Northumberland triathlon from the other side – a marshal’s point of view

How does it feel to marshal rather than compete at a triathlon?

Competitors at the Northumberland triathlon - photo by Sports Photography Northumberland
Northumberland triathlon run – photo by Sports Photography Northumberland

I’ve taken part in enough VO2 Max Racing Events in the north east to know that I’m guaranteed a great day, a safe race and a fantastic sense of encouragement as a triathlete. I’m happy to say that I had the same great experience as a marshal at the Northumberland triathlon.

I’ve raced this event a few times, both at sprint and standard distances, so I know it’s a great location, and with a spot of clear sunny weather forecast predicted that everyone was in for a good day.

It did feel strange with only me and a bag to load into the car for the early drive up the coast. No need to  add my bike and wetsuit and all the gear I need to take part in a triathlon. I kept thinking I’d forgotten something.

Marshals rewards

There were plenty of competitors there already as I arrived in plenty of time for the marshals briefing at 07:30.  These guys really look after everyone who races or volunteers.

When I signed up to help out, I got the option of a free entry to another one of their events. On the day, I had all the information I needed, picked up a race T-shirt and was offered snacks, drinks and given a hot meal voucher to use once my marshalling stint was over.

I had a short walk around the lake to my first spot as a swim marshal, backing up the kayak crew, keeping an eye out for any swimmers in difficulty and potentially offering an early exit point from the swim.

The swim

My stomach did a nervous flip flop as the first competitors entered the lake, as I imaged my own race nerves and adrenaline building up for the start. With the first wave off, it was amazing to see how quickly the swimmers spread out as they lapped the buoys, with the fastest cutting streamlined wakes through the water. The noise of the splashes as arms hit the water was incredible!

With the second wave off soon after, there was sometimes a bit of congestion, but from my view point everyone seed to be okay. I was surprised and encouraged by how many swimmers I saw doing what I do and taking a little time to settle or switching to breast stroke to keep out of trouble around the buoys. I could even hear a couple of guys chatting to each other and encouraging each other on the way round.

With no problems on the swim, I left the last few competitors with the kayak safety crew and walked a little further around the lake to my marshaling spot for the run. My job for the next couple of hours was generally to shout, encourage and direct runners as they completed two laps  of the lake for sprint distance and four for the standard.

The run

Competitors at the Northumberland triathlon - photo by Sports Photography Northumberland
Northumberland triathlon – photo by Sports Photography Northumberland

The sun had warmed up by now and as runners started to appear, I knew they would be finding it tough, so I did my best to be encouraging. When I could see it, I tried to check their race number against the competitors list and give them a personal shout out. With those doing the standard distance, I started to recognise who was coming up next.

As a triathlete and runner, I know how important a bit of support can be along the route. Even if marshals and spectators are saying nothing more than ‘well done, keep going’, it can be a real boost. And getting your name shouted out is always encouraging.

I got some nice shouts back from those taking part, including one guy who said he was very happy to not see me again on his last lap! I knew exactly what he meant as it’s always a relief to know you’re almost at the end of a big race. I enjoyed all the smiles and waves and thank yous.

There was a brief shower before the final runner came through on his last lap and then I was done with my marshaling for the day. The chief run marshal walked back to check on me and I collected some of the signs on my way round to the finish, where I welcomed a hot pork bun from the catering team.

I’m a big fan of triathlon, both as a competitor and as a supporter and I know that these events just couldn’t happen without willing volunteers. I’ve enjoyed their support in many, many races, so this weekend it felt great to offer something back. I thought I’d feel more disappointed not to be taking part, but I really didn’t. I had a great morning out and will look forward to my next race in July with even more excitement.

Northumberland Sprint Triathlon 2016

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.

13344789_1182027298495840_7945418781633612846_nWhile 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.

13321782_10157121026085294_2090984188901957378_nThe 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.

13332915_1182027308495839_8787943930879986603_nBack 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:

Swim: 19:00
T1: 2:17
Bike: 52:29
T2: 1:17
Run: 37:35

Total: 1:52:38

Smiles :-) :-) :-)

Northumberland Standard triathlon

I hang out with a great bunch of people. The kind of people who do marathons, half and full iron distance triathlons, ultras and more. The kind of people who make you think that doing a standard distance tri on not really enough training will be okay. They are dangerous people, but they do inspire me to dream big and challenge what I think is possible.

I have dithered and debated doing this event. As late as Thursday, I was considering getting in touch with the organisers to see if I could drop back to do the sprint distance over the same course. I have not cycled enough. I have not really swum enough, or not enough in open water. And I’ve had a stressful week and a niggly shoulder.

