My First Triathlon!
Eeek! I can see through the window that a big car has pulled up outside my house! With bikes on the back! They’re actually here! Yippee! Quick dash to bathroom to replace toothbrush, dash back to get watch..the kids have already opened the front door and I can hear Helen talking with them. Grabbing many bags of stuff, I rush downstairs to greet Helen and Nina who have come to whisk me away to Ponteland to do my first triathlon!
Let me introduce us! We are team ‘Ladies that Tri’. Comprising Helen and Nina, veterans of the triathlon, and myself, a runner who’s front crawl was recently described by a mystified general public swimming pool user as ‘you look like you are trying to run in the swimming pool.’ I am a recent learner of the front crawl! Having spent years thinking ‘I wish I could do that’ at the start of this year I thought ‘Well why not?’ I joined the Durham Tri club in January and went regularly to the Saturday 5.30pm sessions. I massively thank Bob, Jean, Amanda, Ian and Ellen for their excellent and enjoyable tuition. They are fantastic coaches! I have got much enjoyment from front crawl! I didn’t realise how different to breast stroke it was until now. You only get to see what’s below you for a start! I was now curious to try a triathlon and the Ponteland Go Tri events for beginners seemed a good place to start.
Helen drove up the A1. Our three power machines were attached to the back of the vehicle. I am quite attached to my bike and was pleased to see it travelling in style! I’d like to say our arrival at the Ponteland Leisure Centre was cool and smooth, perhaps even gaining psychological advantage over any fellow competitors arriving at the same time, but it was not as unfortunately I remained locked in the car as Helen and Nina got out and started sorting the bikes as I could not work out how to unlock the door!
Nina and Helen were extremely helpful. It was great going with them! They showed me where everything was (lockers, toilets, registration, transition lines on the ground) and gave me numerous excellent tips such as how to organise my pile of stuff in the transition zone! Before long a crowd of people in active wear were gathered for the briefing before the start. The lady that organises these events was very welcoming. It turned out that quite a few of us were doing our first triathlon! A group photo was taken at the start in celebration which was supportive. My only concern at that moment was that looking around I appeared to be the only person wearing a swimming hat and googles. Hummm. Was anyone else planning to do the swim bit? Ah! It turned out that this was because people get in the pool one at a time in 15 second intervals, so there would still a bit of a wait for most!
There was a call for the first 10 swimmers to line up at the side of the pool! Eeek! That included me! They organise it so the slowest people go into the pool first. When I signed up I had no idea of my time to swim 8 lengths so I had put down 45 minutes to be on the safe side. But this meant that now, I was second person to get into the pool!! Although I was nervous, I was very excited and the pool looked well inviting!
When it was my time to go I got a countdown from 5! By ‘4’ I had changed my mind about a star jump entry. It looked a bit deep. I slid into the pool in a ‘I’m going down a water slide way’ during the ‘3, 2, 1’ and managed to start on the ‘Go!’ And it was great to be swimming again! Also a little scary as to the anticipation of the surge of bodies that would undoubtedly be trying to get past very soon! I kept going as best I could! A little disoriented at times as the bottom of this pool looked different to Freeman’s Quay, so at the end of each length I checked to make sure I was on the correct side of the lane. The course was to swim up and down each lane once, by ducking under the lane ropes to change lanes, thereby finishing at the other side of the pool. I kept going! The first swimmer to pass me gave me a wide berth! Phew! ..I waited for more to pass but no-one did and soon I was climbing up the steps out of the pool!
