Triathlon 2009 – Southwater Sprint Relay

Im not a free man, Im a number
I'm not a free man, I'm a number

I can now call myself a triathlete. What a bloody relief! It might only have been a sprint distance (400m lake swim, 18.5km cycle, 3.8km run) but they all count.

As mentioned in my previous post my training for this event wasn’t quite what I’d hoped and I was very nervous about it. At least things turned out ok in the end.

Getting there
After another really early start (5am) and a bit of a drive through the semi-deserted roads of Sussex we got to the Southwater Country Park. The start and transition area was a bit of a trek to get to particularly as you have to get a bike and all the various paraphernalia needed. As an added bit of anxiety I couldn’t find my team captain who had my race number that would get me into the transition area. No matter how I try to plan things I always seem to have a last minute rush and panic at these things.

The Swim
I’d already seen one of my relay team-mates complete her three events and I was waiting in the hand-over section all wet-suited up and worried when I had my revelation. Instead of trying to front crawl on the swim and having to revert to breast stroke or just resting I thought ‘why not just do the whole thing as breast stroke’. That way I reckoned it at least looked like that was my plan all along.

My favourite supporter!
My favourite supporter!

I didn’t regret my decision. I kept up a steady pace in the lake, out to the buoy and back and even managed to pass someone! Got out feeling a little tired, but that was mainly my arms, and jogged off to the transition area to get ready for the bike ride.

The Bike
Getting out of the wetsuit was no easy or quick thing for me and took a fair bit of grunting, kicking and squelching. When done though I soon got on the bike and was on my way. The ride itself was very pleasant with a couple of rises and several nice long straights for a bit of power riding. Again I managed to pass a few people which was a morale booster.

At one point I approached a bunch of riders and as I got closer noticed that a few had panniers and I thought to myself ‘a bit casual for race’. It was only as I was passing that I saw that they didn’t have any numbers and I realised that they weren’t part of the race at all.

Knowing the run wasn’t going to be very long I really went for it on the cycle and quite enjoyed the burn.

The Run
Quickly slipped into my running shoes, started off and immediately my legs felt heavy which wasn’t helped by the stiff hill that starts the run. Ironically I found myself feeling better the longer the run went on as the heaviness slowly went away. I have to congratulate my triathlon club for the fantastic waving and support as I went round on the two laps. I really enjoyed coming into the change-over area to tag the third person in my relay team. That was it, I was done.

The southwater relay was a good fun race and pretty ideal as one to start with. The relay element gives you a bit of team spirit which I really liked. What a relief but now I can plan for next year – an Olympic distance I should think.

Special thanks to Deborah and Rose who gave me great support and who didn’t grumble at getting up so early.

My lovely team mates - Emma and James
My lovely team mates - Emma and James

Triathlon 2009 – Pre-race nerves

Well, here I am with the Southwater sprint triathlon on Sunday but without feeling very prepared.

After doing a marathon in May I intentionally decided not to be very ambitious in Triathlons this year and only have a sprint distance to worry about. The bit I’m concerned about though is the swim as it’s in open water and again I’ve done hardly any practice. In fact I’ve had just the one.

Serpentine swim
My swimming has certainly greatly improved since last year, but I still struggle with it and am not able to give it the time I should. In particular I’d not done any open water training which as I know from last year is very different from the pool. To that end and a little belatedly I went to the Serpentine in Hyde park for a dip the week before the race. Looking out it looked like I was going to be the only one in the Lido.

Getting in I immediately felt the extreme anxiousness that I did when swimming in the sea last year so I thought I’d start with a gentle bit of breast stroke. This turned out to be harder than I’d thought as the buoyancy on the wetsuit makes you slightly too high in the water to do a good stroke. I had a quick go at front crawl but only managed 3-4 strokes before I ran out of breath and had to go back to breast stroke. None of this boded well but I carried on and was determined to do at least 4 lengths. In the end I managed 8 lengths, approximately 800m but with hardly any front crawl and a bit of resting at each turn.

The other worry was how long it took me to get out of my suit. I’m pretty sure there is a knack to it, but i’ve yet to get it.

Bike and Run
Whilst I’ve not really done that much cycling or running either the distances are quite small and I’m kind of confident of at least finishing.

All done, if it wasn’t for the fact that i’m in a team and would be letting others down I might have given the race a miss. As it is I feel that I should be able to finish and if I do then I can at least call myself a ‘Triathlete’ which would be a reasonable achievement on top of the marathon earlier this year. Hopefully that’ll keep me going.

Triathlon 2009 – training plan

I completed the Edinburgh Marathon on the 31 May 2009 which I was very glad to finally get under my belt but now it’s back to triathlon.

