Race day

So, there I was, 7th June 2015. Race day.

My brother had come over the day before and in the afternoon, we drove to the race grounds to take a look at where we would be swimming, cycling and running. It wasn’t at all daunting! Well, maybe just a lot. We also picked up our race numbers and t-shirt. We decided to drive the bike route in an attempt to find where the hills were and tried to plan out when was the best time to take a gel. Even though I had done so much more than that distance in training, it felt very long when driving around it. That evening, back at home, he joined me in eating a double amount of fresh spaghetti with smoked salmon and tomatoes. He was just as excited as I was for his first triathlon. After we had eaten, we checked over our kit. Discipline at a time, we made sure we had everything:
Swimming: Tri-suit, goggles, lube, wetsuit, swim cap
Cycling: Helmet, socks, shoes, glasses, gels, bike, toolkit, pump, spare inner-tubes, computer
Running: Shoes
But, you mustn’t forget the 4th discipline:
Transition: race number, towel, talcum powder (useful to dry wet feet), spare gels, water, safety pins

After we were sure that we had everything, we put it all safely into the car (except the bikes – we’d do them in the morning) then went to bed.

0500 wake up. Groan. Up we got, had some granola and coffee then went to put the bikes onto the carrier on the car. Race start was at 0800 (there always so early!) so we left the house at 0600 to we made sure to give ourselves plenty of time. My wife and son were going to see use racing later on so they stayed in bed whilst we went off.

When we got there, we showed off our race numbers (one on the helmet, one on the bike, and on around the waist) and headed into the transition area to set up our kit. Everything thing is based on those numbers, including where your transition area is. My brother’s was quite far away from mine so we split up for a bit and got ready. In a huge coincidence, to my left was a fellow Freedom Tri member setting up his kit. He was there is the full black and green (club colours) tri-suit and had a very nice bike. I introduced myself as a new member and we got to chatting. He gave me a few pointers, such as putting talcum powder in my socks, then my socks in my shoes, and I shared with him my failure to prepare and only swimming open-water once, the day before. Shortly after, I went to see my brother and told him about the chap I had just met. At about 0730, we started getting our wet-suits on. Lube all over, legs in, arms in, squeeeeeze! I was in. I took my goggles and swim cap and headed over to the water’s edge before hearing the “clear out of transition” message over the tannoy system. I had taken a gel with me a chucked that down about 15 minutes before race-start. The super-sprint racers started before us (super-sprint is half the size of a sprint so they’re out of the way quickly) so they set off at about 0745. I tried to watch their strokes as they hit the water to see if there was anything I could copy. There wasn’t. At about 0750, we were invited to enter the water to warm up. I was expecting to be treading water for about 10 minutes before the race which was not something I was looking forward to. As it goes, I was ankle deep in goose shit for 10 minutes. I’m not sure which one I would have preferred. Anyhow, I dunked my head under water a few times and made sure my suit got suitably full of water. My brother wanted to be in the back of the pack, out of the way of the swinging arms and legs) so moved back a bit. I was quite keen to get the feeling of the mass start (as I thought it would be my only race) so stayed in the centre. I got chatting to the racer next to me. It was his first time, too so we shared our stories and wished each other luck before the claxon rang.
And we were off! Arms and legs flailing all over the place, I went off at a much faster pace than I had expected or planned. It was an out and back lap which saw us going down stream to start with, then back up against the current. Somehow I managed to do it all in one go – not stopping except to adjust my goggles once after a stray elbow clocked me in the face. Climbing out of the water was quite an interesting experience; going from horizontal to vertical and running on wobbly legs just didn’t feel quite right but I made it up and started taking off my suit as I made it into transition. My brother had finished before me and was already getting into his cycling gear by the time I had reached my station. By this point, my wife and son had turned up and were shouting to us from the fence. It was a real boost to see them. After a few minutes, I was all ready to go. I took another gel before taking my bike off the racking and making my way to the bike start.

