In May last year, I completed my first-ever sprint tri at the Thames Turbo triathlon. (Actually, I was meant to complete it at Easter, but due to an unfortunately-timed storm the race was cancelled so I had to come back two months later to try again.) The event is great for beginner triathletes because it is a friendly atmosphere and the swim is in a (heated!) pool, so you don’t need to worry about wetsuits or open-water swimming. The Thames Turbo club run multiple of these events on bank holiday Mondays throughout the year, and tend to get some 400 participants at each race.
My friend Heidi recently decided that she wanted to try a tri, so I recommended that she sign up for the August edition of the race. She then convinced me to do it with her as moral support, and to explain how it all works.
It’s nerve-wracking to take on a new type of race, because you don’t know what lies ahead. There are some strange intricacies to triathlon (such as tricks to speeding up your transition, or rules around helmets and drafting on the bike), which to a newbie can be terrifying. Once you’ve got the first one out of the way, it all gets easier – so it’s nice to have someone to show you the ropes.
Heidi stayed over at mine the night before the race so that we could chat through things and cycle to the event together the next morning. To avoid heavy traffic on the roads (the cycle route is not closed to cars), the event starts at the charming time of 6:30am, which means that my alarm went off at 3:55am. Sorry Sye! That means that we were on our way before the sun came up, and had already clocked up 20km of commuting before the race.
The biggest concerns Heidi had were about transition, so this was one of the first things we sorted out on arrival. I’m still figuring out the best set-up for transition myself, and ended up learning a trick from Heidi! Supposedly, by putting talcum powder in your socks, they slide on to wet feet more easily and therefore you don’t have to faff around trying to pull them on. Neat! With Heidi and my transitions set up, we met up with another friend Hanif, who Heidi had convinced to do this race. It was also his first triathlon, but he seemed ready to just get going.
When you sign up for the tri, you are asked to give an accurate 400m pool swim time, as well as an expected overall finish time. This is used to divide competitors up in to four waves, with strange magic/calculations to determine who starts when. Heidi was in wave A and I was in C, so I was able to watch her complete her swim before getting ready for my own race. For someone who only recently learned how to front-crawl, Heidi did a brilliant job in the pool. It was great to be able to watch her go and cheer her on whenever I thought she could hear.
This sprint tri has slightly strange distances, as the pool swim is 432m (12 x 36m laps) and cycle is 21.5km before finishing with a standard 5km run. During the pool section, swimmers are set off at 10sec intervals, and you have to dive under the lane rope once you reach the shallow end, so that you end up snaking your way through the pool.
I had race number 243, and started an hour or so after Heidi set off on her triathlon. I had no real expectations for this race given that I’d just run Reykjavik; but had also written down some target times months ago which would land me with a PB time for this race. The only problem was: I couldn’t remember what those times were! Ah well, just had to go for it then.
My swim was going well, and I knew I was keeping up a good pace, as although a guy overtook me, I also overtook someone in front. (Annoyingly the guy took his merry time to duck under the lane rope and get going again, during which I had to wait patiently, grr.) Faffed a bit in Transition 1 (need to try the talc powder trick!), and then got stuck behind a dude jogging his way out of the gate. Come on mate, let’s move! Saw Heidi coming in just as I was heading out, and managed to give her a ‘whoop!’ as we passed.
On the bike I just put my head down and pushed as hard as I could. I remember a comment about last year’s race that my “thighs were on fire” and once again I felt exactly the same. They hurt but I just kept on pushing onwards, strangely able to continue the effort despite the pain. The bike is still my weakest area, but at the same time I know I’ve improved a lot this year.
Reached the 7-minute race dead-zone at the end of the bike (to allow competitors to safely turn at a red light and make their way back to transition) and was able to shake out my legs a little before time resumed. Quick change and out on the run – except I didn’t notice that the run had started! Had to ask a marshal and quickly start my watch on learning that yes, I’d already covered some 200m. Oops! Once again it was go-time, pushing through to maintain a fast pace. I used the other competitors as markers and chased them down one-by-one, thankfully not getting passed by anyone.
As I came through some of the sections of the run I heard Heidi and Hanif cheering, and then there they were again as I crossed the finish line. Heidi had finished an hour or so before me and had been patiently waiting for me to get on with my race ? She and Hanif were both so proud to become triathletes, and it was a true cause for celebration! Although I didn’t get to see much of their races, both said that they had had so much fun, and Heidi was already talking about which race she could do next. Oh, and she finished in a cracking 1:21 – very impressive for a debut!
I finished the race in 1:16:44, which is a 8 minute 13 second improvement on last year’s effort, and put me as 10th female in the F20-29 category (out of 81). I even managed to smash all those target times I had written down except for the swim… so I may need to come back again next year!