I’ve not done any cycling since September and I’d more or less cut out the swimming in the latter stages of marathon training so of the three disciplines it’s only my running that is in form. I therefore feel like I’m starting again more or less from scratch.

I’ve decided not to try and be too ambitious this year, particularly as I’m starting late in the season. I’ve therefore decided to do only one triathlon this year, the Southwater sprint relay. This gives me 12 weeks to get in shape but without too much pressure of an imminent race.

Time
One of the major problems I have with any kind of serious training is finding the time. I’ve a young daughter and family commitments that I don’t want to miss out on so it can be tricky. Previously I’ve been restricted to training in the evening or at weekends which became quite limiting.

My attempted (partial) solution has been to join the gym near my work and do at least some of my workouts there. I can use their pool and the running machines and catch up doing some proper outside runs and cycles at weekends.

Strength training
Seeing as I’m at the gym I’ve also decided to try to add some compound weight training to my regime. This will involve some squats, dead-lifts and some bench pressing. I’ll also be doing a little core work too.

In theory this should make me stronger in the right places for my endurance training. I’ve no desire to bulk up, but lets hope this proves useful.

If I’m honest, I’m also keen to just try something different.

I’ve had my first session and I’m feeling a bit sore (in a good way) and I’m looking forward to improving.

Let’s see how it goes. I’m pretty excited.

Triathlon – Swim Training #3

Ready for a swim
Ready for a swim

Following many weeks when for one reason or another I’ve been busy, I finally got to attend a swim training session. The triathlon club I’m in run three swim sessions a week, the Friday one supposed to be about technique and best for novice and intermediate level swimmers. I therefore thought this was the session for me.

I was a bit nervous about going as I’ve not had any swim coaching since school and even then I only got as high as ‘bronze swimming certificate’. I’ve been looking at other swimmers and videos on-line but I’ve been really keen to have someone watch and improve my own skills.

Once in the pool we were given a talk through of the days drills by the coach. This led me to my first problem which was not understanding half of the terms he used. ‘fist stroke’ and ‘single arm stroke’ I could kind of guess at but I had no idea what ‘catch-up stroke’ was supposed to be. We were then told a complicated series of combinations such as six foot kicks and then five normal strokes, then another combo on the next length etc etc. I was quickly bewildered about what I was supposed to do, but gave it my best shot.

I did get some useful instruction on my breathing and stroke. Apparently, I bring my head far too far out of the water and my arm is too straight on the ‘catch’ where it should be bent. I found it really hard to try and correct both of these as well as perform the drills all at once and I think I was all over the place. Still, it was good to have things to work on.

We finished the session after about 40 minutes with a little medley race where I at least didn’t embarrass myself and was on the winning team.

I did feel a little bit that I was thrown in at the deep end (pun intended) in that no-one spoke to me beforehand about my training needs, what the session was about or even ‘welcome to the club’.

I did get some positive things from this session and I certainly got a good workout, but it still wasn’t quite all I’d hoped for when joining a club.

Triathlon – Injury

Since at least January 2008 I’ve intermittently had chest pains.

My ECG
My ECG

The pain is exactly in the centre of my chest and occurs when I move in certain positions e.g. arms across my chest. It’s even worse when I’m in bed trying to sleep. In every other respect I’ve felt completely fit and healthy and have felt fairly confident that it’s not a heart condition.

I’ve been to see my GP on a couple of occasions but by the time I’ve got an appointment the symptoms have mostly gone and I’ve found it difficult to describe. The last appointment, however, my chest was still really sore and the Doctor was able to at least see that I wasn’t faking it. The early diagnosis is that it is some kind of musculo-skeletal strain as I’ve just had an ECG and my heart is fine (plus a resting heart rate of 55).

Using the dubious power of the internet my wife found a site almost completely describing my condition citing the problem as a sports injury, usually swimming. If this is true, this is a bit of a blow as it makes me worried that i’ll simply be told to stop excersising or at least swimming.

I’ll be returning to the GP as soon as possible with my ‘healthy’ ECG result and see what he says.

Triathlon – Run Training #1 (Fartlek)

My muddy running shoes
My muddy running shoes

It started ominously with terms such as ‘fartlek’ and ‘bumflick’, but I needn’t have worried it turned out to be a really good, tough run session.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, joining a triathlon club seemed to be the most logical step forward in my training programme so a few weeks ago I joined the Crystal Palace Triathletes, which is more or less my local club. I’d been aiming to mainly use them for swim coaching, but thought I’d give a go to the ‘fartlek’ run session. Fartlek is a slightly odd word and in many ways ‘interval training’ would have been a safer term and one that would cause fewer giggles and sniggering.

The seven of us assembled in the car park at Crystal Palace on a bit of a miserable slightly rainy day. We started with a bit of a warm up consisting of little sprints, bumflicks (another unfortunate word) and a bit of stretching.

