I'm a runner. I've been running since 2003, and in 2005 I completed my first marathon. I cycle a bit, to and from the train station every day on my old MTB, and my swimming is pretty poor. So I still can't figure out why I entered a competition to win an entry into the 2005 London Triathlon. I suspect it was the additional prizes of a new bike, a wetsuit and various other triathlon items. You can probably guess that I won the competition and received a phone call a week before the event to let me know. Yes, that's right—I had a full 7 days to get myself from being a runner to being a triathlete! That evening I went out for a drink with a bunch of running friends and was subject to many jokes and offers of life jackets and swimming arm-bands.
Can I really do this?
The first task was to check that I could actually swim the distance required (750m) so Saturday saw me swimming lengths at my local pool. I managed 25m of front crawl before the worried looks on the lifeguard's faces made me decide that the only way I was going to make the distance was by swimming breaststroke. Fortunately I had remembered enough of my childhood swimming lessons to be able to swim 750m, albeit very slowly. Part of the prize was an open water swimming session with Stuart Hayes (the eventual winner of the elite class at the London Tri) so 7 a.m. on Tuesday saw me and three others gathered at Heron Lake, near Windsor. We were given our new wetsuits and some tips on putting them on before we jumped into the lake. I was surprised how comfortable I felt in the lake, particularly with the extra buoyancy of the wetsuit. Front crawl was still impossible so I gathered some tips on swimming strategy from Stuart and swam a few hundred meters of breaststroke.A mix up over the new bike meant that my MTB was to be pressed into service for the triathlon, so the next task was to service and clean it. Fortunately it already had road tires so the bike didn’t require much preparation. I was happy that I could cycle the 20km, so I didn't do any extra training.Race day
The race day arrived and I had everything packed and ready to go. My wife and I headed off to the London docklands, getting lost round a diversion on the way but eventually pulling into the parking lot in good time. I was relieved to see that amongst the sleek road bikes were plenty of MTBs and hybrids. At least one person even had a basket on the front! I collected my race numbers and went to rack my bike. I'm a pretty organized person so I had gathered some information on how to prepare the transition area. A small towel was laid on the ground with my shoes and socks, my number belt, a small bottle of water and some energy gels. My bike helmet was upside down on the handle bars, ready to be put on.We had plenty of time before my start so we watched some of the early waves starting their swim in the Royal Victoria Dock. There were plenty of novices, like me, looking nervously at the dark water. The distance from the start to the turn round seemed immense, even from the side. I wondered how bad it would look from the water.The swim
Eventually it was time to change and get to the gathering area. Fortunately my new wetsuit made me look like I knew what I was doing as I was standing next to people in rented wetsuits. Appearances can be deceptive! We were issued our orange swim caps then it was a short swim to the start line. I made the mistake of being too keen to get in the water, and so spent a lot of time treading water at the start, but there was a general air of camaraderie as we bobbed about in the water. After a few minutes the klaxon sounded and we were off. Almost immediately my right leg cramped up, as a result of being in the water too long and not being properly hydrated. I kept going, changing my kick to compensate and was pleased to see that I wasn't last. It seemed to take an age to get to the turnaround buoy, but eventually I made it and started back to the transition area. At this point my other leg started to cramp, so with a combination of arm-only and front crawl kicks I struggled onwards. I made it out of the water in 20:27 and wasn't last.Biking
There was a long run from the water to the transition area at the London Tri, but I quickly found my bike and headed out onto the road. Fortunately the first 100 meters was downhill so I was able to settle myself onto the bike and check that everything was okay. The course is two laps so it's hard to work out if you are overtaking (and being overtaken by) people in the same wave as you. The first section of the course was into the wind, so I tucked myself in and pushed hard, overtaking a few other people on MTBs. After the turnaround the wind was behind me so I went for a higher gear and started enjoying myself. The second lap was going well until just before the final turnaround when my leg cramped up. I hit the ground in agony, trying to massage my calf muscle back into action. Within 30 seconds I had 3 motorbike marshals with me, one of whom was a sports masseur, so he worked on my leg until the muscle relaxed. After about 5 minutes I was able to get back on the back and finish the final 2km with a time of 50:39.
I was aware that both calf muscles were feeling tight, so as I came into transition I decided to take it easy on the run to ensure that I finished. I grabbed a mouthful of water as I racked my bike and headed out onto the 2 lap run. It took a few strides for my legs to remember how to run but I was quickly into a good pace. Frequent water stations were very welcome and I found that I was overtaking lots of people. Half way came round very quickly, and I started the second lap feeling good with the tightness in my calf muscles easing off. I pushed the pace a little more in the last 2km to finish the run in 23:44.Total time - 1:40:31Now I'm hooked. I'm learning to swim front crawl and am shopping for a road bike. I've entered next year's Windsor Triathlon and am planning some sprint distances in the spring and a half-Ironman distance in September.