I am a triathlete.
I could have written that in bold for emphasis, or maybe italics or underlined. I guess I could even have used all three to really drive home the point. But the truth is I don’t feel like a triathlete, and so any emphasis at all would feel like cheap sensationalism.
Let’s be clear, the whole experience was brilliant. The support from our sponsors, Chobani, was incredible with kit, yoghurt and encouragement from the start 5 weeks ago. Taking on the challenge of learning a new skill in 5 weeks was something I embraced and gave my all and the support from friends and family has been incredible. So what happened on Sunday to leave me less than ecstatic? Simple, my performance.
In the build up to the triathlon swimming had been my sole training focus. Going from doggy paddle to lake swimmer in 5 weeks would always be tough but the interruption of a week on a farm building then enjoying a music festival didn’t help. I missed only 2-3 opportunities to swim in those 5 weeks but I think maybe I could and should have pushed myself harder during my training sessions. I also didn’t get an opportunity to experience lake swimming, and despite being told how different it was I thought I would be able to cope. On the morning of the tri itself I had plans to enjoy my usual breakfast and had even brought my smoothie maker and teabags to the hotel! The idea was that familiarity would help me stay relaxed and in control come my first mass lake swim. Unfortunately, what with collecting bikes and meeting Jenson Button, the time disappeared and took my plans with it! Luckily Chobani laid on a a fabulous, fuel-filled brekkie but before I knew it I was in my wetsuit, stood in a lake and waiting for the start of my first tri. I was woefully undercooked and what happened next comes as no surprise…
As soon as the rope went up and the hooter went off, the world around me changed in to a churning washing machine of limbs, spray and waves. I was prepared for this and let the moment pass before I tried to settle in to my swimming, just like I’d been doing in the pool. As soon as I got my face in the water and tried to swim and breath things went wrong. I knew I wouldn’t see the bottom of the lake but wasn’t expecting total blindness. The water tasted different to what I was used to, and I didn’t have the clean air I was used to as fellow competitors sent splashes and waves washing over me. I felt myself panicking but by that point I was too far gone to rein it in. By the time I’d covered 75 metres I was gasping uncontrollably and thrashing wildly. I stopped struggling and floated for a while trying to calm down, and the canoe marshal floated over for a chat. He was excellent, he really helped to talk me down and help me relax a little. After a while I was able to swim again, much slower and without adopting the stroke I’d been practicing but moving forward. The marshall stayed on my inside and steered me along the course so I had one less thing to worry about. As I reached the second buoy the canoeist again gave me another pep talk, and with the finish in sight I turned and pulled for home. Eventually dragging myself out of the water second last I was overcome with relief that it was over, and amazement that someone had struggled more than me. We high-fived in transition, that guy is my tri hero.
I don’t remember much about transition 1, it was all a bit of a daze. I know there was a lot of cheering and shouting which kept me going as I got my kit on and ran the bike up to the mount/dismount line. The ride started with a long climb and it was only as I crested it that I actually remember thinking about being on the bike at all. I stopped cruising and started riding and started to enjoy the fact I would never have to swim again! I caught a few people on the ride which went down the back of the hill before turning and climbing again. On the final descent I was comfortable enough on the skinny wheels to really put the hammer down and caught two people on the descent which was a nice feeling.
Through the final transition and I was out on the run. It took a few minutes to get in to a rhythm as the course changed from tarmac to rocky track, passed a water stop and finally on to the grass that made up the majority of the course. Once there I was able to open the legs a bit and again I was passing people. The finish came almost too soon and as I crossed the line I don’t remember feeling anything much.
It was over, I’d completed my first triathlon. But I’d done no better than surviving the swim, I’d let that affect my performance on the bike and enjoyed my run more than I should have done if I’d been really pushing. I finished well down in my wave but far from last.
So, does that mean I’m done with triathlons now and never need to brave the water again?
No. I’ll see you in the pool tomorrow morning.