First open water triathlon….ooh er?!
The day didn’t start well – I opened one eye and the clock smirked back at me and said: “5:15”. This was the time I said I’d leave the house. The day earlier I said to myself ‘Self, Swanage is your first mass start so get there early and rack up at the end of one of the rails – clear of the melee’.
The trick is always to get there early. With a pool swim you normally go in waves (every 10-15 minutes depending on the distance) so everything is orderly and civilised. With a mass start into the sea what happens, especially if it’s a short distance, is everyone finishes the swim close together then we all turn up in transition at the same time and it’s mayhem. To try and avoid this I wanted to get there when registration opened so I could plonk my bike right at the end of a rail, and closest to the exit. #fail
So my 30 minute breakfast routine became 10 minutes. After throwing down some scrambled eggs and a mug of tea I threw the bike and all the gear in the back of the car and floored it all the way to Swanage. The roads were quiet so I arrived a little after 6:20 and somehow managed to rack up second from the end of the rail –result!! The transition area was on a little field overlooking the bay of Swanage which is a seaside town on the English coast of Dorset. The sea looked pretty calm and judging by the transition area there would be no more than around 200 other competitors – so a nice day out.
The day had in store:
-750 metre open water swim
-20 kilometre undulating bike ride
-5 kilometre undulating run
I got to setting up my transition area in the normal way. Everyone was pretty chatty and relaxed, the girl next to me was doing her first open water triathlon so we shared some last minute gallows humour.
The briefing was, well, brief. You wont drown, obey the highway code etc and so on… next minute I was wading into the water to warm up. Ohh, the irony! Jesus Christ it was cold!? My feet and hands froze immediately and next was getting my head under. You naturally exhale hard and tense up. I spent the few minutes we had doing breast stroke to get used to the temperature but also got a good 40-50 metres hard front crawl which settled my nerves. We returned to shore.
At this point I found myself assessing the people around me to look for people I reckoned had a similar pace. At the same time I was thinking about what might happen when the gun went off. I certainly didn’t want to be stuck in the middle. It was about 150 metres straight out, then a left turn at the first buoy, then a swim parallel with the beach before a 150 metre return to the shore. I opted for the right-hand side of the pack so I could hold as wide a line as I wanted to.
The gun went off!
It seemed like everyone slowly walked into the water and before I’d swum 5 metres I found myself in the middle of a pack of other swimmers. Actually, it was exciting! Loads of fun! Having never raced like this before it seemed dangerous and new and I liked it. I am a proficient swimmer having represented the Hammersmith & Fulham in my youth. Yep, long time ago now and the form isn’t what it used to be, but I’m still reasonably strong in the water.
As I kicked on I could see the front of the pack rounding on the first buoy about 20-30 metres in front of me and I was going reasonably well. Lots of ‘interaction’ with my fellow racers kept things tasty, I sometimes reverted to breast stroke just to keep my lungs topped up with air and to sight. Pretty soon after I rounded the first buoy I found out why it’s a bad idea to swim with a cold.
I’d had a head cold for around a week but was running and biking fine, I didn’t think I’d have a problem. That was up until, after breathing then putting my face back into the water, I felt like my head was in a slowly tightening vice and I’d had a high pressure hose shoved up each nostril!! No matter what I tried (exhaling hard through nose, exhaling hard through mouth and nose, holding my breath, singing…) it was no good. I simply wasnt able to put my face in the water without it feeling like my face was going to explode?
I reverted back to breast stroke again, passed the second buoy, had a chat with the marshall in the canoe who had by this point noticed my strange swimming. I’d had enough by this point and wanted to jack it all in. My hat had come off. I tried to put my face in the water again and there was the vice and the hoses waiting for me! Kept going. I had passed half way and there was still quite a lot of the field behind me so I tried some head out of the water front crawl…much quicker. Still weird though and a little chaffey on the old wetsuit. Breast stroke again… I kind of settled on a stroke that included front crawl arms with my head out of the water, a bit of breast stroke and front crawl legs and exhaling hard through my nose and mouth when my face accidentally dipped into the water. Without a doubt the most inefficient stroke ever invented.
I got out of the sea on 26 minutes which is shocking, yes, but I finished, and I knew I had it in the tank for the bike and the run. T2 was a new experience (removing a wet suit) but it was also pretty quiet so I had space and time. I chugged a gel and a mouth full of electrolytes once out on my bike and pushing into the early part of the 20 kilometre bike leg.
The bike was classic Dorset country lane riding, not a straight or level road anywhere to be seen. I’ve been riding hard recently training for Chase the Sun so the 360 metres of elevation wasn’t a problem for me and I completed what turned out to be just over 23 kilometres in just under 54 minutes (averaging 26kph) which was OK. I’d been hitting 30 kph average (over a similar distance) recently but with what happened in the swim I was happy, and had overtaken lots of other riders.
The one slight concern was the cramp nagging at my left quad from about half way. Having experienced the pain of debilitating cramp in previous triathlons I managed my pace and intensity in the mid-part of the ride which stopped things getting worse and ultimately saved my run.
T1 was really quick and I was heading out for the run – 5 kilometres, lets do this! Then an idiot driving a car decided it would be a really good idea to drive up and stop in-front of the exit to T2? After the exchange of a few choice words I started my run but was immediately overtaken by two runners. The plan was to manage my intensity for the first kilometre, keeping an eye on the cramp, then ratchet up the pace and intensity.
By half way I was clipping along nicely with no sign of cramp. I’d just re-taken the first guy and had the second one in my sites. I was averaging 4:40 min/km (7 min/mile) pace and fairing reasonably well. last month I hit 4:35 min/kms and achieved a PB (pic above) so I was doing OK. My thoughts did briefly turn to rue my swim effort but no time for that I needed to catch this guy!
For the last kilometre I ran down everyone I could see and nailed the foot race between me and the last guy. It was a pretty horrific left-hand turn on gravel into the final 50 metres but I’d already passed him by this point so there wasn’t any drama – my Kenyan finishing genes served me well once again!
Overall Swanage Bay triathlon is an enjoyable, intimate sprint triathlon. The bike leg is, I would say, quite challenging in terms of climb and descent (there some very fast blind bends) bearing in mind the short distance but if you like that sort of thing then why not sign up for 2017?
Next for me is Chase the Sun, a 230 km bike race from Sandbanks to Bude (from sunrise to sunset) so back in the gym to kill my legs and lots of hill training. I think the challenge here will be those Devon and Somerset hills so ‘best prepared’…
Enjoy your training
(A much better way to swim!)