Northumberland Triathlon – my first Olympic distance tri

And so the day dawned for this triathlon tiddler to start swimming with the bigger fish and take on a tri that’s double the distances I’ve done so far.

Enjoying the cycle - Photo courtesy of Bob Marshal
Enjoying the cycle – Photo courtesy of Bob Marshall

The Olympic or standard distance triathlon is what all my training has been focused on this year. From building a good base and working on my swim over the winter, to hitting the bike and building up the mileage as the weather improved.

A big challenge. But I was ready for it thanks to a great training plan from Ian and Inspire Fitness.

Kit sorted the night before and a decent night’s sleep, although I really didn’t appreciate the car/house alarm at about 03:45. But up and dressed and making porridge and packed up the car, ready to go.

It was set to be a scorcher, but I was grateful for the clouds that kept the searing sun back a little as I arrived at Druridge Bay Country Park.

This is a great venue for a tri, with the still waters of Ladyburn lake for the swim and the smooth trails of the lakeside path for the run. The bike course is a simple out and back along major roads and is pretty flat. And the organisers Vo2 Max Racing Events put on a great, well organised race. It was a very professional set up with a largish transition area, and everything was very well organised. Marshals all around transition and the course did a brilliant job, being cheerful and helpful on a very long day, when I’m sure many of them would have loved to have been racing.

Immediately I arrived, I saw my friends Bob and Lesley and although I wanted to chat, I was anxious to get set up in transition. That meant a long, nervous wait in 2 different queues to pick up my race pack, then my timing chip before I could go back to the car and get my kit into transition. Thank goodness for Lesley’s help or I’d have forgotten my drinks bottles for the bike

But I was soon set up and able to concentrate on getting myself mentally ready to race. A few shoulder rolls and some arm swings, some deep breaths and listening to the race briefing. Then, after a final round of good lucks, it was off to the lakeside.

I wanted to get in early, to acclimatise and calm my nerves and I did get a few minutes to float about and try to get my head in. But the shallows were weedy and I didn’t quite manage to control a good out breath under water.

With one minute to the start, I moved towards the back of the pack, whereupon someone I think I swim with at QE2 lake said “I think I read your blog the other day.” Quite how they recognised me in wetsuit, cap and goggles, I’m not sure, but hello, and you’re welcome 🙂

Anyway, we were off on the swim and I was determined to crack it. I mixed in with the pack and started okay, but soon became aware I was short breathing. I was breathing out under water, but not fully and fighting the urge to hold my breath. I got a couple of knocks and then someone really scraped down my side and caught my Garmin, tugging at my wrist.

I spluttered to the surface, did some breast stroke to centre myself and tried again. But I was short breathing even doing head up breast stroke, so I needed more time to settle. Part of my game plan was that if I did find myself in an adrenaline fuelled breathing fix, I’d allow myself 10 strokes of breast stroke to settle and try again. I lost that deal before the first buoy, doing more breast stroke and dropping right back off the pack.

The distances seemed huge. I was still being a little harried by swimmers nearby, including some really erratic sighters who basically swam sideways throughout and kept the canoe support busy shouting at them.

I couldn’t get into a nice rhythm. The fear kept holding me back. I kept trying to crawl and then got flustered, splashed with water, or just the demons in my head. I tried thinking of Lesley’s beautiful clear lake and tried to enjoy the warm water and the sunshine, but could only hold it for a while.

I decided to start counting my strokes. Do 12 strokes front crawl, settle, go again, do 15 and repeat, adding more strokes each time. That was quite successful until I hit a weedy patch in the middle of the long stretch. I resorted back to breast stroke to get through it, panicking my breathing even more when I got a long piece tangled around my neck.

Running laps around the lake at Northumberland standard triathlon - photo courtesy of Bob Marshal
Running laps around the lake at Northumberland standard triathlon – photo courtesy of Bob Marshall

Two laps of this seemed a big ask. But I just kept moving forward as best I could, kept trying to get my face in and crawl, but ultimately, I let myself off with a lot. Swimming seems to be the one thing I can’t bully myself into. Or maybe I just need to develop even more mental toughness.

The fast swimmers from the sprint came charging through as I headed towards the end of the first lap, almost lifting the top half of their body completely out of the water with each stroke. I tried to stay out of their way and kept swimming as best I could.

By the second lap I was with the stragglers, a girl and a couple of guys. They were swimming consistent front crawl. When I got my head in and counted strokes, I easily outstripped them, but then I’d go to water polo style or breast stroke and they’d catch up. I must have really cheesed them off. I just wished I could stick with it.

I was more relaxed on the second lap, but having let myself off with the swim, I’d determined how it would go. The patch of weeds once again disrupted my rhythm, but I swam through slowly then struck out for home.

I tried to make more of my leg kick as I approached the shore,  but really it was too little, too late. But, hey, it was my first Oly distance swim and I’d done it. I didn’t look back, but I would have been one of the last out of the lake.

Out of the lake with some welcome helping hands from the VO2 Max Racing crew, and up the grassy slope to transition. My left leg cramped as I ran up the hill and I ended up sitting down to ease my suit over the chip on my left ankle. The rest of the transition was fine and I was soon out and onto the bike.

