You know me, I like to be prepared. In fact, some would say over-prepared for races sometimes. So it was a gamble, putting in a late entry for the Darlington triathlon.
It was a gamble because I knew the night before the race I’d be out late, not exactly painting the town red, instead enjoying an evening of laughter, learning and wonders with The Uncaged Monkeys at Newcastle City Hall. Uncaged Monkeys are Dr Brian Cox and Robin Ince, taking science on the road with the help of Dr Ben Goldacre and Simon Singh.
It was, quite simply, brilliant. Part science show, part comedy and an opportunity to poke fun at Brian Cox’s sexy science geek label. But Dr Cox isn’t the first scientist to inspire a loyal following. During the show they introduced us to Carl Sagan, an American who had a series called Cosmos that I don’t remember. But I’m going to check him out online, because, like Dr Cox, he seems to have had the gift of making the infinite wonder of the universe understandable through his gift for language. As a science geek and word bird, he’s my new hero.
At the end of the show, they played a clip of him talking about a picture of the earth taken from one of the early Voyager space probes. In it Earth appears as the tinest blue dot. It’s so beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes.
So a top night out, but a later one than I’d have liked given a 05:30 start to give me chance to get to Darlington for my triathlon.
It was a gamble because this time I was on my own, without my excellent support crew. I had to drive myself and my gear to a location I haven’t visited before, and prepare to tackle a course I knew next to nothing about. Oh and it was raining.
It was a gamble because I was doing it off the back of my Ashington triathlon training, with no specific focus on this race. So my preparation in the week before involved a long leisurely paced bike ride with plenty of breaks, a long leisurely run with similar, some cross training and two days’ rest. Oh well, here goes nothing!
I walked straight past Peter Brooks as I went to register. Lost in my own little world of what I had to do and when. But it was great to see a friendly face.
Happy I knew what I was doing, I went to faff with the bike and got chatting to another couple of girls with their bikes racked near mine. A bit of nervous banter and some friendly good luck wishes, then I went to sit in the car until just before my swim. Taking myself away from the nervous energy, going through the deep breathing, some yoga rolls and a little jog to get myself ready.
The pool was very small, so no spectators. And with swimmers being set off at 1 minute intervals, not too crowded in the lanes. I got set up to go, into the water as instructed, with a few seconds to do some sinking out and blowing bubbles, when the guy in charge looked at my number and realised there was another swimmer due off before me. So I had to get out of the pool, the other guy got in and set off and I had about a minute to wait until my turn.
That’s why I know I’ve conquered my swim demon. I was fine. I actually thought it had done me a favour, allowing me to get into the water and prepare. I went through the briefing again and this time I was off.
Swimming slowly and steadily, in my own space right from the start. There was none of the panicky feeling, just breathing out bubbles and snatching in air. My swim style could do with some improvements, one of which is looking forward a bit more. I found myself stumbling across the end wall sooner than I expected. I later worked out this was because I have blue lenses in my goggles and the pool had blue walls. So everything was a bit blurry.
I had a couple of minor rests, but just kept it controlled and easy. There was even an alarm went off briefly. And I thought ‘Oh no, not again.’ But it didn’t last long and we weren’t told anything, so I just ignored it.
As I was coming up to my last few lengths, I gained on the guy in front and tapped his feet. But the girl behind me on her first lap had gained on me and got me too. So in letting her past, he went back ahead and we all slowed down at the end of the lap.
The guy got out, his swim done and the girl went ahead, but then stopped suddenly after a couple of metres, saying sorry as I swam past. I’m guessing she went off a bit quickly or had a bit of a panic. I hope she was alright. But it did mean I had clear water ahead for my last two lengths and I powered on through.
Stopped my pool mate at the end of the swim at 09:15. My official time is longer as it includes getting out of the pool, walking alongside and then out along the path into the bike area. Major faffage at T1 – socks, shoes, gloves, helmet, number belt, quick swig of water then unrack the bike.
Out of transition putting my sunglasses on as I went and a long wheel over the grass to the mount point on the road. And then off out into the great unknown of the bike course.
I’d been told it was flat, which it was, pretty much. Certainly no steep hill like at Ashington, but there were a couple of gentle rises. And on a two lap course I opted to keep it easy at first, taking some time to get my breath and pace myself. Peter passed by, going in the opposite direction and gave me a cheery call out.
