Category Archives: Triathlon

Swim, bike, run

Sprint finish, shame about the start

Starting my run

Starting my run

Well. I’m now a triathlete. A sprint triathlete anyway. This whole triathlon business is nowhere as simple as the marathon business.  A marathon is always 26.2 miles. Wherever you are, a marathon is one thing. It’s always the same distance. Every time. Every where. Every when.

Triathlons come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Okay, it’s always a swim, a cycle and a run, but there are novice triathlons, sprint ones, olympic ones, half ironman ones and ironman ones (and they’re just the ones I’ve come across in some casual reading). And even then the distances covered seem to differ within one type. All very confusing. I reckon they need some consistency and uniformity to help out poor neophytes such as me.

Rant over. I’m a sprint-ish triathlete (according to one definition of sprint). You see how tricky it is? I did at least try to sprint the finish though, like I tried to do in the marathon. I got a little bit faster again. That’s about as much as I can say.

The swim was worse than my imaginings. It was horrible. It was agonising. Tiny lanes, four people to a lane, all starting off too close, physically and temporally (for my liking) together – we started off 10 seconds apart. There were huge amounts of turbulence, like trying to swim in the open ocean in a force eight gale (I may be exaggerating the tiniest bit – like I know what that would be like anyway …). Regardless, there was enough swell and choppiness that I seemed to swallow half the pool in my first length. Panic. Panic. Panic. Heart rate all over the shop, felt like it was trying to reach a thousand beats a minute. Breathing erratic – SO not good when your mouth is under water for a lot of the time.

Stroke all to pot. I ended up doing breast stroke for most of it, just so I could (try to) keep my head out of the water, mostly. Horrible. Depressing. I had such high hopes from all my learning to swim since last October. I’d done the 16 lengths four times in training. Okay this is clearly not enough times to embed ‘swim muscle memory’. And certainly not enough to begin to lay to rest head-case panic, which inevitably results in heart-rate panic. Back to the drawing board on that one. Hope the marvellous M can debrief me and build me up again.

To have one’s nascent optimism so roundly, resoundingly, utterly crushed at the very first stroke is a hard lesson to absorb. Equally, I trust, given a bit of time, it will be a good one from which to grow.

Note to self: need to strengthen my arms. They seemed not to be working at all on Monday. And I already know my legs are almost worse than useless in the pool. I’m surprised I wasn’t going backwards. Maybe a little less tennis in the previous 48 hours…

Still. Bottom line: I made it out of the pool alive. Frankly that had always been my goal. I was the last one in the pool, in my wave. Tant pis. I had the next wave of folk tapping their feet and watches while I finished a whole length on my own (it might have been a length and a half, but a length is all I’m admitting to).

Things can only get better, as they say.

And they did. Now I was out of the water. No jelly legs from swim to cycle, though we did start downhill, so that must make things easier. Talking of jelly, I ate more jelly babies during the about an hour of cycling than I did during the whole three hours, 33 minutes of marathon. What’s that about then? I’d rigged up a neat little ‘doggy bag’ (literally, I used a – new, if you please – zip-able textile dog treat bag) on the front upright of my bicycle. Easy access. Good old duct tape.

I was really pleased we’d practised the cycle route so much. I knew approximately what gear to be in before I got to the steep, hilly bits, and how long they lasted (physically and mentally) ‘til the next flatter bit or whizzy downhill section (they were good). Not that it helped me go any faster. And I knew how long I had to keep going for. I have no learned ability to pace myself or gauge distance on the bike.

I did work on one theory whilst out there though. With jelly leg avoidance in mind, I wondered whether, if I stood up to cycle uphill, that would be more similar to my running position, i.e. nearly upright, and that would mean no jelly legs.  So I tested the theory. But as I have no comparison situation when I haven’t done stand-up cycling, it’s all a bit meaningless. I’ll ask coach. That seems to be my default position for any exercise-related question.

For the run section, I’d been speculating that if I was running 5km, would that mean I should be aiming for marathon pace (MP) x 1.25 or MP x 1.33, or whatever.  I decided it should probably mean MP x 1.33.  Typically, naively, I’d failed to factor in the fact that I’d be coming straight of an agonising swim and a long bike ride. Gorging on jelly babies notwithstanding, there wasn’t much left in the tank. I felt I was running about 75 to 80% of MP.  Maybe our result timings will allow me to do the calculation…

I’m still not sure about jelly legs between bike and run. OK, my legs felt a bit different for a couple of kms ‘til I got into some sort of ‘stride’.  But as we know that stride was less than MP, so it might just be they felt different because I was going so slowly.

What hadn’t occurred to me at all was how spread out the field would be (apart from sardine-crammed pool, clearly). I barely saw another cyclist, at most half a dozen on the whole 24km. I saw maybe a dozen folk on the run. Which, I’m duty-bound to point out was a 5km run, not a 4km run as advertised by the organisers.  I’d kind of imagined me and my buddies would be going around not too far away from each other.

I’m going to have to have a serious re-think about another triathlon. The marvellous M is going to have his work cut out for him to get me over the panic, if such a thing is even possible. It’s all coming back, just thinking/writing about it now.

Bugger.

Sprint triathlon. Surely an oxymoron?

Me ... not drowning!

Me … not drowning! Seriously, it’s me.

Enough reflection and reflected glory from the marathon, I have work to do … my first triathlon – sprint – is on Monday (yes, alright, I am indeed already thinking about another triathlon).

Future posts will detail the emotional agony, the cartoon-imaged, heart-pumping panic and the quiet, surprising moments of perceived and real hope along my journey from not being able to swim last October to completing the requisite 16 lengths for the first time just eight days ago.

In the meantime…

I’ve been doing my drills for months, so in all, doing more than 16 lengths each session, but with breaks and rests. I’d not put the all the lengths together, with, or without, stopping. I had got up to swimming 4 lengths of crawl without stopping, so I adopted a 4 x crawl, 1 x breaststroke strategy, which gave me the semblance of a bit of a breather on my breaststroke lengths.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough the marvellous M, my swim coach, ‘suggested’ I do a T1 (transition from swim to cycle) practice. So this Monday just gone, I swam my 16 lengths for only the second time, then jumped straight out of the pool, did a quick micro-towel down, put on tracksuit over the dripping swimsuit then took the long way home, cycling 4-5 miles.  Felt OK. Don’t think I got jelly legs, which everyone says happens between the swim and the cycle, then also between the cycle and the run.

We’ve done some T2 (cycle to run) practice in training and I haven’t, so far, had jelly legs then, either. All of which, of course, leads me to conclude that jelly legs are all in the mind. Pretty much like I decided the wall was all in the mind for the marathon.  Surely you only hit the wall if it’s in your head and you’re thinking ‘where’s the wall?’ Bang, you’ve just run right into it. No?

As it happens, run coach says otherwise … but, until further notice, I’ve decided the only jelly I’m going to be packing are the babies.

Look what lane I trained in last ...sadly only because it was the only empty one

Look what lane I trained in last …sadly only because it was the only empty one

The only thing I’m thinking about for Monday is the swim.  I have to remember that there’s more to do once I finish my 16 lengths. I can imagine being so relieved to crawl out of the pool still breathing that I think that’s the end of the challenge. But we’ve practised the cycle route so many times now, I shall have to hope that I can go onto automatic pilot, once I remember that there is cycling and running still to do.

Whoever thought getting soaked before going round in circles was a good idea?