Triathlon Relays… all the fun of a 24 hour race, condensed

Triathlon Relays… all the fun of a 24 hour race, condensed

 
So, last Saturday saw me take part in something I have never experienced before: The National Triathlon Relays at The National Watersports Centre near Nottingham. 
On arrival, the field already resembled the organised chaos I am used to from large scale events, so we all got parked up and then shouldered kit bags and bikes to find the club gazebo. The event area was more unusual: gazebos scattered around the main area like territorial statements. Close to the event village of a 24 hour race, but with less sense of prolonged expectation. The buzz was already immense, as there were still people racing from the morning session. We set up our base camp and waited for the rest of our teams to arrive- 11 teams of 4 people in total. 
Anticipation started to rise as the time for the first person from each team to set off. Now, this is where the format is totally different to any form of relay I have ever done as a runner. In each 4, every person has the same number, but a different letter. Our team was 286, I was B. this meant that I was the second person to go for each leg. We each had a timing chip and the first team member had a rubber wrist band, to be passed between us as we handed over. All clear so far…
So, Shayne was first to swim for our team, “The Wright Stuff”. He waited at the entry to the swim, whilst all the second swimmers waited behind a barrier… now, this was fine. Yes, it was hot. Yes, we all felt like boil-in-the-bag sausages, but we cheered and clapped as they set off. I then looked around. Ah, yes… a lot of people all dressed in black rubber with identical white hats… with our counterparts about to exit the water looking similarly identical in red hats. Hmmmm, how to identify someone you’ve just met based on no clear features… yep, that’s right: lots of scanning for approximate size and gender and then a lot of shouting of names. A lot. From everyone. It was a very odd experience. Once I had the wrist band I scooted off into the water to do the 500m lap. Easy enough, even if it did involve the added obstacles of people doing heads-up breast stroke, stopping to sight and generally being in the way. Swim time could have been better had I realised just how short it was and that the rest afterwards means you don’t have to keep anything back for the bike, but I was reasonably pleased with it considering I don’t do sprinting.
Then it was a case of get back to base, get bike kit on and wait for my turn on the bike leg. It was a hot day, so hanging around in a wet tri-suit was not an issue and it was a luxury to be able to eat and drink properly between legs. After some time in the shade, the B people went down to the bike changeover to watch the A cyclists doing their laps and to wait for the handover. The bike consisted of 3 laps around the lake at the Watersports Centre, each lap approx. 5km. We tried to guess which lap our team members were on and kept an eagle eye on those coming into the transition area. Again, not so easy when a lot of people were wearing similar kit and helmets tend to look very similar… eventually I spotted my esteemed leader coming in and fought my way to the hay bales… rubber band on, I clip-clopped to my bike and was away, joining the flow like an F1 car coming out of the pit lane (just not as fast). My 3 laps were fine. No need to change gears due to the flatness of the course, good straights to build speed and the breeze caused by cycling helped to stave off the heat. My usual issues of movement and counting were overcome with focus on which number lap I was on, which was made easier still by the fact that there was not a lot else to do. I was overtaken by the super speedy (TT bikes and very fast riders), but was pleased that I overtook quite a few myself each lap. Coming into the handover area was another treat – after dismount, the lovely people take the bike while the band is handed over (to the wonderful Eric). Then the transition elves deliver the bike to the exit of the transition area and I returned to the gazebo. Again, plenty of time to eat, tend to a blister, visit the facilities and generally have a bit of a chat before we headed to the final area – the run changeover pen. Now, this was more familiar territory. It resembled a smaller version of the runner handover areas at 24 hour races, with expectant team members watching intently for their runner coming in and working out strategy. I was mainly trying to swat flying ants, praying for rain and hoping that the run would just pass without me having to actually experience it. 5k. Not my favourite distance. In fact, the distance at which I experience the desire to stop, throw up and generally find something else to do for two thirds of it. So, imagine my joy as a very hot, tired Shayne approached the pen and I set off. 
My knees complained for about 400m. Then my body realised that it was hot and turned its attention to this issue. I ploughed on. I focussed on making sure it felt horrible and uncomfortable at all points, as this would mean I was running at a reasonable pace. The first long straight was the worst in terms of mental endurance. The end of the lake didn’t seem to get any closer, it was hot and keeping the legs going at a decent cadence required effort. I overtook some people, which surprised and pleased me in equal measure. Then we turned along the top of the lake and hit the long straight that would lead into the handover pen. I was trying to pick a point at which to kick… wondering if I had anything left considering I had been pushing from the start. The sun kept appearing, scorching the face and making it even harder to find the reserves needed. Eventually, the pen came into view and I realised I didn’t have much to give, so just held on until I finally got the band onto Eric’s wrist and almost collapsed as I stumbled to get some water. That was it, my part in the story was done and I was fairly pleased with my efforts. 
Once it was all done, we came 6th out of the 11 teams there for the club and that was ok. Not as bad as it could have been… What I took from the experience was the sense of an event that is an interesting way to test at each discipline without the worry of transition. If I were to do it again, I would definitely push harder on the swim and bike because of this. It was good to push because of the sense that others relied on your performance, and also the support that they gave was great. It also allowed me to meet members of the club that I didn’t know. It was an interesting, quirky and fun event that brought together lots of local clubs (great to see some old faces from Cov Tri there). The thing that struck me most was how quickly it was over. For all the build up, excitement and buzz, the event itself was fairly swift and before I knew it, I was heading home for a well earned beer and a terrible game of rugby.
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