So this was it…bike racked, all training I could do done, and all I had to do was walk across to the swim entry, put on my wetsuit and get in the water.
Entering the small start area, I could empathise with Jenson and was glad when he declined a request from a member of the press, saying, “we’re ready now”. The joking around with friends stopped, I wished Tom Dudden good luck and was encouraged when he said “thanks Simon, you too”. Then it was time to zip up and get in.
I found a crew member and made them aware that I was probably the worst swimmer there, and told myself that it was the same as my weekly lake training swims.
Following normal procedure, I got water in the front and back of the wetsuit, rinsed my goggles and waited at the rear left for the start signal, out of the way of the pack.
Almost immediately I took a gulp of water before we’d even started, and that set the nerves off while I cleared my lungs. Right up until two seconds before the start my mind played a stupid game of suggesting I should tell a marshal that I’d swallowed water and wasn’t going to race. I told myself that that’s not what my sponsors and supporters are with me for, and got on with it.
I found myself swimming with what my swim coach calls Water Polo Stroke, but decided that in spite of all my training tips, I would go with what felt comfortable and focus on finishing incident-free rather than wearing myself out with a more ambitious stroke and risk getting water in my lungs or having to stop to rest.
With a mix of this stroke and breast stroke, I was comfortable to the first buoy and then had to turn right, directly into the sunlight. Unlike my training swims where this had happened, I kept my calm and didn’t allow the fact that I almost couldn’t see at all bother me.
There was a kayak near me, and I asked him to be my ‘GPS’ and confirm that the reference points I was heading for were in the right direction. We chatted some more and I found that my companion was Phil from the Sea Scouts who used this lake. He was impressed by how short a time I’d been swimming and relayed it over the radio, spreading the word.
There was another swimmer behind me to my right and I realised that as well as having the chance to complete this swim, I may even realize the further dream of not finishing it last. This excited and motivated me a great deal.
Keeping track of the other swimmer, I got around the final buoy and half-way from there to shore decided to do some freestyle out of respect for myself and my coaches, just so I knew I’d swum at least a part of it ‘properly’. A few strokes in, of course, I breathed water through not having a focused enough mind, and around fifteen metres from shore had to pause to clear my lungs out. The kayak came around in front of me and I immediately grabbed the nose and slightly angry that it was now in my way, tried to push it towards shore!
I assured Phil as quickly as I could that I was fine, he backed out of the way and I got to shore and started to run out of the water to applause and encouraging shouts from the marshals who’d heard my story on the radio and from spectators.
I felt great, and for a few minutes had already been mentally preparing and planning for the next stages of the race. I didn’t exactly look great!
Arriving at my nicely-prepared transition area, I threw my wetsuit towards the back of the bike out of the way with goggles and cap unintentionally but safely in a sleeve, remembered that you must have your helmet on before you touch the bike so donned helmet and shades, grabbed my pre-talced socks out of the shoes and promptly put the right sock on the left foot. Yes, they are sided, but I decided to just carry on.
Bike unracked, I ran to the end of transition and mounted up. My new twin-nosed Adamo saddle didn’t feel as uncomfortable as it had before at all so I was grateful that I spent the required time the day before lowering the height slightly as per the manufacturer’s advice to avoid thigh rub, and readjusting the bar angle.
Straight away, I started thinking about nutrition and kicked myself that I’d forgotten to grab any gels or sweets out of my transition bag. Reaching for a drink, I kicked myself again. My secret cocktail mix was in the harder-to-reach vertical holder with only plain water in the diagonal front one within easy reach. I took some water and thought back to my course walks, planning where the gradient would allow me a chance to swap the bottles over without slowing too much or risking a fall.
The first climb began to steepen and spotting a photographer on the corner I called out, “you could use one of those old box cameras for me, I’m so slow!”. He probably didn’t understand a word of what I was on about and just responded with a series of shutter clicks.
The bike felt good – I’d been worried because the wheels given to me by my sponsors Spin Industries were higher-geared than my training wheels, but they were more than 100g lighter and while my lungs were pumping hard for breath as befitted the occasion, in the grand scheme of things the climb could have been worse. One of the biggest things I was pleased with was having visited two weeks before to get a general idea, and setting myself the task after arrival the evening before to walk the course and check the gradients, surfaces and irregularities such as any holes or bumps.
