And so to the start of my triathlon season, with a nearly new event for me. The Northumberland triathlon takes place around Druridge Bay country park in Northumberland – a truly lovely part of the world.
I’ve been here before, but raced the standard distance in the past. The sprintis run on the same course, just with fewer laps. It’s a VO2 Max Racing event – which means it’s brilliantly organised, great fun and they always look for improvements. This year, the run, which is on good trails around the lake, was run clockwise, which I really enjoyed.
While Scotland and the West coast have been enjoying the sun over the last week, it’s been more like winter on the East coast, grey, damp and temperatures around 9C, so I was delighted when we got some sunshine and warmth on Saturday and a good forecast for race day Sunday.
I was up at 5am, kitted up and on the road to pick up my parkrun pal Tove who was marshalling at this event. With traffic free roads we made good time to Druridge and I went to get set up in transition.
I hadn’t really thought much about this race. I usually like to do more mental preparation, thinking through each part of the race, but I was feeling fairly relaxed, and I really felt no pressure to do anything except enjoy it.
I swam my third session of Open Water this year on Thursday evening and really felt the cold and had a few moments with my inner chimp saying “You don’t have to do this”, which was a bit sneaky. But I tussled my way round about 1k’s worth by relaxing and swimming really slowly and counting strokes to take before I gave myself a breather.
As I racked my bike and set out my gear, I kept my eyes open for my friend Lesley on her way down from Scotland to take part in the bike leg of the relay with her friend Krista doing the rest. I got hugs and we were soon ready to start. Time just disappears when you’re getting set for a tri.
It was still chilly and overcast, and knowing that it can take me a while to settle, I got into the water early for a warm up. Temperature was approx 13.5C and it felt a lot warmer than on Thursday night, so I swam a few strokes before setting myself at the back and feeling quite calm.
Even at the back, there was a bit of a thrash and churning of water at the start, so I struck out water polo style and waited for clear water before I got my head down and started swimming properly. I used the tactics from Thursday’s session throughout, taking a quick breather if I felt anxious or like I was getting breathless and focused on counting my strokes and being relaxed in the water.
Although most of the field was far out in front of me, I gained on quite a few of the stragglers who had gone off too hard and fast and just swam my own race.
Everyone was very polite, with lots of sorries if I got an accidental kick or a bash. I just about made it to the last buoy before the fast lads from the standard pack came powering through and even they breathed sorry as they splashed through. I didn’t think it was a particularly fast swim, but it was a really enjoyable and confidence boosting one. Since I’ve looked back a previous race results in open water over the same distance, it’s actually one of my best times!
Out of the water and up the bank with the help of the marshals. And into transition, which wasn’t a particularly fast one as I always struggle to get my wetsuit over my ankles, and given how cold it was, I did opt for socks in my bike shoes. But hey – no pressure, remember. I did the right things in the right order and ran out over the grass with my bike.
Along the road out of the country park and then onto a long straight main road towards Widdrington. I always get passed on the bike, and hardly ever pass anyone, and that was the same today. But I kept pedalling, and maintained a comfortable pace.
The course is nominally flat. There are no real hills, but there a couple of deceptive inclines and I did feel the effort through my legs as my cadence dropped, but there were no real quad screamers. I kept my eyes open for Lesley and my friend Ged doing his first Standard distance and saw them both twice on the out and back bike leg.
As I approached the roundabout turn I saw a fast rider ahead and something dropped off his bike. As I came around the turn he’d gone back to collect it – only his saddle! I don’t know whether he was able to continue or not, but it did make me think of Andy Holgate who relates a similar mishap on an iron distance course in his book Can’t sleep, Can’t train, Can’t Stop.
I could probably have pushed a bit harder on the bike, but I haven’t done much at fast speeds this year and I never was the speediest cyclist anyway. Today was just about getting round and remembering why I enjoy this activity so much. I was glad to see the turn back into the Country Park and even more thankful that I wasn’t doing the Standard and going past for another lap.
A fast descent towards the dismount line and a bit of slowing down before gingerly finding my legs off the bike. As I’d been cycling I’d tried to wiggle some feeling into my toes, but it proved impossible, so I began the run willing some blood flow back into my feet.
The run is a lovely route around the lake on good trails and as the sun started to appear I did eventually warm through. I reckon it took one of the two laps though before I could feel my toes.
Again, I just ran to feel and was spurred on by a band of marshals around the far side of the lake. Each turn or corner brought a familiar face, from parkrun friends Jules and Tove to triathlon pals I haven’t seen in ages, Peter and his wife Lyndsey. I felt like I had my own support team!
With multiple laps for the sprint and standard, there were always runners around, either passing or being passed and I just focused on keeping moving at a nice sustainable pace.
Once again I was glad I was doing the slightly long 5k over two laps, rather than the 4 lap 10k plus, especially as the new run took you past the finish line each lap. But it was great to get a shout out, and I genuinely felt like smiling as I ran in this lovely environment.
Back round towards the finish and for me the joy of running down the finish funnel and picking up the pace for a few strides over the line. Greeted by some enthusiastic young marshals who handed me a bottle of water and relieved me of my timing chip
Soon afterwards, I met up with Lesley who had finished her bike leg in a super fast time and together we cheered on Krista and others on the run.
We stayed for the presentations – lots and lots of prizes to give out! And then it was time to get back to our respective homes, but not before promising some more fun days over the summer.
I’ve trained harder and been more competitive at triathlons in previous years, but today’s was very successful in that I genuinely relaxed and enjoyed it. Getting through the swim without a massive adrenaline overload was a big achievement and having enough training in the tank to feel in control throughout made me feel good. Because, as I said to another lady after she finished her race, this is not a small thing to achieve.
I sort of knew I would, once I got racing again, but after a few doubts and nerves and uncertainties in my training and preparation this year, I can can confirm, I do still love triathlon. Even the swimming bit. And given that I’ve arguably the biggest, most complicated race I have ever done coming up next weekend in Leeds – that’s a good thing.
And before that, just the small matter of the annual craziness that is the Blaydon Race on Thursday night. Oh yes!
Stats and stuff: