A few months ago a friend from university, Charlie, alerted me to the fact that a triathlon was taking place about 10 minutes from my mum’s house. This seemed like a good opportunity to squeeze yet another race into what’s already been a pretty hectic summer.
I’d spent the previous week relaxing in Malta, so I decided to make sure my legs still worked by heading over to Brockwell parkrun on the Saturday morning. I ran 18.41, which was good enough for 4th place overall, a decent start to the weekend.
After an interesting night’s sleep back at the family home (turns out some of the bedrooms in our house don’t actually have curtains – perfect if you want to get a great view of the 4.45am sunrise, less so if you value any kind of sleep), it was a leisurely start as the race didn’t get underway until 10am. That gets a massive tick in my book – no 4am alarm call for breakfast. Just the sun at 4.45 instead.
After the standard pot of porridge (they’ve now brought out extra-large pots – made my weekend), my mate Paul, of Outlaw half fame, arrived with his mum to ferry us across to Redrick’s lake. Apparently attaching two bikes to the top of a car is quite difficult, but we eventually got the job done and made the short drive over to the lake.
This event was far smaller than any other I’d done in the past (with only 90 people taking part across both the sprint and Olympic distance), but instead of that being a negative, it gave the event a much more friendly feel to it, with everyone happily chatting away whilst racking the bikes. It also meant that registration took all of 2 minutes, and we arrived less than an hour before the race and still had plenty of time to get sorted.
Charlie (mentioned above) and her boyfriend Nick were also taking part and we spotted them on arrival and had a quick chat. We went to rack the bikes in the transition area and get all our kit sorted. Transition was located a good 400m away by the main road as the exit road was a rough stony surface (no good cycling on that) up a pretty steep hill, so we were required to lay some trainers out at the swim exits to put on to run to our bikes.
15 minutes before the start there was a quick race briefing where we were told an extra 4km had been added to the bike route due to roadwork’s – nothing the organisers could really do to be fair. We’d been split into two waves based on predicted swim time and obviously Eric the Eel over here was in the slower of the two, with Paul and Nick starting in the first wave and Charlie with me.
We watched the first wave set off up towards the end of the lake (2 laps of 750m each) before we were allowed in to warm up for a couple of minutes in the water. It was surprisingly warm which was a welcome bonus, and I did my usual splashing around pretending I knew what I was doing.
The Swim (1500m)
Just before the starting horn sounded a family of ducks decided they wanted a piece of the action. Suddenly a mob of swimmers began haring towards them and a slow chase up the lake began – the ducks comfortably winning. I’d been able to do a fair bit of swimming in Malta but was not expecting any miracle improvements – I was certainly no match for the ducks anyway.
For the first time in a triathlon swim I managed to find someone swimming at a similar pace to me (not the ducks) and I was able to ‘draft’ off of him for the entire swim (basically this means I swam behind him, occasionally annoying him by accidently tickling his feet when I got too close). This enabled me to save a bit of energy for the rest of the race.
It was an interesting swim, with plenty of reeds to contend with. At one point the lake was so shallow that I was actually clawing at the sand on the bottom (although this was only for a few seconds). Coming towards the end of the second lap I started thinking about the run to transition and kicked my legs a bit harder to get the blood flowing through them.
I exited the water in 29.29, with all the quicker guys posting a time of at least 5 minutes faster.
Katie’s favourite moment of the day came as I exited the water and proceeded to stumble and nearly fall flat on my face. Cue laughter from everyone watching, but I managed to hold it together and avoid complete embarrassment. I slipped my trainers on and pulled my wetsuit down to my waist ready to strip off when I reached the bike. Running up the hill definitely got the heart rate going and to be honest I felt absolutely awful and thought I was going to have a pretty bad day. Once I got to my bike, I swapped my trainers for my cycling shoes, popped my helmet on and ran to the dismount line. No faffing.
The Bike (48km)
There was a small section of road to ride down onto the main loop of the bike course of which we’d do 2 laps of. I spent that section getting myself together and taking on a bit of drink before hitting it hard when I got onto the main loop. I passed Paul almost immediately – he’d swam a couple of minutes quicker than me and also markedly improved on time spent getting changed (obviously been practicing), and we exchange some words of support.
After that, I just got my head down and rode as hard as I could. I passed a fair number of people during the first lap before things quietened down during the second. I was hoping I’d catch a glimpse of Nick but it turned out a combination of starting a few minutes before me and having an excellent bike meant I wouldn’t see him until much later in the day.
The bike route was undulating through the Hertfordshire countryside, and apart from a small section on a busy main road, had some great scenery through some nice villages. There were also numerous friendly marshals out on the course keeping us from getting lost and warning us to slow at some of the road junctions, which helped massively.
During the second lap I found myself riding at a similar pace to a guy ahead, Phil, and after a while we made an agreement to take turns setting the pace at the front. In triathlon, you’re not allowed to be within a certain distance of another rider, as this is known as ‘drafting’, so we ensured we kept the required distance but made sure neither of us let the pace drop in the last few miles.
We ended up entering transition together, after I’d rode 1.26.33 for the 48ish kilometres, the 3rd fastest bike split of the day.
The legs felt heavy as I jumped off the bike, but I try to waste minimum time in T2. Once the bike was racked and the helmet was off, I threw on my running shoes and was away back down the hill towards the lake and onto the run.
The Run (10.5km)
The run course consisted of 2 laps along some lovely trails and canal paths around the lake. At this point I had no idea what position I was in, especially as my wave started 5 minutes after the first so I was on a slightly different total time than everyone else. As I ran down the first hill I ran past my mum and Katie and asked how far in front Nick, the response I got was; ‘He went through ages ago’. Brilliant – an accurate time gap and a great boost for the self-confidence.
I’m always happy once I’m on the run as it’s by far my favourite of the 3 legs. I set off trying to run as close to 4 minute kilometres as possible. I slowly started to pick people off along the canal towpath but there didn’t seem to be that many people out on the course at this point.
As I neared the end of the first lap, I spotted Nick on the other side of the river and started to calculate how far behind him I was. When I reached that same point I figured I was about 4 minutes behind – game on.
Coming into the last 5km, I started to get a bit of a stitch, which slowed me down a bit, but I just tried to battle through. There was more friendly marshals out on the run course offering some great support, as well as Charlie’s mum and dad, plus my lot and Paul’s mum – between the 4 of us we had a right little fan club.
With about 2km to go I turned a corner to see Nick about 30 metres ahead of me. I reached him as we were about to cross a bridge over the canal and told him to come with me and together we went past another guy and move up another place in the field.
I turned off the canal and into the finishing area and put in a final sprint over the line, before crumpling on the floor in a heap. I then proceeded to pour a whole bottle of water over my head – I’d definitely given it everything. My run time was 44.18, but as mentioned above, the course was closer to 11km than the advertised 10.
During the run I was completely oblivious of my position in the race, but I was quickly told I’d finished 2nd overall! This was a very unexpected surprise, and probably the only time I’ll finish this high up in anything I ever take part in! Nick came home just a couple of minutes behind me in third place.
We headed back out to support the others on the run and it was nice to see Charlie was pushing on past Paul on the run – although this may have had something to do with Paul running 14 miles the day before – probably not advisable. However, that makes it Charlie 1 Paul 0 with the battle resuming at Hever castle in September.
After everyone had finished, there was a little prize giving and I even received a special medal for finishing 2nd – a great one to add to the collection.