There were mile markers along the route and I groaned when I realised I’d only reached the first one. I had a bit of a niggle along my left tib band and was already finding it hard going. But opting for easy gears, just taking it easy, telling myself I was out for a cycle through the countryside on traffic free roads, I began to enjoy listening to the birds in the hedgerows and the bright pop of yellow rapeseed in the fields.
At mile four there was a right turn and a bit of an uphill. Quarter of the way there I told myself and was rewarded with some more pleasant flat and downhill sections, before returning to the road. It took some getting used to having the roads closed off and I was instinctively slowing down for the turns.
Somewhere out along the return Peter passed me again. I had a long way to go on this bike. At times the speedy road bikes coming up behind me sounded like cars. I didn’t see another hybrid or mountain bike at all. But I did get plenty of encouragement from the other riders. ‘Keep going,’ they shouted as they zoomed past.
Somewhere along the way I also realised this was my longest uninterrupted cycle ever. I’d done a 21 mile route last Sunday, but that was at conversational pace, involved several stops for map checking and a halfway picnic break. I think mentally that meant I eased back on the cycle, wanting to save my hard working legs and avoid the cramping I’d suffered on the Ashington run.
Eventually it was my turn to take on the second lap and I certainly went into it with more speed than the first. I also pushed on through the inclines, trying to keep the pace going, trying for little bursts of energy on the ups and then crouching down low to try and get some aero-efficiency on the downhills. Probably pointless, but it felt like fun.
As I came back around to the start I was able to shout out to some of the other riders just starting out and to some of the runners heading out for their run, including one of the girls I’d seen when setting up my bike. Triathlon’s such a friendly sport like that.
Finally coming to a graceful stop, off the bike and an oh so brutal run uphill across the grass back to transition. I really really wanted to walk at this point, but kept on shuffling to my bike rack. A bit less faffage this time and off out onto the run proper. Passing Peter again – finished by this time – just as my legs were screaming at me.
‘Take it steady’. That was my watch word easing into the run out along the streets of the estate. Although my legs felt leaden and plodding, I eased past a girl in a Darlington triathlon suit who had passed me towards the end of the bike ride.
But as I turned onto the cycle path, another girl came through. She was running strongly and passed me easily. All I could do was keep running my own race, easing out my legs, trying to keep my knees up when I felt like I was shuffling and trusting that my legs would come back to me. And they did.
I’d been warned about the hill. Turning into a country park and a trail and being faced with a steep uphill incline was rough. But I imagined it was the bank back up out of the Dene at the end of the Rendezvous Run and powered up, little steps, little steps, on my toes and dig in.
There were more of these little uphill and downhills on the wibbly wobbly trail and I gave them all the same treatment. And got some bemused looks from local people out walking their dogs. But it was a relief to find myself back on the cycle path and heading back towards the finish again.
This was hard. But I thought about the quality of my training and fitness. I had no doubt I could do it. And I thought of all the hard bits of other runs. Run this I thought and you’ll have no problem digging in on the John Reid Road in September.
As I turned back onto the streets of the estate, I heard the heavy breathing of another runner getting closer. I sensed it was a girl, but never looked. I just pushed on, imagining myself in the last kilometre of parkrun, stretching out and making a move; willing whoever it was to stay behind me.
Back to the entry to the field and the point at which I’d decided to go for it. Ahead was another girl. Was it the same one who had passed me right at the beginning of the run? I couldn’t be sure. But even on grass, even uphill, I knew my legs would not fail me. Arms pumping, heart racing, I beat her to the finish.
And so the gamble paid off. Paid off generously in terms of experience and confidence for future events. And it terms of a great day out. The weather wasn’t as kind as it had been for my first triathlon and the support wasn’t as vociferous, although the marshalls and other competitors were great. But with no expectations, no pressure and very little preparation I just went out and completed my second triathlon. Wow! I have come a long way since that first mile.
I definitely like these multi-sport events. I like the training and the variety and the challenge. And I’m looking forward to my next big triathlon – one I will prepare for and focus on – Hebburn in August.
In the meantime, there’s some running to be done. Including a 10k on Wednesday night. Better give my poor leggies a rest until then. It will be interesting to see how I fare on a run with no specific 10k training. I don’t think I’m in PB shape with a triathlon still in my legs, but I will go out there and give it a good run.
Thanks again for all your support. I had lots of texts, facebooks messages and tweets to wish me well. It’s great to have you in my very small corner of this precious blue dot.
Stats and stuff:
swim: 400m 09:51 (pool time on my watch 09:15)
cycle 16 miles 01:16:41
Run 3 miles 26:29