Ever since I learnt to swim properly in 2011 the inevitable that I would do a triathlon has loomed on the horizon. It was the obvious next challenge – to combine the cycling, swimming and running. So when the ITU World Triathlon series Grand Final was to be held in London and include an open competition for anyone, on the Olympic course, then I couldn’t miss the opportunity to finally take the plunge!
As a practice, I had completed the Midsomer Triathlon a week earlier in Somerset. This I had not counted as my first official triathlon, but as my final training for London. I had done some outdoor swimming near home and purchased a suitably priced second hand wetsuit, so I was as well prepared as I could be.....or maybe not!! It was not exactly the same distance as we swam 400m in a pool, cycled 25k and ran 5.5k! But it had the right ingredients. (I went to Somerset as I was there that weekend as opposed to it being the only event to suit my diary!!) I was encouraged to see friend Esther Doel also taking part.
Being this event took part where many friends and family live; I was well supported for my inaugural attempt at the triathlon. I set myself a target of 1hour 30 mins, knowing swimming would be the worst bit. Friend of LEJOG and east to West cycle fame, Chris Britton, came along to cheer for the morning. I was the second wave of swimmers (reflecting how slow I was!) at 8:22am. Of 9 of us to start together I was the final one to exit the pool in just under 14 minutes! (I did get a round of applause though!). Over 2 minutes later I was on my bike and took just over 55 minutes to cover the 25km course into Somerset, far from flat, but encouraged by friends, Rach & Si with Megan and Thomas in Oakhill, then my sister in law, Rachel, nieces, Demelza and Tegan, brother, David, nephews, Josh and Joseph, as well as Rach’s Mum, Janet when I cycled through their village and past their front door! I bit of an exchange on the last few kilometres with a driver (I was in the wrong in fairness but in race mode!) and by the time I got to transition to head for the run I’d passed 8 cyclists, one of whom was from the 8am starters!
ITU World Triathlon Series - Open Sprint race
and Midsomer Triathlon
I took about 1 minute to get into run mode and my legs could feel it as i completed the two laps of the 5.5km run – a mud footpath, with a sharp steep climb briefly and steep drop. David and Josh cheered me on twice as I went round, along with Chris, and even an ex classmate, Derek, who was walking his dog on the path as I ran past and recognised me!! (Bearing in mind I’ve not seen him in 20 years!). I passed another of my wave and another of the first wave to end up finishing second of the nine I started with – just over 25 mins for the run and a total time of 1:37:44. Of 173 finishers I came 89th overall but bearing in mind I was 169th after the swim, I clearly am stronger with my legs!
Thanks to brother, Pete too who was at the finish line and well done to Esther, who finished in a cumulative total of just over 1:36:00. It certainly gave me an idea of what I will be in for in London!
Top: Entering the final length of the swim
Bottom left: Onto the bike at Transition
Bottom right: Coming into the finish
Part of the support from left: Pete, Josh, David, Lucas and Chris
Esther and Lucas at the finish
Around 15km into the Midsomer Traithlon
The World Series event covered five days in Hyde Park with an aquathon, Junior events, age categories for the sprint and standard distances, the Paratriathlons along with the open standards and sprint races (the latter my event) and the World Traithlon Series Men’s and Women’s Finals – with the potential for gold and silver for GB in both events. I was in London volunteering on the Friday and felt ever more overwhelmed and underprepared for what lay ahead as 16 to 80+ year olds covered the course in the age category sprint events and then humbled by the paratriathletes. I feel humbled almost patronises what they achieve, but my eyes have been hugely opened to the power of the human spirit since the Paralympics and seeing those with a range of disabilities prove it’s about what you can do not what you can’t I find anything I do seems insignificant. It is fantastic to see the Paratriathlon will feature in Rio 2016 for the first time at a Paralympic Games.
