I had an awesome time yesterday at the annual Plymouth Triathlon. This Olympic distance event consists of a 1500m open water swim in Plymouth Sound, a 40km technical bike ride on the road and a 10km moderately hilly run, all based in Mount Batten. It was my first triathlon for 3 years, my fourth one ever and only my second at the Olympic distance, so I can still be considered a novice and my nerves reflected that. My previous attempt was the Huntly Triathlon and I barely made it around, I over did it on the cycle and the subsequent run was very painful and slow. Read on to find out how I got on this time.
Mentally and physically I was well prepared for the cycle and run sections of the event, however I had only ever done one sea swim in training so most of my nerves were focused on this. I had managed to read a couple of negative articles about sea swims in the previous few days and it was definitaltey a topic that I should have avoided. It also didn’t help that I had forgotten my noseclip, as I was convinced that it would make the sea swim more tolerable. I really don’t like the feeling of cold brine washing through my sinuses. I checked The Bike Cellar tent, but they understandably didn’t have any noseclips, so I decided not to focus on the missing equipment and simply to move on and cope without.
At 07:30 the Plymouth Triathlon Club (PTC) held an extra briefing for novices that was very encouraging. They pointed out that there were lots of novices, so none of us were alone and that we wouldn’t be punished for mistakes as all of us, marshalls included, were there for a good day out. We were also advised that if we had any issues in the water that they didn’t mind if novices needed to grab a canoe to catch their breath. They did clarify that they would punish cheating though. I felt that this briefing was invaluable as it really did take some of the pressure off, and before I knew it I was stood in all of my gear on the slipway and about to enter the water.
I slowly walked forward into the water with all of the other triathletes in the male open category. We would be the first wave (white hats, compulsory) with everyone else (red hats, compulsory) starting five minutes behind us. There were plenty of exclamations and lots of reluctance to walk forward, however my tri suit did it’s job and I was soon comfortably bobbing around with everyone else. There was some initial discomfort in my bare feet and hands, however it only lasted a few seconds before they adjusted (went numb!) The organiser was on the bank with a loud speaker, giving us time updates at regular intervals and at twenty seconds to go I had my pre-race pee (one advantage of open water swims…) We were then counted down from 5, and we were off…
I was purposefully at the back of the pack and I moved straight into my normal front crawl. Everything seemd to go ok for about twenty meters and then all of a sudden I was having a lot of difficulty controlling my breathing. I was hyperventilating and it was all that I could do not to turn over on my back and summon a canoe, however I wasn’t going to give up that easily (Never Give Up! www.endurancelife.com) I slipped into breast stroke and struggled on at a pitifully slow pace. I was almost immediately last and was still trying to breath properly. It didn’t help that I couldn’t get into the crawl as I am terrible at breast stroke and my shoulders were starting to feel it. I carried on in this manner for a few hundred meters and I gradually started to regain control. I could see that the red caps had started behind me and most of them were coming past when I managed to start my front crawl reliably. I then started to feel rather good. I focused on getting to one buoy at a time, which broke it down nicely, and I was stroking evenly. I actually started to catch a few white hats up and I was beginning to enjoy myself. The water no longer felt cold and the canoeist that was keeping an eye on me decided that I wasn’t at risk any longer and paddled off to keep an eye on everyone else. Before I knew it I was out of the water in a time of thirty three minutes, pretty poor over all, but a resounding success for me. Next time I will practice my cold water immersion to lessen the shock and will swim a few meters before the start so that I get any hyperventialting out of the way early! Getting into the water late because it is a bit nippy is a false economy, get the discomfort out of the way early as it will soon vanish.
I ran up the slip, climbing out of the top half of my wetsuit, removing my goggles, earplugs and hat as I did so. This revealed my Muscular Dystrophy Campaign vest (support me here ) so that it could be picked out by the cameras. I ran straight to my bike in the transition area and put my helmet on (in some races you can be disqualified for touching the bike when not wearing a helmet, so put it on first!) I then did the following:
- Sat down, wetsuit off
- Shoes on (no socks)
- Gloves/sunglasses on
- Stood up
- Number belt on (clip fell off)
- Reattached number belt clip
- Put SiS energy gels into tri-suit pockets…couldn’t get them in as they were under my race vest that was secured by my race belt.
- Stuffed one energy gel up each tri-suit leg.
- Lifted bike from rack and ran out of transition, kept running and following marshals until one told me to get on the bike.
It was now time to make up a few places. I am much better at cycling and running than I am at swimming and I was back in familiar territory. My Orca 226 Kompress tri-suit also felt absolutely brilliant, sort of like cycling naked, but without the chafing and criminal record. The route was very technical and could generously be described as rolling, although most time triallists would probably consider it to be hilly. I had a great time as I overtook a steady stream of people on the outwards leg, there was always someone new in front of me to catch. At the turnaround we had to stop and dab a foot in a layby before doing a u-turn. This was easy and uneventful, fully directed by the fabulous marshalls. On the return leg people seemed a bit keener and I kept swapping places with one particular guy who was faster than me on the flat, but slower uphill. I eventually got him for good on the outskirts of Plymstock and got a few more on the urban last three miles. I eased off for the last couple of miles, but this was made difficult by the hilly terrain, thankfully the last couple of hundred metres were mostly downhill.
I climbed off of my bike when directed by a marshal and ran into the transition area, where I did the following:
- Racked my bike
- Removed helmet/gloves/shoes
- Sat down and fought with socks and wet feet for 60 seconds
- Put shoes on and grabbed another energy gel before running out of the transition, moving my number to the front (get a number belt if you don’t have one!) and taking a mouthful of water from a cup offered by a marshall.
My legs felt really good for the first few hundred meters, then I started to struggle with my breathing. It simply felt like I couldn’t take a full breath. I put this down to the stress on my lungs, ribs and diaphragm from the hyperventilating, swim and cycle, so I eased off for the first 5km lap, simply going at a comfortable pace. This did mean that 5 or 6 people came back past me, but I focused on running my own race. Towards the end of the first lap I was feeling a lot better, so I started to up the pace and was able to get my heart rate up again. I clawed back three or four places and before I knew it the end was in sight. I crossed the line to clapping and cheering, it was a great feeling.
All in all I had a great day and I considered my race to be a massive success. I had beaten the 3 hour goal that I had set myself and knew that I should be able to knock around fifteen minutes off of my time in my next olympic distance tri. There were a huge number of people out on the run route cheering and clapping and every one of them helped. At the end quite a few of the triathletes hung around for the presentation and also to cheer the rest of the finishers across the line. There were a total of 159 finishers from all walks of life and of all abilities, so if you fancy having a go then I strongly encourage you to do so. There were people on the cycle with mountain bikes, as well as expensive time trial bikes, the equipment doesn’t matter, as long as you are taking part.
If you enjoyed reading this then please support me in my Ironman for Charity efforts, raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign. You can also see all of the photos that my family took at the Plymouth Tri here: