The final triathlon of the series wasn’t for another couple of months and I wanted to make sure that my training didn’t falter. I decided that doing a race in August would act as a bit of motivation to keep me training until September. That’s when I remembered – The Duck ‘n’ Dash – Freedom Tri’s very own event! It was on the 23rd of August so it was a perfect time to get some more training in and race, with enough time before the next one that I didn’t overdo it.
For this one, I managed to rope in Dean. He’s my oldest friend and was best man at my wedding. I think what got him involved, as well as me asking him, was that I was outdoing him with these events and even starting to wear smaller clothes than him (I was always the big one, he was always the sporty one)! However, he was/ is not a swimmer.
He lived a few hours drive away so we decided to make a weekend out of it. He arrived on the Friday evening; we had a pizza and caught up on everything. Soon chat turned to the race. It was an 800m outdoor pool swim followed by a 5km run around the neighbouring park. He sounded pretty confident – “doesn’t sound like a long distance in the pool – plus, 5km isn’t far”. I remember saying that before.
The day before the race, we left my house and we went off to have a dip in the pool and get used to it a bit. As it goes, it happened to be one of the hottest days in the world, since ever. This meant that the outdoor pool was completely packed and we couldn’t even park the car, let alone swim some lengths. So we tried the next outdoor pool – same problem. We thought we’d try our luck and see if the indoor pool had any space. We were in luck! The nice weather had nicely drawn everyone out of the indoor pools so that we had it almost all to ourselves. It wasn’t the same length of the pool we’d be in the next day but I told Dean that it was (tomorrow’s pool was longer). We got to swimming and he, like me back in January, had not done any swimming in a long, long time. It was quite obvious but so you would expect! I must have looked very much the same when I first got back in the pool – though I hadn’t signed up for a 800m swim the next day! Madness aside, I gave him some pointers which I had learnt whilst swimming with the club. The most important piece of advice: pretend there’s a £2 coin tucked between your buttocks. Keep them clenched so that it doesn’t drop! This brings your legs up and keeps them kicking in a better position that loosely kicking all over the place. This helped a little but there was still a fair amount of work to do. After a while, we decided to just kick about in the pool for a bit longer before going out and finding somewhere for a coffee. He sounded a little worried about taking part, as you can imagine, but I managed to talk him into it. What worked best was “I’m doing it, surely you can, too.”
The next morning, we got our kit together and headed off to the outdoor pool. I had to lend him some goggles so that he didn’t get water in his eyes. He also borrowed some shorts as he had only brought one pair and didn’t like the idea of running in wet shorts. I, on the other hand, had my tri-suit to wear which dried quite quickly (and I was used to wearing it). As we were quite early, we got some time to chat with some of the other club members (some racing, some marshalling) and introduce Dean. We mentioned to some of the pool Marshalls that he wasn’t the most confident swimmer so may be a bit slow. Being the friendliest triathlon club in Hertfordshire, they were all very accommodating of this and assured him that there’s plenty of time and there’s nothing to worry about; the pool’s big enough to stand up in.
The races started with the children’s race. There were various lengths and they all looked to be having a great time. After them came the next race. This was for adults and was half the size of the one we were doing. Once the final racer had started, our one was lined up. They called us down in order of estimated swim time. This way, there was less chance of people being held up. As a more confident swimmer, I was further towards the front than Dean. Fortunately, as he had already met some people beforehand, he hung back and chatted to some of the other races in his estimated time slot. Claire and Max had also arrived at this time so were ready to take some pictures.
BANG! And they’re off! The racers were sent off every 20 seconds so that their times could be accurately taken. Before long, I was in the water and swimming ahead. There were strict rules about not passing people ahead of you until you got to the end of a lane, and if you want to pass, tap the feet of the person in front of you. I was stuck behind someone so tapped their feet. At the end of the lane, they kept going. I tapped again, same thing happened. I was getting so frustrated! After a while (with people passing us both) I also gave up on that rule and swam round it must have taken a good couple of minutes off my swim time. I wasn’t the happiest person when I got out of the pool. From what Claire tells me, Dean got into the pool just as I was about to get out. We had planned to meet on the run as he was much faster in that discipline than I was.