Moving on we had a relatively steady jog out to Dulwich woods and then a bit of a muddy cross country scramble through the woods. I quite enjoy running through woods, but it was here we managed to lose one of our number who got lost and never quite found us again. A bit of a shame there.

As it was a bit muddy in the woods for sprinting, we run onto Dulwich park, did a little warm up circuit and was ready for the hard work. The coach Jon got us running three minutes of ‘faster than your 10k pace’ followed by two minutes of ‘normal’ pace. As this pace was a bit individual it strung the group out a little, but we always gathered at the end of each fast bit.

I found this session quite hard, but really good as I was being forced out of my comfort zone. A couple of times Jon got me to push things a bit more, which was really good. We did four fartleks and by the fourth one my legs were getting a little wobbly.

The hard work wasn’t quite over yet as still had to jog back through Dulwich woods and then back to Crystal Palace. The final challenge was a handicapped little race up a stiff little hill and even though I was pretty tired by this time I think I did pretty well. I was a bit afraid that everyone would be iron-man fit and I’d be wheezing at the back, but I was about average, in this group at any rate. By the time we got back to the car park we’d been out for nearly two hours which is the longest I’ve run for years.

Running is my best (or least worst) of the three disciplines and I may have been a bit complacent about my ability to challenge myself up to now. This session was excellent for me as it got me performing well above my normal training levels. It would be great to do a session like this once a month or similar.

Tired but happy.

Triathlon – swim training #2

Finally cracked it!

I’ve never been taught how to do front crawl and (possibly foolishly) I’ve been trying to teach myself over the last few months.

I started doing mostly breast-stroke and throwing in the odd length of front crawl and have gradually built that up week on week.

Today I manged my first 30 minute swim session purely using freestyle. Partly this was down to just not going so fast and concentrating on just going longer.

This is a big milestone for me and I’m really pleased. Yay!

Triathlon – rookie errors

Still feeling a bit disappointed at not finishing my first triathlon (South Coast Tri) last week. It’s not helped by the fact that it’s the end of the season and I won’t get a chance to do another one till next year now.

After my disappointing swim, I hit the swimming pool a couple of times this week. Whilst I’ve made some nice gains in the last few months I’m increasingly thinking I was a bit hopeful on my level of fitness here. I’ve decided to join up with a triathlon club and get some coaching over the winter. I should also be able to do some open water training with them too which will be crucial.

Puncture repair
Puncture repair

I should be almost more upset about the double puncture I got on the cycle as it turns out the bit of glass that caused the first one was still in the tyre and probably caused the second one.

This is a bit of a rookie error as it’s the first thing that you should look for after you get a puncture.

Another lesson learned here.

Triathlon – race report – South Coast Tri 31 Aug ’08

Sometimes, you have experiences where you think – ‘will anything go right’ – this was one of those times.

The race went pretty badly from the start, but maybe my character has been built a little….hasn’t it?

Getting there
The alarm chirped at 5am and after a bit of a scramble around, we set off around 6.20. I shouldn’t have worried about getting there as we hardly saw much traffic and got to Seaford easily in time for registration at 8am. The weather was all misty on the way there, which I thought would clear for a bit of sun by race-time – how wrong I was.

Swim

Jason at the South Coast Tri 2008
Jason at the South Coast Tri 2008

I racked up my bike, laid out all my gear and had a quick chat with the really friendly people around me. We set off for the beach and encountered my first pain of the day, walking down the stony beach to get to the waters edge. Seriously, this was really painful and I now realise some flip-flops would have been a good move.

We watched the women’s wave set off, then had a short safety brief before making our way to the waters edge. I rinsed out my goggles and splashed my face but I saw others having a practice swim and looking mega keen. I was feeling pretty daunted as the furthest buoy looked miles away and we’d been told of a really strong current running across the course which didn’t make me feel any better.

We got the shouts of ‘one minute to go’ and then the horn and we were off. I say we, but I intentionally had hung around at the back so I was one of the last to splash in and get going. I started off with some front-crawl, getting bumped a bit by at least one other competitor and soon found it really hard to do a proper stroke and make some headway.

I tried to get my breath by doing a bit breast-stroke, but I was fighting for breath and now found myself falling really behind the others. I gave the front-crawl another go, but I was now finding myself being caught by the strong current and and getting further and further from the turning buoy.

By now I was being trailed by a safety canoeist who offered me the chance of catching my breath which I gladly took. I was finding the sea swim much harder and scarier than I’d expected, but I didn’t want to give up so I had another go and after exhausting myself I got close to the buoy against the tide. I’d lost all rhythm and technique by now and realised that the swim was simply beyond me.

I was clearly right to be worried about this leg and the lack of sea swim training proved very costly. I’d always thought that it would be hard, but had hoped I could just about creep round. I think I may have been a bit too hopeful here.

