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!

Triathlon – brick training #4

This was my last big session before the race next Sunday so I was keen that this went well.

238 - gears

Again I was in Dulwich park so that I could train on a flat course and not have to stop. This time there seemed to be far less people in the park, particularly families which helped me and the lack of a puncture this week was also welcome.

I managed a quicker bike time of 1:29 and a fairly comparable run of around 00:43. Crucially I felt a lot better afterwards and not like I was going to die. I feel better than ever about finishing next week though I’m still worried about the swim – I never did have a try-out in the sea.

Today I’m stripping all the unnecessary bits off the bike to make it race ready and next I’ll be getting all my gear together for the big day.

Triathlon – swim training

Six weeks ago I could just about manage a bit of breast-stroke once a week. Now I’m swimming with the confidence of a barracuda, though not quite the skill.

233 - ready for a swim

For the last few years I’ve been going swimming every so often, doing the same stroke and not really feeling like I was improving. Signing up for the triathlon, however, has made me try to get better and even to have a go at front-crawl, something that I’ve never been properly taught.

In the absence of any convenient courses, I’ve been observing other people in the pool and in videos on the web and slowly tried to swim front-crawl. At first I could only manage the odd length before nearly dieing, but over the weeks my fitness has improved and so (I think) has my technique.

Sadly, I think I’m going to run out of time before I’m going to be able to swim front-crawl non-stop, but I’m hoping to manage it at least half the time in the race.

Over the winter I aim to really work on the swimming and next year I should have no excuses!

Triathlon – brick training #3

The tiredest I’ve felt for a very long time.

Triathlon no.3 - Run

As the big day approaches i’m trying to train as close to the race conditions as possible. The training I usually do involves lots of hills whereas the race will be completely on the flat. My solution was to go to Dulwich park early on a saturday morning and train there.

Bike
I started my ride around the 1.25km circuit and was going well up until the 6km mark when I got my first (ever) puncture. In a way, this was a relief as it gave me a chance to practice changing a tyre and i’ll now be less worried and hopefully quicker if I get one in a race.

I carried on and after 1hour 35minutes of a fairly boring ride, finally finished my 40km. I’d pushed things pretty hard, but still think I can put in a better average than 25.1kmph.

Run
Tried to do a quick transition, but I think I took ages to get into my trainers and grab my iPod. I hadn’t set myself a target for the run, but I was finding it ok and finally managed just over 7km. I felt pretty done for by the end, but I know I could have carried on to 10km if I had to.

I feel things are coming together now and feel more confident than ever of finishing. The problem I’ve got now is that I’ve started thinking that I’d like to do a sub three hour time.

Perhaps I should walk before I could run.

Triathlon – brick training #2

Wanted to head to the coast and do a ‘sprint’ distance run through including a sea swim. The weather had other ideas though and the sea was running at force 4-7 so I couldn’t risk it.

223 - Triathlon no.1 - Swim

Instead, I took the opportunity to have another, slightly longer brick session. I did another 36.6km cycle and then a 5.3km run and this time felt a lot better.

Feeling fitter each week, it’s only the swim that worries me now as i still can’t front crawl the whole distance. Something to work on over the winter I think.