Thames Turbo Sprint Triathlon

I hadn’t trained properly and had a cold last week. So I decided to stop trying to set myself goals (eg. finishing in the top 50%) and instead just take part, have a go, tri it out.

The night before I stayed at a friend’s nearby, to make the early start easier. I was provided with pre-race nutrition – beetroot and goats cheese risotto, and copious Ben & Jerry’s icecream – and we watched a Disney film (my friend is 40 years old).

I woke up at 5am and crept downstairs, almost tripping over an errant cat. I got dressed and ate some Ready Brek, sitting on the kitchen floor. It had started to rain, but stopped by the time I arrived at Hampton Pool, where I attempted to enter transition without putting my race numbers on.

After racking my bike, I took everything out of my bag. Put everything back. Took everything out again. Took out two plastic bags and decided to separate everything into the 2 transitions. Moved things between plastic bags. Eventually stood up and bashed my head on the bike rack.

I wandered over to the race briefing. As the briefing went on, my stomach started to feel unsettled and as soon as it was over, I headed to the toilet block – which had underfloor heating, so was a good place to be.

It turns out that beetroot risotto is NOT good pre-race food. I won’t go into it but let’s just say I spent significant time in the toilet block.

My race number was 405 and participants started every 15 seconds, meaning I had quite a wait. I was told that the lowest numbers were for novices, so I’m not sure why my number was so high. I chatted to a few people, most of whom seemed surprised I was new to triathlon, maybe because I had no shame in wandering about in a trisuit.

When the numbers hit the 300’s I decided it was the perfect time to adjust my bike brakes.

As my number got closer I chatted to a girl who was also doing her first triathlon. She said I was brave for going along on my own.

Swim: 426m

I joined the queue. Someone said my name – it was Chris, the Iron Lamb! He’d got up at 5am and cycled over to cheer me on! I set off on the swim with a big grin on my face and didn’t feel nervous at all.

The nerves kicked in on the 2nd length when the familiar panic made an appearance. I didn’t get into the groove for a while, by which point I’d been overtaken a couple of times. The moment I felt less tense I swam a lot better and ended up overtaking a few people.

Transition

Out of the pool and into T1. I pulled off my goggles and swim hat and ran to my bike. What first? I’d not practiced transitions. Jersey. Gilet. Tights. Oh god I can’t get the tights on. Tights off. Oh god they won’t come off, one leg is stuck. Fall over. Get up. Abandon tights. Socks. Shoes. Gloves. Garmin. Cap. Helmet. Bike. Argh, race belt!

There was a bit of a run out onto the main road, where we were told to mount by a steward. The chap in front of me stopped suddenly, almost causing a pile up. It was quite straggly and I was glad to get away on my bike.

Cycle: 21.5km

It was raining and windy, but a nice easy route, and Chris was standing at the corner of Sunbury Road, which made me grin again. I felt comfortable and overtook quite a few people, and made sure to say thanks to all the marshals.

A few things slowed me down – one chap who refused to let me overtake him (he kept re-overtaking and I didn’t want to be near him in case it looked like I was drafting) meaning I held back a little to let him go; wet gravel at the roundabout in Chertsey; and a lorry pulling out without looking in Sunbury, resulting in some foul language from me.

As I neared the end of the bike course I felt relaxed and not at all like I had exerted myself.

Transition

T2 was spent jogging on a slippery mat/slippery mud in road shoes, until I could rack my bike and take my shoes off. Helmet off. Trainers on. Race belt off. Gilet off. Jersey off. Gilet back on. Race belt back on. Garmins swapped over and unnecessary saving activities. Grab a gel. Go!

Run: 5k

I wasn’t sure where transition ended and the run course began – it wasn’t sign posted – so I pressed ‘start’ when I could see the road. Hello again, Chris! My legs felt fine although I was paranoid that my lack of brick training would bite me on the arse and I tried to hold myself back.

The course went along the road for 500m or so and I nearly got car-doored twice, and then into Bushy Park – thankfully I was following other people as it wasn’t well signposted. The park had a wintry air to it but my legs still felt okay. There were some cheerers in the centre of the park and one marshal had a list of names that he checked against numbers so he could shout our names, which was a nice touch.

At 3k I got a stitch. I need to learn to run through a stitch instead of trying to make it go away – when you’re running 5k you may as well just get it over with. I spotted Chris, who told me the finish line was just around the corner, and it was! I picked my feet up and sprinted over the line.

Thames Turbo Sprint Triathlon

Chris and I strolled back to Hampton Pool (again, not very well signposted!), sharing a Coke. My transition zone looked like my bedroom, age 14, with clothes strewn everywhere. All soaked by the rain.

