If you’ve followed me for a while you’ll know I rarely write a blow by blow account of a race; I’ve always wanted my blog to be something a bit different from race report running blogs… maybe because I’m a bit different myself! But I feel like my first triathlon deserves a post all of its own, so here it is, in all its brutally honest glory.
Shrewsbury Sprint Triathlon 2019
Just entering this event took guts. I am not a strong swimmer and have never done any open water swimming. The thought of swimming in the river Severn terrified me. I told myself it was largely irrational fear; after all I wouldn’t be entering the river alone, it would be as part of an organised, well supported race. But still, I kept thinking about the all the times I’d stood on one of the footbridges looking down at the brown swirling water and playing poo sticks with my girls – I know all too well how fast that river flows and how dangerous it can be.
Add to this the fact that I’ve barely ridden a bike since school and that I’ve never ridden a bike with gears and you can start to appreciate that clicking confirm on that entry form was kind of a big deal for me.
But, I am constantly encouraging other people to step outside their comfort zone – to try new things and to be brave. And I want to ALWAYS practice what I preach. So enter I did and turned my attention to the cycling first. I bought a second hand bike, borrowed my husband’s helmet and tested out the theory that it would all come back to me… like riding a bike.
Well, the turning my legs round and round bit I remembered and, after an initially shaky start, I could just about manage to stay upright but, as for the rest of it, I was utterly hopeless. There was absolutely no way I could take a hand off the handlebars, even to signal I was turning left or right much less to be able to take a drink! In typical Laura Jones fashion I refused to admit that I had no idea what to do with the gears and, as a result, the first couple of training runs I did I stayed in one gear throughout.
Once I learnt that the brake levers doubled up as gear switches it all became slightly clearer and within a few weeks I was able to shift up and down, although I still haven’t progressed to using all the gears and I point blank refuse to ride clipped in – the YouTube videos of people falling off their bikes at traffic lights have scarred me for life because I can almost guarantee, if ANYONE is going to fall off, it will be me.
The seat hurts my bottom and I think I make it much harder work than it needs to be but actually, I have come to enjoy my bike training. I like the fact that I can cover longer distances than I usually do when running and am able to explore a bit further from home… although, not too far because *whispers* I have no idea what to do if I get a flat tyre – my only contingency plan is; Hide the bike behind a hedge. Run home. Drive back to get bike.
Now, swimming is a whole different matter. I go swimming quite a lot, by ‘swimming’ what I mean is I take the girls to the club where we are members and I ‘splash about with them in the children’s pool for an hour or so’ quite a lot. I might do a token couple of lengths of breaststroke whilst I’m there… but more often than not, my feet don’t leave the bottom of the pool.
When I completed my entry for the triathlon it asked for an estimated swim time. First stumbling block – I had absolutely no idea, literally no clue how long it takes anyone to swim 500 metres… you could’ve told me 5 minutes was average and I would have thought ‘righty oh I’ll put 6 minutes just to be safe then’.
Fortunately I thought better of guessing, abandoned my entry and went to the pool the next day, armed with goggles and nose clip to time myself swimming 500 metres. I think it took me about 15 minutes that day. It was not pretty and it was more exhausting than running 10 miles. But I was reassured by experienced triathletes that it would be easier on the day because I would be swimming with the current so I entered my expected swim time as 13 minutes.
To be honest, the swimming never felt easy, even in the pool. I’m definitely not a natural and I almost constantly felt a little bit panicked whenever I was trying to front crawl. As the triathlon neared I signed up for a practice swim in the Severn, so I would know what to expect on race day. I was really lucky that it was a lovely, sunny evening and the river was the warmest it had been all year.
Getting ready to go into the water took some time… putting the wetsuit on was bad enough but managing to fit my hair into a swim cap was a whole other level!! Eventually I was safely ensconced in latex and ready to take the plunge.
