Last year this was my first ever open water triathlon. This year my plan was to really focus on my triathlon training and complete it a lot faster. Well, the plans paid off!
After days of drizzle and temperatures feeling more like October than late May, early June, we’ve finally begun to see some sunshine and heat at the end of this week. And the day was as fine a tri day as you could wish for – sunny, with very little wind and the promise of heat from the sun.
I woke before the alarm and got ready, having set out all my kit the day before. I made some porridge but didn’t feel like eating it, so popped it in a bowl for later and hauled my bike and tri gear down to the car.
The QE2 tri has a great set up in the grounds of Woodhorn Colliery Museum. The old winding wheel from the pit forms a great backdrop, while modern windmills continue generating energy nearby.
I met my PT, Ian and one of his other clients Lee in registration where we got our race numbers and very nice race T-shirts and we made our way to the transition area together.
I don’t know what it is about triathlon set ups, but however early you are, time between arriving and start time seems to speed up. Once I’d got my bike and shoes laid out and run back to the car for my sunglasses, it was time to get the wetsuit on and head for the lake.
I wanted to get in the water early, as I’d been in on Thursday night and it was freezing. I knew I’d need a little time to get used to the temperature, relax and get my face in before the start. I took some deep slow breaths to calm my nerves as we picked our way across the gravelly path and down to the lake and did some shoulder and arm rolls.
I got in the water and floated quite quickly. It had certainly warmed up since Thursday night. But it took me a couple of goes to put my face in and breathe out. It seemed like there was barely any time before the hooter and we were off!
I started swimming strongly, mixing in with the other swimmers, but well away from the front. But I soon realised I was gasping for air when I turned to breathe and was trying to breathe in and out at the same time.
I slowed down to try and get things under control. I told myself to blow air out when my face was in the water, but I struggled, and choked a little. I swam a bit of front crawl breathing on every stroke, but I knew that would likely hurt my neck and tire me out.
I kept trying to get my breathing sorted, but after a few strokes each time, I was gasping. When I saw a man ahead of me breaking into breast stroke about half way to the first buoy, I gave in and did the same.
I did a bit of talking to myself in my head, trying to calm myself and bring my heart rate back to normal. I could feel it pounding and the top of my chest hurting as I’d been short breathing. But I kept on moving forwards with a slow swimming, head up breast stroke.
I did little deals with myself, counting strokes and then giving front crawl another go and kept on doing that to the first buoy. Now it was just a case of swimming back towards the lake side, which I thought would be easier, but the damage had been done and failing to find the right rhythm for front crawl, I carried on around with a mixture of strokes, drifting to the back of the field.
It was frustrating as, when I swam front crawl with my head in the water, bilateral breathing, I was swimming well and pulling away from the other swimmers around me. But I just couldn’t sustain it for very long.
At the final buoy I gave a good kick and did some more thrashing, breathing on every stroke crawl until I was in the shallows and able to stand up and gratefully take a hand out of the water. I glanced at my watch 19 mins – a disappointing swim after I have improved this area so much. But I’ve had hardly any open water experience this year and I’m still fighting my body’s natural instinct to hold my breath under water. I know I can overcome this, because I did it last year. I just need a bit more practice.
Anyway, swim done and I didn’t look back to see how many were left in the water, but I knew there wouldn’t be many. I jogged up the slope, catching my breath and unzipping my wetsuit off my shoulders. There’s quite a long run into transition from the swim at this event, but I was grateful of the chance to get my thoughts together for the bike.
Once at my bike, I shuffled the wetsuit down over my knees and off my feet, took off my hat and goggles and got my bike shoes and helmet on. Then it was a quick run out to transition, where Stuart, one of my fetch pals gave me a shout from his marshal position.
Hurrah, on the bike and it’s a sunny day, warming up nicely. I kept in a low gear turning my legs over as I rode out through the entrance to the museum and onto the road. Annoyingly a few bikes went past me early on. More places lost. But I knew I was only really racing myself and tried to keep focused on the course.
