Haddington triathlon was a great way to sign off my multi-sport season. A sunny summer’s day, racing with friends, feeling fit, in form and relaxed.
I drove up to North Berwick on Saturday afternoon, enjoying the sight of fields stacked with golden bales beneath the blue skies. A sense that summer is ending, but it’s closing with a golden glow. As always I was made to feel most welcome at Lesley’s home. In many ways it was just like turning up for one of our tri days, only this time we would be racing on her turf.
After a lovely afternoon together, we enjoyed a pasta feast and a sensibly early night, waking early to a stunning sunrise over the hills and the welcome sight of the nearby airfield windsock hanging flat. Porridge, banana, faffing and loading the van with our bikes, we were bright and early to register at race HQ and they were still setting up as we arrived.
Even when marked up with my race number, 118, I still didn’t feel particularly hyped up or nervous. Lesley seemed to know everyone and there was a constant stream of meeting, greeting and introductions. As we went to rack our bikes outside beneath the trees, we met another Fetchie, Jane. I enjoy reading her cheery blogs, so it was nice to put a face to a name.
The transition area looked small, only about 150 people in this race. There were some gleaming bikes and nice kit on show though. And I liked the racking in wooden frames, rather than on scaffolding poles. It was a free for all, so we picked a good couple of slots at the end of row and set out our stuff.
An hour soon passed and we gather for the race briefing. We learn that the run course has undergone a last minute change due to the farmers getting the hay in nearby. It will be a little shorter than the advertised 7k, but when asked, the organisers admit, they don’t know how far it will be. We smile and applaud their honesty. Let’s take this one as it comes.
Lesley’s son Al arrives to cheer us on and we watch the first wave of swimmers in the pool before getting ourselves ready. Even now, I have to remind myself that I am racing. I take some deep breaths, stretch and roll down to get set for the swim.
It’s been two months since my last triathlon and I haven’t swum more than once a week since. I’ve never raced 750m in a pool before and can’t remember what time I’d entered for the swim. I’m astonished to see an optimistic 17:15 on my form and wonder where I plucked that figure from. It puts me in the second swim wave and second to go in my lane.
We applaud the last swimmers from the previous wave and then get in the pool. The swim briefing is calm, clear and concise and I have time to do a couple of sinking drills before I start. The whistle goes and I am away, smooth and calm through the water, what a relief! After the first couple of lengths, I feel my heart rate quicken and try to take my time through my strokes.
Quite early on, there’s a grab on my ankle and I let the swimmer behind go past at the end of the length. But I have been brushing the toes of the swimmer in front of me too, and on the next length he stops and lets me go ahead. There is a fair bit of order swapping and changing in our lane and it unsettles my rhythm quite a bit.
I just about manage to keep count of my lengths, but am grateful for Lesley’s poolmate watch which confirms how many I’ve done. My swim feels scrappy round the edges. I’m not making enough of the push offs; taking the chance to gulp an extra lungful of air at the ends. I’m lifting and turning my head, looking back to grab more air, rushing my strokes and occasionally breathing on every stroke. In other words, I’m thrashing, rather than gliding,
But I convince myself to go with it. To live with the rising bubble of tightness in my chest and the mess that is my head. With only 10 lengths left, I feel like I gain control, but I am unsure of making a bid to overtake the guy in front when I am still taking my time on the turns. At last the float taps me for the final 2 lengths and I give more of a kick. I cannot go full pelt as I am swimming on this guy’s toes. I really do need to work on my pool race skills.
I stop the watch, but don’t look at the time. I have the sensation that there aren’t many left in the pool, but I don’t look as I run out and into the short transition area. At this point, I have been so focused on the swim, I arrive at my bike on autopilot and effectively do a double take. ‘What? I have to ride a bike now? Really?’
I take my time and reset my focus with a leisurely transition, into bike shoes, helmet, sunglasses and number belt, then wheeling my bike out to the mount line and away. I realise when I am off down the road, that I never looked to see if Lesley’s bike was there, presuming she will have beaten me out of the water and be speeding off along the country lanes.
I have been reading some tri articles recently that advise easing into the bike and putting the effort into the second part of the ride. In truth, I am not a good enough cyclist for it to make much difference, but I like the sound of this strategy. As a result, I am quickly passed by three or four other riders within the first couple of miles. It never once crosses my mind that I am giving away precious time made on the swim and when I can no longer sense anyone behind me, I convince myself I must now be the last of my wave.
