A slightly podgy ex-smoker, I had already embarked on the complete overhaul of trying to get fit and lose weight, and having taken up spinning and running I’d already lost a couple of dress sizes. But my weight was kind of stable, and 5 and 10km races just weren’t ticking my competitive box any more. So there I was, at the start line of the Bedford Autumn Sprint, borrowed goggles in hand, the number “8” written in permanent marker on my upper arm. I was crapping myself.
This may not sound like the most inspirational story, and you’re probably wondering why I’m telling it. Hell, I’m wondering why I’m telling it. But there is a purpose… all will become clear.
So, as Maria says “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”.
The Decision to Try a Tri
As I’ve already mentioned, I had been a “spinner” and a runner for a little while by the time I decided to try a tri. It was actually one of the friends I had made through this new “fit” life, Wendy, that sparked the desire for me to do a triathlon. It’s amazing what kind of crazy exercise-induced, endorphin-fuelled ideas come out when you exercise with friends. But, triathlons involve swimming. The dreaded swimming. My kryptonite. I hadn’t swum for years, bar the odd splash around with a lilo on holiday. So I was going to have to change that. *Groan*
Wendy and I talked about races, and she pointed me in the direction of a Sprint distance race in Bedford that she was competing in. The race, a pool-based triathlon, consisted of a 400m swim, 24km bike, followed by a 5km run. I booked up, took a deep breath, steadied my shaking hands and started “training”.
Off I went onto the internet and bought myself a Shock Absorber tankini, not wanting to don a full on tri suit, which promised to support my ta-tas from swim to bike to run. Armed with my new kit and more determination than one of Lord Sugar’s Apprentices trying to sell a “Tidy-Side-y” to an unsuspecting retailer I hit the pool. Let’s just say that my swim training wasn’t exactly focused. I had never been able to swim properly: that is, with my face in the water; and I knew I wouldn’t have time to try and learn. But that aside, I put in the effort and built up from a fairly relaxed “I-can-do-this-forever” breast stroke, to a rather laboured head-above-the-water freestyle stroke. Soon enough, I was able to cover the 400m distance (16 lengths of a standard 25m pool) without incident.
So that was the swim training down.
I was fairly confident that my spinning attendance over the past year or so would give me a good base to work from, but from some Googling I figured out that I would also have to incorporate some “brick” sessions – training on going from the bike to the run element. I had tackled many 5k runs in the last year, but had never run after doing a bike ride!
On my non-swim days I either took my bike out for a spin, went to my running club’s run sessions, or hit the gym and practised going from stationary bike to treadmill. “Well this is fine” I thought, “I’ll be flying through!”
Oh how wrong I could be…
This was it – race day. I arrived with plenty of time to spare so had a good opportunity to pick where I would rack my bike and set up my transition. Wendy arrived, with her partner Gary, and we headed to the changing rooms to get ready for the race. In my nervous state I managed to leave my swim goggles in the car (I know – you’re wondering why I needed goggles when I didn’t swim with my face in the water, but they still help!). Luckily a lovely fellow participant had a spare pair which she lent me. And there I was, 8th in line in the queue, waiting to start.
Unlike the London Marathon, where the lower numbers are reserved for the best of the best, the elite runners, the lower numbers at the Bedford Autumn Sprint were for the slowest swimmers, and therefore the first to start! One by one, the participants entered the pool and started their race.
The swim went better than anticipated and I exited the pool in just over 11 minutes, must better than my predicted 15 mins. From there I had to run out of the pool house and into the outdoor transition area. I managed to spend a SHOCKING three minutes in transition (anyone who’s done a triathlon before will know that that is a shameful amount of time to spend in transition). That was my first deadly sin of triathlon committed.
Finally ready to start the ride I wheeled my bike outta there and hit the road. Onto my second deadly sin of triathlon… my steed. A steel framed, clunky mountain bike. I know, I know. It’s all I had!
Having managed to overtake a couple of people on the swim I had another fellow competitor in my sights. After a couple of kilometres I went past her and put my head down for the rest of the ride. The bike leg was nice, a quiet road route with just a couple of hills to tackle. It was a little soul-sapping being overtaken by so many people; because of the order of the race all the fast people had started after me! But I sucked it up and took my own challenge in my hands.
When I reached the end of the bike route I could see the “dismount” sign and got ready to go through to transition. I stopped and got off my bike and… woah! What the…?! My legs? They felt like the wobbliest jelly you’ve ever seen. I felt like I was barely putting one leg in front of the other, but I was getting closer to my transition space so I knew that couldn’t be true.
Bike racked back up I left the transition area and started the run. It took a good couple of hundred metres before I felt like I was actually going anywhere and the feeling started to return to my confused legs, but I still felt really slow compared to my usual running pace. After what felt like ages I completed the 2.5 lap running route and reached the finish line.
I’d done it! I’d finished my very first triathlon! I was a (kinda) TRIATHLETE!
The next few days I felt great, I’d completed what was, to me, the ultimate challenge. And to top it off – when the results came through I’d knocked 3 seconds off of my 5k PB! Could this be the start of a love affair with triathlon?
I told you at the start of this post that the story had a purpose, and it does. Sometimes we do things in our lives that make us feel amazing, on top of the world, but then another challenge comes along and all of a sudden our achievements become hidden in the shadows. Since this race, I have completed two more triathlons – one another Sprint distance but this time in open water, and the other an Olympic distance. I have also completed a Marathon. But these things have been ruined by too-high expectations, and dashed hopes of achieving certain times. Time to strip it all back, and start again.
So here I am, remembering my very first triathlon, and starting a new journey… from scratch. As the Clumsy Triathlete. And if I can do it, I’m sure as hell anyone can. I hope you’ll join me.
CC Image “51-365 Triathlon start in Navegantes” courtesy of Arcadius on Flickr.