Except ‘plunge’ makes it sound a bit more exciting than it actually was. In reality I very tentatively waded in muttering expletives under my breath and randomly shouting ‘don’t splash my face’ to my friend who was with me. Once I was in, it wasn’t bad… the water wasn’t too cold and I was able to breaststroke with my face (and most importantly, my mouth, blurgh) clear of the water. It felt very odd swimming in a full wetsuit and I completely overreacted whenever anything touched my leg, but, because I was so distracted the 500 metres passed really quickly and I found myself wanting to have another go.
After that evening I told myself that I’d get through the swim on the day and tried not to worry about it. I found it much more useful to worry about the transitions, falling off my bike and / or falling over when I got off the bike and tried to run. Turns out there’s a lot to worry about when you’re nervous and tackling the unknown.
Time has a habit of speeding up when you’re nervous about something and sure enough, the summer holidays flew past and race day dawned. The absolute highlight for me was, because it was a local event, my family could come to watch. We set off in two vehicles – Andy with the bike in the van and three very excited girls in with a slightly pale looking me.
Fortunately for me my friend Neil was on hand to help me through registering, collecting my race numbers and showing me where to stick them. I then fiddled about, procrastinated and changed my mind 20 times about how I wanted to lay out my kit for my transitions before FINALLY racking my bike and walking away from it.
Just like that it was time to go, I remember Neil saying to me as I walked down to the river “enjoy it because it’ll be over before you know it” – I’ve said the same thing so many times to clients or friends at the start of a race and I am so grateful that he reminded me, because it’s all to easy to let these experiences slip past and before you know it they’re over.
The swim was terrifying. I tried to crawl, couldn’t get my breathing right and could feel the panic rising up inside me within a couple of minutes. All I could think about was Andy and the girls waiting for me and that I didn’t want to disappoint them.
I did a bit of breaststroke, told myself to calm down and put a smile on my face as I came out of the river. Swim – 12:15.
I mentioned above that I had worked myself up beforehand about the transitions and I needn’t have done – I actually found myself almost on automatic pilot as I went through what I’d rehearsed in my head… suit off, feet on the towel, helmet on, belt on, glasses on, socks and trainers on and grab your bike. T1 – 1:42
Once I was out of the Showground and onto some level road I felt I caught my breath for the first time since I’d stepped into the river. Whilst I’m not an accomplished cyclist, my legs are strong and I’m physically fit. I could feel myself gaining in confidence when I was able to push on up the uphills where others slowed. I overtook several people and that further boosted my confidence.
I don’t ride clipped in and I only use a few of the gears so I was pleased with my bike time of 56:56.
I flew through my second transition – literally racked the bike, helmet and glasses off, quick drink (could still taste river) and away. T2 – 41 seconds.
If you’ve never tried it… getting off the bike after pushing hard for almost an hour and then trying to run is really, really hard! It definitely was not pretty and for the first lap my whole body wanted to walk. I felt like I was barely moving and mentally I was beating myself up “come on Laura this is meant to be the bit you’re good at”. I purposefully didn’t wear my Garmin for this event because I knew it would only add to the pressure and, because my legs felt like jelly I consequently had no idea whether I was running at 10 minute mile or 8 minute mile pace.
Andy and the girls were there and seeing them after each lap was everything. My legs slowly came to life and by the third and final lap I knew I was running a decent pace. A sub 30 minute run was the only real goal I had for this event and I achieved 26:28, which I am absolutely delighted with.
Crossed the finish line in 1:37:59 straight into the arms of my family and some amazing friends who had come to cheer me on. I am incredibly fortunate to have a husband who realises what it means to me to be able to set myself goals and challenges and seeing how proud he and the girls were made this event extra special for me.
A huge thank you to all the amazing people who offered advice, tips and encouragement… you were all right, of course I loved it and of course I’ll do another – did someone say Ironman 70.3 in my 40th year?! Watch this space….
I just want to end with this note. If you are at all tempted to try a multi-sport event, or any type of event but you’re feeling nervous or out of your depth – I urge you to try. I urge you to believe in yourself, to have faith in what your body is capable of and just go for it.
This is your life, you will only get one. Go grab it with both hands and live it out loud.