It’s a straightforward and flat bike ride, so I focused on turning my legs over, enjoying the sensation of drying out quickly as I rode into a light headwind, counting the roundabouts until the turn that would take me down the coast. I got passed by another couple of riders but kept them in my sights for a long way.
Skimming along beside the sea, remembering landmarks from last year’s race, I really started to relax and enjoy myself. Reminding myself to keep my shoulders relaxed, just looking ahead, down through Cresswell towards Lynemouth, with the power station chimneys and windmills acting as distant markers.
I got down on the drops on a nice smooth piece of road, but more often than not I had to keep my wits about me as there were lots of potholes. And I took the turn back inland a little faster than I expected, but managed to stay in control.
Heading back in, I re-passed the guy in a blue cycle top, realising as I did so that he wasn’t actually racing as he didn’t have a number. Probably just out for a nice ride on the coast. Still he was a good target to chase down and he lead me to my next one, a lady in a pink top who I also overtook.
Coming back towards Woodhorn Village, knowing I’d soon be turning back into the museum grounds there was another cyclist up ahead and I started to power on and chase him down. A cyclist standing watching at the side of the road, shouted “You can catch him,” and I did, just as we turned into the road back to transition.
For once I managed a moving dismount, right on the line and a fast rack of the bike and change of shoes out for the run. The route takes you round two laps of the lake. It’s mostly paved track, with a couple of sections of grassy paths and a loop around the back of the museum that goes up and down over some long grass.
My legs didn’t feel too bad off the bike, but I stuck to little steps and just moving forward as once again my breath was all coming from the top part of my chest and I wanted to get it under control.
The faster runners were coming pounding past and I tried to keep out of their way and give them a clear path t finish their races. Just over half way round, Lee passed, saying Ian was just behind me. That made me focus on my running form. I didn’t want Ian to see me shuffling when he’s worked so hard to get me bounding off my front foot.
A couple more runners went through. Each time I was thinking it was Ian and trying to put on a good show while bringing my breathing down into my lungs and getting it under control. He passed eventually, encouraging me to think of our running drills before bounding off to catch up with Lee.
A couple out walking beside the lake gave me an encouraging shout of “Well done, you’re nearly there,” as I approached the museum area. But I was not quite half way through.
Coming round for a lap and seeing the finish line so close, but having to run past it for another go is hard. But once I was back round by the lake again, I felt more settled. I’d controlled my breathing and was running a bit more freely. I knew I wasn’t fast, but I felt okay.
I was pretty much on my own for the rest of the run. I couldn’t see anyone ahead to chase or hear anyone behind to give me the hurry up. I just had to keep focused and race myself.
The second lap went quickly. I’d expected to fade a bit as it was getting hotter, but my legs stayed strong and after the last rounding of the museum I was able to pick up a bit of speed down the grassy bank and into a sprint and celebratory finish.
Ian and Lee were waiting, and I think a bit surprised at how much it had taken it out of me. But after a few deep breaths and a bit of race analysis I recovered enough to look at my watch and see 1:55:xx
Last year it took me 2:05:xx to do the same course, so that’s a huge personal best. And now the official results are out I can see that I improved in every single area swim, bike run and the transitions. Even though my swim was a lot slower than I have the potential to do, I still shaved 30 seconds off last year’s time.
So, I am really happy with that. I came into 2013 with a definite triathlon focus and all my training has been focused on multi-sport events. Ian has coached me to be a better swimmer, stronger on the cycle and changed my running style, as well as putting together all my training plans that have got me this far, so it’s great to be able to go show him that it’s working.
So, not everything was perfect and there are lots of lessons to learn. But there always are after any race. This is just the start of the season and I’m already looking ahead to my next challenge, my first standard distance event, with confidence.
Swim 750m 0:21:08
Bike 24km 0:54:50
Run 6km 0:36:48