Monday, July 26, 2010

Andover Triathlon July 2010 - Telling it how it is ... or how it should have been ...

So, I'd finally signed up for a triathlon. Of course, I've done a couple before - Stratford, Brighton, Dorney Lake - so there are a lovely selection of swims. There's a pool-based swim (Stratford), sea-based (Brighton) and lake-based (Dorney). One of the reasons I chose Andover was for the pool-based swim. So far, so good.

I got my little tri box ready with my gels, racebelt, my goggles, and my trainers and my cycling helmet, amongst other things.. I decided to wear Biscuit Boy's triathlon suit as I've never bothered to invest in one myself. I always feel that any triathlon is mental preparation as well as anything else, so the previous day found me, Biscuit Boy and Cupcake in Hyde Park in central London cheering on the professional female triathletes as they competed in the ITU World championships. I was inspired... '..that'll be me tomorrow...' I whispered in nervous anticipation to myself. I even invested in some compression socks which you wear on your calves (like little compression bandages) - either during or after a race. Anyway, here's the first of a couple of photos and on to the race.

Sorting out my transition gear.
We arrived in plenty of time, at the lovely private prep school where the event was hosted. The race instructions clearly said to register before racking the bike, so we got race numbers and went and prepared in the car, then into transition I went as you can see on the left. You could put your bike whereever you I set up everything just so, and on to the swim.

Swim caps and a race briefing were offered ten minutes before the start of the swim. Race caps were distributed according to swim speed. Four colours to a lane, red being slowest and setting off last in the lane. I was a red. We were to complete 20 lengths of this 22 meter pool so making up the 440 meters. You had to keep track of your own number of lengths which I actually found OK to do, although at the time I was a little worried. To help you out, those kind folks from Andover triathlon stick a board in the water saying '2 lengths remaining' when you have 2 lengths left. That helps. Or, it would have helped. In my case, this did not happen. I did not have a good swim. At all. Firstly, my wonderful goggles that work so well when they work, failed, miserably and so after every, single, blasted length I was forced to stop and empty water out of them. Horrendous. Secondly, I am not a strong front crawl swimmer (that's why I train with nine year olds - yes, serious !) so after about fifteen lengths well, it no longer looked like swimming I'm sure.. Every other colour hat in my lane overtook me, how embarassing ! So when they got the '2 lengths to go' signage, the chap said to me 'You've got four lengths ok ?' So, I struggled on.. and finally got to the end. Now for the REALLY embarassing bit. At the end, you have to climb out. No using the steps, and in this pool the end was quite steep - well to me it was...

No one else seemed to have a problem getting out, but when it came to that last length and getting out at the end.. all I can say is that there was NO ENERGY left in my arms. So, I tried to heave myself up, and I just couldn't .. then the same chap came over and went to help me... Bear in mind, that the next wave of swimmers are all now sat at the edge of the pool waiting for me to drag my fat derriere out of the pool so they can start their race. Being such a friendly bunch of folks, by now of course they're all giving me a litle clap.. oh no I'm thinking 'Sympathy' can it get any worse... ? I tell you if I hadn't been the swimmer I think I would have been howling with laughter.. I politely declined the offer of help, that would have just been even more humiliating - you can't say you've completed a triathlon if you had to be dragged head first out of the pool can you ??? So, I kinda swung one leg over and use the lane rope as a kind of lever.. and well, I was just a beached whale, flapping on the shore's edge..

Moving on to T1 (from swim to bike). Here's a picture of me getting to my bike.

I seemed to take an inordinately long time in T1, which looking back I'm upset about.. well, not upset, but well you learn from your mistakes... and I made plenty. Firstly, I thought I would wear glasses on the bike, (clear lensed because I don't like dark lenses) and popped them straight on. Seconds later, they have steamed up and I can't see a thing. Off they come again (several seconds wasted). Then since I was wearing a triathlon suit for the first time, I was going to be using the pocket at the back of the suit to hold my gels (aka food). By now I have put my race belt on (with my number correctly attached and facing the right way) so I can't actually get to my pocket very easily. So, I may just as well have thrown the two gels straight over my shoulder and saved myself some time as they would have ended up in the same place as they did anway- the floor. Did I say that when I took the cycling glasses off they scattered across the floor too ? No ? Well, they did... so another few seconds spent 'scrapling' around on the floor, and no, I'm not finished yet. On to the helmet. I had decided to borrow Biscuit Boy's helmet. It's more comfortable, it's not as old as mine.. I did, of course, pre-race try taking it off and on, and on and off and try doing it up. Well, I shouldn't have bothered, because I could NOT do it up on the day. 'The strap's twisted' said the extremely helpful chap beside me. I untwisted and after about three more goes I was finally done up. Trainers next. I had put talcum powder in my trainers, so that's good. I had left them pulled open, with my lovely lock laces stretched to the limit and yet it still took me an age to get my feet into the darn things...

