World Triathlon Leeds – my race story

I was too excited to get much sleep in my lovely, but slightly too warm, hotel room the night before my debut racing on a World Championship triathlon course. So I woke a little bleary eyed but just keen to get on and get going.

After porridge and a kit check, I left my hotel and shared a taxi up to Roundhay Park with a fellow triathlete, David who I met in the lobby. It was a hassle free and straightforward trip and he was a really interesting and experience age group triathlete who had raced in Lisbon the week before.

It calmed my anxieties to be at the start in plenty of time. And before I even got to transition to check on my bike I saw Stuart from Alnwick tri getting into his wetsuit preparing to race in the standard distance race. It was nice to be able to wish him luck.

I had plenty of time to get myself ready and I took it, just calmly checking my bike, putting my drink bottle on and reminding myself of my place in the massive transition area.

Sometime just after that, I heard a Scottish lilt behind me and saw my Fetch pal Susan who I’d spent so much of the day with yesterday, and was able to give her a hug and wish her well too. That was another really nice piece of luck.

On the run. Picture by Jules Briggs

My wave was off at 09:32, so my plan was wetsuit on by 9am, drop my dry clothes and post race bag off and be ready for a pre-race briefing at about 09:10. It all went smoothly, except for me forgetting to put my trainers in the bag. Luckily the volunteer marshal who I was handing my bag to pointed out my error. He said I was far from the first to make it.

Nerves about the swim were kicking in, so I took a few moments to do some deep breaths and clear my mind. My only other pontoon start was rather unpleasant and I knew I’d have very little time in the water before the off, so I wanted to be as composed as I could be.

The lake looked still and calm and the previous wave of swimmers were well ahead as my group wearing our yellow hats stepped out along the pontoon. I was reassured that there looked to be some slower swimmers amongst them.

I picked slot number 8 on the pontoon, wondering which of the elites would dive from that spot later. We all sat on the edge dangling our feet in before we were instructed to get in and keep one hand on the pontoon.

The water temperature was 19C so didn’t have that nasty cold shock as I got in. I even made myself put my face in the water and was relieved to see how clear it was. And then came the countdown and the hooter and we were off.

At last week’s tri, I deliberately held back, settled myself away from the initial thrash and struck out into clear water. I opted for the same tactics here and not long after the start, I got myself into a nice settled front crawl.

I counted strokes pretty much all the way round the course, taking the odd little breather, treading water or doing a light breast stroke when I started to feel uncomfortable. At one point a boat wake caused a bit of a wave, but other than that it was a very smooth swim and I felt quite calm and relaxed throughout.

When I’m more confident in racing mode again, I hope I can put in a bit more effort, but really it doesn’t seem to make me swim much faster, so for now I’m happy to just get through it without stressing myself to the max.

I’d just about reached the third buoy along the dam wall, ready to turn back for sure when the fast swimmers from the following wave came through. There was plenty of space, so I never felt like I was going to be knocked or swum over.

I managed to sight and swim close to all the marker buoys and as I got closer to the finish started spotting slower swimmers from the wave before and managed to overtake a few of those. Overall it felt like a nice swim and as I kicked a bit, swimming right up to the ramp I felt really good about it. I didn’t look back but I don’t think I was the last out of my wave to finish.

The run over the blue carpet to the bike transition was a long one. Plenty of time to get my wetsuit down and cap and goggles off. I jogged most of it and walked a little rise up as I felt my foot cramp up a little. I knew it would be a very slow changeover.

I found my bike easily along the emptying racks and got my shoes and helmet out of the bag provided before getting out of my wetsuit and putting it and the goggles back in. Shoes and helmet on, bike in one had, bag in the other, it was another long run over the grass and up a small steep slope out of transition, then a good long trek over the tarmac to the mount line and bag drop point.

The start was a steep hill, so I had my bike in a low gear, left myself plenty of room and started to spin up it. So far, so good. I was off and away and cycling through the green trees and out of Roundhay park.

