12 months ago I was inspired to take up swimming , and surprised myself by enjoying it so much I started thinking about maybe doing a triathlon. A challenge was tabled by my running club colleague to take on the AJ Bell World Triathlon Leeds event (who shall remain nameless, but has been “Bandy-ed” around…), with the loser to buy beer and breakfast at the Wetherspoons at the finish. High stakes indeed.
Training consisted of enforced cycling to work, a few short lunch pool swims and loads of running (you can tell which element I prefer). A last minute open water panic/familiarisation swim at the Blue Lagoon three days before to test my wetsuit and borrowed tri-suit set me up, and gave me a bit of confidence that I could in-fact get round the 1500m swim.
A great weekend of triathlon based activity at Roundhay Park saw amongst other things an open water swim on the Saturday, which Becky took part in and was comprehensively knackered afterwards but really enjoyed. Again the first time she has ever done anything like that so myself and Jesse were very impressed, and we loved buggy running around the lake to wave to her. Although Roundhay Park lake is pretty big and by the time we got all the way round we had missed her finish, whoops!
Sunday morning saw the mass participation element of the weekend, with thousands of amateur triathletes lining up for the open or British age group categories. Thick fog on the lake greeted the men (who went off first thing in the early categories), which meant the swim was halved to sprint distance due to safety reasons (1500m down to 750m). I will be honest, I was more than happy with this given my ropey swimming pedigree! Not many people were though, with lots of disgruntled men in lycra and wetsuits in the transition area. Nothing you can do about the weather lads, surely just get on with it and stop complaining?!
Plenty more disgruntled “MAMIL’s” were taking part in the British Age group championship vets categories before my wave went off, with some physically pushing past the stewards and volunteers because they had decided not to get to the start of their wave 20 minutes beforehand (as you were told to do repeatedly). Despite being told they had to drop down to the next wave as they were too late to start they decided they still knew best and ignored these instructions to barge past the officials. Genuinely the behaviour you would expect from a toddler, not from seemingly professional adult males. Antics I can only put down to the stereotypical type of person who takes part in triathlons at this level- i.e older men who have plenty of money (it is not a cheap sport), probably senior figures in their line of work who are not used to being told what to do and don’t take kindly to having to follow instructions. Baffling and embarrassing to watch.
I did find the swim start interesting. I was trying to think about any other sport/race/match I have ever done when you don’t have the opportunity to do a sport specific warm-up beforehand. If you are doing a running race you will warm your legs up beforehand, tennis match you have 5 minutes to get your eye in, football you may trundle around the pitch and kick a few balls around, but with triathlon its different. You have one minute to jump in the water to try and familiarise yourself with the shock of the cold water (lie on your back is the technique I have been told to counter this), but you have to hold onto the side so no way to actually warm up your strokes. I don’t know why, but for some reason I was expecting a ten second countdown to the race start, but that doesn’t happen, and so I was left completely off guard and at least 10 metres behind everyone when the hooter went off. Some seriously novice triathlon behaviour going on from my part!
As it turned out my unintentional doziness worked in my favour, as I was left with a pretty clear area of water to front crawl into. I say front crawl but in reality those first 200 metres were a panic stricken thrash of arms and legs with the sole intention of staying afloat and trying not to double my body weight by swallowing half of the lake. It took the notion of “freestyle” to a whole new level. After a while though I got into a nice rhythm, my heart rate was (more) under control and I actually felt like a swimmer. So much so that I found I was passing many people in my wave and also some of the “angry suits” who started in that wave ahead of us. For some reason I seem to be pretty good at sighting, and I was able to pick some decent lines around the course, whilst many others I saw were heading way off right initially or zigzagging uncontrollably. In the end I crossed the line in 15.28, and despite the horrendous way I felt in those first few hundred metres I had the feeling that if the race had been the full 1500m I wouldn’t have struggled as much as I first thought.
Into transition then and at Roundhay its a long one. Which is great if you like running! Again I picked up lots of places on the seemingly endless blue carpet, and had a quick transition as I decided to stick my cycling shoes directly onto my bike which meant I could run the whole area in bare foot. This worked particularly well, until I came to mounting my bike and getting my shoes on. Something which I hadn’t practised before on a hill start. Cue much wobbling and semi falling, when I did eventually get moving I had my foot stuck above the shoe tongue, therefore not only being uncomfortable for the whole ride it also reduced my drive power. So my smugness at a quick transition was wiped out and then some with a ridiculously slow start to the bike leg. A bike leg on a triathlon really is where you can make up time if you are willing to spend big money and get all the gear. Constantly I would be overtaking people on the climbs, only to be passed by carbon frames, disc wheels and aero helmets on the flat. My 4 year old £400 commuter road bike doesn’t really cut it in comparison, and its a frustration that the more money you spend the more of an advantage you have. I still enjoyed it though and got through the 36k ish route in 1.09.52.
Down the park road and into the second transition and my bike shoes unclipped quickly (not surprising given they were barely clipped on properly in the first place) and another long transition of barefoot running on the carpet felt really good back to my trainers. Exiting onto the run must be the hardest part of any triathlon, its an unusual feeling to go from cycling straight into running, with your legs not quite sure what they are supposed to be doing, and coupled with a hilly start (the usual Roundhay parkrun descent) and you really do feel like you are treading through treacle! After about a mile I felt I had broken free of the cycling leg shackles and was into a bit of a rhythm, with a downhill pretty much all the way into the city centre. To say the first half of the run route is scenic would be utter bullshit(!), so lets just cover that by saying it goes down Roundhay Road into Sheepscar and onto the Headrow. At this point it does start to get interesting, as you join the loop and run some nice climbs and descents through the crowds to touching distance of Millennium Square, at which point the “Sprint” distance racers turn to the finish, and the “Standard” (or Olympic) distance runners turn left for another 2.5k loop of the city.
The run was my highlight of the race, which is no surprise really given I am a runner, but nevertheless I thought the atmosphere was great on the course, I felt really comfortable running and I was absolutely loving the occasion and the finish to my first triathlon. Going through the finish in Millennium square, in front of the grandstand and the same place as the elite racers later in the day was great, and I was chuffed with 38.48 for the 10k, given how comfortable I was feeling too.
A well earned and deserved free bacon sandwich and pint in the Cuthbert Broderick ensued, as a result of winning the bet with “Mr B”. My time of 2.12.05 was over a minute quicker than his, but to be honest if he hadn’t stopped for a three course meal in the transition area (or whatever he was doing in there) I wouldn’t have had a chance! I did beat him in the swim though which is double kudos for me the non-swimmer…
Overall a thoroughly enjoyable first taste of triathlon, and whilst long term I think I will go for some lower key ideally off-road events, it was hard to fault what was a superbly organised major hometown Leeds event and one definitely to be tackled next year.
Dear Father Christmas, please can I have a new bike…