I have wanted to be able to say that for so long. And now I can.
I had an amazing day, no an amazing weekend. Just the best. Sunshine, friends, icecream. A swim, a cycle and a run. And the best support crew in the world. What more could I ask for?
I was nervous when I woke up. I knew I had to keep it calm and quiet. So I just went and did what I usually do on race day, made my porridge, ate it and had all my kit ready to go. I’m afraid there were several bathroom stops before I left the house, but on the outside I was giving the impression of being cool, calm and under control.
Gary had volunteered to come and support me on this one, so it was great to have his help to lift the bike into the back of his car and to travel up to Ashington in style with some chilled out tunes on the stereo. I practised my pilates breathing just about all the way there.
We’d no sooner parked up than I saw Flip and Anna, with Flip about to rescue a puncture on his bike – something that would have sent me into a tizzy. A quick chat, then over to registration to pick up my timing chip and numbers and then hang around for the race briefing.
I was reassured I knew what I was doing and what to expect. But by now the time was ticking away to my start at 08:53. So back out to rack the bike and set up in my first transition. Some very friendly marshalls showed us where to go and checked my bike was facing the right way and reminded me to put my helmet on before touching the bike.
At some point on my trips back and forth to the pool, I bumped into Ian, off in a later heat than me and looking very relaxed about the whole thing. I felt reassured then. I had friends around me, and it was going to be a good day.
I didn’t want to hang around in a crowd getting nervous so I headed back to the car. I think I lasted about 10 minutes before I went for a jog up and down the grass a couple of times and then some deep breathing and pilates roll downs to get me set.
Finally, back to the pool, heading up to the viewing gallery to see one of the swim heats underway. There was a small adrenaline spike then, as I looked into the water and saw it packed with swimmers. I couldn’t suppress a small ‘Oh god!’ as I let my swim demon have his moment. Ian said ‘deep breaths’ and that’s what I did.
No more time for socialising – time to head to the pool side. Deep breaths, focus, relax. As soon as I got there, I was called forward for a short briefing alongside Flip and Stuart who were both in my heat. I continued to focus on my breathing, rolling my shoulders and preparing for the swim.
I was a bit panicked when they said we had 9 minutes in the briefing and that after 9 minutes they would blow a whistle and we should get out in order to give the next heat chance to hit the pool. I usually swim just over 9 mins for 400m in training and I wanted to make sure I swam smooth and easy. I was a bit worried I wouldn’t get to finish my swim.
But Stuart reassured me. It’s actually a 25 yard pool at Ashington, so 16 lengths is a bit shorter than 400m.
Anyway, too late for those sort of worries, more deep breaths and into the water which was surprisingly warm. We had a couple of minutes before our start and I was second to go in my lane. So I took a couple of deep breaths and did a couple of sinking and blowing bubbles. The first was a bit short and panicky, but I brought it under control and by the time the start came, I felt okay.
In fact I missed my start. I didn’t hear the second go and went on the third. I think that cheesed off the guy behind me as he came barrelling past on the right hand side, thrashing like a loon on the first length. I just concentrated on breathing out under water and keeping it steady. And I didn’t have the swim panic. Nerves, yes. A couple of moments where I needed to catch my breath, yes. But that awful, ‘oh goodness I really don’t want to be here’ feeling – no. Swim demon defeated at Ashington.
I was very close to the girl ahead of me, and accidentally caught her a couple of times, but I needed a breather on the turn and let her go ahead. But I was catching her on each lap, and so finally I pulled alongside and overtook on a turn.
Now I was in clear water, just me and my swim. I eased through the water, enjoying the cool sensation on my cheeks as I swam up to the deep end.
A couple of times I lost count of my laps and was grateful of my poolmate watch which I’d set to go when I started. A couple of times, I swam front crawl with my head out of the water, to give myself chance to catch my breath. And there were even a few strokes of breast stroke on my penultimate length as I came up against two swimmers side by side approaching me on the turn. But I never stopped and it went by in a whirl.
I kicked for the last length and swam breathless to the end. Then up, out of the pool, snatching hat and goggles off and heading out along the path down to the transition area.
Time to try something new – cycling whilst wet through. I didn’t even register running barefoot over the 100m or so down to the bike. I knew my spot, headed straight to it and stood on my towel, surprised to see the black marks off my feet.
A shout from Flip and Stuart also in transition I think, but I barely looked up. Socks, shoes, helmet, number belt, a quick swig from my water bottle. I didn’t rush transition. I allowed myself the time to get it right and relax in the knowledge that I could do the next bit.
Pushed the bike round to the start line, then hopped on and away. Easy, easy at first. Just gather my thoughts and smile to myself that the hardest part was over and I’d swum well. I grabbed a piece of mango stuck to the handle bars as I powered up the road – easy gear for the first lap I told myself.
Thanks so much to Peter and Flip for that course recce last weekend. It meant it held no surprises. I knew where the hill was and how hard it was and that I could take it. The photographer will have a cracking picture of me absolutely blown out near the top on the first lap.
But then I knew it was all downhill or flat and I revelled in the speed through the country lanes and back round to the road again. The marshalls were brilliant, keeping an eye on the traffic and advising us when it was clear to go through.
Round for the second lap and this time I pushed a bit harder. More on the big ring up towards the Pegswood roundabout, keeping my breathing at a level that was hard, but I knew I could sustain.
There’s no pressure for me on the bike. It’s a hybrid. It’s twice as heavy, if not more, than some of the super road bikes, but it’s my legs that are powering it and my legs are strong. Lots went past me on their racing machines, but I got some encouragement too. And each time one did, I tried to stay with them a little longer. No chance of me drafting, but useful to keep spurring me on.
