mind I always thought I should give one a try. So when the Wansdyke sprint triathlon came about, I thought why not, and entered myself.

First stumbling block was having to put down my estimated swim time for 400 metres. What? I have no idea. So, off to the pool I went and timed myself. 9 minutes. Very dire. Not surprising, as 1. I don’t like swimming, so I don’t do it very often and 2. I can’t do front crawl for 16 lengths because of a problem with my shoulders. I thought, with a bit of training I can get that down to 8:30, so that’s what I put down.

Second stumbling block was the entry price. £25! Compared to local running races that is quite steep. When you think about it’s not actually that expensive, as the organisation has to hire a pool, and normally triathlon marshals are remunerated. Anyway, waiting until the next pay check sorted that one out too.

The day of the event: Registration at 8am. Start time at 10:47. That’s right nearly 3 hours of waiting. Trying to drink enough, going to the toilet an incredible number of times. Trying to devise a strategy. Chatting to people. Seeing Liz, Dave and Elies set off before me. Realising that Dave and Liz would have gone by the time I came back. Hey ho.

Later I worked out why my start time was that late. I am mister average. They started off the fastest swimmers AND the slowest ones, 2 lanes each. That means that average swimmers come last.

Then it was my turn. We were started off in waves of 4, and I was the designated first swimmer of my wave. The swim went incredibly well. I managed 3 lengths of front crawl, and built up a lead of an entire length before I had to switch to breast stroke. Eventually I was overtaken by one lady (who I think had started last, poor thing, overtaking is very energy consuming I hear), but was still first out of the pool (I think). When I got to the transition place, I remembered to glance at my watch: 8:15. Wow!

Thinking about it I can put it down to a number of reasons: I did my training in Culverhay swimming pool, and old 25 yard pool with edges that come up above the water. 400 metres in this pool means 18 lengths of swimming against your own and other swimmers ‘bow waves’. Midsomer Norton was a modern 25m affair with edges level to the water: no ‘bow waves’. We also had to wear swimming caps, what I don’t normally do. And a bit of competition of course.

On to the transition. I was wearing cycling shorts with padding for the swim, so no need to change those. I put my Bath AC vest, cycling shoes (2 velcro straps), my helmet and specs and my gloves. All of that went relatively smooth. Picked up my bike and ran out of the transition area. And noticed I hadn’t put on my number belt yet, which lay ready across my top tube. Stopped, a bit of faff, and that was sorted out as well.

I LOVED the cycling. I felt really good, probably because I was able to overtake so many people. That’s probably because my cycling is on a much higher level than my swimming. Good confidence boost. 2 laps, 2 bits of climbing, not too steep, not too long (lots of people complained about these though). Lots of nice flat, downhillish bits. I was flying! I reckon I averaged about 19mph over 18km. Pleased with that. When I looked at my watch back in transition it said 40 something.

Helmet off, specs off, gloves off, shoes off. Shoes on. Run. Hang on, my legs told me, what is this you want of us now? Running? You must be joking! It all felt pretty unnatural. It went OK though. No more, no less. I couldn’t have gone faster, but I sure didn’t feel like I was going well. On the other hand, I was still overtaking people. Especially on the last fairly steep downhill bit. I managed to squeeze out a nice end sprint (a bit of support from the crowd always helps) Probably took me about 27 minutes over 5k. Then again, it was off road, with a steep un-runnable hill (2 laps, so twice). Normally, on the road, I would do that in 19 minutes on a good day.

Overall time 1:08:20 for 400m swim, 18k bike, 5k off road run. Overall feeling: great fun. Try it: Wansdyke triathlon.

3 Responses to “My first triathlon”

  1. Eugene Kertzman Says:

    Good to read your article on the wansdyke Triathlon, you’re never quite sure how competitors experience it espcially novice ones, hope you will come back and do some more. Always open to feedback (see forum on website). Goed gedaan!
    Eugene
    Race Organiser

  2. Ben Says:

    I just did my first triathlon and was comparing notes! I had the good
    foresight to do it with the Uni club which meant lot’s of support, help
    and useful advice. It was at Blenheim: http://www.theblenheimtriathlon.com/
    and though more expensive, certainly a beautiful place to do it.

    The scariest thing for me was the open-water swim. I am not a particularly
    strong swimmer, and though by the time the event came I had managed to
    convince myself I would complete 750m without collapsing, I still hadn’t
    had the chance to swim in a wetsuit or in the open-water. My real fear was
    being elbowed or kicked in the face and losing my breathing pattern,
    whilst eating waves! As it was, I followed the advice and hung back a bit,
    so I managed to avoid all but the most flaying breast-strokers. By the end
    I was over-taking people and steadily eating duck-poo as I caught up with
    the faster swimmers. The run in bare feet to the transition area was none
    too pleasant, but the transition itself went very smoothly. Getting on the
    bike felt wonderful after paddling around in a cumbersome wetsuit.
    However, I quickly realised how un-cycle fit I was as people steadily
    overtook me on the hills. I was being overtaken by fat charity runners on
    mountain bikes! I realised I have never cycled 20km in my life. I also had
    a panic about how many laps I was supposed to do, but very helpfully they
    had signs up. In fact it was brilliantly well organised, with everything
    signed and marshaled so a hair-brained muppet like me couldn’t go wrong.
    Not like pentathlons where I’ve managed to get out the pool before
    completing the swim! By the time the cycle had ended I was feeling a bit
    lonely, as there was no-one in my heat to be seen. I set off on the run,
    really hoping to do well. Like you, I can normally do 5km sub-20-min,
    perhaps 18:something on a good day. But my legs were rubber, and
    flat-footedly I jogged off around the very hilly course. However, as my
    muscles remembered they could run, I picked the pace up and started to
    overtake the charity runners. It was reassuring to realise some of them
    were the heat before me, and I was lapping them. I then saw some Oxford
    people, to go and run against, and managed the sprint finish of my life.

    I finished with a time of 1:34, 30th in my heat (the Oxford-Cambridge
    match). I had actually really enjoyed it, and I have had no aches and
    pains since. My splits were:

    Swim: 16:32
    T1: 04:11 (everyone was over 3mins due to the distance to transition)
    Bike: 47:46
    T2: 01:26
    Run: 24:04

    My ride was a full 7 minutes slower than the top guy and my run was a bit
    disappointing, but I think due to the slow bike. The swim was OK, but I was
    holding back and I think I could have gone for it a lot more. I enjoyed
    it, and I am now thinking about doing the full Olympic distance.

  3. Iwein Says:

    Me? 18:something? Hmmm… never achieved that yet ;-) . I’ve not run for a long time actually, not since the Brecon Beacons thing. A few days later I pulled something in my knee. As my main goals are cycling ones this year, and cycling was all right with the knee, I decided to quit running for a while.

    With my new job in Bristol, clocking up 170 miles just commuting, I simply don’t have the inclination or the energy to even think about running any more. A sensible decision, Elies assures me :-)

    Well done on the triathlon Ben! They are fun… What bike did you ride? What preparation did you do? Did you do any bike specific training?

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