Easy, easy out through the park entrance, side stepping the speed bumps, then up onto the big ring and out onto the road. I allowed myself to settle, made sure I started drinking my juice early and just relaxed into the ride.

A long out and back, passing by the park entrance twice, it’s a relatively flat ride, so the focus was really about keeping the focus and trying to keep the cadence high. I glanced at my watch a couple of times to see the turnover, pushing myself on, when it felt good.

Me on my bike at the Northumberland standard triathlon
Out of the swim onto the bike course – Photo courtesy of Bob Marshall

At times my thoughts drifted back to the swim and I told myself ‘just be here now’. I couldn’t change what had happened, but I could make sure I had a decent ride. I had a few mantras on that ride, notably Chrissie Wellington’s ‘Keep your head held high and don’t stop’, although I did make sure I kept down on the bike and hit the drops on some of the smoother straights and slight downhills.

I tried not to pay too much attention to the riders passing by on the opposite side of the road, not wanting the distraction. But unbelievably, as I passed over one of the two roundabouts on the course, a group of social cyclists passed across it, including

I can’t say I pushed on the bike. I kept it steady, within myself, unsure how I would handle the challenge to come. I managed to overtake a couple of riders on hybrids, and got quite excited to catch a guy on a road bike, until I saw he had a flat and would soon be out of the race.

I spotted Ian on the bike twice, just as I was setting off and then again on my last lap, when I was starting to lose my focus and feeling a twinge in the lower right of my back. It gave me a boost, just when I needed it. I stretched out my back, moving back on my saddle and focused on getting to the end.

Finally back round to the park entrance and the road seemed a lot shorter than I remembered. A short run into transition and a decent changeover into the run. Heading out on the lakeside path, I got a shout from Lesley and felt good.

My legs were a little stiff and I just kept the stride short and steady until I eased into it. On the first lap I passed and then was passed by a guy from Cramlington who was a lap or two ahead. He had a bit of a chat, which helped me settle and push on, before he found his race legs and outstripped me.

Last lap of the run - photo courtesy of Bob Marshal
Last lap of the run – photo courtesy of Bob Marshall

The run was warm, but with the sun still behind the clouds and a nice section between the shade of wooded trees, I managed really well. Again, I chose to run well within myself. The aim is to finish, I told myself. My other little mantra for this one was “I do 10k before breakfast!”

I really did feel at home here, running round the lake. I kept my focus on my form, trying to bounce along like Alastair Brownlee.

I’ve done some training sessions of 40k cycle 5k run, so I was confident I could get half way comfortably. Being a multi lap course really suited me, getting an encouraging shout from Lesley each time round and walking through the water station to make sure I got a couple of mouthfuls before running on.

Although I’d worn my Garmin, I resisted looking at it, just running to feel, keeping as light and easy as I could on my feet. The lower back ache disappeared as soon as I got off the bike, and although my left knee felt a bit tight, it didn’t upset my rhythm too much.

The field was well spread out and most of the time I ran on my own, grateful for the cheery marshalls who clapped and encouraged on every lap. I looked straight at the guy at the top of the incline every time, imagining he had a rope round his waist and I was pulling myself up it.

On my penultimate lap, I passed a Cleveland tri runner limping quite badly, and told him to keep on trucking. He seemed cheerful enough and kept it going to finish.

Round to lap number four and with Lesley saying “Just half a parkrun to go”, I knew I’d be fine to get to the finish. No bullying needed when it comes to running this kind of distance. I guess I did all that in my earlier running days.

Bouncing over the finish line - photo curtesy of Bob Marshall
Bouncing over the finish line – photo curtesy of Bob Marshall

Just another time through the wooded greenery and onto the gravelly paths. Just once more up the little climb then down again.Just one more time spotting the finish flags only for them to disappear as the path snaked round the lake. Just on more time to thank the cheerful marshals.

And then it was a turn onto the grass for the finish and heard my name as I came in to cross the line. Struck the now traditional tri finish pose of arms aloft and smiled my way across the line.

My first Olympic distance tri – done. And I’m more hooked on tris than ever. I love the challenge and the cameraderie. I love the way I feel when I cross the line.

<pLots of things to think about. Loads to improve. But that doesn't diminish how chuffed I am today. My goal was to finish smiling and I did.

Official race stats:

Swim: 1500m 45:30
T1: 02:02
Bike 40k 1:29:20
T2: 00:57
Run 10.5k 1:03:59
Total time 3:21:45

Author: The Scribbler

I'm a writer, based in the North East of England. In my working life I give a human voice to business communications. As well as writing, reading and language, I enjoy running and triathlons and I often write about races and events in the North East

One thought on “Northumberland Triathlon – my first Olympic distance tri”

  1. That’s a great race report, well done on your Olympic triathlon debut! I have a great deal of empathy with you on the swimming – open water petrifies me. I’ve done 1 OW sprint, and have an Olympic in September. If anything (another swimmer, weed, a shadow, a wave) comes any where near me, it throws me off my rhythm! I’m still hoping it’ll click!

    See you in London!


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