As I came round to approach the hill a second time, I was passed by the girl I passed in the swim, but she didn’t look that fast on her road bike. So I dug in, and kept pushing, down into the lowest gear, crawling up the hill.
There was a big car, a landrover or something behind us, and I thought I’d have to get over to the left hand steeper side to let him past. But he seemed happy to tootle up behind the cyclists, so I went out into the middle of the road to tackle the steepest part of the climb, all the time gaining on the girl on the road bike.
Hill completed, it was down to the rush of speed. I hunched over the handle bars to make myself as aero dynamic as possible and kept the legs going ten to the dozen. And at some point out along the road I passed her. Woohoo!
Now it was a battle to keep her behind me as long as I could. And I managed a good way into the third and final section, until she took me on the flat on the way up to the roundabout and I shouted out a well done.
No hill this time, so I pushed hard, up to the roundabout and then back down towards the bike finish. I kept my eyes open for competitors coming the other way, but am not adept enough at recognising anyone on their bikes just yet. A couple of people said they saw me though – and I was grinning.
I was definitely enjoying the bike ride, imagining I was Lesley on her lovely bike and storming through the finishing stages. A couple of cyclists who’d been watching at the top of the hill were by now on a bench at the side of the road and yelled out a ‘well done’ as I went past. And as I freewheeled down the road the blossoms showered me with pink confetti. It was a tickertape parade to the finish.
Back round to the carpark transition area, dropping through the gears and spinning over the last few hundred yards. Marshalls yelling ‘Off before the yellow line’ – which I did. Then a jog, stamp the feet and jelly legged move into transition.
I went the wrong side of the bike rack this time, but luckily I could duck through. Gloves off, quick swig of water, helmet off and away for the run, turning my number belt round as I headed out of transition.
Oh how my legs hurt. My calves were like rock. This will pass, I told myself. Just keep moving. I bumbled on, feeling jelly legged and slow through the narrow footpaths around the school and playing fields. First lap easy, I said to myself. This is your run – you know you can do this. You’re on the home straight.
But it hurt, really hurt. My breathing was good, I felt strong, just my legs felt like I was going to smash them into pieces every time I hit the ground.
Round to the start of the second lap and I get a shout across the field from Gary and there’s Anna with the camera. Crikey, I can’t run like a lump around Anna, I’d better try and pick this up a bit. So I did for a while. But as a handy fence line approached I allowed myself a stop for a stretch. Even if it was psychological, even if it was just 20 seconds, it helped.
But it did mean a girl in a black Durham tri suit gained on me and got past me as I picked up the run again. She’d kindly asked if I was okay and apologised for a slow overtaking manoeuvre, but it really helped as it gave me someone to focus on for the next lap.
By the end of the second lap the run was definitely coming back to me. I was stretching out a little more and gaining ground on Durham tri. This was about fitness and determination now. And thanks to all my fantastic training, I know I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in. As we came around for the third lap, I stretched ahead.
Now it was about pushing on, keeping her behind me. I could sense she was still there as the marshalls clapped and cheered us on for the last lap. Less than half a mile to go as I thanked the marshalls, especially the one frantically looking down the list of numbers to try and shout out our names, and finally I felt I was running at something like a decent 5k pace.
Back round to the playing field and I was picking my spot for a sprint. But my legs went for it as soon as I thought it and I pushed on hard for a few seconds, then dropped back. But the flags were in sight, push on again. And with a stutter and a stall I found something like a fast finish, arms pumping, breath rasping as I ran over the grass and the finish line.
And I laughed! Laughed out loud because I’d done it. And it felt fantastic just like I knew it would. Even with my head down trying to catch my breath and stop seeing stars. Grateful to the marshall who took my chip from my ankle, I was laughing!
I finished a triathlon. Wow! When can I do it again?
Today was all about finishing. About achieving something new and challenging. About beating that swim demon. And about enjoying it.
But for those who want to know, here are the stats:
Swim 08:44 (400m – but really 360)
Cycle 53:16 (20k)
Run 23:55 (either a short 5k or a mega PB)
I have some great big thank yous to make. Firstly to Gary who was today, as always, the best support crew I could have. He puts up with me flitting off hither and thither for training, talking endlessly about races and plans, and doesn’t seem to mind me meeting up with a bunch of sweaty runners on a weekend. Plus he took pictures and treated me to an ice cream afterwards.
Then there’s all you lot. Thank you for all your messages. I have had so many here and on facebook, twitter, email and text (I’m a social networking junkie). You are an awesome support crew.
I need to pick out two very special friends for a big tri thank you though. Lesley and Alastair, you have been absolutely inspirational and I love that you’re my friends.
Lesley, we have come a long way since 100m front crawl haven’t we? I count myself very lucky to have met you when I did virtually. And extremely happy to have been able to share hugs, cake and triathlon stories with you. You are going to have a great season this year and I will be cheering you on in every race – just like you do for me.
Alastair – my Fetch big bro. What can I say? You know me so well. You’re not afraid to say things I need to hear and tell it like it is. And you’re my go-to guy for bike stuff. The go-faster wheels are a big success. I just hope you won’t mind me picking your brains more often. There was a promise of a road bike at the end of this race.
And to all my running friends, especially Jeff who just keeps encouraging me to go faster (I’m sure that hug I pinched at parkrun on Saturday helped) and Lesley-Anne (I know you were thinking of me). But also to Penny (for excellent advice when it was most needed. You’re going to love it at Hebburn), Sue (thanks for the tweet), Kathryn, Steve, and everyone else who has left me a comment or sent me a message.
And finally, to Ian Turrell my personal trainer, who’s responsible for all this madness. The man who started me running, who got me fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been. Who changed my life basically. And the person who first put the thought in my head that I could do a triathlon. You really don’t know how brilliant you are. But thank you anyway. I’m so proud to be one of your team.