My bike is running beautifully. The sun is shining. The fields are green or gold as the horses look up to see me pass by. I have ridden this course with Lesley before and it’s psychologically mainly flat and then downhill all the way after the turn. This is not literally true as there’s a wee climb in the second part of the route, but it works for me as a race plan.
I make sure I slurp down some water as it’s getting hot, thank the marshals on the turns and, as I hit a nice spot of smooth and flat, I hit the drops and turn the legs over quickly, enjoying the sensation of speed and lightness.
On the next little incline, a girl called Denise rides past me. She was in my swim lane, so I know they haven’t all gone past. With a fast turn over in my legs I try to close down the gap without drafting and target her for an overtake further along the road. Suddenly I’ve found my competitive head on the bike and I’m quite enjoying it.
I put on another spurt to catch her, but it doesn’t stick for long as she’s away ahead again. But she’s made me work harder than I usually do on the bike and the finish is fast approaching.
A turn into a road marked by speed bumps and pot holes and I begin to spin through the easy gears before cruising up to the dismount line, then off over the grass and back into transition. And suddenly, there’s Lesley racking her bike alongside me. She’s been behind me all this time and just gained on me at the end. I’m shocked and inspired to get a wriggle on and out of transition.
Al runs beside me a few paces as I head out from transition, encouraging me on. But I have all the incentive I need, knowing Lesley is behind me. I keep the legs turning over, taking small steps and ignore my rising heart rate, knowing it will settle as I ease into the run. This is the bit that holds no fears. With my recent focus on half marathon training, I know this should be easy.
I’m quickly onto pleasant tracks besides the fields. My running shoes feel soft and welcoming on my feet and I manage to ease my breathing and my legs after about 1km. By now the sun is hot and high and I’m glad of the patches of shade as the route takes us through a wooded area.
East Lothian Triathlon club does a fantastic job of putting on this event. There are marshals at every junction or turn. Most of them on the run are youngsters, paired up for company, just hanging around on a sunny day. You might expect them to be bored or disinterested, but they are brilliant. They shout out ‘You’re doing really well, just turn down the lane, watch it’s a bit slippery at the bottom of the hill.’
With my fuzzy triathlon head on, I step out to turn onto the road we’ve cycled along at one point and the girls at that point yell loudly ‘ No, along the track!’ They’ve already told me twice and must think I’m stupid.
Over a wooden bridge and there are runners passing by in the opposite direction regularly now, shouting encouragement and well dones. I veer between cruising and pushing on, keeping my legs moving, feeling confident in my running form, even in the heat and look ahead trying to spot the turn around point.
It comes at a little side path where more young marshals are dishing out cups of water and there’s a huge wooden log which we must touch before turning back the way we came. I pass Lesley on the return leg and tell her it’s not far to the turnaround.
This time the little downhill in the woods is a few footsteps of a climb, but really most of the track is flat. As I turn into a gate, the marshal says about ‘a mile and a half to go’. I’m feeling good, strong, and happy to be out enjoying the sunshine. I turn back along the river, looking for landmarks, seeing buildings ahead and sensing that I’m close to the finish.
There’s a marshal pointing to a path up from the river and there’s the finish. A quick scramble up the grass, between the tape and over the mat with a sprint. A volunteer takes my chip and as I pause to get my breath back a team of young ladies offer me water, cereal bars and bananas and encourage me to pick up my race souvenir with a choice of a towel or socks.
Al and I soon see Lesley run in and we hang around for a while, chatting to the spectators and applauding the finishers, including a guided runner, before heading back into the sports centre for a welcome shower and clean up.
Feeling much more refreshed, we catch up with Jane and pose for pictures in between cheering on the fast finishers until the end of the race when we collect our bikes and other gubbins from transition and fill up on brownies and cake.
This really is a brilliant race. Well organised, well marshalled and played out on pretty country roads and trails. It’s gone into my top ten and is firmly my favourite pool-based triathlon so far. With the perfect script of ideal weather and a relaxed performance, it couldn’t have gone much better. Great photos from Lesley’s husband Bob will continue to furnish good memories of a great day in future too.
Stats and stuff:
Swim 750m 16:40 (pool time 16:14)
Bike 12 miles 44:31
Run 3.6 miles 32:39
Total time: 1:36:10
Smiles – too many to count