The bike course was really interesting. There were some good downhill descents where you could pick up some speed and also some tight turns and corners where you had to be careful. With mixed abilities in the waves and Standard and Sprint competitors out on the course at the same time, there were always bikes in sight which I enjoyed.

It did mean it got crowded at times. With no drafting allowed, I did find myself having to push on a few times to overtake a rider, only to run out of steam and have them re-take me. This happened a few times, playing cat and mouse with a man in a dark blue tri suit and a girl riding a flat bar bike who was very good on the longer, slower climbs.

The speedy riders came charging through, with many shouting ‘on your right’ and it did occur to me that it must have been frustrating for them to be in the mix with such slower riders. I always made sure to check over my shoulder before overtaking and tried to give a nod when I heard a shout and keep out of their way.

I recognised some of the Headingly, Cardigan Road area of the course from my student days, but much of it passed me in a blur. I was mainly keeping my eye out for the other competitors and spotting the turn around point for the way back.

I don’t really remember the first pass into the city, but I do remember being grateful to be climbing the last bit of a hill before the turn at Headingly and thinking it’s all down hill from here.

I came zooming back into the city proper and that’s when I saw the crowds and heard the noise and for the first time I had a real moment of thinking ‘What am I doing here – racing on this World Championship course?’ I beamed a massive smile and laughed at myself. It felt fantastic and even better when my parkrun pal Jules spotted me and gave me a shout. What a buzz!

Making the run look like hard work – photo by Tove Elander

Bike course done and into transition for a quick change into running shoes. My legs didn’t feel bad as I started the run – certainly better than being as cold as they were last week, but I never really managed to pick up anything more than a move forward shuffle.

It felt like a long run out from transition and round towards Millennium Square where I ran over the blue carpet and spotted the sign that said the lap count started there, meaning I had to pass through once more before passing down the finish funnel.

It was a route full of switches, turns and ups and downs. I never realised that the Headrow was a hill in both directions! Still it gave me the chance for my parkrun friends to spot me a couple of times. I even got a ‘Go Scribbler!’ shout from a Tyne triathlon member who I later identified as Michael Downes. That was a lovely surprise and a real boost.

I envied the lovely smooth fast runners who could pick up their feet and come storming past. Try as I might I could lift mine or gain much speed. As I rounded the top of the course for the last time I spotted Stuart again, on his last lap of his run. I pulled away from him a little, but he caught me again as we shuffled up the hill to the finish.

I was torn between finishing together and putting on a token sprint on the blue carpet. In the end vanity got me and I picked my feet up for a last gasp few strides and raised my arms for a Scribbler finish.

That was a real moment, thinking that some of my sporting heroes would be doing the same in just a few hours time. It was a real honour to be able to race a similar course to the elites. There aren’t that many sports you can do that and it’s one of the things that makes triathlon special.

I’d completed another triathlon and really enjoyed the big race experience. That was partly because I set myself the goal of just getting out and enjoying it rather than pushing hard to improve my times.

It was great to be back in Leeds and enjoy the busy, buzzing atmosphere of a large race, feeding off the crowd support for family and friends. The people, everyone from the bus driver, to the hotel staff, the volunteers, marshals and just general public were so warm, welcoming and helpful. I enjoyed my time as a student and working in my first job in West Yorkshire and the people’s pride and passion for their city and county and it was there by the bucketload at this event.

Later on I joined the massive crowds for an incredibly inspiring, adrenaline thumping, shouting myself hoarse and clapping my hands raw afternoon watching the women’s and men’s elite races. Athletes ran close enough to see the effort, smiles and grimaces on their faces. You really don’t get that close to the action in any other sport that I know of and I was full of joy to see team GB put on a great performance, culminating in a Brownlee gold and silver, with Alistair beaming up the final few hundred yards and acknowledging the immense support.

After my race, there were some issues with baggage collection and communications, which meant things didn’t go as planned for the afternoon, and have left many competitors feeling disappointed. But I’ll save telling that story for another blog.

I’m still buzzing and on a high after a most memorable experience. I’d like to remember that feeling rather than let some logistical issues detract from another amazing day in triathlon.