The final ignominy was being towed to the shore by the safety boat and being examined verbally by the first aid people. I reported to the organisers and was thus marked DNF (did not finish). They said I was ok to do the ride and run if I wanted.

Bike

On the bike course
On the bike course

As disappointed as I was I was determined to do the next two legs and reclaim a bit of pride. I always felt pretty confident of the bike and run so I hung around on the beach for a bit so as not to look like I’d beaten the really fit guys.

I got to the transition area, got my wetsuit off ok and slipped into my cycling stuff and got onto the road as soon as I could. The course is mostly flat, along the sea-front with a slight rise at the end so it was just a case of powering along with a big slow down for the hair-pin turns at each end.

I didn’t really know how good or bad my cycling was up-to-now as I’d always trained alone, but this is where I found out. I was doing averages of between 26-35kph but in terms of who I was passing it was just an overweight couple on a tandem and a few people doing the sprint on mountain bikes. Everyone else just sailed past me at various speeds. This didn’t matter too much as I was just keen to clock a time for myself.

Repairing a puncture
Repairing a puncture

Coming up to the turn, just over half way I got a puncture. ‘No biggie’ I thought, I have a spare and I’ll have this changed in a jiffy. In full view of lots of spectators I got the tyre replaced and pumped and I was on my way again. A little way up the road – another puncture!!!! One is bad luck, two is just the gods being against you. I was now out of spare inner-tubes so my friend/emergency bike-mechanic Andy tried to jury rig a repair with some duct tape, but sadly this just didn’t work.

I was now out of the bike leg too.

Run
At least I felt I was on safe ground here, I’ve done plenty of 10k’s before and they hold no fears and there wasn’t any equipment to go wrong.

The weather, which had been grey and spitting all morning now turned to proper rain, though I personally don’t mind running in it – it’s cooling.

It was a simple four laps along the front and I was determined to make a good show of it, so I tried pushing it a little. At least on this leg I was passing a few people, some of whom looked quite fit.

I eventually managed a respectable (for me anyway) 50 minutes for the run.

My post-race face
My post-race face

I did feel a complete fraud going through the finish, with my name, number and big congrats going over the tannoy. I took my free Gatorade and banana and went for commiserations from my excellent supporters. They cheered and clapped and encouraged when it counted and did it all in the rain!

As I was clearing away my gear the woman next to me gave me some great encouragement as well as some tips on where to go for open water training. We may all be competitiors on the course, but off it everyone has been really nice.

A nutmeg of consolation
It was really hard not to feel very disappointed at the end of this race. I’d been confident of at least a finish, but that swim was really quite a toughy for someone with my level of swimming and no previous experience of the sea in a wetsuit.

On the plus side, I’ve gained a lot of experience of triathlons now and I really got to find out where I am and what I need to do to improve. I now have until next May or June to get training, improve and learn before my return. I’m putting thoughts on joining a triathlon club.

I’ll be back and next time I’ll have no excuses!

Special thanks to my supporters: Andy, Jack, Matt, Val, Stephen and last but by no means least my lovely wife Deborah and daughter Rose.

Triathlon – pre-race preparation

Thought i’d give my pre-race observations, it might be interesting to compare with the race report.

Training
I started training in earnest at the start of July having only done a bit of running and the occasional swim beforehand. Overall things have gone really well, i’ve managed to make progress every week either further or faster.

The swim still worries me as I can still only front crawl around 60-70% of the time and I’ll have to do a certain amount of breast-stroke on the day.

My friend Andy lent me a pair of tri-bars, telling me to have a practice as they can be a bit odd at first. I’ve…erm…completely failed to do any practice and here I am using them for the first time in the race.

All the advice also seems to be practice swimming in your wetsuit, in the sea. Again, i’ve kind of failed to do this either, though with this I at least planned to, I was simply thwarted either by Royal Mail or the weather. We’ll see whether this comes back to haunt me or not.

Gear
I really underestimated the amount of stuff that i’d have to buy to do a triathlon. I already owned a racing bike, have running shoes and swimming stuff. I guess I assumed that a wetsuit would be optional this time of year and it turned out to be mandatory. Also I’ve had to get various sundries for the bike, alltogether it’s really added up and this was without luxuries such as heart rate monitors etc.

Anyone thinking of doing triathlon – be prepared for an outlay!

Prospects
When I started training I would have been fairly hesitant thinking about even finishing. Things have gone pretty well since then and in recent weeks I’ve even started the very dangerous thinking of doing ‘a time’. I should probably whisper this, but I think that if things go well and the transitions aren’t too long then three hours or less might be possible.

Feeling excited, hope the weather isn’t too hot and hoping we get there in time, so that I’m not forced to rush!