In every area of life there’s always more to be discovered, yet sometimes knowing when can be one of the hardest parts. Throughout the spring and summer of last year, my running feet were getting itchy. As a few friends trained for triathlons and took their training to the saddle and the pool my intrigue grew.
After watching the Leeds ITU triathlon in May my intrigue was pretty much cemented, as I got home and signed myself up to the the Olympic distance at the London triathlon a few days later. Thanks to gem Susie Chan, I was kindly gifted a wet suit in order to dip my toes into open water, and loaned a new biked steed for training.
One of my biggest worries was the open water swim. I’d heard all about the bacteria killing can of coke after having a dip, the weeds, the darkness. The initial fears of floundering were dampened with practice, some very encouraging friends and promises of post-swim breakfasts. I can now look back with an appreciation for the calm progress, and the sense of achievement that swimming in the dark waters of Stoke Newington Reservoir brought. I began to cherish the nights. Over a couple of months I increased my cycles with a few long rides out of town and christened my cleats by falling off at a junction. I’ve since been told this is a sort of initiation.
Before I knew it, race day beckoned and I was actually much more excited than scared. One of the bonuses of trying something new is that the pressures off getting a PB and gunning it for time are less so. I wanted to get by in 3 hours but was mainly looking forward to getting around the course and enjoying it. I managed to get through all three disciplines within my A-goal, while simultaneously feeling like a plate of jelly with a smile on my face at the finish. Topping off the triathlon experience with a Twister ice lolly in hand and at the time, thoughts of what swim, bike run to tackle next.
I’m no professional, but after a few months of tri-training here are a few words of advice
Practice your weak points
On first attempt you might not be so sure about clipping into your bike pedals, or swimming in the dark depths of open water. But it’s all just about practice. After a few tries these weak points will become tetchy no more.
Stay back on the swim
Perhaps you’re the next Michael Phelps, in which case this may not apply to you. I, however, am not. I’d recommend letting the masses get away on the swim to prevent being caught up in a sea of arms and legs. You may get a little elbow here and there, but try not to take this personally. There’s a very large possibility that you too will elbow someone in the face by accident.
Don’t be afraid to communicate, you’re all in the same boat. If you feel scared, take your mind off the worry and talk to someone. They’re probably feeling the same and will be thankful for a friendly face.
Rehearse your transitions
From slipping out of a neoprene wet-suit to popping your running trainers onto post-cycle jelly legs, it pays to practice going from one exercise to the other before you toe the starting line. Head to a nearby park with the helping hand of a friend and don’t be afraid of what other park-goers think.
Chow down and practice race nutrition
Whatever distance you choose you’ll be putting your body through the motions on race day and you need to be fuelled properly. Take an energy gel in between training sessions and test the best electrolyte drinks and hydration tactics for you. I ate a ginormous energy ball after I got out of the swim-leg and regretted it pretty soon after.
Pin-point your transition area
Losing your belongings in a race may sound ridiculous. But when you’re in a dizzy post-exercise haze, it’s easily done. Or at least in my experience. In transition it’s standard practice to place your belongings on a towel ready to change into, make sure it’s a bright patterned one that you can recognise.
Unlike a half marathon or your typical road-running race, aid stations can understandably be few and far between on a triathlon. Even with one bottle of water I definitely didn’t take on enough fluid on what became a very parched bike ride. Be sure to take your own drink and keep a bottle for sipping at your transition area, an electrolyte mix also wouldn’t be a bad shout.
Prevent any unnecessary collisions on your the cycle-leg by calling out when over-taking other cyclists. If people are in the zone it’s easy for them to miss you if you’re overtaking. If you’re heading in front around someone a simple call of direction won’t do any harm.
I’d recommend a triathlon to anyone who fancies something that will take you out of your comfort zone and leave you smiling like a proud Cheshire cat. Make sure you soak up the crowds on race day, take it easy when you feel you need to take a breather and enjoy yourself.