Monday 2 June 2014

My first triathlon: taking an 'alternative' approach

There are a few things that I'm pretty sure you won't ever see in a triathlon training programme:

1. Don't do any formal triathlon training other than running a bit, swimming very little, and cycling less than 6 miles at a time, never in race conditions
2. Get your race kit ready the morning of the race, deciding what to wear last minute
3. Fuel yourself the afternoon and evening of the day before the race with crisps, white wine and cava
4. Go to bed at 1am the night before

This, however, is exactly what I did in preparation for my first ever triathlon - the super sprint distance at the ITU PruHealth World Triathlon at Hyde Park on Sunday 1st June. While I do not recommend this approach in the slightest, I reckon there's something to be said for  just 'going with the flow', and here's why....

I've had quite a lot of going's on in my personal life recently, so much so that I just didn't have the time or energy to give this triathlon my full attention. I have been itching to try a tri for a while now and was a little nervous that I'd put so little preparation in, but reassured myself that I could swim 450m no problem, could cycle 15.5km (albeit fairly slowly), and run 2.5km without too much bother. The only problem would be putting it all together.

When I woke up on Sunday, after an unexpected drinking session on Saturday, I hesitated about competing: my head was pounding, I was dehydrated and feeling a little fuzzy. But it was 7.30 am and the race wasn't til 5pm - thank god it was a late wave! Nothing that a bagel with peanut butter and another 2 hours of sleep couldn't help rectify. Well, almost.

Sticker, stickers, everywhere!
With still a bit of a headache I began furiously drinking water and getting my bike and kit ready - this really should have been done way before as I struggled to get screws on and off and my brain seemed to have forgotten how to work a bike pump. But I got there! I also had to decide what to wear to run - I already owned a wetsuit but no tri suit, so my swimsuit had to suffice. And I took some shorts and a vest to throw on for the run: that'd be ok, wouldn't it?! I also had some self-tying lace things, so attached those to my trainers as well. So many things I really should've done before the day of the race!

One problem with a triathlon is that you need to get your bike to the start line. The only way this was possible was to cycle the 5 miles to Hyde Park - great, just what I needed! I guess bike transport is something I might have to think about for future races too. I arrived nice and early to meet super-supporter Josie who had kindly brought along a race belt for me. Another oversight on my part! You need to have the number on the back during cycling and on the front during running, so an elastic belt that you can swing round in transition is the best approach.

I managed to find my way to registration, attached the various stickers across bike, body and bag, and then get over to the bike transition check-in point, before it dawned on me to ask: where and when do I put my wetsuit on?! Apparently the answer is wherever and whenever you like, with some people arriving in theirs (did they come wearing it on the tube?!) and others getting in to theirs at their bike rack. 

Racked up with Vaseline at the ready
I opted for the latter but quickly noticed that most people were not wearing swimsuits: tri suits or cycling shorts and sports bra (for the ladies!) were outfit of choice because - as I was later informed by a fellow competitor -  swimsuits can really chafe on the bike. Great. Nevertheless, I was glad I'd chosen to wear my swimsuit under my clothes otherwise my fellow competitors would've gotten an eyeful that I'm sure they'd rather avoid.

Wetsuit on, I first scoped out where my bike was in relation to the swim entry, bike exit and run route, then headed for the swim start on bare feet across the grass and paths. Running has left me with rough leather soles on my feet (delightful, I know) and so I didn't struggle too much with the spiky terrain - every cloud... 

I had been watching the waves go off and decided to get myself to the front of the holding pen so I would be at the edge of the swimmers and give myself a bit of space. I'm a relatively strong swimmer, but the hangover had given me cause for concern that I might drown, so aimed to be as close to the kayak helpers as possible.

In to the water, a wave of the flag to say 30 secs to go, the horn and then: WE'RE OFF! I kicked hard for the first 50m and managed to get myself in to a good position ahead of the mass of the pack who I feared might contribute to my drowning if they swam over me. As Dory from Finding Nemo advised, I Just Kept Swimming! keeping a nice steady pace. Next thing I knew I was up and out of the water, running along the pontoon looking like I had a wasp in my wetsuit as I twisted and contorted trying to get the bloody zip down. Yet another note to self: practice this more!

In to transition and I struggled to get my wetsuit off, but followed others with a sort of 'stampy dance' on top of the wetsuit until it eventually set me free. I hauled on my shorts and vest, stepped in to the race belt, vaseline-d up my thighs (a necessity if you get 'fat-man thigh rub' like me!), helmet on and fastened (word to the wise: the marshalls get very cross if you haven't fastened!!) and trotted down to the bike route.
This was the part I was least looking forward to. I'm not a cyclist and have never really taken to cycling the way I seem to have with most other sports. I get a bit bored and just want to stop at pubs for pints all the time, which defeats the purpose, really. But in triathlons it's often the longest part, so I had to suck it up as the thing I needed to do to get from the swimming to the running. So off I went - 2 loops of the course, 15.5km in total. 

I'd guessed that I'd maybe do this in 40-45 mins or maybe slower as I was just using my hybrid commuting bike, which looked super clunky next to all the streamlined road-racers that most had. I just had to finish the cycling and then I could run: head down and pedal! On the way back on the first lap I spotted Josie waving and shouting like the crazed loon she is, which gave me a big boost particularly knowing she'd be there again the second time round. Sure enough, more crazed lunacy ensued! Mostly downhill back to transition from here, I was feeling that the bike leg had gone better than expected - in fact, I later found out I'd completed it in 33.33 mins: result!

I entered transition, racked my bike and swung my number round to the front, having no clue as to how long I'd been going or where I was in relation to anyone else. It's an aspect of triathlon I really like: you have no idea who's racing against you, its really just a race against yourself to push as hard as you can completely blind to the time in many cases, like mine. 

My legs were a bit jelly and, I have to say, 2.5km seemed much further than usual after the swim and bike leg. But I just reminded myself that 2.5km is nothing in the grand scheme of marathons and half marathons, so 'shut up legs' and just keep shuffling. I felt like I was going so slowly, but managed to hold on to the heels of a guy ahead and passed a few people en route.

All the happiness of triathlon captured in one beautiful shot by Josie
Turning the last corner, the finish 'chute' was in sight and so I managed a sprint down the line with some more crazy Josie cheers to see me home, which you can't not smile to!

  I stumbled up to collect my bike, changed and packed up for the 5 mile cycle home. It wasn't until later that night, safely home with the Serpentine waters washed away, that I checked the race results. As I come middle of the road in most running races I just searched for my name and time: 1.02.26. Not knowing what times are good for these things, I thought I'd done ok. Then I looked at the overall women's rankings for the super sprint race: 13th overall and 6th in my age group! What the....?!! 

I'm not quite sure how I pulled that out of the bag given my absolute lack of preparation and, for some aspects, lack of training. I'm not suggesting that the moral of the story is to go out and drink all day and night before a triathlon and don't prepare well enough, but I think that sometimes just being a little easier on yourself and trying to relax can work wonders. 

I really enjoyed my first triathlon and this was a great race to do it - expertly organised, friendly marshals and competitors, and a bloody beaut of a medal!

Tri-bling is the best bling, evidently
Are you in training for your first triathlon? Or are you a well-seasoned triathlete? I'd love to hear your thoughts and tips for the next one!

Katy | City Girl Fit



  2. I think you did really well, Katy! For someone who was dehydrated and had an annoying headache, you are so amazing to have finished a triathlon like that. I am nothing but proud of you for pushing yourself to the limits and conquering your body. It's mind over matter, right? I'm glad you took full control and finished that race! :)

    Paul Franken @ American Pure Spring Water