Bike at Northumberland triathlon
On the bike course. Photo by Bob Marshall

But the weather forecast was fair, the sky was blue and the trip to Druridge Bay was uneventful. I bumped into my best tri buddy Lesley just after registering and then was a bit of a faff getting ready and set up and didn’t even manage to wish her luck.

The ground was sodden after yesterday’s heavy downpour, making transition a splashy, muddy mess and I realised I wouldn’t have time to warm up or do much of a calm down before the start or the race. Still I got myself sorted and headed to watch the sprint distance event start, hoping, but failing to pick out Lesley from the throng.

I took some deep breaths and made sure I got into the water quickly, to give myself as much chance as possible to relax before the swim start. It was warm, and once I’d done the usual gasp of getting it down the back of my neck, I floated around a bit and splashed my face.

I was still catching strands of weed in my fingers as I was treading water, and couldn’t get my face in without spluttering, so I just floated and hoped I’d get my adrenaline surge under control. I’d positioned myself at the back, out of the way, but the start was wide enough to manage the number of swimmers without too much of a bash fest anyway.

The countdown completed and the horns sounded. We were off!

I wish I could say that I got hit, or kicked or splashed, or that something unsettled me for what happened next, but I can’t. It was just my own stupid, adrenaline fuelled nerves that kicked in and let my swim demon say “You’ll never make it”. I stopped in the water and watched everyone swim away from me.

I trod water for a moment and thought, “Now what?” I had a little conversation with myself. “Are you going to turn round and get out?” “Or are you going to carry on?” All the while I had my eyes closed, trying not to cry.

The kayak safety crew shouted over to see if I was okay. I couldn’t answer for a second as I was still trying to get myself under control. “Just having a moment,” I eventually replied and then started to strike out into front crawl. I was at least going to try.

With a clear lake before me, I just focused on swimming smooth and slow. Surprisingly, the breathing rhythm came quickly and I took advantage of the extra buoyancy of the wetsuit to roll to the side to breathe and catch a glimpse of the blue sky.

“Just swim your own race”, I said to myself as I headed for the first marker. There was a bit of a sticky moment when I struck some weeds with my hands and had a few panicky breaths and did some breast stroke, but actually, after that initial upset, I was calm and swam well and consistently.

My sole goal pre-race was not to be last out of the swim. I thought I’d blown that by placing myself well behind the pack. But, as I closed in on the first buoy, I spotted a few other swimmers nearby. I kept my space from them so as not to disturb my swim, but I was able to catch and over take them. By the time I was back round to the start of the second lap, I was confident and happy in the water, swimming in nice straight lines between the buoys.

On the second lap I had company, a girl swimming beside me and then a guy coming up on the other side. Again I tried to keep out of their way, but managed to get past the girl and then get brave and swim in the bubble stream of the guy, hoping to get a bit of a tow. But he kept veering off course, so I let him go.

Remembering to kick when there were only a few hundred metres to go, I swam right into the shallows and was grateful of a hand out. I ran up over the grass into transition, where it was easy to spot my bike among the largely empty racks. I allowed myself an easy transition. I didn’t rush, but didn’t faff either, just got my kit sorted and rolled the bike out to the start line.

Run at Northumberland triathlon
On the run beside Ladyburn Lake – Photo by Bob Marshall

A standing mount well past the line and over the speed hump, low gear, spin the legs and away. The bike leg was my biggest concern for this event. I have not done enough distance on the bike or as many brick sessions as I did to prepare for this race last year when it was my first standard distance. So, as I headed out of the country park onto the road, I told myself I was out for a ride, that it would help dry me out after the swim and give me a chance to drink my juice as it was a sunny day and I still had a run to do.

I probably daisied round most of the two laps. I found myself in my usual position of being passed by the speeding solid wheel brigade and just about everyone else. I just didn’t have the confidence to hammer the bike – 40k is a long way to me.

Still, a couple of girls kept it interesting, passing me and then me re-passing them when I decided to put a bit of a spurt on. They were on their her second lap as I was on my first, so it wasn’t really a place battle, but I was grateful for the a boost.

By my second lap I was in my usual bike zone, out on my own, seeing barely any other riders. I’d counted those behind me as I turned at the roundabout – 4, with only one I thought was close enough to possibly catch me. So I wasn’t last, could I keep it that way?

I had good and bad patches on this part of the ride. I got stomach cramps and aches in my lower back. I wasn’t sure if it was the juice I was drinking (I usually only have water, but I have been okay with High 5 before) or it was just me. I couldn’t seem to get comfortable on the saddle. I’m a bit heavier than I was last year, you would think that would give me extra padding!

