Back in the saddle
So, it is no secret that my return to triathlon was causing some concern after a terrible performance at the Aquathlon last weekend… this was compounded by a tummy bug mid-week which pretty much put pay to the “eat healthily and heartily” preparation. By Friday I was a nervous wreck – my body felt under-prepared and my mind was wandering freely through all the worst-case scenarios my fertile imagination could concoct. Sunday dawned and I just wanted to get on with it. No nerves, no excitement, just fear.
As I drove to Pitsford Water to assembly the kit ready for the carnage, I didn’t really feel anything. I had slept well, I had eaten well for a couple of days and was surprisingly calm driving along and singing lustily to Frank Turner. This would be fine. Time would pass and it would be over. Excellent.
My first challenge was trying to recall how the hell to set up in transition. More than 5 years has elapsed since I last had to lay 2 pairs of shoes, race belt, helmet etc etc out on a small rectangle of ground next to my bike… ah, yes, my bike. I have recently purchased a shiny new, lightweight bike. It is a thing of beauty, but not set up in time for today’s adventure, so I was to rely on the lovely Claud. He (yes, I assign gender and names to my equipment) is an old man. When I bought him new over 5 years ago, he was very high spec… and with some tlc and coaxing was in good condition to be thrown into the ring.
Transition sorted, wetsuit donned and dodgy swim hat in place, we listened attentively to the briefing. The swim looked straight forward (my fears here were water temperature and wave height – Pitsford is renowned for having white caps!), the bike was to be well marked and the run was simply a lap of the lake – something I have done far too often! We wished each other good luck and tentatively toed into the water. Hurrah, it was warm! A depp water start meant a chance to warm up the arms and legs a bit before the off, and then it was a mild frenzy of arms and legs. The swim was perfect – not the quickest ever, but warm, calm and easy to navigate (I can get lost in a small lake). A few swimmers were getting excited and weaving wonderfully to and fro across the lake, some even delightfully taking a short cut across me. This is where I am grateful for a lot of open water practice – I plodded on regardless. Before long, we were heading for the exit ramp and were helpfully guided out by a couple of friendly marshals. Instead of trying to run and undo my wetsuit (it’s been too long, and I knew I would fall over), I walked up to transition, removing the top half and remembering all the advice I have ever been given on a graceful, simply removal of tight neoprene… which I then disregarded and wrestled the thing off like it was attacking me. Race belt, helmet, shoes all on, I trotted off to the mount line – about 200m away. Once mounted (again, opting for the old lady going to the shops mount), I was off. Up, out of Pitsford Water and left along the A508. A left at Brixworth saw us onto smaller, more country roads. It was lovely. These were roads I knew well from long adventures on two feet rather than two wheels, but it was a different view speeding along (relative) and enjoying the fact that Claud seemed to be having a good day. Now, I had been warned that there were some hills on the course, which is understandable. I have run many of them. Swearing. However, I am struggling to recall a hill that caused me any issues. My legs were tight, but they felt strong, and I even dabbled with staying on the big ring for some of them (encouraged by last weekend’s training performance when the gears got stuck!). Yes, I was over taken by many in the first half of the bike – that is a standard I am used to, but by 25-30k I was pulling people in, overtaking some that had passed me earlier and reeling in those that had already been ahead. Now, I’m not claiming any great bike prowess here, I just think that my ultra mentality of “start steady and you’ll get there” won out over those that had gone out too hard. The other trick that I was proud of was my nutrition. Reading back through accounts of ultras and marathons, where I have failed miserably to adequately fuel and therefore having a bad day at the office, has taught me that when I can, I need to shove as much nutrition into my body as possible. For this I had bought a top bar bag and crammed it with bars, jelly babies and a gel. I even had a strategy – energy bar early on, followed by jelly babies at intervals as well as drink – the gel was for the start of the run. Blimey, it’s like I can learn from my own experience or something… so, with a well-fuelled body and a brain ticking off all the things I was doing right, the miles passed until I was cruising back down towards the lake and the final piece of the puzzle… a 10k run.
I have never done an Olympic distance triathlon before, so how my legs would respond to running 10k after 40k on the bike was new territory. I know my legs can carry me a very long way, so that was my mental anchor point. After a slightly more graceful T2, I wobbled out onto the run. Anyone who has never tried to coordinate running legs after a long bike ride need to picture what it would be like to suddenly have an extra leg attached and lead weights around the ankles. Add to that the fact the brain is desperately trying to get a whole new set of muscles to fire, which really do not want to be involved, thank you very much. With this beautiful flailing of limbs, the first 2k were a mess. Not just for me, judging my the varying strides, shuffles and grimaces I was very much not alone in my pain. However, to my surprise, I found my stride and picked up a pretty good pace, with legs that started to feel good. Yes, good!! I had a chat with a lovely bloke from Wootton and then carried on down the long side of Pitsford (as a loop, it has a long side and a short side – glad we started on the long!). I was enjoying myself. I kept having to question my sanity and whether I was still conscious (it occurred to me that I may have passed out somewhere and this was a beautiful dream), but the kilometres kept passing and I kept feeling fine. I stopped (ultra running protocol) for a drink of water at about 6k and then pootled on my way – still over-taking people! It is a strange feeling to be reminded that I have been a runner for quite some time in such an interesting way. I would never have bet that it would be the strength of a triathlon! Eventually, the final kilometre beckoned and I kicked up a little, more as a test than any serious racing drive. Again, I overtook a couple of people (always feel a bit guilty for doing that at the end of a race) and smiled as I crossed the line.
I would love to be able to adequately express the emotions I experienced at the end, but my vocabulary (and quite possibly the language) does not stretch far enough to do it justice. I was happy (no, ecstatic… overjoyed), in a state of disbelief, surprise, doubt… what had just happened? Surely I hadn’t just done well at my first Oly? Not only that, did I really feel this ok? I received my printout and had a brief chat with members of Rugby Tri… but I needed some time to absorb. The printout said it all – I had done ok. In fact, possibly more than ok.
The chore of packing up transition and then heading home allowed time to further ponder. Yes, it had been hard, don’t get me wrong on that. What was really getting my cogs whirring was the fact that I had loved it. Genuinely, every painful moment, every hill, every smack in the face…loved it. I also felt good. Too good. This started the perennial “should I have pushed harder?” questioning… but I knew that my main aim here had been to enjoy the ride (literally and metaphorically)… and that had been achieved by the bucket load. My mind now turns to September… a little middle distance jaunt that had been looming like a black cloud on the horizon, but now I know that (as long as training continues on course and I can refrain from too much stupidity (only 1 ultra planned), I could well do ok at that as well… interesting, eh?