My First Triathlon, Clitheroe, Lancashire, England.
swim- 400m, Bike- 30km, Run 7km
2hrs 26 minutes
This was my first triathlon. My real concern was swimming. When I started training 6 months earlier, I could only just swim a length without stopping. Now I needed to do 16 lengths (400m) of a pool, in a race! I worked hard in my local pool and as long as I took short breaks I could complete the distance using a mixture of front crawl and breast stroke.
I had been training well on the bike and felt comfortable in being able to do the 30km course. I hadn’t done much running but 7km wasn’t far and again my confidence was high.
The big day was soon upon me. I had read furiously, collecting clippings from magazines and armed myself with a 'checklist' (I'm not a list person, but this was much too complex). In the week leading up to Clitheroe, I ordered a pair of cheap tri-shorts (Lycra shorts with a small chamois pad for bike comfort but comfortable enough to swim and run in). Ideally I could have done with a tri-top or even a tri-suit but I figured with this being my first event it didn’t warrant a big outlay.
|√||water bottle with sports drink|
|√||race info and ID|
I had a fully ticked 'checklist'. I shoehorned it all into the back of my small car the night before. I planned to get up early and have a bite to eat in enough time to digest it before the start of the race. Until this point I'd not shown much interest in race day nutrition so it was an enigma, luckily for me my strategy of a bagel and honey was spot on. Since my first race I've learned to practice anything in training that I intend to do on race day, this includes pre-race nutrition.
I woke up before my alarm with the list of essentials for the race whizzing around my head. “I’ve forgotten something, bike- check, helmet- check, shorts- check, shoes- check, trainers- check, goggles- check…” and so on. Still doing the mental check list whilst sneaking down stairs to consume the toasted bagel without waking the kids up! Needless to say I failed; they always hear me no matter how quiet I am.
When I arrived at the event I slowly unpacked my stuff ensuring again that I had everything I needed. I unpacked my gear very slowly as I busy watching what everyone else was doing because I didn’t have a clue what I needed to do! It seemed people would head off to a tent and return with an envelope, then decant the contents of their car and push their bike and associated gear back over to an area behind the tent where the envelopes were previously given out, this turned out to be the 'transition area'.
Setting up transition
I followed suit. The envelope contained my race numbers and eight safety pins. They explained in the tent I needed to fix a number to my back for the bike leg, another one on my front for the run and put a smaller self-adhesive number on my helmet and bike. I popped the stickers on as requested and fixed the numbers to the front and back of my top which I was going to cycle and run in. It was cunningly (or at least that’s what I thought at the time) skin-tight to improve aerodynamic drag which would mean I would be more efficient and therefore quicker (more about that in a moment).
I racked my bike in the transition area and looked around to see what others do about laying out their gear. I had read about it in magazines but quickly realised that everyone had ‘their own way of doing it’. I mimicked the Common themes i.e. helmet on the bike handlebars (seemed sensible, you are not allowed to un-rack your bike without your helmet on and securely fastened), towel and shoes on the floor. So I laid them out nice and neatly and covered my shoes with my numbered top. Feeling satisfied with my transition area I headed poolside. By this time my nerves where getting the better of me, it was 9:30 a.m. and my swim time was 9:50.
I sat in the spectators’ area by the pool in my silver Lycra shorts feeling nervous and now a little self-conscious… 10 minutes passed. Two things struck me: 1. those already in the pool looked better than me and 2. This pool looked bigger than my pool… but it was now time for the pre-race briefing. I vaguely remember something about coloured hats and how to pass in the pool by tapping the feet of the person in front and waiting to pass at the end of the lap. The other thing from the briefing that sticks in my mind, later to be imprinted on my memory, was Jeffrey Hill a 20%+ incline, that had those more seasoned athletes laughing. At the time I wasn’t too concerned, I had no idea what a 20% incline was, besides my biggest challenge at this specific moment was to make it through the swim and why did the pool look so big?
