London Triathlon 2009

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I will start at the end - the drive home was an absolute nightmare, 4h30 from Docklands to Hammersmith, a journey that had taken me an hour (with some wrong turns) in the morning. It made a mockery of Mazda's tagline of 'Swim. Bike. Run. Drive'. No spoiler intended, but I finished the race significantly quicker than that. That's the last I'll say on that though*, as I want to have the rest of this entry focussing on the good stuff, which was the race itself.

I've seen a few moans elsewhere about the event being badly organised. I think that for an event serving 13000 people over the weekend, the organisation is pretty good (traffic moans above notwithstanding). Of course transition is going to be massive, and it's a bit of a walk from swim to racking, from racking to bike mount, from bike dismount to racking again, but I experienced similar transition lengths at New Forest triathlon, for example, which is much smaller (also very good!). I thought it was a really well done event, and 19 out of 20 or so of the marshals and volunteers I came across were friendly, polite and helpful (and the other one just wasn't the cheeriest person, but that was at 7.30am).

As I said in my recent post, I was feeling really well prepared going into this race, with a week in almost total alcohol abstinence (two beers, a large glass of wine, and a scotch, all week) to rehydrate. I had told friends on Saturday night about my dream goal, of 3h, but I wasn't sure how I could do it, where I could shave the time, and so I'd be content with anything under 3h20. That was based on 40min swim, 1h35 bike, 55min run and 10min transition. I had a really bad night's sleep on Saturday - only really got 3-4 hours sleep, and much of that was erratic. However, I knew that it was unlikely to greatly affect my race, so I didn't worry about it.

What I should have done with that insomnia was to get up earlier, but instead I got up at 5.30, left around 6.15 and then worried I'd be late, I wouldn't have time to get properly setup etc. In the event I got to ExCeL car park at 7.15, and was inside by 7.20. When I got to racking the bike, the friendly marshal asked me if I had my chip, and I must have looked worried, as she asked me if I was running late, I said I started at 8am, and she said 'oh, you've got plenty of time', which greatly calmed my nerves. I got my chip, racked my bike, set up my transition area, realising I'd mislaid my watch mount - but just mounted it at 90 degrees to normal, which worked fine. Nothing else to worry about.

So I pulled on my wetsuit to my waist, and wandered over to Swim Assembly. Short briefing, put swim cap and goggles on, pulled my wetsuit fully on, and was ready to go. I remembered my Swim for Tri advice about flushing, so jumped off the pontoon into the water, opened my wetsuit at the neck, then got out again to let it drain through. Flushing complete! I then swam very lazily over to the swim start (I remember watching people swimming over to the start and thinking that must be tiring when I watched this time last year!)

I found myself some reasonable space towards the back and the right, out of the way of the faster swimmers, shared some banter with other swimmers and just relaxed and took it all in. At 8am on the dot, the klaxon went, and we were off!

Not much to say about swimming really - a bit of a mixture of breathing every two, and breathing every three strokes, I was fairly leisurely. I had forgotten to take my wedding ring off, which was a mistake, as I worry about it falling off, and my hand got a bit cramped as I must have been tensing it to make sure it didn't move. By midpoint I was really worried it might seize up so I took to just relaxing it completely through the whole stroke - not 100% efficient but better than cramping. There were a few bumps as people ran into me or I ran into them - nothing too serious though - I got a bit annoyed at one point, but it's all stuff I'd got used to in openwater swim practice, so just shrugged it off and carried on in my own little race!

After quite a long time I finally got out of the water, ably assisted by the volunteers, and pulled my wetsuit off and began the slow shuffle to transition (several warnings of 'slow down for the steps', 'slow down for the slippery floor' etc meant I was even slower than I normally run in bare feet). Got changed into the bike gear, and then slowly jogged the route to bike mount. Again, bike shoes and slippery floors don't go together too well, so another leisurely bit!

Once on the bike, it took me a good while to settle into it - my calves felt quite close to cramping, so the first 14km lap to Billingsgate market, back past Excel and then back again was pretty much my warm up lap - I was quite pleased it wasn't a sprint triathlon as I'd have finished cycling before I'd gotten into it. I got into the aero position quite regularly, except when cornering, or when my back felt tired, which was quite regularly! I really loved cycling down into the Limehouse Link, it was so much fun - of course cycling out was less so, but it is quite a gentle slope really. Cycling up to Westminster was great, was fun to cycle down the embankment that I'd only run down three weeks ago - so much easier and faster! I was really conscious of time - I knew I wanted to be doing 2:00/km and be back at Excel by 10am if I wanted a chance of hitting three hours. As the laps kept ticking by, many of them were almost on the dot of 2:00 - some of the hillier ones were slower, but as I got closer to the finish my pace picked up and I was doing 1:45 for some bits by the end (I don't think they can have all been downhill!).

Into transition again, forgot which row I'd parked in (I knew it was E, so I was only one row out), had to duck under the racks with the bike, but no big deal. Changed to run shoes, took helmet, gloves and arm warmers off, and set off on the run.

The first time I was aware of my time on the run was near the 1km marker, and it was 10:08 then. I knew that if I ran sub 5:30 the whole time, I'd be fine. I felt quite slow on the run at the start, but then I knew that I always do off the bike, and it's always faster than it feels. My back was not thanking me for 40km in the saddle, but again, I knew it would wear off over time. The first 5k lap seemed to pass quite quickly, and as I got closer and closer to the finish I knew it would be easy to make the time (at the 7km mark I had 24 mins left, I was tempted to have a bit of a stroll). As I got towards the finish line, and saw the clock reading 10:51 I was amazed, and must have crossed the line with such a smile on my face!

Peta had just missed seeing me finish, she'd been watching the race from the bridge (I did say I thought 3hours would be an exceptional time, smashing it by 10mins was unthinkable to me) but it was good to see her afterwards and have her company and share my story. I didn't mean for her to share my suffering in the epic journey home though!

Final splits were 35 min swim, 1h20 bike, 47 min run, with 9 mins for transitions (I was a few seconds under 2h52), all good.

There's room for improvement in all three sports, and while I can never know what I'd have managed one year ago (I'd probably have drowned in the swim for starters, making the rest of the race academic), I know that I have improved so much.

* That wasn't strictly true. Sorry.