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Tri: Harder

I’m sitting in a queue at a pool side. It’s been five years since I swam a proper ‘length’ in a pool.  And I’m a pretty crap and a very slow swimmer. All I can think of is a messy, splashy, and far from elegant 400 metres out of rubbish swimming, then I can do my thing.

Okay, so I don’t come into the category of total triathlon amateur. I’ve done bike racing. Lots of that.  And running racing, too.  Lots of.  I’ve even done four triathlons before, over the last 15 years or so.  But it’s been a while – five years since my last triathlon. 

Why?  I’m not sure – it’s like some sort of suffer-magnet. I looked in the race calendar and there was nothing on I could easily get to / enter, and I knew a couple of local triathlon enthusiasts who were doing this. The summer ‘cross series starts soon and I’ve been trying to up my training a bit, then something inside said ‘do the tri – that’d be hard’.

So that was my memory of the worst bit of Sunday - sat waiting – actually trembling a bit with adrenaline, watching people with swimming hats and goggles looking awfully fast just before my turn.  My goggles are pink and purple. I don’t own goggles, so I’ve brought Mrs Haygarth’s with me. God, how I was looking forward to scorching past those fish-like freaks on my bike in a matter of a few minutes. I really don’t like this bit.

But these things pass, as they tend to do. My shoulder-repair last autumn could have been used as an excuse to not perform – I was nervy and uneasy freestyling, but as someone who swims as often as he plays tennis (i.e. very occasionally and purely for social fun), I was never set to do well.  It went, anyway. 400 metres of misery that we’ll put behind us. 

But this transition bit – as someone who only rarely dips into triathlon – this bit is just very, very exciting.  Adrenaline mixed with gasping for breath. Cold air outside against chlorine-soaked clothing. Anxious, but focused. It’s truly exhilarating. A buzz. I could get addicted to that.  

At this point, I need to get something off my chest. As a cyclocross obsessive – someone who takes pleasure in assessing the minutiae of a race and eliminating things that could cost me a second or two – I was dumfounded today by watching triathletes throwing away time in the transition. These are people who clearly spend several hours a week in a pool, do ‘brick sessions’ on the bike, etc. (I don’t know what they are, either) in order to improve their performance… yet watching them mount and dismount a bike and keep general momentum up during a crucial transition was… just so painful. I’m no expert, but I was out of that transition without a second to spare. Much of the time I’d lost in the pool to my wave of competitors was already neutralised because I didn’t do a slow jog from the pool to the bike, or stop to dry in-between my toes, or generally parp about the way some people do. Rocket science?

The bike leg in the Clitheroe Triathlon is a toughie. This suited me; the harder the bike, the more differential I’d get to non bikey-types. A North-Easterly wind and chilly air meant that the pool-soaked skinsuit was – technically – chilly.  However, the red-mist of a flat-out bike race soon had me forgetting any of that nonsense. The course is progressively more rolling, twisty and hilly.  Despite climbing gently for the first five miles, it’s pretty straightforward… but then it gets harder. The 1-in-5 stretch of Jeffrey Hill is a proper full-on lung-buster, whether on a club run or a race. There’s something very 39-26 about it. All hills are hard when you’re full-gas, but it’s a good lesson in self-discipline to race through-and-over a toughie like that. I didn’t get it bang-on, and had to change my rhythm a couple of times on the 6 or 7 minutes of little-ring shenanigans, but got through it okay for someone uncomfortably over 13 stones. 

The headwind back to the transition over 8 lumpy-but-descending miles gave little respite, but just enough freewheels (50mph top!) to grab a drink.  It was nearly time to think about running… gulp. As it turned out, my cycle leg had been good enough to be 7th best on the day from the 276 finishers.

Coming back into the transition (note the very fast, stay-moving, straight-into-a-run dismount, triathletes), I was concerned about a flat-out 5 mile run. Having done a few triathlons, I knew the first minute or two of running was messy and uncomfortable. Legs are jelly-like and take a while adjusting. I made a point of keeping my stride short for the first mile and somehow I eased myself in okay.  Running at what felt like a snail’s pace, I was in fact keeping up a respectable and steady pace – 22nd on the run leg out of 276 – I’ll take that.

So by the time I’d spent each dime I could afford and crossed the line a semi-cramped wreck, I managed to turn 141st position in the pool to 15th position overall.  It’s pretty much as well as I’d have hoped it could have gone and swimming aside*, I was left thinking I couldn’t have tried any harder or done it any better. 

*I’m happy to keep swimming aside.

Words by Dave Haygarth



21 April 2015

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