The Scribbler

1 July 2012

Northumberland Sprint triathlon

Would I or wouldn’t I? It’s hard to credit that I was quite close to writing this race off at the beginning of the week, and entering a big fat DNS on my score sheet.

Hit with a cold, that I couldn’t shake,  I was getting through the day on regular doses of paracetamol, work canteen carbs and as much sleep as I could muster. Thankfully I’m not often ill. I forget how grumpy it makes me when I can’t train.

And that makes me grateful that I started out on this great big adventure 5 years ago. Because I know that generally I feel far better, brighter, fitter and happier when I wake up in the morning than I did back then.

So excuses out early and after a 3 day lay off, a little leg loosener run on Friday convinced me I could still do it. An open water tri in a country park, near one of my favourite beaches, with the promise of  a new Fetchie to meet. I’d have been mad to miss it.

I’m not great the day before an event. I don’t know what to do with myself. I drifted around, did some chores, watched something on iPlayer and had a tactical afternoon snooze before getting all my kit ready and experimenting with a new cake recipe for a post race treat.

I also spent a bit of time going through the race in my mind and reading my last triathlon blog, which filled me with positive images and emotions. I knew I would have lots of little touchstomes i could call on should I need them.

Early to bed and early to rise, waking before the alarm clock and going through the usual routine of getting ready and loading the car. I felt quite calm and relaxed. No expectations, no pressure. Just go out there and race. But I still reminded myself to do some deep breathing, working on the basis that I’m usually nervous, even when I’m not consciously aware of it and calming the fight or flight response would help me on the swim.

I arrived in plenty of time to get registered and set up in transition. As I was carting my bike and box across from the car, Susan, a Fetchie from Scotland spotted my Fetch buff and introduced herself. I said a brief hello, hoping to be able to catch up with her again later, once I knew I had everything under control.

Numbered up, got my swim hat, number and chip, I went to set up my bike in transition. The good thing about doing a few tris close together is that this becomes more of a routine. Today I was racing in my new bike shoes for the first time, but everything else was race tried and tested.

I caught Susan again and passed on hugs from our mutual friend Lesley, then after a bit more faffing, wriggled myself halfway into my wetsuit to listen to the race briefing.

I said hello to Barry, part of the VO2Max events race team and MC for these events. It’s always reassuring to see a friendly face and he’s part of the regular open water swim coaching team. I also got him to help me zip my suit up, joking that it was a lucky zip up before heading to the lake.

There were two swim waves, with those swimming the standard distance off first, marked out by their red hats. I was pleased to see people getting in the water early and having time to warm up before they set off. With a ten minute gap between the starts, I resolved to get in and give myself time to relax in the water.

On shore, I hoiked up my wetsuit everywhere I could, especially around the legs and knees, as a couple of times I’ve felt creases around the back of my knees. I did some shoulder rolls and stretches and pilates roll downs to calm my nerves which were still under control.

Finishing the Northumberland Sprint triathlon

Race face on at the finish again! Picture courtesy of double-i-photography

I spare a moment to say ‘good luck’ to my friend Peter, racing his first iron distance event at the Outlaw in Nottingham today. For those of you who don’t know, iron distance is pretty much the big daddy of triathlon racing, made up of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a marathon 26.2-mile run. They are what my hero Chrissie Wellington excels at, having won four world championships at this distance.

Back to my rather shorter challenge and soon after the first swim wave was off, I made my way down the ramp into the water. Unsurprisingly after the downpour we had on Thursday, it was brown and murky, but I didn’t feel it was too cold. It was just thick and weedy in the shallows, and the ground silty and soft.

I immersed myself quickly and floated onto my back, taking some deep breaths and telling myself to keep calm, relax. I cleaned my goggles and splashed water onto my face, shocking myself with the sensation. Then I tried sinking and breathing out bubbles, but I didn’t much like the opaque water, where you couldn’t even see your hands in front of you.

As the countdown began, I positioned myself off to the side at the back, keeping out of harms way, treading water. ‘Chrissie Wellington at Kona’ I said to myself, remembering how she writes about the soothing nature of the ocean in the minutes before the start of her World Championship races. I’m sure the sea off Hawaii is a good deal clearer than Ladyburn Lake was today, but the sun did peep through the clouds to reinforce my positive mindset.

As the start sounded I struck out boldly, head out of the water, but still moving, telling myself that a good swim today would be more front crawl than last time.

The course was a large triangle with two short sides leading away from and back to the shore and a long stretch between them. I made my way to the first buoy with no problems, regularly reminding myself to try putting my head in, but mostly swimming a rather upright front crawl.

