I took three years of progressing through triathlon distances before I did my first Ironman distance race, so I’ll chronicle each of those years in this mini blog post series…
At the end of 2013, I decided that my first year of triathlon should culminate in an Olympic distance triathlon. Typically this is a 1.5km swim, a 40km bike and then a 10km run. I booked onto the London Triathlon, an annual race with huge range of distances and waves running over two days. I booked onto the Olympic distance race and crossed my fingers that I would be fit enough to finish by the time August rolled around!
So with this in mind, at the start of 2014 I booked onto a number of multisport races in order to progress my skills and improve my fitness through the year. My first multisport race was a chilly early March duathlon at Eton Dorney, run by Votwo. I’d run a 10km there earlier in the year and knew it was pan flat – so I was all set for an easy start to multisport racing! The newest part to me was the so called ‘transition’, where you switch from running to cycling and later back to running again. Apart from running out with my helmet on (oops!) the race went smoothly. The biggest surprise to me was how my legs felt trying to run again after cycling – everyone describes the feeling as jelly-like, but to me my legs felt stiff as wood! And although my watch said I was running a good pace, it felt like I was going really slowly. I guess that’s the effect of having just cycled at a much a faster rate and having to get used to the surroundings going past much more slowly!
My first triathlon was a pool-based sprint distance race; a sprint race is typically half the distance of Olympic. This was the Lutterworth Flashman, a small race run by the local triathlon club. It was a 400m swim, 18km bike and 5km run, so slightly shorter than half Olympic. I remember quizzing the poor race director to death about all the logistics of my kit – where to leave my swim kit and how to lay my bike kit out and whether I’d need my race belt etc etc. She was very patient with me, even though I’m sure she had much better things to be getting on with, like managing a race! The race went smoothly (again), although I ran out from transition with my helmet (again!). The Flashman was such a friendly and well organised race so after a couple of years on hiatus, I’m glad to see it’s now back running at a new venue.
My next race was a step up again – this time progressing from a pool-based swim to open water. Eek! Like I mentioned in a previous post, the thought of what’s beneath me in a lake doesn’t bother me. The thing I worried about most was the cold. I hate that first time you get into an indoor heated pool – and that’s usually somewhere between 25 and 30℃. So the thought of plopping myself into cold 15℃ water, wetsuit or not, was rather off-putting! Still, I managed it, and after a very slow totter into the water, I began my first open water sprint triathlon (courtesy of Votwo again). This time the distances were truly half Olympic, so 750m swim, 20km bike and 10km run. It was an evening triathlon and because of work commitments I had opted to be in the last wave. Which meant that when I finished it was getting dark and they’d already started packing away the finish line! Slightly embarrassing, but the race still went well for me, I was just slow!
Eventually August rolled around, and with that came my season’s A’ race. I didn’t sleep much the night before because I was worried about how it would go. Looking back this seems silly – if it all goes wrong, it doesn’t matter! You just drop out of the race and come back another day. Anyway, the newbie triathlete in me was pooing her pants. The drive there was odd, as they’d signposted most of the route but not all, and finding the entrance to the Excel was a nightmare! After a stressful half an hour circling the venue and getting totally lost, we eventually found the car park entrance. Thankfully we’d left buckets of time, so we still had an hour to get me registered, set up transition and squish myself into my wetsuit. After an incoherent briefing, my fellow triathlon ladies and me all piled into the water and then a horn sounded and we were off! I managed to draft someone for a long way, until I got bored of front crawl and began to breastroke instead. It was only in my third year of triathlon that I stopped breastroking in triathlon events. It takes a lot of mental strength to keep your face firmly in the water for the entire time! I felt good about my swim and when I got out my time was 33 minutes – far faster than the 45 I was expecting! I know I was drafting but even now this seems fast, so I have my suspicions about the accuracy of the swim course. Anyway, swim done and I was onto the bike! This was the bit I was looking forward to most, after a summer of cycling with my new group I was loving the bike! Unfortunately I hadn’t thought to read the race manual in much detail, nor listen closely to the briefing, and I went the wrong way. The wrong way!! Rather than doing one and a half laps to make the 40km, I managed to do two full laps, making my total bike distance 55km. I was mortified! Still, I managed to finish and came off the bike with my target total race time of 3 hours in tatters. Oh well, all I could do now was run. And run I did. Three laps of a curvy turny route which didn’t give much chance to get a good pace going. But the best bit was the finish – RED CARPET! I bounded down the finish chute like I hadn’t just done my longest triathlon to date with the biggest grin across my face! I was met at the end with a medal and a cold beer (alcohol free, apparently this can be justified as an ‘isotonic recovery drink’!). I finished the race in about 3:30, so half an hour longer than my target 3h, but I put that down to my extra long bike. With a successful race behind me and a post-race burger inside me, suffice to say I was pretty happy!
After a great event, we unfortunately got stuck in the traffic trying to get around the road closures for the triathlon bike route (ironic) and it took us 3 hours to get home. It took the shine off things a bit. But still, I was so happy to have trained well up to the distance and successfully completed the race. And the fact that I’d actually done a much longer bike gave me confidence that next year maybe I could another distance which was brewing in my head – half Ironman!