Saturday 14 September arrived and I tuned in to watch the later stages of the Women’s World Final on the BBC Internet (I agree it should have had live coverage as the Men’s did) and was delighted to see Non Stanford take gold on the day and in the World Series as well as Jodie Simspon, also GB, take the World series silver. Inspirational stuff for my afternoon ahead, while the Brownlee brothers were due up Sunday. I felt like the interval act (a disappointment for the audience then!) and my nerves were already kicking in at levels I could only associate with my first ever marathon in 2001!. I had realised the night before, when I had registered, that I needed to get some cycle shorts and top as you don’t cycle/run in the wetsuit! (Underprepared, as I stated!)
Open Sprint Race - September 2013
One contact lense down, as ready as I’ll ever be for the Hyde park based Triathlon.
My friend, James (who was my host for the weekend), travelled in with me and I headed to get my tyres pumped up (somewhat flatter than I had realised!), I also realised I needed to remove my reflector to place my number on the bike and had forgotten to remove the straps off my pedals. Some hurried tweaks as the nerves got worse and we headed towards the transition area (where you change from one discipline to another) to rack my bike. Disaster struck as we walked over. My cycle helmet was on my head but I hadn’t done the strap up
so it was lose and swaying as we walked through the busy Expo/athletes village. Next thing I have lost full vision in my right eye as my helmet strap swung right into my eyeball and knocked my contact lense out! Realising it was out rather than dislodged, I commenced an impromptu search in the grass area next to the marquee! (I never lack hope!) and soon enough had ten or so people scoring the ground for a blue plastic lense less than 0.75cm in diameter on a muddy grass area with passed by many feet! I was also now getting short of time. I conceded that I wasn’t going to find it given I didn’t have time to search thoroughly, the number of feet passing through, the possibility it had travelled further than I had expected (known from a similar experience four years earlier at a wedding! – Though on that occasion an hour later the lense was located under a table 10 metres away from where it had left my eye!)..and I was searching with one eye and everyone else wasn’t sure exactly what they were looking for! (one thought it was black!)
After some deliberating I conceded I would go on with one eye rather than swim without lenses and use my glasses for the rest. I had also left my prescription goggles at home. To add to it, once I had handed my bag in after my bike and halfway to the start, time getting tighter, I had handed my glasses in! I seriously hoped I didn’t lose the left lense swimming! I am far from blind but having once swam with no lenses or prescription goggles, I got quite freaked by the fact I couldn’t focus enough to see other swimmers and got out the pool after 5-10 minutes!
Anyone see a blue contact lense in the grass?
I made the start line just in time for my scheduled wave to commence at 15:10 – the yellow hats! I was far from the only one nervous as two ladies were asking what the actual course was! I clarified we had a 750 metre single lap in the Serpentine, followed by the run to the transition area to get the bike, then 22.5km cycling over three laps and a two lap 5km run to finish. We lined up for the start and sat to dip our feet in – the first temperature test! Not as cold as Windermere was in 2011 but colder than anything else I had trained in (16C). Unlike the professionals, we had to lower ourselves into the water and have one hand on the pontoon when the gun sounded. I have never got into water at a point deeper than my height, so my nervous state further increased realising I now had to! 30 seconds later the gun went and I headed off. After about 100-150 metres I had settled and got into a proper swimming motion with my head under the water properly etc.
200 metres approx I passed one lady who was indicated to withdraw – she had spoken to me before and indicated she had struggled in cold water before. I plodded on; aware I appeared to be the final yellow hat heading round. The next wave gun went as I headed back after the turns on the south side and I realised I was gaining on a fellow swimmer! I was dreading the next wave catching me as I plodded round and sending me into a frenzy not being used to lots of swimmers around me. As we took the final turn with around 50 or so metres to go I realised the gun had not yet fired another wave off and only at that point did the first white hat (the 15:20 wave) pass me. I was also not gaining on just one but two yellow hats! In fact, I went for it and belted past them both as we got to the pontoon and the gun for the 15:30 wave went off in those finals few strokes. Had I really just swam 750 metres in about 20 minutes? It usually takes me at least 25!
