As is obvious from this blog, I do a bit of cycling. This year I started doing my club time trial, and this led me to think about what other competitive ways I could find to stretch myself. As a kid I swam competitively at school and club level so the combination of swimming and cycling offered by a triathlon was appealing. The only problem is that I don’t have any fondness for running.
The solution was to find and enter a locally run sprint triathlon, in the form of the HSV September Triathlon, held at the Herts Sports Village just down the road. The definition of a sprint isn’t strict, and this one involved a 400m pool swim, 20k bike section and a 5k run. I reckoned I’d be able to cope with 5k.
I had a couple of months before entering and the event itself. Despite good intentions my training didn’t extend beyond one pool session and a single outing at the St. Albans Park Run, just to make sure I could actually run 5k!
I was quite pleased with a time of just over 24 minutes, but had no idea if I’d be able to do that after the swim and bike. I’d read about brick sessions when for instance you start a run straight after a session on the bike, but I decided for this first attempt to just go along and firstly see if I liked it and secondly set an un-trained base level from which I could improve.
The one thing I did do was purchase a minimum of tri-specific gear, in this case:
- A one-piece tri-suit used for all three disciplines. Made from quick drying technical fabric and including a thin chamois for the bike leg. It saves any need for clothing changes in transition.
- A race belt that allows you to quickly put on your race number for the cycle, where it has to be visible from the back, and to flip it around for the run when it needs to be visible from the front, again saving time and complexity in transition.
- Elasticated laces for my running shoes. These speed up the second transition, do not come undone, and don’t require much dexterity to do up (important if your hands are cold!)
On the day myself and friends Paul and Fiona left the house at stupid o’clock to get to the sports village, get registered and set up in transition for the briefing at 6:15am. On entering I’d been asked for an estimated time for the 400m swim and this decided the starting order. I’d pessimistically put ten minutes (I’d be gutted if it took that long) as it seems did a lot of other people. I’d be starting in 113th place out of the 239 entrants present.
Whilst waiting for my start it was apparent that the swimmers in front of me would be holding me up. The swim was organised so that you do two lengths in each lane before ducking under the ropes into the next. Thus, you start on one side of the pool and exit on the other into T1. When my time came I caught the guy in front within the first length, giving him a tap on the feet to let him know I was there (harder to do than it sounds!) As per the briefing he let me pass at the end of the length. This continued throughout and I passed about ten people, only being able to get proper tumble turns in on about half of the lengths that didn’t involve a lane change. I concentrated on not using my legs for anything more than stability in order to save them for the later segments and on keeping a comfortable pace. I completed the 400m in 7 minutes 24 seconds. Given a clearer run I might have got just under the 7 minute mark without needing to go all out.
Out of the pool I headed into transition and my bike. Again, other than thinking a bit about the order I’d do things in I’d done no transition training so it was a case of on with socks and cycling shoes (I chose to wear socks as I’d never cycled with wet unclothed feet before and now was not the time to try) sunglasses, race belt and helment, then grab the bike and head out. T1 took 1 minute 35 seconds.
There was a bit of a run from the T1 exit to the mount point but soon enough I was on the bike and heading out onto roads I know very well (the halfway point was at the end of my road!) In theory the bike is my strongest segment, but with hindsight I under-paced myself in fear of the run leg. I completed the basically flat 20km in 40 minutes 59 seconds which, not withstanding the 2x 200m or so of running from transition to mount/dismount point was quite slow, at an average of around 18mph. To put that in perspective, two days before I’d ridden 50 miles at 19mph average, and in my 10 mile TT personal best I’d averaged 20.6mph on a much hillier course. In hindsight one factor was that in order to save time in transition I’d opted not to use my Garmin so had no speed or heart-rate data with which to pace myself properly. It was also the case that I simply didn’t know how much to conserve so was probably conservative in riding a higher than normal cadence in a lower than normal gear to keep my legs fresh.
On the bike leg. Tri-suits are not a fashion statement!
On completion of the bike leg however I had passed lots of people who started before me and had been passed by only one with higher start numbers. T2 was much simpler – rack the bike, take off helmet and cycle shoes, flip round belt and put on running shoes (the elasticated laces worked very well here) and I was out in 1 minute 10 seconds onto the run course.
The run consisted of four laps of the sports village. After each lap we were given a rubber band. Three bands and you knew you were on the final lap. I set off at a pace I felt I could keep up for the entirety. I didn’t get any particular weird feeling coming off the bike onto the run, which again suggests I’d held too much back. Aerobically I felt ok, and in so far as I could ever enjoy running, it was all fine. However I resisted picking up the pace until the final 500m or so and finished the run in 25 minutes 17 seconds, over a minute down on my Park Run outing. At the finish I felt fine, and really knew that I could have left more out on the course.
The net result was an overall time of 1 hour 16 minutes and 22 seconds which saw me finish 74th out of 239 starters, and 9th out of 35 in the Male 35-39 group. Overall this was really pleasing given if asked I’d have said I was aiming to get under 90 minutes. What’s more important is that I absolutely loved the whole experience, so much so that I am already signed up for my next one in October, have arranged to go along to my local masters swimming club training and will be hitting the Park Run a lot more often!
From looking at the results, it is obvious (and expected) that the run is where I have most room for improvement. However encouragingly I think there is time to be shaved in all areas so I’m really looking forward to having another go, armed with a better idea of how to approach it.
Finally, a word about the event organisation. It was simply brilliant. The timing setup was very impressive, with the ability to get a print-out of your time/splits as soon as you had finished. The marshalls were friendly, encouraging and plentiful, the cycle route very well signed and basically everything ran like clockwork. Congratulations to everybody involved in putting it on. I look forward to the next one in May!