A great day and gruelling experience, but very much worth it even if I did lose to my 2 work colleagues. Here is My Virgin Active London Triathlon Experience 2013.
After 6 months of training the day had come to compete in the Olympic Length London Triathlon. So to sum up this is 1500 metres swimming in open water (The royal docks by London City Airport), 40Km cycle from the excel centre to big ben and back, and 10km run outside the excel centre.
In the build up I had yet to do a full length swim in open water but was comfortable with swimming. Cycling was something I hated, and had to download full length films to prevent boredom of sitting on a bike in the gym for nearly an hour and a half. Going outside on the bike wasn’t much better, thanks to living in a village outside of reading, the roads are horrible with pot holes and cracks and murderous hills. I had bought a road racing bike in the january sales for £200, only to find out weeks later that my two rival competitors (my 40+ year old boss & my captain of essex rugby team colleague) that their bike were both worth over £5,000. Ouch. I was the underdog with 0 years cycling/swimming experience.
However with youth being my advantage (24 compared to 27 & 40+) I felt confident.
There is so much to pack but I will try to list all that I took on the day, including a handy reference photo.
Tri Powder (Carb Drink), Choc energy bar, Energy Gels x 10, Race belt with race number attached, Trainers, Socks, Tri Top & Shorts, Towels x 2, Porridge pack, Caffeine Tablets, Helmet, Bike, Vaseline, Googles + Spare, Race number stickers, Entry band, Water bottles x 2, Earphones, Clothes for after, Toilet paper, Wetsuit, Sun glasses, Bike gloves, Bike pump & repair kit.
Plenty of stuff there. Luckily I was staying at my brothers the night before in London, and was getting dropped off in the morning. I would suggest thinking ahead, even a hotel nearby would be good, as car parking is £15!
So after a good night sleep (bed by 10) I was up at 5am for my 8am start. This was not so difficult, already running on adrenaline, and I’m used to early starts with commuting to work. Once I arrived at the excel centre you get a feel for how big this event really is. The hall is massive, and packed with stalls.
Firstly you get your ankle timing chip and head to rack up your bike. The bike area is really really big, but not daunting. There are about 2/3 rows for each wave time, which are easy to spot. So it comes down to bike positioning. I did not think ahead and racked my bike up at the front thinking I was being smart. 5 mins later I realised the swim exit and bike entrance/exit are down the far end. Oh well too late now.
What I did do well, down to luck, was racking up next to my work colleague. As we were in the same wave we could put our stuff together, a bike on either side and create a space as big as we liked to put all our gear. This was clearly worth doing as once the late comers arrive, you find the put there bike in the tiniest gaps, overlapping your bike and being generally the waste of space that late comers are.
Using my Sheffield Wednesday towel (I thought not many people would have one of these out of shame if anything) I marked our bike space. This is useful as after the swim you are surprisingly dizzy and the bike are can be busy and an utter mess of wetsuits.
So off to the swim entrance, wetsuit on & google in hand, it was fair to say I was nervous. I have been swimming in open water and hated how dirty it was. I was very concerned I would not want to stick my head under. Our wave gathered and were giving our hats and a quick intro. There was the option to see a video while waiting around earlier, but being a cocky 24 year old I skipped that. To be honest I would only suggest that for people who genuinely are worried, as it is simply a guidance video.
So just before we stepped outside to jump in, the announcer called out 2 names and asked them to come to the front. “So these two chaps here, are training for the Rio Olympics, feel free to race them.” Or in other words, these two are going to make us all look very silly and slow. Great.
Our wave was broken up into 2 groups as there was 500+ people. I hung back and was in the smaller second group, which was probably a good idea, as the start was very messy. You jump in and have very little time to acclimatise, so do what you can while finding a good position. I wasn’t confident so didn’t feel up to taking the inside lane, but more a middle approach. To be honest, unless you really really can’t swim, the start is a massacre and you will be in amongst swimmers no matter what.