There was no panic. No urgent breathlessness, and pounding in my chest. I wasn’t kicking much, but I had made it this far front crawl and I was still feeling strong.

As I turned into the wide stretch, the first of the standard distance swimmers came round to lap me and I kept out of their way. I was having a good swim. Not a brilliant one in terms of technique as I was still breathing on just about every stroke, but I was already happy with how much I’d done and kept telling myself to put my head in and breathe out for 3 strokes, then 6 and then sight.

Relying on my arms to pull me through the water, my shoulders began to feel heavy and that buoy didn’t seem to be coming much closer. A man beside me was swimming breast stroke, so I gave myself a break and did likewise for about 20 strokes. When he kicked on into front crawl I followed suit, making more of an effort this time to get my head under and breathe bilaterally, finding something of a rhythm for a while.

It really did seem a long slog to that distant second buoy, but I managed to keep myself relaxed,  slowing my windmilling arms and trying to conserve some energy, reminding myself no one was giving style points for swimming.

My sighting was a bit off and I swam a little wide, pulling myself closer to the racing line as I finally approached the buoy. Round the top and now just a swim back to the shore.

Just after the last turn, a pack of standard racers came through. We managed to keep out of each others’ way very nicely, but it was inspiring to see such strong swimmers. I realised I’d probably subconsciously tried to swim with them as I felt myself tiring again and beginning to fight the churned up water. So I took another time out and swam a little more breast stroke to get myself back on track before my last pull for the shore.

I hadn’t gone far from the edge before being out of my depth when I got in the lake, so I swam until my hands touched gravel and stones and was helped out of the lake by Barry and the other marshals. Up the grassy bank to more support from the spectators and off towards transition, remembering to unzip and peel down my wetsuit before the tarmac path had me dancing on my delicate footsies.

At my bike and one foot out of the wetsuit easily, before getting a bit stuck with the other and realising that was the leg with my timing chip on. A quick shuffle of my feet on a corner of the towel, then shoes, number belt, helmet, unrack the bike and away.

And breathe! Another swim conquered. Another fear squashed into something manageable. A clear, straight, flat course ahead of me, and my lean mean racing machine beneath me, I was soon clocking onto the big ring.

Passed by a few racing snakes and hearing the drum, drum, of the solid wheel carbon racers coming up behind. But I can only race my own race.

Fast, flat roads with little traffic. Out towards Widdrington, spot the church and know that the first turnaround is coming. The marshal yells, “It’s all downhill from here” as I hit top gear and go for the drops, grinning at the sensation of cruising at speed.

Back around past the turn off for the start and finish and that’s a bit of a blow. The temptation to turn right is almost overwhelming. The riders passing in the opposite direction look like they’re working hard as I’m breezing through, so that tells me there’s a little work to do ahead.

The long straight road gives few clues as to the next turn around and I think it’s coming at every gap in the trees. It arrives at last and I turn into the head wind and start paying for that glorious speedy stretch.

I’m passed again by the guy on the rusty bike from the QE2 and this time I cannot stay with him. It’s a little harder cycling here on into the wind, but nothing I can’t handle as I ease back through a couple of gears and try to keep the cadence up.

At last the turn comes into the country park and a small uphill is counterbalanced by a nice downwards approach. A couple more speed demons pass by as the road winds over speed bumps and past the car parks towards the race HQ.

Back round into transition and a relatively speedy changeover into my running shoes, heading out onto the trail around the lake. For once, my feet are not too cold and I can feel my toes, rather than feeling like I’m running on stumps.

I keep the strides short and give myself chance to settle, easing into the run and grabbing a cup of water as I pass. Soon after, I spot Marius from Tyne Tri club who always has a cheery hello when he sees me. I’m surprised to catch him, and we run together for a while. He says he’s finding the run hard today and the bike too. I tell him I’m only on my first lap and after a while, he says, “You better go on then.” I hope he’s okay and listen keenly for his footsteps that remain just behind me for a good long while.

With sprint and standard distance runners coming through, there’s some more passing as I make my way round the two lap circuit (4 laps for standard). I begin to target a girl just ahead, but she peels off as we come back round to finish her race. Just behind, I hear Barry announcing Marius coming in for his finish and shout and clap as I pass by the water station again. The girl handing out cups of water is impressed by my multi tasking.

