My First Tri - London Olympic Tri Aug 04

author : Vincentd
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After a nice party the day before, the five of us met at the docks in the morning - all ready to suffer in the famous English sun with our fellow competitors.

This is about the London 2004 Olympic Triathlon that was held in the East End in August. All of you should know the format by now, but here it is again: 1mile swim, 25mile bike and 6mile run.

My background

My previous sports challenges include two marathons, several semi-marathons and some moutain biking endurance ‘marathon’ races. Since a couple of years, I feel the urge to set new challenges every year for myself, if possible goals that seem tough at first and for which training and planning are necessary to achieve (with a couple of friends if possible). The ‘friends’ aspect is a very important one as five of us completed the triathlon on the planned group of seven. Obviously all of us didn’t pull in the efforts into the preparation! Let’s see how the five others managed to get there…

Preparation – Train Your Weaknesses

I was lucky enough to leave an investment banking job that was eating way too much of my free time. This allowed me to manage some decent training during three months. I am not a perfectionist by nature but as a terrible swimmer, I had to do something about it. As it appeared impossible to find decent swimming lessons for adults, I just decided to sign up at my local gym, which has a reasonably-sized swimming pool. My main goal was to gain some comfort crawling, which did not happen: all my efforts (including reading Total Immersion by Terry Laughlin, a book that I recommend) regarding crawl just led to shortness of breath and disappointment: an overall sense of inefficiency of my efforts. So, I decided to focus on my breast-stroke, doing several 45-minutes training sessions.

My averall training weeks for 2-3 months were relatively similar one to each other and included one or two swimming sessions, one or two 1.5 hour running sessions (in the mornings, on the beach!) as well as a two-hour biking session on the weekends for fun. As you can see, nothing very professional. The toughest part was just to decide to put my trainers in my bag and go to the gym.

The Race – Race to your Strengths

After a nice party the day before (!), the five of us met at the docks in the morning - all ready to suffer in the famous English sun with our fellow competitors. A little more nervous than two of my friends who had already done the London Tri the year before, I went over the preparation of my spot on the transition area: energy gels, towel, helmet, shoes - everyting was ready.


Around 250 of us were in the Thames, shaking while waiting for the shot-gun start to be given. I was staying quietly at the back as I was going to do the whole distance breast-stroking. After 15 minutes or so, a little gap was created between ‘my’ group and the more serious competitors. However, I was amazed to see how this gap did not decrease. Managing to swim as ‘tall’ as possible (applying the crawl techniques from the book cited above), I managed to swim effortlessly and keep my pace. Thirty-eight minutes placed me around the 65% among my group. Touching the artificial platform to get out of the water was a great feeling (it does not show on the picture as we were sprayed with some cleaning chemicals)   


Transition to biking is the toughest according to me - everyone seems to have very sore muscles coming out of the water. Strange feeling as I never took the opportunity to train bricks of that type. After 10 minutes or so, this part quickly became the most enjoyable: a very fast circuit with some interesting hills and roundabouts where some knowledge of ballistics was necessary. Trying to keep some energy for later was not easy as the road was smooth and I was feeling confident. I pretty much raced flat on, even when thinking about the running section coming ahead. I managed to catch up with Pierre (the Belgian guy who came with me) at the end of the section.


My mate had sore muscles coming out of his bike so I gave him a couple of energy gels to get better but I left him behind after a couple of minutes (he picked up quickly after having drunk more energy drinks). The running was obviously tough but as some girlfriends came to cheer us up with some kinky pictures...a surprise to us!

Leaving London

After the race, we only managed to down a couple of fresh beers with all the other triathletes – we unfortunately had to pack our stuff quickly to go back to Belgium by ferry. This is where, in our hurry (Belgian story), our car ran out of fuel. I was apalled as we had to stop on the side of the highway. But, with my friend Pierre and our spirits still high from the race (natural endorphins?), we decided to put back on our shoes, get on our bikes and drive to the next gas station. After a couple of kilometres, we bought 10 litres of diesel and drove back to the car. It finally started but we had missed our ferry… We quickly booked another one and downed everything that was available in the kitchen. I do not remember anything from the road to Brussels. Overall, a memorable trip and lots of fun!

What’s next?

We have already planned two olympic distances (one on-road, the other one off-road) in Belgium for 2005 as well as one in Holland and maybe some half ironmans in 2006 (not easy to find)… Some raids like the Raid Gauloises/Camel Trophy may also be on the agenda in the near future.


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date: October 24, 2004