The hooter went off and we were away. I considered attacking early with front crawl, but this was impossible. The water becomes so choppy and everyone is splashing about each other, it was easy to panic. By 100 meters, I was knackered and so was my colleague. It felt like I couldn’t carry on at all simply because of how much breaststroke takes it out of your arms. However, this is normal, and you should not think you are struggling. It’s a long swim up to the first turn, and I must have gone under the rope marking the inside a few times. I couldn’t get into my front crawl and had to focus on breaststroke until the bend. But once you make it there, you are in. Everyone has spaced out, and the water calms down. More importantly, it was very very clean and clear. I could happily get my head under and not worry about swallowing water. Although the slow start had put me back a bit, once my head was down and breathing was calm I was making up the spaces and even enjoying the swim. This was supposed to be the worst part, but started to become a casual swim.
After a long time I got to the swim exit, completely missed the ramp when I tried to grab it, but luckily was pulled out, and even helped out of my wetsuit as I was very dizzy. Brief look at my watch, approx 42 mins, not bad considering I’ve never swam that far in my life. And my legs weren’t tired as I barely kicked after the first bend.
I found my bike easily, mainly because my colleague had been and gone leaving a space, but I knew I would be behind him from the start so carried on without a care. Onto the bike thinking that I could once again get my head down and plough on.
This is were it all went very very wrong. I was confident that even though I’m a slow starter on the bike, I can build up some serious pace once I settle. This didn’t happen. There were several slip roads which although were not a big climb, effectively destroyed me. I didn’t have cleats or shoes attached to pedals, which in hindsight made it very very hard. I could only pedal down and not up like 90% of the other competitors could. This made hills a big challenge and wore me down. I couldn’t pick up the pace and was starting to be over taken a lot. Starting 30 mins behind my wave was the elite women. Half an hour is a big gap and almost all of the swim, but by 15 mins into the cycling, you could hear there expensive bike rims cutting through the air behind you.
“On your right!!!”
The shout is clear and a warning. Basically move out of my way and be quick about it. I was in no position to disagree or even try to pull away, and before I knew it a flash of women with their countries written on their back flew past. This was the case for the next hour and a half, and although I had no problem with being overtaken, the fact I had a half hour head start begins to be demoralising. By the time I reached Big Ben, I knew any chance of beating my colleagues were over.
Both expert cyclists, I knew I would lose time to them but was confident I can make it up on the run. I was already 40 minutes behind by the time I got to the run, having an extra 40 minutes of cycling under my belt, I was not going to be running at my best.
One thing to note is the humungous hill to climb as you come in on your bike. The smile on my face as I was coming to the bike exit was wiped off quickly. It felt like it took a minute to get up the hill.
My transition was however something I excelled in. The swim transition was under 4 minutes, and the cycling transition was around the 2 minute mark. This was in the top 1000 transition times on the day (out of 5000).
Out on the to run, after going the wrong way and missing the run entrance, I caught a glimpse of my colleague as he was coming in on his final lap. Well thats the bet over, now it was only pride left. Thankfully I got to the first turn to be greeting by the girlfriend, her family and my family. A massive boost created I even built up to a sprint. I was later to pay for that with a stitch, so decided to walk at the water station and enjoy a drink.
The other notable thing on the run was the shower. Half way round was the most beautiful site of the day, a monsoon shower you run under. Considering how hot it was you made sure you slowed down when running under it.
There was also several photographers around, and once you gathered where they were, you could time you run so that you were building up some serious speed as they snapped you. No one needs to know I walked at any point .
By the final lap I was near sprinting, well running as fast as I could to the finish, and got in at 3 hours, 29 mins, 56 seconds. Not a great time, but not the worst. A towel and medal were giving to me and the relief of being done! I’m a hero, horaay.
Take advantage of the free recovery protein shake, which paid off the next day. An off to celebrate with a sunday roast and drink. I may even return next year.