New Year’s Day Triathlon – 01/01/2015

Most normal people spend New Year’s Day trying in vain to shake off the hangover acquired the previous evening. Unfortunately for those closest to me, I’m no longer like normal people – something my family and friends probably discovered that a long time ago. That’s why a few months ago I signed myself up to the triathlon held in Edinburgh on the 1st of January.

So instead of rolling in at some time after three on New Year’s morning, I found myself tucked in bed shortly after midnight. However, the organisers had been kind to those who wanted to have a few jars the night before, with the start time scheduled at a leisurely 12pm. I’d also been able to register the previous day so all I had to do before the race was collect my electronic timing chip and attend the pre-race briefing.

I therefore had the luxury of a lie-in (in my books anyway) and had the alarm set for 9am -unbelievable scenes when it comes to triathlon, as a normal wakeup call would be at around 6, if I was lucky. After a quick bowl of Shreddies (other cereals are available), I was rustling around getting all my gear together for the day ahead. Triathlon is a little more complicated than running in terms of getting yourself organised, as you need to prepare yourself for 3 sports, as opposed to the simple vest and trainers combo required for running events.

The event was being held in and around the Commonwealth pool just outside the city centre, which was situated a couple of miles away from where we were staying. I left the family in the warmth of the flat and made my way over on my bike with my gear slung over my back. Even though I’d already registered, we were required to set up our bikes in the transition area (where the change from swim to bike and bike to run takes place) a good hour before the race got underway. I spent a bit of time making sure I set up my gear in such a way that I’d be able to spend as little time as possible in transition.

This also included strapping down most of my items of clothing so they wouldn’t be blown away by the gale force winds we were experiencing! It was like a scene from the Wizard of Oz, and I was fully expecting to see a rogue cottage come floating past my head along with all the bike helmets and water bottles that had come unattached from their owner’s bikes.

After I was happy everything had been secured properly, I walked briskly back to the warmth of the swimming pool building and stuck myself in one of the seats that made up the viewing area around the pool. This was definitely the nicest venue I’d ever swam in – a pristine Olympic sized swimming pool with seats along the whole of one length and down the back end. There was also a set of diving boards hanging over another 20m pool running alongside the main one.

Everyone was asked to gather around the pool for the briefing where we were told about the course and reminded of the normal race rules. The format here was different to a normal mass start – each swimmer would set off at 10 seconds intervals, with those who predicted a slower swimming time going first and the quickest setting off last. This ensured that whilst swimming your 8 lengths of the pool (making up 400m) you would have some room to settle into your own rhythm.

My estimated swim time put me slap bang in the middle of the pack so I had around a 45-minute wait until I’d be underway. This allowed me to take a look at some of the slower swimmers; and it seemed that some hadn’t let the fact that they can’t actually swim a length without drowning bother them in the slightest – one chap did a length and a quarter before I spotted him clinging onto the lane rope for dear life.

During this time we were also allowed to warm up in the smaller diving pool so I had a bit of a splash around in there, pretending I knew exactly what I was doing, and before long it was time to get lined up. By this point my family had arrived and had taken a spot poolside. They’d also made some lovely little signs offering words of encouragement; ‘Hurry up Joe’ was my personal favourite. Hm.

Swim – 09:38 (110/326 overall, 39/84 age category)

I was told to jump into the pool as soon as the competitor before me set off and had about 5 seconds to sort myself out before the starter was shouting go and I was off. I hadn’t done loads of swimming over the past year, with the bulk of my training focussed on running, so I had no idea how this was going to go. My plan for the 400m was just to set off strongly and hope to not die too much near the end.

As per usual, I shot off and had caught the guy who started 10 seconds in front of me at the end of the first length. Once we reached the end of the pool, we were required to duck under the lane rope and swim back down the other side – a skill I felt I picked up quite quickly and by the end I’d mastered it (if only there were awards for fastest person to duck under the lane rope).

The swim was by far and away the most pleasant part of the day which is very unusual for a triathlon event with most swims taking part in some freezing cold lake filled with piranhas (probably). The pool was lovely and warm with plenty of room to overtake and do your own thing. My swim was pretty uneventful – I passed about 5 people while another shot right by me on the first length and I never saw them again (well I did, but not until the later part of the run). I started kicking hard down the final length to get some blood flowing to my legs and pulled myself out of the steps at the end of the pool.

T1 – 01:26 (119/326 OA, 30/84 AC)

We had been allowed to leave clothes by the end of the pool and I grabbed my shorts on the way out and quickly put them on (no fancy tri-suit for me just yet). Running outside to transition trying to dry myself with a towel was a waste of time as it was chucking it down with rain so I just remained soaked. I got to my bike and promptly forgot how to put my t-shirt on. I’d been doing this correctly for the last 25 years so I hadn’t envisioned this to be a problem beforehand. On the 3rd attempt (to be fair to myself, I think it was a combination of choosing a tight t-shirt and having a wet body) I managed to pull it over me and threw on my cycle shoes (gave up on socks, figured I’d have the same problem re; feet being wet).