Suddenly buoyed by this potential feat, I ran for the transition – the worst bit over, I still had a left lense in and stripped my wetsuit to my waist as I ran ( as you’re allowed) – getting a cheer as I was actually making an effort to run with pace to my bike (Despite being barefoot and no Zola Budd!!). Miraculously I got out my wetsuit quicker than I had ever succeeded before, got my cycle top, helmet, number, socks and trainers on and ran out with my bike – trying to focus on the correct exit. And off I went on the bike, hoping James would spot me and also brother in law, Paul, and his mate, Si, who had come into watch before there Pink Floyd gig.
The three laps cycle was fine – I passed plenty of others and saw my fellow volunteers from Friday on the north side of the park. More amazingly, despite my partially blurred vision, I spotted Paul and Si and not vice versa! More bizarrely, James was stood directly opposite them without either realising having never met before! I completed me three laps, pleased the pouring rain from the day before and that morning had cleared and the course was dry. With six hairpin bends, it relaxed my nerves! I was off the bike in just over 42 minutes and swiftly out onto the run route – two laps of the Serpentine.
Above just into lap 3 with Si to far right
Left - Lap 2 and James looks on realising it’s me!
Overlooking the Pontoon from where the swam started
Click above to see the video
Left - Onto lap 1 of the 5km run
Paul and Si were now on the run route and gave me a loud cheer as I headed out. I felt like I was drained of energy and couldn’t feel my feet properly but was encouraged I was passing more runners than were passing me. The route was well supported, and I had another cheer from Paul and Si as I entered the final lap. My feet had now regained their feeling and I gained a little pace, with a few runners in my target to beat to keep me motivated. As we entered the final few hundred metres in front of the grandstand I found a burst of energy and sprinted, passing my target man and over the line in 1:33:31. I had set myself a target of 1:30:00, but had done so thinking it was 20km cycling and not allowing for I would spend over 7 minutes in transition! But I was delighted with this time. I was delighted to have finished – not hampered by the lack of right vision and to find my swim time was 20:32 – a staggering time for me! My 5k was 21:40 – which was fast considering what I had just done and much faster than it felt. Paul, however, reassured me stating I was going at a good pace compared to many others.
I found James, Paul and Si and regained some sense of what I had done. It felt like the third biggest achievement of my “sporting career” – (1. Being I swam a mile in Windermere and 2 being completing my first marathon in London 2001). I did a final recky of contact lense gate but to no avail! (I wear gas permeable’s so only get a new set annually and they cost £50 to replace per lense, but can be cleaned and worn again if dropped!)
Sprinting for the finish line!
With Si and Paul and my medal just after finishing
Click above for Triathlon videos
The weekend concluded with making it down to watch the Men’s final on the Sunday – the excitement as the Brownlee brothers led the race for so long, before Alistair peeled off with a foot injury in the run and Jonny was pipped at the line by Javier Gomez – in what was a thrilling climax to the event. I had managed to get myself a finish line position meaning I could also see the Brownlees in transition from bike to run – and they are very quick!! This result meant, however, that Alistair missed out on the podium and Jonny won the Wold series silver. But, it had the crowds back out on the streets of London and gave us a feel for London 2012 again and I can say I have competed on three London 2012 stages this year (The Mall in the Marathon; Stadium in the National Lottery Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park 5 miles and the Triathlon).
Thanks to James for his hospitality and to Paul and Si for their support on the day. I guess an ironman will eventually happen!
World Triathlon Men’s Grand Final clockwise from top left - The Brownlees in the front pack of cyclists; In transition from bike to run; Alistair after he’s lost the lead; Javier Gomez and Jonny Brownlee in the 10km run with one lap to go; The scene of the transition area and finish line; Jonny Brownlee and third placed Mario Mola of Spain head to the medal ceremony.
Women’s world champion, Non Stanford (Centre) with silver medallist, Jodie Simpson (right). Haug of Germany won bronze.