I hadn’t reached the end of the first length when I realised that the pool I had spent 6 months training in was about 5m short of a standard 25m pool. I knew this because my body was telling me it was time for my hand to come in contact with the wall yet the wall was not forth coming. I ran out of steam before I'd even done 25m! This felt like the beginning of the end, I’d reverted to breast stroke before even completing one length- 'this is bad!' However I am made of sterner stuff and I wasn’t going to be defeated just yet- I struggled through the rest of the swim and lo and behold I made it. Last out of the pool but I still had enough desire left in me to run at full tilt to the transition area like a man who was in contention for an Olympic medal.
I quickly found my bike and immediately remembered 'the importance of the helmet', so on it went. Next I found my top neatly placed over my cycling shoes. Lifting it gently so as not to tear the numbers held on by safety pins I tried to place it over my head. “OOPS” I had my helmet on! Off with the helmet I had so diligently put on and back on with the top… “double-oops” I was soaking wet and trying to put on a skin-tight Lycra-type top, this is not easy! Looking like a re-run of Hulk-Hogan versus the Undertaker I wrestled with my top with every ounce of strength left in me to get it on. My advice would be to try EVERYTHING before race day, even or especially transitions.
By now swimmers from the next wave were arriving in transition to grab their bikes and disappear into the distance. I quickly (or as quickly as I could following some WWF-style action) followed. I was only a short distance into the bike leg when I began to tire. This was probably in part due to a turbulent transition and having to swim 80m further than I had in practice but also because in this particular part of northern England they have hills and lots of them. Something I had no experience of as I live on the coast which is pancake flat. Each time I went over a bigger hill I thought that must have been ‘the biggy’ (Jeffrey Hill).
I still had to cycle 30k and run7k...
Regrettably not, these hills were mere mounds, not hills at all. I had reached the foot of Jeffrey Hill, ‘that’s surely not a legal road’, I thought. It was like a wall, almost vertical. As I started up the face of it I almost felt I could fall off the side of this hill, it was so steep. Where’s the safety harness? I got less than a third of the way up before I had to dismount. That was not a pleasant or dignified experience either. After putting all my effort into getting as far up as possible I had no power left to un-clip my feet from the cleats. End result I fell off my bike into a hedge. I pushed my bike until it evened off a little and then jumped back on.
I progressed slowly up the remainder until the final kicker (probably the steepest bit) where I planned to dismount before I fell. As I prepared to un-clip I saw the event camera man on the crest of the hill. There was no way I wanted to be seen pushing my bike. I pushed on my pedals with all my might, it only just turned over and kept me going forwards whilst screaming out a few expletives I’d rather not repeat. I made it. After that it would be a walk in the park… surely!
I was starting to feel tired by now and realised a triathlon is not as easy as being able to complete the distances in three individual sports. When I arrived into the transition area I was flabbergasted to see my wife and my two boys cheering me on. Buoyed on by the support and the fact that the second transition is much easier (bike racked, helmet off, change shoes and away you go) with a wave and a cheer I even had a spring in my step!
I could have done with sat nav!
The run was part road, mostly trail. I followed the directions of the marshals and arrows although there wasn’t many people around I knew I’d get to a half-way point where they’d record my number and I’d follow the route back to the finish. Somewhere along the route I reached a point where the trail was void of any directions or marshals. After about 10 minutes I realised I was lost! I decided to retrace my footsteps until I saw another runner or an arrow that I may have missed. I decided pre-race that I wanted to complete my first triathlon, so I didn’t want a DNF (did not finish), besides my wifeand the boys were waiting for me. Eventually I tracked back to a runner who knew the way, it turns out a prankster had turned an arrow to point the wrong way… not very funny! I must have run an extra 2-3km so I now research the course before a race and don't rely on other runners and sinage.
I made it back and was elated and exhausted when I crossed the finish line, all pain disappears in an instant (sometimes only for an instant)- what a day, what a race and despite all the mishaps, what fun!!!
I had caught the bug.