Where to start…
Six months worth of training had lead to this morning. A fateful decision made during a time in January when I didn’t have much work and too much time on my hands! I had been entering various road races for a number of years but had somewhat lost impetus.
I had tried some different cross country events – the Duck Pond Waddle and a Saab Salomon Turbo X race but was after a new challenge. What better than triathlon.
But where to start? After a (very little) thought there was only one type of event to consider. Whilst I had a little knowledge of the Olympic triathlon races it was the long distance that had fascinated me. After a little Internet searching I found a new British long distance event in Nottingham and five minutes and £185 later I was in!
Now what to do? I had not ridden a bike or swum for 15 years although I was a decent runner but I needed a target to aim for. Speaking to a couple of people about what to expect the consensus was that 12 hours was a good time so that became my completely arbitrary target. A 1hr 15min swim, a 6.30 bike and a 4hr marathon and with the transitions I’d be finished in time for tea!!
I still needed to buy a bike though and through a colleague of my wife found the now sadly defunct Dave Harding Cyclesport and managed to buy a decent carbon road bike on the cycle scheme eventually taking delivery in February Cheers Dave! After a visit to the TCR Show that month as well I booked a training holiday at Tri-topia in France. That was a great investment and a good week with Lee and Sam was a turning point in my training. Whilst I was always able to train hard Lee gave me a start with endurance training and heart rate. I was now able to train for the event that I was racing rather than just going out hard all the time. I also got a good deal on a wetsuit from Zone 3 via Tri-topia and that was the major equipment sorted.
The final part of the jigsaw was a training plan. I decided to base my training on the Don Fink intermediate plan adjusting it to suit replacing one of the running sessions with a ride as my running was OK but my cycling had been non-existent! Over the next few months a followed this plan pretty well missing a relatively few sessions. There were a few warm up events, an aquathon at Eastleigh and the 100 mile Hampshire Hilly Sportive – there was the potential to do a warm up triathlon but I wanted to hold on to the idea that my first triathlon would be Iron distance!
…So when the alarm went off at 3.30am on the 8th August 2010 I still didn’t really know what to expect. Heading to Holme Pierrepont it was dark and still quite chilly. After changing into my gear and getting good luck hugs from the wife, my son and parents I headed to the start.
I seeded myself in Pen 2 for the start and tried to get near the front on the group to minimise the biff and at 6am the gun went. It was time to see how six months of training would pan out.
I had done the 500m Outlaw swim the day before and knew it would be weedy but it was really bad in places. At time it would have been quicker to stand up and walk on it! There was some biff at the start but I was expecting the worst and in all honesty it wasn’t too bad. I was kind of looking forward to it in a perverse way and it soon settled down. I never managed to find feet to follow throughout the whole of the swim but managed to maintain my own pace and rhythm.
It was the swim I was looking forward to least and at times it felt like it would never end. I had swum 3.6k in training in 70mins and that was what I was hoping to do so when I got out of the water in 1hr 6mins I was well chuffed.
So to my first ever swim to bike transition. I was not prepared for how dizzy I felt as I exited the water as my blood pressure must have plummeted. I tried to take the wetsuit off but had to sit down. One of the marshalls tried to help and on reflection I should have just let her but I carried on trying to help as well and ended up taking quite a time. Through the changing tent grabbing the gels and a generous application of chamois cream I went to the bike to find that my computer wasn’t working. After a futile minute of faffing to see if a wire had come loose I gave up and headed out onto the bike course. All this lead to a lengthy 9 minute T1.
The bike course, whilst not hilly was most definitely not flat and as basically a triangle on the end of an out and back section a had mentally divided it up into 11 sections. I was not the strongest cyclist having only bought a bike six months before the event and was determined to pace myself. I was going to ride very easily on the first four sections, see how I felt on the second loop and then push on the third if I could. All without my bike computer!
I felt like the world and his wife was passing me on those first sections but I tried not to push at all. Having not ridden in any triathlons before I found the non drafting rules difficult at times. You could be 10m behind somebody but as we all had different nutritional strategies if they sat up for a drink you could easily end up alongside or just in front before they settled back down onto their tri-bars and went back ahead. There was also some bunching on the main roads particularly on the last lap as the increasingly heavy traffic meant that any overtaking was more hazardous.
My nutrition plan went, well it went completely to plan. I ate every half hour, a homemade flapjack on the hour and a gel on the half hour. Supplemented with the supplied High 5 energy drink it meant that I was taking about 350 calories an hour. I stuck to this religiously apart from on the last lap when I delayed my last flapjack by 10 mins as I was on the last fast part of the course and didn’t want to sit up until i was on an uphill stretch.
My prediction of a 6:30 bike had come from a training session where I had completed a 106 mile ride in 6:26. Allowing for the adrenaline of the race I felt that 6:30 was possible for 112 miles. When I saw that I had managed 6:06 for the distance I was ecstatic! I felt pretty good and had left myself about 4 1/2 hrs to run the marathon to break 12 hours. Easy!!
Like, I suspect, many runners I had badly underestimated how hard the run would be. I had never run a marathon before but had run a 1:31 half marathon. As such using prediction tables I should be looking for a standalone marathon time of around 3:15. I’m not sure that is realistic target but 3:30 surely would be at around 8 minute miles. A four hour marathon is 9 minute miles and I struggle to run this slowly in training! I was fully expecting to break 4 hours and thinking I should manage 3:45.
I began to find my feet on the first lap around the lake and settled into what i estimated to be 8 – 8.30 minute miles. I planned to take a gel every 20 minutes switching to caffeine gels on the second lap as practised during training. By the time a came round the lake for the second time I was going through a tough patch, feeling rough as the temperature was rising.
Taking on the caffeine gels appeared (whether psychologically or physically) to give me a boost and although my time on that second lap was slower than the first I felt significantly better. As I passed under the gantry for the last time heading towards the final 8 miles, bang, my right leg cramped up badly and I had to stop to stretch it out. It was excruciatingly painful and it took several minutes to get going again.
The cramp was affecting my hamstring, calf and the bottom of my foot. The final 8 mile were a painful ironman shuffle alternately walking and jogging with a bizarre gait to prevent the cramp becoming worse at an average 11 minute miles. This wasn’t helped by two of the feed stations running out out of both High 5 and water. As they were at the far end of the out and back part it meant that I didn’t have a drink through 3 stations, for about 5 miles and an hour when I needed them most at the hottest part of the day. All part of the experience I suppose!
Looking at the time I was still on track to beat my target and as it approached I knew that despite how my legs felt I was going to finish. I also made a mental note to myself that despite running so slowly I could not physically go any faster so that I could not kid myself later that I should have pushed myself more!
I had been sure that as I finished I would blub like a baby. It had been a six month period of my life where I had thought of little else. Where possible family and work had been arranged around training and it had dominated my life. As a ran past my family and up into to the finish I just felt a real sense of pride and satisfaction at a job well done. In the final analysis I managed a marathon time of 4:11 and crossed the line for my first ever triathlon of….
To say I was pleased would be a understatement. To achieve this from standing start so to speak, buying a bike and taking swimming lessons six months before the event and after actually entering I felt a sense of achievement.
Moving through the finish tents I waited for the complimentary massage given by a lovely young lady which lasted for half an hour. Under normal circumstances this would have been thoroughly delightful but was actually just very painful although I’m sure it must have done me some good!
After forcing down a bite to eat – at least it wasn’t a gel, I was bloody sick of those and didn’t want to see one for a very long time – I went to meet my family. Not only had my wife and son come to cheer me on but my father in law had come as well along with my wife’s Aunt and Uncle who live in Nottingham and had kindly allowed us to stay with them for the weekend.
It was an emotional moment meeting them all again and reliving some of the race, both the good and bad times. It had, all things considered gone pretty well. I had stuck to my nutritional plan and I think it had worked. I’m not sure that the cramp was down to nutritional issues and may be more down to only having six months of base endurance training than poor nutrition. According to my son I was in 555th place halfway round the bike course and eventually finished in 211th. Whilst the placings in themselves mean very little I think it shows that my pacing was pretty good despite the end to the run. I certainly appeared to overtake more people on the bike than overtook me on the final lap.
Overall it was a tremendous experience and I will forever remember my first triathlon. I am glad that I didn’t do any others in the weeks running up to the Outlaw so that it was my first even though I may have benefited from the experience. I picked a completely arbitrary goal with no real idea of whether it was achievable or not and made it by nearly 35 minutes. It had been a long hard road of training but it was definitely worth it.
Will I do another one? Probably. I can knock 5 minutes off the time just by doing a better T1! Another year of biking and swimming can only do me good. I’ve bought a bike a wetsuit and lots of other bits and pieces – it would be a shame not to use them again. And you never know, I might even consider a shorter race as well!!