I’m in my stride now, running well, quite relaxed, not pushing it. On Friday I told myself that if I just jogged it at an easy pace I would be happy and I sense I’m working a little harder than that. Footsteps behind and it’s a couple of speedy standard whippets coming through, racing each other. I squeeze over to one side of the narrow bridge we’re running on and get a thank you as they pass.

The marshals clap and encourage at every mark point and I feel I am running well within myself today, just relaxing and enjoying the trail paths, the trees and the glimpses of the lake.

The finish is elusive, with the noise and hubbub being carried across the water, then disappearing amidst the greenery. At one point I spot more bikes heading for the finish, then I lose sight of them along the lanes.

But now it’s close, now I know the end is coming. There’s not enough time for me to catch the girl in red or the girl in blue just ahead who I’ve been chasing down over the past half a lap, but there is still a chance for me to put on a bit of a spurt, to the encouragement of the spectators and sprint for the finish.

All smiles and a sense of achievement at another open water sprint triathlon finished. And I know this is the sport for me.

In transition as I’m starting to pack up my bike and bits, I see Susan, racking hers and heading out for the run. I chide her for faffing and wish her well, then clear my gear back to the car and head for the end of the run lap to cheer her on. I think how hard it must be to see someone finished when you still have a section to do.

There is a good crowd racing today and support has been good natured and vocal all the way round. As the sprint competitors finish, many stay on to cheer on the standard finishers. Because it’s a lapped race, you get to see some of them two or three times. The guy at the back wearing number 100 smiles as he comes through, looking like he’s having a great time.

I see Susan come through with two laps to go, then cheer her on for the final one, before moving to the finish itself. Lots of high fives and cheers as the competitors cross the line and then I see a blue tri suit and Susan smiling as she clocks up another impressive triathlon.

We finally have chance to catch up post race and get to know each other a little better, comparing race notes and cheering on the final few finishers, still crossing the line as the prizes are being announced and Susan is surprised to hear her name.

There’s a huge cheer and swell of support for the last man home, who I later realise is a new twitter follower who said some lovely things about my last triathlon blog. So I hope he doesn’t mind me mentioning him. First or last Adi, you did it and are still smiling.

Personally I’d done what I set out to achieve within the first 20 minutes of my race, by having a good, confident, relaxed swim. I enjoyed the bike and the run, but can’t help feeling I could push harder, get more out of these if I want to. The more experience I get, the more I’ll understand when to push and when to hold some in reserve. Right now, it’s just a good feeling to be able to do all that and still feel like I could do more.

And today was about enjoying it. Testing myself flying solo on a tri. Swimming in a new and unfamiliar lake, getting sorted and set up without a support crew and just having a blast. Which I did.

I’m sorry it will be my last open water tri of the season (and who thought I’d be saying that?) but I will have some more open water swims this year and it’s a good experience to bow out on in my first year of open water.

It also promises much for next year. I’d already placed a marker to aim for it as my first standard tri and on the evidence of the support, organisation and enjoyment of the event, it remains there for the future. Something to aim for, something to train for. Another challenge and a lot of fun to be had along the way.

Stats and stuff

Northumberland Sprint tri 01:48:38 Position 76/86

Swim 750m: 20:48
T1: 02:54
Bike 20k: 52:03
T2: 01:17
Run 5.4k 31:33

Full race results

Another great race from the Vo2Max race team.



  1. I love a good race report. Congratulations.


    Comment by iswimbikerunstrong — 1 July 2012 @ 22:12 | Reply

  2. Wonderful writing as usual and a fantastic effort. I’m so pleased you have conquered that swim and found a new way of challenging yourself!


    Comment by chocolatefuelled — 2 July 2012 @ 19:56 | Reply

    • Cheers! I really hope I have conquered the swim nerves, so I can work on getting better and faster. And yes, I do enjoy a challenge!


      Comment by The Scribbler — 3 July 2012 @ 21:45 | Reply

  3. Have you ever done the London triathlon? I saw something on YouTube and it looks amazing. It’s on my bucket list.


    Comment by ifyounevertri — 3 July 2012 @ 14:41 | Reply

    • I only started doing tris last year and I’m lucky that there are lots of events local to me that I can do. London would be a lot of travelling and expense for me, but it does look like a great high profile event. When I step up to standard distance, I might think about doing a big event that I have to travel and stay for. But my local tris are great fun, well organised and good value for now.


      Comment by The Scribbler — 3 July 2012 @ 21:49 | Reply

      • It’s an expensive hobby! The bikes, the shoes, etc.


        Comment by ifyounevertri — 4 July 2012 @ 17:40

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