The QE2 triathlon is my most local event – only about 30 mins drive away on a quiet Sunday morning and starting in the lake where I’ve been swimming almost every Thursday evening since the middle of May. It’s the first open water event I did back in 2012, on a memorable day, meeting my best buddy Lesley and family, and finishing with with some of my favourite ever triathlon photos. So, yes, I like this triathlon and its happy associations.
When I first got back to open water swimming at the QE2 lake with the Vo2 Max Racing crew in May this year, the water temperature was about 11C and I didn’t really enjoy my first few swims. I struggled to catch my breath and bullied myself around a couple of laps of the course, doing a lot of self talking and deals about how long I’d stay in or how many laps I’d do.
The most dangerous thought that I had early on in my open water swimming season was ‘I don’t have to do this’. I persisted because I knew I needed the practice and I wanted to be as prepared as possible for the Leeds triathlon.
I wanted to enjoy it. I knew at some level that I have enjoyed open water swims here, and elsewhere, but it felt like a sensation I could no longer grasp.
And then, a few weeks ago, the water had warmed up a little and I spent one session swimming with a new open water swimmer who had plunged in and found herself in a bit of a tizzy with her breathing and confidence, despite being very at home in a pool.
I know that feeling very well, and so I swam my laps in a mixture of breast stroke and very slow front crawl, keeping an eye on her, offering reassurance and open water swimming tips. That was a good swim for me as I forgot about my own swim anxieties and had no expectations of how far or how long I would swim for.
I watched out for her at subsequent sessions but didn’t see her again until she passed me on the bike on Sunday’s triathlon (her first event). I was thrilled to see her as I went to collect my bike after the race and share her joy at becoming a triathlete.
I’ve been less focused on training for any events this year. I figure I’m having a year of just enjoying my sports and taking the pressure off. I appreciate the fact that I have the experience, confidence and fitness to rock up and take on a sprint tri. I wouldn’t have been able to do that before 2009. And I hope I never take that for granted. It’s still a tough ask – even if you’re not racing flat out or in any danger of threatening the sharp end.
Which is all a very long preamble to my race. The only thing I really wanted from it was a good swim. Good being one in which I didn’t stress out and have a mini meltdown and have to do lots of talking to myself to get through it.
I had an excellent swim.
I must have had one or two of these before, but I more easily remember the ones where I’ve really had to battle with my head and felt like I had to take time out to settle down.
I got into the water as soon as I could, and had what felt like a good 10 minutes floating around, getting relaxed and comfortable and doing a few practice strokes. I even lay right back and floated with my eyes closed before positioning myself at the back and out wide of the starting buoys.
I went on the hooter – striking out with a few strokes of heads-up, and then quickly moving into head-down front crawl. It was a bit congested, but I managed to avoid any serious bashing and just struck out towards the first marker. The mass start made the water brownish, silty and churned up for the first few metres, but it soon cleared, although the chop continued for a while.
Shortly before the first buoy I could feel myself starting to thrash my arms a little and boost my heart rate with shallow breathing, so I took a time out, just a few seconds to tread water and reset. While it was hard seeing swimmers pass me, it was the right thing to do, as I struck back out into calmer, clearer water and found a new, more comfortable rhythm in my stroke.
That continued around the rest of the course, momentarily easing up at each turn to sight the next buoy and actually think to myself how much I was enjoying the feel of the water and swimming in the lake.
Towards the finish, as I approached the shallows, I got closer to some feet and legs and almost got swum over by someone striking out for the jetty, but that only slowed me for a fraction of a second and I got up to my feet and out of the water feeling calm but elated with my swim.
During the long run up towards transition, I sneaked a peek at my watch. I’d deliberately avoided checking my overall time for this event, but I knew my best swim time was 18 mins something. So I couldn’t believe it when I saw 15:52 on my watch. Official time, including the run into transition was 17:47, so easily almost a minute faster than I have been before.
Most importantly I felt great. I had enjoyed the swim, hadn’t stressed out and was ready to tackle the bike course.
The terrain makes this a slightly long sprint course with a 24k bike and just under a 6k run. It was warm, but cloudy on Sunday morning, and there had been an early morning shower that left the road damp. The immediate ride out of the park is a nice downhill, so time to settle in and get my legs turning over.
Out onto the road and the cross wind became more apparent. Not enough of a breeze to disturb my balance on the bike, but maybe enough to make me work a bit harder.
I haven’t done enough cycling. I really struggle to fit it in at any other time other than the weekend. And going out on my own, I tend to do the same routes and don’t really get enough mileage in. But I started off enjoying the cycle, even as, as always, I was quickly and speedily passed and after 10k rarely saw another competitor except when they overtook.
I had a couple of mouthfuls of juice and ticked off the sights as I rolled along beside the coastline at Cresswell. There’s a slight inland turn near Lynemouth towards the end of the route. My back was starting to niggle as I cycled along beside the dunes and as I approached a slight long incline, I felt like I had no power in my legs.
I’d tried to keep up my cadence throughout, but from just before 20k onwards, I was definitely dropping, and as I approached Lynemouth I had a distinct loss of energy and power and a bit of a mental dip. I dropped through the gears, moved around to try and stretch out my back and had a gel. It was probably all a bit too late to make any difference, as my back was still a bit troublesome but eased by a bit of coasting downhill.
I managed to get a bit of speed back as I turned into the park, but was soundly overtaken by two or three more riders before I came to a stop. I was worried about jarring my back, so didn’t even attempt a rolling dismount at the line. But as soon as I was out of my cycling position, it felt better. I have had a proper bike fit for this bike, but I would have been considerably lighter at the time. Would that have made a difference?
Onto the run, and my legs weren’t too wobbly as I struck out on the paths around the lake. With two laps for the sprint and three for the standard distance event, I was frequently passing or being passed by runners on my way round.
I was well supported with parkrun buddies Jules and Claire marshalling near transition and the start of each lap, and just before a little climb around the back of Woodhorn Museum buildings towards the end. I made sure I was relaxed and picking my feet up each time I saw them, but generally I felt I ran okay throughout.
My hamstrings felt tight at the start of the run, but oddly not my quads, and the sensation soon eased off. I knew I wasn’t fast and I wasn’t pushing hard, but felt like my efforts were just a notch down from a fast parkrun.
I ran every step, thanked the marshals and gave a high five to two little girls standing in high viz at the bottom of the lake. I managed to pick up a bit of speed down the last bank and raised my arms for another finish with a smile.
So, another really enjoyable race from VO2 Max Racing. Their swim sessions at the QE2 lake have really helped me this year and they always put on a great race for competitors and Woodhorn Colliery Museum grounds provide a great venue for a top event.
Swim 750m: 17:47
Bike 24km: 1:00:51
Run 6k: 41:29