So my journey to completing an Iron Man in 2020 (my 50th year) started for real in Fishguard on June 8th. Having run my first Marathon in my 40th year I wanted a new challenge, so I thought I’d give Triathlon a go. Last August I bought myself a road bike and shortly after that I started to swim, largely due to being in Tenby for the LCW in the July as I was running the Marathon on the Sunday, and watched the swim on the Friday night with so much envy that I thought – ‘you know what, I reckon I could give that a go’. My swimming started at Cwmbran stadium in the public swim sessions, only managing a length at a time, but now thanks to Torfaen Triathlon club, I have found myself swimming 50+ lengths comfortably without stopping and have covered 2000 continuous metres in open water. Anyway, after completing the NEWT cracker back in March as a taster to Triathlon (pool swim), my plan for this year was always to build gradually with a first timers double package booked – Fishguard Sprint, followed by the Gower Olympic distance at the end of August.
So how did my first ‘proper’ triathlon go. Well after some shocking weather in the week leading up to it, I’d decided to cancel plans to camp on the Friday night and instead travel down early on the Saturday to register as the race wasn’t starting till 1145, with the middle distance taking pace on the same day starting at 11am. The drive down was a breeze, and with a smooth registration completed, it was time to get myself ready.
Pre-Race – I was fairly relaxed, plus the weather had vastly improved, with the sea looking calm and the sun breaking through the clouds. I was a bit nervous laying all my stuff out in transition, triple checking to make sure I had what I needed, but not wanting anything there that I didn’t need. My bigger fear was the fact that this was going to be my first time coming out of open water and having to think about getting my wetsuit off quickly and getting away on the bike smoothly. I was right to feel this way as you’ll soon find out!!!
The Swim – After the race briefing, then watching all the middle distance athletes complete lap 1 of their swim, it was time to get into the water to get warmed up and acclimatised. After only a couple of minutes we were being called back out ready to start - YIKES. Swimming is my weakest of the 3 disciplines, but Keith at the club had told me not to start at the back as he felt I was good enough to at least start middle of the pack and try and get into someone’s draft in order to make a good start. So this is what I did, although maybe just a bit more than half way back. This was great advice from Keith and I wish I’d been a bit braver as some swimmers were far too cautious and did hold me up a little. Anyway, even though my swim time wasn’t the greatest, I felt ok. Yes I had been swum over, and hit with flailing arms many times, but if anything I felt that I held my own and it was others around me that didn’t cope so well, with one fella swearing at me on more than 1 occasion. Sighting was a challenge even though the sea wasn’t too choppy, but this got easier as the race panned out and I feel much better about the next time.
T1 – The next 5 minutes are the ones I’d like to erase from the memory, although a few valuable lessons were learnt for sure. I felt alright running from the water to my bike but was struggling to pull my wetsuit off my shoulders. By the time I’d made the short run to T1, I was still grappling to get my wetsuit off both arms not helped by my chunky watch, plus I hadn’t expected my tri suit to come off with it. The next 2 minutes were comical as I struggled to get the wetsuit off my legs and now hampered by the timing chip on my ankle. This was made even funnier by the fact that my son who had come with me was videoing me and I couldn’t stop laughing. So by the time the suit was off, my tri suit was tangled so I had to get that back over my shoulders, then put on my helmet, socks and shoes. So lots of time lost in T1, but off I go with my bike to the mount line glad to put that behind me, but within seconds of being on the bike I realise I haven’t clipped in properly on one foot. As I look down to sort this out I look back up and see that I am heading straight for the curb. I try to take evasive action, but get stuck against the curb and can’t do anything but bail to the left. Luckily I wasn’t going that fast as we have only just got away, but it was fast enough to pick up what turned out to be some nasty scrapes and bruises on my legs, butt and chest – plus a bent hood that luckily didn’t stop me riding on. For a moment I did think my race was over due to bike damage, but all was good but by now I just wanted to take my time and regain my composure. Thankfully that was the last of the dramas, but it was a much needed reminder me that I need to put much more focus on practicing transitions before I get to the Gower in August.
The Bike - Following the events of T1 and settling into the ride, the next 19k on the bike went ok. It was a bit hillier than I’d expected and the wind was quite strong with warnings of cross winds mentioned in the earlier briefing, but all in all I was happy even though I did spend far too much time reliving my earlier mistakes and rode with a bit more apprehension than normal due to the bent hood.
T2 – This was so much better than T1. I came in after dismounting the bike tidily and quickly racked my bike and was back out on the run within the minute. At least this time I remembered to switch shoes having tried to run off in my cleats at the NEWT only a few months earlier J
The Run – This felt so much better than the NEWT as I hadn’t overdone it on the bike so my legs coped well with the move from bike to run. By now the sun was well and truly out and it was really warm with others now struggling in front of me. As a result, and being used to running in far hotter and for far longer I managed to pass quite a few people which I’d also managed on the bike once I had got going properly. Even though this 5k course was quite hilly due the coastal route it took, I ran it well and was able to really enjoy the moment of completing my very first ‘proper’ tri.
So, mission accomplished for now, and medal achieved, but this is just the first small step on what’s going to be a tough year and a bit as I aim to be ready for Iron Man Wales on September 6th 2020, to mark my half century and raise funds for a great cause which is Mental Health UK.
PS – it’s never too late to take on a new challenge, and if like me it’s the swimming that is holding you back, then I am proof of what you can achieve in a short space of time going from barely being able to swim a lengthy properly. Also, the welcome I have got from Torfaen Triathlon club has been fantastic where I have already met some great like-minded people and some excellent coaches.