This was my first triathlon of the year and my second triathlon with a pool swim. I hated my last pool-based triathlon (Ferndown Try-a-tri), so I was hoping to lay that ghost to rest.
We got up at 5am, and I knew that I move to move quickly as I hadn’t packed all of my kit for today. (I intended to do it yesterday, but ended up spending too much time rushing around to the doctors and sorting out my coaching diary to do it then). Fortunately, most of my kit was in easy reach and I managed not to forget anything, so Stu and I were able to leave on time at 6am for the drive to Abingdon.
On arrival at Radley College, we parked, got our bikes off the rack and had to walk to the registration hall. At this point, I was glad that Stu and I had everything packed into rucksacks as I wouldn’t have wanted to have to balance a basket for the 10 minute walk.
Registration was very easy. We were given goodie bags and our hats and were also offered a choice of a Try Tri water bottle or buff. I think this is a nice touch, as they’re both useful items (and I saw a lot of people using the bottles during the event). Chris Stocks and his partner Ali were in the hall, so we stopped and had a chat with them, before we spotted Katherine.
We then were directed out to the transition racks. Stuart was told that he had to place his bike towards the exit, so I followed Katherine and racked up next to her. I laid everything out and started feeling more confident.
Stuart was in one of the first swim waves, whereas Katherine was due to start at 9:30 and I was in the wave after her at 9:40am, so we went up to the viewing gallery to watch the first swimmers.
There were some incredible swimmers in the pool, with perfectly executed tumble turns in many lanes and the majority of people demonstrating beautiful freestyle, but there were also a few people who had obviously over-estimated their abilities. As a slow swimmer myself, I don’t have a problem with that, but I really felt sorry for the poor chaps (I think they were all men) who were slowly slogging it out when everyone else had finished. It’s never so bad when there are other people around you finishing at roughly the same time, and a difference in ability is far less noticeable on the bike and run legs as no-one knows when you started, but in the pool, all eyes are on you and the next wave can’t start until you have finished. I don’t think the waiting athletes minded and there was applause for the first person out of the water as well as being applause for the last person, but that always feels a bit awkward and patronising, even if it’s meant in a supportive way.
It wasn’t long before it was Stuart’s turn. he had been very quiet in the morning as he had been ill, so I was pleased to see him chatting with other people poolside. Each lane had four swimmers in it with different coloured hats on: blue, green, orange and red… and that was the order that we had to swim in. Stu had an orange hat, so he was third to set off. He wasn’t sure of his swim speed, so I had asked his coach on Monday who suggested 7:30. Stu was swimming really well and Katherine and I were impressed by his beautiful tumble turn at the end of the first length, but he decided to conserve his energy and did touch turns afterwards. It wasn’t long before he passed the swimmer in the green hat and he made good progress on the swimmer in the blue hat, but Katherine and I were surprised that he seemed unable to get past that swimmer. We asked Stuart about it later and he said that he hadn’t tapped the other swimmer on the feet, but the blue-hatted swimmer paused at the end of the next length anyway for Stu to go past. The time for the swim included a brisk walk around the edge of the pool and down a corridor to the timing mat, so Stu did brilliantly to complete his swim in 7:05. Go Team Smith!
Shortly afterwards, Katherine and I went down stairs to get ready for our swim. It was the first time that I had swum in my Team Soas tri top and shorts, so I was wondering how they would fare. We headed out to the pool and were given our timing chips. Then we were separated as Katherine had to line up on one side of the pool and I was sent to the other side. I started chatting to a couple of women who were also in my wave, which helped to keep my nerves at bay.
We then moved around the pool again and Ben came past and said a cheery hello. Finally, Katherine’s wave started, and a marshal came over to check us in. There were meant to be four people in a lane, but the swimmer who should have been in second place in my lane had withdrawn, so there were just three of us. I started to sort myself out, which is when things started to go wrong. until that point, I had been wearing my glasses, but I took them off, to put my goggles around my neck and my swimming hats on (yes, hats… I hate getting water in my ears and find that with my lovely Maru hat, I don’t have any problems, so I didn’t want to try anything new). As I put my goggles over my head, the elastic strap snapped. I tried not to panic as I figured that I could fix it, but it had snapped at the widest possible point, so I could barely thread it through the side and there was no way of securing it, not even with a knot. I started to panic and the stress got to me, so I burst into tears. I was so hoping that I’d be able to do well and was then starting to wonder whether I’d even be able to start. I asked the marshal whether there was any possibility that I could start in a later wave, but they said no, so I had to think of a solution. The other girls in the lane suggested that I borrowed some goggles, but I’ve only swum without my prescription goggles once (in Cyprus), so I was nervous that it would mess up my swim. One of them proposed that if I were doing breast stroke, I could keep my glasses on, but I didn’t think that would be the right solution for me!
I couldn’t see Stuart, and the only other person I knew was still in the water. I felt very flustered and by the time I realised what I should do, Katherine had exited the pool and was heading for the door. I walked after her as fast as I could, aware that there weren’t many people left in the pool. As I chased after Katherine, I suddenly realised that I had reached the timing mat, so I had to stop. I frantically appealed to a marshal, who kindly went over to Katherine (who was just out of sight behind a bush) and got her goggles. I was aware that my wave would be starting very soon, so I then had to run back indoors.
Unfortunately, my disastrous experiences didn’t end there as I managed to run into something and cut open my elbow. I could see it bleeding (so I probably shouldn’t have got in the pool – sorry everyone, but I can promise that I don’t have any blood-bourne diseases and I’m sure the chlorine would have killed everything off!), but there was not time to stop and think. I got back to my lane, just as the last swimmer was getting out of the pool – phew!