In trepidation I gingerly walked outside to the transition area on the grass outside the building. Hummm, there were only a few people out. I had a feeling that I ought to be waiting for everyone else? It was a bit strange! I put my trainers and jacket on then waited a bit for Nina who was also out of the pool. I followed another girl who was ready to go and looked like she knew what she was doing. However, once out of the new- to -me -zone- of- transition, I felt more confident. OK, this was a bike ride now! (And very usefully we had arrived early to Ponteland and Helen has driven us around the course! ) So I rode at a pace I thought would be best, which given it was a short course, I decided this should be as fast as I could go! I chased the girl ahead! She was powering up the hill! I followed in hot pursuit, feeling competitive now! But randomly after a few hundred metres some small, long brown things fell out of her bike bag onto the road. They looked like cigars !? Whatever they were, they must have been important as she swore loudly and stopped immediately to pick them up. I asked if she was OK as I passed. She said she was so I carried on.
Goodness, I was now in the lead on the course (although obviously not in time)! I pushed my feet down hard on the peddles continuing up the hill, I needed to do this as fast as possible as I didn’t want anyone to catch me, especially given my head start! I was also determined as I wanted to see how I might fare in this triathlon lark! I made sure I was always out of breath, except for on the down hills where my aim was to go as fast as possible without falling off the bike! Its a very good course. Gradual uphill for the first half, then gradual downhill for the second half. And all left turns bar one! Whizzing back downhill to the Leisure centre I hoped I would not miss the turning, but it was well marshalled! I turned the corner, and Helen’s kids were there cheering me on, bless them! It was a short push-bike -and-run without bashing your ankles into the transition area.
In transition, I had a big fight with my jacket. The zip got stuck! So the hole I was trying to get my head out of was small! I tugged and pulled at it, which made the zip travel further up so the head hole just got smaller and smaller until the zip was stuck right at the top! Aghh! I tore my glasses off and gave a final yank of effort squeezing my head through the hole which felt like removal of half my face skin! After this impromptu facial beauty treatment was over I noticed a guy had caught me up and was just entering transition. I ran out as fast as I could! Back through the taped transition exit, onto the run route! More kind cheers from Helen’s kids as I went past!
The run route headed round the corner, then onto a footpath. My legs didn’t seem to get going as quickly as I wanted them too. Maybe due to a circulation thing from being on the bike? Anyhow I strode on as fast as I could. I couldn’t actually remember how far it was but I knew it was a very short length as it was a mini-triathlon and knew that this meant run as hard as you can. There was no-one on the path for ages then I saw some dog walkers in the distance. Oh dear! My active wear now constituted a swimming costume and, erm, trainers..Ha ha ha! Living on the edge! I ran faster in-case they called the police. Half way down the track, the guy who I’d seen behind me caught me up and overtook. Aghh! I chased his heels! Round a corner and we were now both running down the grass verge of a busy main road in swim wear! At the end of this road, the route went along the pavement of the road straight back to the leisure centre. I recognised this from the bike route so knew it was not far so pushed the pace a bit. Back past transition and I gathered myself for a final effort to sprint to the finish flags! Gasping for breath at the end I was handed a rather nice goodie back containing welcome water, cereal bar and a smart sports bottle! I hadn’t expected anything for a £10 race entry fee! I downed the water then went round the corner to wait for Helen and Nina to cheer them on. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable, supportive and friendly event!
I am signed up to do this event again and was interested to compare my times to the lady that came first. My run time was the same as hers. She was 3 minutes quicker on the bike and 1 minute quicker in the swim. She also spent a lot less time in transition. As its such a short event, it seems that every second counts. I think I can easily improve my overall time by being much faster in transition and next time my plan is to start counting in my head when I enter transition, and aim to be out the other side by the time I reach 30! As far as decreasing my time for the other elements maybe there could be different approaches. Perhaps I could just try to do everything faster, or focus on what I am best at, running, and try to decrease my time for that. I can also now give them a more accurate swim time which means I can be more ‘in the midst’ of the action and perhaps get a more realistic race experience? In terms of enjoyment I was surprised to enjoy the bike bit most! The swim and run bits were just a bit too short for me. I look forward to trying this event again with these plans from the experience I have gained!
Extract from the book Running My Way by Tamsin Imber with permission from Pitch Publishing.