Out of the water, and not having to get out of my wet-suit, transition was pretty fast. Slipped my shoes on (no socks – saved me a good couple of minutes!), grabbed my hat, and scooted off in the direction of the park. It was all really well sign posted so I didn’t waste any time looking about for directions. Being on the grounds of the park, it felt really nice underfoot. I was still fairly slow and did a good amount of walking but I was keeping a decent pace. For a good while around the first lap, I was just a small bit behind another racer. As we were keeping a pretty even pace, on the next downhill, I decided to catch her up so I’d actually have someone to run with. It was quite nice, really – we were going at a slow enough pace that we were able to chat and also if I stopped to walk any, it wasn’t to hard to catch her up again. We stayed this way for the rest of the first lap and about half way into the second lap. That’s when my ankle went on me. The pain sheered through my ankle and made me stumble sideways. I thought I had tripped on something, or maybe landed awkwardly. After checking I was OK, the racer I had been running with carried on to complete the course. I sat on a tree stump, caught my breath and took my shoe off for a minute. I rolled my ankle around with my hand and when it started feeling a bit better, I put my shoe back on and carried on round for the rest of the lap, making sure to be careful where I was running. There were Freedom Tri club members all around the park acting as marshalls so I had plenty of encouragement to keep me going. I still had to walk a few more times but made sure to be running when I came round the final corner. As seems to be tradition now, when I got closer the finish line there were the chants of “sprint finish! Sprint finish!” I wasn’t sure if my ankle would allow it but I saw everyone at the end (including Claire and Max, who were chanting along with the rest) and it really fired me up. “Hell to the ankle,” I said to myself and ran like it was there was someone trying to overtake me.
At the finish line, I was given some flapjack and electrolyte drink, partook in the obligatory high-fives, and hugged Claire and Max. “Dean is on the run now,” Claire told me. Apparently he had an even tougher time in the swim then we’d expected. The first few lengths were pretty knackering for him but from, maybe length 5 or 6, it was a battle of wills. He had lost all energy in his arms and shoulders, his legs were drooping down and eventually had to resort to a modified doggy paddle. Of course, being a rugby lad, he didn’t want to quit. He didn’t have that mentality. Even when he was overtaken by the relay teams (who went in at the very end), he didn’t stop. I caught up with one of the swim marshalls (as the pool was now off-limits, so he came to see the runners) and he told me that it the most impressive display of mind-over-matter that he had ever seen. He was even more impressed when I told him that he had only really started swimming the day before! At each length end, he had encouraged Dean to keep going, that he was doing really well, and that if he wanted to stop, it didn’t matter. When he got out of the pool, not that he can remember this, but there was the most almighty cheer for him! People had waited back to see him complete the swim! Shortly after hearing this, he came past us, completing his first lap of the park. “I hate you!” he shouted at me as he went past. “Good!” I shouted back.
He complete the second lap in about 12 minutes or so and did not look like a happy bunny. “Dude,” he said, “that swim almost killed me.” That was all I got before he filled his face with flapjacks.
Claire shared with him some photos she had taken during the swim and run, then she had to take Max home. We stayed behind to watch the awards ceremony and chatted to some of the club members and other racers. Dean’s anger at me ‘forcing’ him to join sign up for this event soon turned to a hidden smugness as everyone told him how impressed and proud they were and that he’d be a welcome member of Freedom Tri (if he lived closer). After a while, we left and found a coffee shop to relax in. Cafe Nero – milkshake and a brownie. Our favourite combo. We were looking at our race times and, as I expected he would, started talking about where he could make improvements. “Well,” he said, “if I sign up to the local gym and start swimming, I could save loads of time!”. That was an easy one. “Also, if I run in my swimming shorts, I wouldn’t have to get dry and change in transition.” It soon became apparent that the hell he went through during the swim all seemed fairly trivial and that he actually really enjoyed it. We decided that we’d do it again the following year, this time with some training behind it.
Dean looking quite uncomfortable (but I’m the king of fresh).