It was then onto the small matter of swimming sixteen lengths (400m). When I did Ferndown try a tri, I panicked in the pool and ended up having to do breaststroke, but having managed two 400m sets with Coach Peter at Tri Club, I was confident that I should be able to do the distance without stopping or changing stroke. I did my best to turn quickly, although I will admit that a couple of my turns were somewhat tardy. I caught up with the swimmer in front of me and she let me go past, but the first swimmer in my lane was probably 30 seconds ahead of me. I felt really pleased that despite the panicked start, I maintained my pace and managed to front crawl the entire distance. I got out of the pool, picked up my goggles and glasses and headed for the exit, pleased that I was not the last person out of the pool.
My fastest recorded time for 400m is 10:36, so I was quite pleased that including the run to the mat, my time was 11:07.5
This was horrendously slow and is an area that I need to work on. I was surprised that my clothes were a bit disordered when I got to the rack, but tried not to let this bother me. (Katherine later told me that she’d had to stop a man from putting on my clothes in transition – if my cycling jersey were plain black I could understand, but it’s a vibrant pink, which isn’t the most popular colour for men’s tops!) I dithered about what to put on, but decided to put on my jersey and not my arm warmers. In hindsight, this was a mistake as it wasn’t very cold and it wasted a lot of time. I also failed to take my watch off and put it onto my bike, so the jersey stuck to my wet skin and I couldn’t get it over my watch – doh! I then had to put my sock on, put my shoes on, put my watch onto my bike, put on cycling mitts – just in case I crash – put on a headband and put on my helmet… oh yes, and there was the small matter of inserting contact lenses. (Added to this, my bike was racked at the furthest point from the timing mat.) This clearly far too much faffing and is why my transition time was the fifth slowest. I also made the same mistake as I made at Winchester Duathlon and managed to mess up the timing on my watch :-( I think the issue with the goggles and the time it takes to put in contact lenses in transition (30 seconds) are key indicators that if I want to continue with this sport, I need to start researching laser surgery sooner rather than later.
My time was a shameful 4:23.50
As soon as I had crossed the timing mat, I went to get on my bike, but the marshals shouted at me that I had to run another six steps to the edge of the road. This threw me a little bit and I was surprised at how many people were watching, which made me feel self-conscious, but I managed to get started. I know from recent rides that I ought to be able to maintain an average pace of 25.5kmph, so I decided to reset my watch, so that I could monitor my pace.
I really enjoyed the bike ride. It was a nice route, with the only off-putting element being that we were in such close proximity to oil seed rape fields, which seems to make my hay fever worse. I was also feeling quite confident on the bike, and for once there was a steady stream of people for me to overtake, which is highly motivating. I was only passed by three people, who I assume were the fastest cyclists in the novice event as they had expensive bikes and all of them had aero bars. The marshals out on the course were great, giving very clear instructions and allowing the cyclists to know when it was safe to cross roads in plenty of time to take the most appropriate course of action.
I knew when I was getting close to the finish, so I undid my shoes. Unfortunately, this caused me to slow a little and a couple of men passed me. One of them stopped quite abruptly so I didn’t manage a good flying dismount like I did at Winchester, but it did mean that I knew I wouldn’t have to take off my shoes when I got to the bike rack.
The ride was 22km long and I managed it in 52:41.05. I don’t have the full data on my Garmin, but of the almost 20km that I recorded, my average pace was 26.8kmph, which I’m quite pleased with. I also managed a new PB in terms of cadence (63) :-)
This was much better than my first transition as I only had to put shoes on, remove my bike helmet, put my watch on and twist my number around. This was my best discipline of the day with my time of 1:30.85 putting me in 131st place. (I count this as my biggest triumph of the day as I managed to beat both Katherine and Stuart!)
I knew that I would find the run difficult as I was starting to wheeze and my legs were tired… I don’t think the swim and cycling had affected them as much as Brighton marathon and the training that I did on Monday and Wednesday, but I didn’t feel that I could skip those sessions as Challenge Weymouth is my A race this year).
I fiddled with my watch a bit and managed to reset it, so that it was recording my run. I wanted to keep my pace under 6 min/km, but I was tired and realised that the slight incline that I had barely noticed on my bike felt very steep. I could see a woman up ahead who didn’t look to be moving too quickly, so I tried to gain on her, but don’t think I made very much progress. We headed out onto an open field and I realised that I could see the finish funnel, so I knew that I must be almost half way around. The runner up ahead turned off as she was finishing her run, but I heard some cheering and realised that Stuart was sitting on the grass watching out for me.
As I turned off for my second lap, I could hear someone gaining on me.
We passed friendly marshal at the same time and both commented to her. We then started talking to each other, which really helped me. I know I should have been pushing as hard as possible, but my body was just not cooperating and by staying with this lovely American guy, I was maintaining a better pace than if I’d been on my own. It turned out that he’s also training for a half iron distance race in September (Crescent Moon). I don’t know what his name was, and can’t read his number in the photos, but he really helped me.
When we got to the track, he took off, but I just couldn’t push any harder. However, I realised that I was catching up with a lady up ahead, who appeared to be struggling.
She had a friend who was in the centre of the track, motivating her to run faster. This spurred me on and I managed to pull out a sprint at the end.
My run time of 28:12.90 is rather disappointing, but I know that I can improve on it!
After crossing the finishing line, I thanked the American guy who had run with me and was presented with a medal and a bottle of water… and the biggest surprise of the day, a lovely Cadbury’s buttons Easter egg :-)
I met up with Stu who had cheered me over the line. We then saw Chris, the director of Try Tri, who took a photo of us both:
I finished in 1:37.55, which is not as fast as I’d hoped for. I can see the aspects of my race that I need to work on, and am hoping to be able to improve my run speed (in particular) in the coming months. It was a really enjoyable event, and despite the traumatic start, the pool swim went far better than I expected :-)