After correctly dressing myself, I grabbed my bike off the rack and ran out of transition towards the dismount line (you’re not allowed to get on to your bike and start pedalling until you’ve crossed this line). At 1 minute 26 seconds it didn’t take me that long but as you can see I was still well down in the rankings for the transition time. I’ll have to make sure I practice putting a t-shirt on when I get up in the mornings from now on.

Bike – 45:01 (81/326 OA, 29/84 AC)

I jumped on immediately after the dismount line and gave my family + Katie a wave as I left transition (fair play to them for coming out in some pretty appalling conditions). Despite the wet conditions, I rattled off the first mile in just over 2 minutes! With the route only being 10 miles long I thought I’d be done in just over 20 minutes. I couldn’t have been more wrong…

Immediately after this the guy in front of me came crashing off his bike. He went straight over the top of his handlebars and hit the ground pretty hard. His front wheel was completely bent in half, but thankfully he didn’t seem to have hurt himself too badly. I stopped momentarily to ask if he was ok but he said he was fine and a marshal was quickly on the scene so I pressed on.

I obviously had a bit of a tail wind for that first section, because as I turned and started climbing I was hit by the strongest winds I’d ever encountered on a bike. At first they were buffeting me side-on and it was a struggle just to keep the bike upright and not crash. I then turned again and now the wind was howling straight into my face. Coupled with the fact that we were still climbing, and I was putting in a massive effort just to keep the bike going forward at a snail’s pace. A number of people had got off and were actually pushing their bikes up as they were no longer able to ride. That second mile took me about 6 and a half minutes – that’s around the pace I run in a half-marathon! It really was hard work.

Struggling on the bike

The bike course was 3 laps around Arthur’s seat – a big hill that overlooks the centre of Edinburgh. Once you slogged your way to the top of the hill around ¾ of the way round the loop, you finally got a bit of respite as you made your way downhill back to where you started. This was the best bit of the lap as it was mainly downhill and I got to give my little support crew a wave (or in the case of the first lap, a grim shake of the head).

The wind seemed to get worse on each lap and by the third I was more than ready for it to be over. Who knew a relatively short bike ride could be so painful! I remember rolling past another competitor and uttering the words ‘never again’. I’m pretty sure they just chuckled and said I’d change my mind once it was over. The scenery around the course was pretty special, unfortunately I was concentrating too hard to try and remain on my bike to really take it in. To be fair, I’d pretty much done zero cycling in the past year so I shouldn’t expect to just jump on a bike and start performing well. I was still a fair way down the order, posting the 81st fastest bike split out of the 326 finishers.

I was extremely glad to be turning off the loop and onto the short road back to transition. I started trying to run through in my head what I needed to do one I got back (luckily I had no clothes to change this time otherwise we could have been there all night). I hit the dismount line and leapt off the bike hoping my legs would still work after the battering I’d just given them.

T2 – 00:59 (69/326 OA, 27/84 AC)

No messing around here. Chuck the bike on the rack. Helmet off, bike shoes off, slip the running trainers on (aided by my new cheapo elastic shoelaces) and away we go. Not sure how I could have done this any quicker. Amazingly, someone went through T2 in 28 seconds. I have absolutely no idea how.

Run – 25:35 (11/326 OA, 4/84 AC)

Switching from cycling to running leaves your leg muscles feeling very strange indeed and it always takes a few minutes to properly get into your running. The run course was exactly the same as the one followed during the bike, apart from the fact that we’d be doing one lap instead of three (thankfully). This would work out as a total distance of just under 4 miles.

I set off hard out of transition and ran the first mile in 5.49. That was pretty quick and I knew I’d probably pay for that by the end. I knew what was coming and soon enough I hit the hill and the wind. It was a pretty surreal experience, as I was working so hard for hardly any reward – I was barely moving forwards. This section seemed to last a lifetime as I hauled myself up the climb.

Despite the atrocious conditions there were plenty of people out on the loop offering support to the runners and cyclists, which was pretty awesome – I’m not sure you’d find me out there supporting in those conditions.

Everyone was suffering though, and I found myself constantly moving forwards; in fact during the run I think I may have passed at least 40 people, and not one person ran past me. With just under half a mile to go I ran past someone with the bib number ‘214’. I quickly worked out that this meant they must have started 40 seconds behind me – therefore I’d have to open up a gap of 40 seconds to finish above them in the final standings.

I gave it everything I had (as I normally do in most races) and gradually increased the gap between us. Well on the way to the finish now, I turned the final corner and spotted the support team and gave them a knackered wave of acknowledgement before crossing the line. I later looked at the final results and saw that I’d been beaten by 7 seconds. Must try harder next time!

Despite that, I was really pleased with my run, being the 11th fastest out of 326 – not a bad effort I’d say.

Overall time – 01:22:40 (31/326 OA, 8/84 AC)

As you can see from the result above, I ended up 31st overall and 8th in the senior male age category. Considering my year has been focussed solely on running, I’m pretty happy with this, and if I can work on my swimming and biking I’m sure those times could be much improved.

Quick shout out to my family and Katie, who stood out in the wind and rain for the whole thing and gave me some great support – really appreciate it guys!

All in all, a great way to kick off the New Year. This event has a really friendly feel to it and everything seemed to be very well organised. It’s time to get my head down now and move straight into training for the Brighton/London marathon double – bring it on.

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