I’d felt quite pleased with myself the evening before that I’d decided to save my legs and walk the track and get to know the detail while the Ichiban guys in their yellow and black kit whizzed past me four times on their bikes like wasps on caffeine.
At the top of the hill I was able to keep my speed up while just about managing to swap the bottles around then get on with taking nutrition and pushing my pace. I also noticed that my posture was better than ever before and the lower back pain I’d come to get used to in the saddle hadn’t arrived.
I passed three people on the bike leg according to the statistics, but actually passed more people who must have been in another heat.
I’ve always criticised myself on bike climbs but found that in comparison to other people I usually get up there quicker, and this was borne out in this race. I even passed a couple of guys on flashier expensive new bikes, which made me really pleased with my choice of base bike to build upon, the upgrades I’d implemented and of course, whatever advantage was granted me by these lovely Spin race wheels and their lightweight SRAM Red ‘Black Series’ cassette.
Flying down the hill at the back of the hotel was great, and I enjoyed the risk of the challenge of squeezing myself between those riders on my side of the road who were sometimes far out from the kerb, and the larger numbers coming the opposite way. The speed at which I was passing people was ridiculous – in some cases I must have been almost doubling their speed and I could see that the oncoming riders were also surprised at the speed difference, but I kept faith in my track walk and rode loose but firm and fast to absorb any potentially destabilising bumps. I’m regularly grateful for the advantages my bike handling style has gained by retaining some tricks from the days of mountain biking.
Making the odd joke as I passed marshals, I made the U-turn at the end of the bike course and headed back up the long climb to the hotel. Remembering my days of hilly Suffolk roads I just kept focused on a point of the road and kept pumping the pedals waiting for the gradient to steepen then soften off. I’d passed a few more people on this climb and taken a drink or two after making passes. I wondered how casual that must have looked to them and was once again glad for my preparation.
Before getting to the top of the hill, one of the elderly stewards, immaculately well-turned out, yelled constant encouragement. He seemed to know just the right things to say and I was very grateful for that and gave an extra push. Spotting the ambulance crew at the top of the hill I thought, “there’s no way you’re picking me up”, and pushed harder trying to look as healthy as I could! As I passed the front of the hotel on the flat, I realised it would have been a prime chance to take on more liquid, but I tried and was breathing so heavily I almost drowned myself and thought how ironic it would be if I drowned on the bike!
Tucking down and preparing for the long fast downhill back around the bend and then the straight run to transition, I got myself into the right gear, straightened my back out and got ready to fly again, hoping to catch a couple more riders.
I loved the long straight run with a slight downhill incline towards transition, and the road was empty so I positioned myself centrally and got up as much speed as I could, thinking this must be a pretty dynamic sight for the transition stewards and spectators.
I was slightly concerned that I might not be able to brake in time by the dismount line, especially as I’d decided to take care of the carbon rims and reduce heat by braking in pulses ABS-style. I’d also had a rear wheel skid on these wheels under braking in training which had stayed in my mind. The stewards also appeared to doubt whether I’d make it but I did, we all smiled and I ran on to my racking position.
Racking the bike, I remembered about the gels and stuffed my pockets with a veritable picnic of gels and sweets, changed shoes, took the helmet off and went into the run.
Straight away I took out a gel ready to eat.
This was the next lesson learned – don’t use nutrition on a race that you haven’t tried and liked before. This stuff tasted hideous and I spent the first third of the race looking for somewhere to drop it off rather than pocketing it and letting it leak everywhere. I was very grateful for the first water station where a pink gorilla gave me water. Next lesson – it’s almost impossible to drink from a cup and run if you’re breathing hard. I did my best, and my running style for this day seemed to be characterized by me carrying cups not wanting to litter, joking to stewards or offering gels to people I was passing.
I’d passed one more person in transition and passed five on the run.
In this men’s heat which included Jenson and the Ichiban triathlon team along with several professional triathletes I came eleventh in my age group, and seventy-eighth out of eighty-eight starters which isn’t bad considering that I was a long way behind the others in the swim and it was my first ever race!
Coming up… Race Report part three: the adventures between races, preparing for the second triathlon in one day.