Worryingly, I also felt the niggle in my right shoulder. I’ve had it all week. A result of too much time sitting at a keyboard and too much stress. I had an intensive sports massage on it on Tuesday night, which really loosened it off, but there it was again, and I worried it would bite me on the run.

The first rider came past me on the downhill just after the turn. I was really struggling on the bike now, just wanting it to be over. I glanced at my watch – 35k done, just 5 more to go. That was a cheering prospect and helped me keep cheerful as the second rider passed me. I knew as I turned back into the park, there was a good chance I’d be the last to finish this.

Off the bike and out onto the run without too much fuss and not too much of the jelly legs. Still I kept it easy, just focusing on moving forward on the first lap. It was something of a dead man’s shuffle in truth and I could feel my feet hitting the trails hard.

On the first lap there were runners galore, just up ahead and passing me at regular intervals. Once again, I opted to just run my own race, keep my focus. My goal, just to finish, to enjoy this.

Finish at Northumberland triathlon
Heading for a big finish and a course PB – Photo by Bob Marshall

My favourite bit of the course was a shady, leafy path between the trees, where the ground was soft and you couldn’t hear the noise of the tannoy across the water. The shade was very welcome and you could be alone with your thoughts. I tried to pick up the pace a little here, but each time I felt like I was forcing it, so I settled back and just decided to let it come if it would and not fret if it didn’t.

At the end of the path there was a lovely, smiley lady marshalling. All the marshals round the course were great, shouting and clapping and saying well done, but she really lifted my spirits each time.

As you come round towards the start/finish there’s a little rise and then another bit of uphill along the trail. I ran the steep bit and then let myself walk the longer slope, pumping my arms to keep myself moving, not dawdling. It was probably a mistake to walk it on the first lap, as that set a precedent. But it was my little treat to myself and it helped me stick to my goal of relax and enjoy.

First lap done almost done and I spot Bob Marshal taking photographs and then there’s fabLesley, running a little way with me, telling me about her brilliant race.

It’s like my own wee cheering squad as I come round each lap, with Barry from V02 Max Racing Events announcing every lap on the microphone and then Jules and Lottie the dog from parkrun giving me a shout out.

Lap one done and I’m feeling more confident. I know I can do this, my legs are strong and I’ve won my mental battles on the bike and swim. The other runners thin out on lap two and I’m taunted hearing finishers announced as I pass by the opposite side of the lake. Still half way done and I grab a cup of water and walk a couple of steps to make sure I drink it.

Lap three, I’m on my own, and getting the distinct feeling I may be the last runner on the course. But I don’t care. It’s a sunny day and I’m running round a lake in beautiful Northumberland. Still it’s a bit of a mentally tough one and I’m glad to see my cheering crew as I come round for that last lap.

As I come through the shady wood and out onto the lake path, the marshal picks up his sign and starts walking.’Ah, that’s me, last then,’ I think. But I’m still in fair spirits. I have little idea of my time or my pace. I deliberately didn’t look at how well I’d done last year when this was my first event, but I know it was well over 3 hours.

On the last time up the little rise, I pump my arms and ask myself ‘Why do you do this?’ The answer, loud and clear is ‘Because I can.’ And in that moment I think of three people who would love to be here on this day, running in the sunshine round a lake, but who have been taken by cancer. So at the top of the rise, as I pick up my feet and start to run again, I say out loud: “This is for you, Zoe and Alastair and Sue.”

And you know, my heart lifts and my feet lift and I feel every inch of how fortunate I am to be able to do this. And so, those thoughts carry me back round to the finish for the final time.

I’ve picked my spot, the puddle on the path where I’ll sprint from, but I push on even before that. And even though my legs have been complaining, and I’ve been hot and tired and sweaty for over 3 hours now, I power through with a smile and my arms aloft.

I am dead last. And the organisers can finally get on with the prize giving 🙂

Met and congratulated by Lesley and Bob, I grab some water and an orange slice as we listen for the prizes. I’m afraid I barely pay them much attention as it takes me a little while to recover.

I go to rescue my bike and gear from the muddy transition area as they grab a table and we eventually have a bit of a picnic. And lovely, lovely Lesley buys me an ice cream. I sit in the sunshine with my fab friends and reflect on a challenging but terrific race.

Just don’t tell my legs we’re running again tomorrow night at my favourite race- it’s Blaydon!

Swim: 31:36
T1: 2:00
Bike: 1:34:57
T2: 01:21
Run: 1:10:22
TOTAL 3:20:13


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