There is a line that you must cross before you can get on your bike, for safety reasons. I waited until that line, went a little further and tucked to the side so that I didn’t get in the way of any of the faster people. Still sporting jelly legs, I climbed onto my bike and got moving. People were cheering all along the channel out onto the road and I saw my wife and son one last time before heading out for the rest of the lap. I tried to remember what we had seen before in the recce and when I should be conserving energy for upcoming hills, etc. My mind had gone blank so I just went for it. Powering up the first hill, I passed quite a few people. It was exhilarating! Though that feeling didn’t last too long as I was passed by quite a few of them when we reached the flat. I had gone out too fast and was already paying for it. I spent the next couple of miles going easy and making sure that I didn’t expend to much unnecessary energy. After a while, I got into the flow and had a pretty comfortable speed. There were still faster people overtaking me, but that was ok –I was only new to this and had reduced my training due to my dodgy knee (which was still feeling quite dull). All I cared about was completing the course. About half way around the bike lap, I remembered a big hill we had come across the day before. I thought there was a light downhill section which led to it so that I could get some kind of momentum built up before tackling it. I was wrong. The light downhill was actually a light uphill. So I had to work to keep my pace up this hill before reaching the main hill. It was horrid. Just before I reached the bottom of the hill, I found the smallest gear I had on the bike and started spinning. This seemed to work quite well and before long, I was overtaking people who were trying to force their way up in a higher gear. Thanks, Global Cycling Network on YouTube for that advice!
The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful and the last mile or so was downhill so I rested my legs a little and just let the bike take me back (though I did keep my eyes open this time – I was lucky not have fallen off that last time!).
Just before transition, there was a Marshall calling for riders to dismount before the line. If anybody went over the line, they’d be disqualified. To make sure I wasn’t one of those people, I got off way, way too early. I ran the last little bit back into transition, hung my bike up on the rack, and started preparing for the run.

You may have realised that I made no mention of my running training in this blog, so far. That’s because there wasn’t any. I have never enjoyed running. I tried it for a few weeks, a couple of years before, but it made my lungs burn and I didn’t enjoy it so I gave up. I thought 5k would be fine and that training would be pointless, anyway. Boy, was I wrong.
With my shoes tied and race number spun round, I headed off to the run exit. Still cheering from the sidelines were my wife and son. It was awesome fuel; however, my run fitness was at such a poor level that I thudded along for a short amount of time then had to stop, catch my breath and then walk for a while. People say run-walk-run is a good way to train and to do long distance races – but this was neither. It was humiliating. After doing the swim and the bike, you’d have thought I could muster up a bit more stamina to take me further than, if I’m being generous, 300m at a time. Anyhow, on I went run-walk-run-walk-run-walk-run all the way around the park. I can’t remember how many laps it was (maybe 2 or 4?) but each time I made it back to the beginning, I’d get another fill of cheer-energy from the family. My brother had finished by the time I was about half-way round the run. He was waiting for me at the finish line.
My feet felt like they were on fire, and my knee was in agony but I knew that I’d hate myself if I stopped short of the finish line. “It’s only 5k,” I’d tell myself, “4k”, “3k”, “2k”, on the last part of the final lap, I heard everyone cheering – seriously, the support at these events is unreal. I was so close to the end and veered away from the lap marker down towards the finishers chute. As I got closer, I saw a whole group of Freedom Tri members who had cycled across to watch the race and cheer on their club mates. Some of them recognised me from the club aquathlon, weeks before, and started shouting and cheering: “Come on, Robb!” followed by “You can do this” and my favourite “Sprint finish! Sprint finish! Sprint finish!”. Well, I couldn’t let them down now, could I. So, with their chanting behind me and my family in front, I charged down towards the line and fast as my legs could take me. I had done it.

1:54:51 – A personal best; A personal first; A personal victory.

I was on such a high after completing the race, I forgot all about the pain in my knee, the fact that I couldn’t breathe and the thought’s of driving home with dead legs. It was absolutely fantastic. I took a banana and electrolyte drink from the table and went to see my family and new friends.  Never had I thought that I’d do something like that, but I did. And not only that, as I was walking back to my car, my brother and I were already talking about which areas we could improve on and changes to the usage of gels etc. So, as soon as we were back at the car, I signed up for the next race in the series. And, for good measure, I signed up for the 3rd one, as well. You got a free hooded top if you did all 3 and who am I to miss out on free stuff!

Hands in the air – Happy as I’ve ever been, yet so glad to be finished.

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