Of course, by this point I was on my own anyway. Everyone else was long gone.. so off I went just me and my bike. Biscuit Boy tells me I was in T1 for about three minutes, that's about 2mins 30secs too long..

There's only one words to describe the bike course : 'Awesome' and sorry, one more 'Hilly'. The course in the blurb is described as 'undulating' - I suppose that should have been clue enough. I thought that had meant 'gently undulating'. Isn't 'undulating' the word you use when it's 'gently undulating' - otherwise you would just call it 'hilly' no? Take it from me - it's hilly. You might by now be thinking, well you're just a wannabe triathlete not a real one... well, the bike is my strongest point I did the 30km in just over an hour - and at some points I was in my lowest gear and cycling out of the saddle (by anyone's guess that's hilly). It's just hilly ok !!!

Ok, calm. The good news is that I managed to overtake two maybe three people and so redeem some of my poor efforts so far. The scenery on the bike is just beautiful, as you cycle through all the 'Wallops'  - 'Upper Wallop', 'Lower Wallop', 'Middle Wallop' (?) - Don't take my word for this bit though - I just remember seeing the word 'Wallop' a lot as I 'sped' by. Whatever they were called, these villages were picture postcard pretty, with thatched roof cottages, beautiful gardens, country pubs, just imagine your perfect English villages - this was them. I loved, loved, loved the bike course, despite the hills. Incidentally, I had noticed that my feet were numb about two thirds of the way through the bike course- but there wasn't a lot I could do by that point was there ? Had I laced my trainers too tight ?

With all the fuss in T1 I had forgotten to drink anything, so by the I came back into T2 I was thirsty. This time I did NOT hang about. I racked my bike, took off my helmet. Grabbed my 'Lucozade sport' and off I went. As usual, my legs were numb from the bike. I thought back to the girls I had watched the day before in Hyde Park - how do they do it ? I gulped down the Lucozade Sport, it tasted over-sweet and as it was such a hot day, over-warm too. The run was very much like the bike, 'through the wallops' and 'hilly'. So, a similar kind of route to the bike, albeit a lot shorter. I passed about two people on the run I think, thus further redeeming the ridiculous swim and T1 'mess' I had made earlier.

Turning the corner and seeing the sign for the school was of course blissful. The crowds cheered and my photo was snapped as I crossed the line. The post race refreshments were top notch (bacon or sausage butty anyone ?) and everyone tucked in heartily. Refreshments and service of them was great, which always goes down well with competitors and spectators, (and organizers!) alike.

One thing I will say about the bike and run course is that I found it a pretty solitary race, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, although I think the sight of someone in the distance does give you that incentive to push it a little bit harder..well, it does for me anyway. As it is I probably saw 4 or 5 fellow triathletes on the whole course. Of course, there were few spectators actually on the course too, but there were a couple of  'Come on 53!'s, which is always an encouragement.  The upside of these quiet, country roads and the early start was of course a lack of traffic, I did not see many cars either.

If you're looking for a very friendly race, very well organized, with a few hills and a quite solitary course then this is the one for you.

Here are my results:
Overall female position: 28 out of 39
Swim time: 440m: 12mins 21 secs - 35 out of 39
Bike time: 30km: 1hr 12mins - 25 out of 39 (including horrendous transition time)
Run time: 8km - 44mins 59secs - 25 out of 39

Would I do it again ? In a heartbeat. That's the problem with triathlon, it's addictive. How do I feel today ? Proud that I finally got back in the triathlon saddle. Oddly, I am also not aching .. does this mean that I did not push myself hard enough, or that those compression leggings did really work for those post-race aching calf muscles. I will be trying these out in training so watch out for a review soon.

Finally, a huge Thank you to Andover Triathletes and all of their volunteers for putting on a great race, and here's a link to the club for those that are tempted for next year. Go on, you know you want to !

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