I was happy to have completed my first triathlon and pleased I removed the pressure of ‘doing well’ – and I was surprised to find out that I came 18th in my age group (out of 52). There are easy gains to be made and key lessons to be learnt, along with actually doing some training:

  • Don’t eat beetroot the night before.
  • Take food to the start if there might be a wait.
  • Don’t make bike adjustments when the swim has started.
  • Put Vaseline under your ankle timing band or risk chafing.
  • Don’t panic in the pool, it’s ok if someone overtakes.
  • Pack a towel.
  • Don’t try getting dressed when you’re wet.
  • Find out where transition ends/the race starts.
  • Practice bike mounts.
  • Don’t faff about with garmins in transition.
  • Don’t faff about with clothes so much, it’s not a fashion show!
  • Don’t leave clothes all over transition, including your clean clothes for post-race.

Final results:

  • Swim: 00:11:01 (2:35/100m)
  • T1: 00:03:10
  • Bike: 00:44:36 (18mph)
  • T2: 00:02:10
  • Run: 00:30:02 (9:40/mile)
  • Total: 01:31:01

One year alkoholfrei

Just over a year ago I went on a night out with some ex-colleagues. We drank wine on the Southbank, starting out so civilised and ending up a mess. The next morning I felt terrible, in my body and soul. I decided to take a break from drinking. And that break has turned from a pause to a stop, from a temporary hiatus to a different way of life.

I don’t miss alcohol at all. If I did, I’d drink. There’s no medical or other reason why I couldn’t and this isn’t something puritanical. But I choose not to.

I do miss being able to go out for the evening without other people commenting on my decision. It’s been fascinating but ultimately extremely tedious listening to other people’s views on me not drinking.

Sometimes I get asked if I’m boring because I don’t drink. I’m not, I never have been and it says more about the person asking the question.

I get asked what I do when (or if!!) I go to the pub. Chat to my friends, have a laugh, what everyone else does, what kind of a question is this?

I get asked if I’m judging other people for them drinking, and while I really don’t mind what other people choose to do, I have to say that not drinking has given me a different perspective on alcohol. It’s not for me to tell anyone else what to do but my personal opinion is that people drink too much. Of course, not drinking means you lose the right to comment on anyone else’s drinking, so I sip my blackcurrant and soda while another person asks me why I don’t drink and that they’d love to see me drunk, and I wonder why it’s such a big deal to other people and what that says about them.

The least hostility I faced was when I was training for the London Marathon. This was deemed an “acceptable” reason for not drinking.

The most hostility I faced was when, on a night out, someone put vodka in my drink. I lost a lot of respect for humankind through that, and even more so when other people didn’t think it was a big deal. For the record, that’s an affront and an assault. It’s shocking how little respect people can show for other people’s decisions, just because they’re different to theirs.

Luckily for me, I don’t care what other people think, or at least, I can pretend not to. Sometimes it’s lonely not drinking.

And luckily, not drinking is really awesome. I feel great, look good, have more free time (no hangovers!), don’t worry that I’ve been a dick the night before, have more money and feel infinitely happier.

I may decide at some point that I want to drink alcohol again. But I may not, and it would be lovely if my decision was respected, either way.

Wortham Wedding

This weekend I made a series of discrete decisions that resulted in me riding a solo century with a tent balanced on top of my saddlebag, itself filled with formal clothes for a wedding.

I’d been invited to the evening reception of a wedding on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. It’s 2 hours by train, plus a taxi at the other end, and I felt a bit ‘meh’ about the whole going-to-a-wedding-on-your-own kind of thing. But I really wanted to go, so I thought I’d make the most of the day and cycle.

I left booking accommodation so late that there was nothing available, it being the middle of nowhere, other than a campsite. I don’t own a tent any more, having abandoned mine in Austria last month in a fit of rain-sodden pique. My housemate lent me his, a roomy and comfortable 2-man tent. Perfect for carrying on a bike.

Woolwich Ferry

I planned to set off early but spent some time trying to find clothes and shoes that would be a) suitable for a wedding and b) packable, and then trying to secure the tent on top of the saddlebag. When I eventually set off I was held up at the Woolwich Ferry for a good half hour (I don’t know why I persist in loving the ferry so much) and it took forever to leave London. I wasn’t sure I’d make it on time, and started to think about where I could get a train from.

Things picked up considerably when I left the howling wasteland that is East London and I stopped in a village near Chelmsford for a plate of pasta, surrounded by women drinking pinot grigio on their way to the V Festival. I rode up a dual carriageway to Braintree and managed to get lost (despite having a garmin) in some lanes near Sudbury. I was trying out various different gels and bars, some of which were unpalatable (I’m looking at you, powerbar) so I had to throw some of them away (in a bin, I hasten to add) and was pretty hungry. I took a shameless selfie.

#selfies4dimi3

#selfies4dimi3

The final 30 miles were a blast, I felt really zen. I arrived at the campsite, pitched my tent, had a shower and headed to the wedding reception, where I danced to abominable/awesome music all night.

Would I do it again? Yes – with a smaller tent (I was able to do yoga in mine the next morning, it was so spacious), with a different route out of London and with more food (there was some bread and cheese at the reception but it didn’t fill the hole and I woke up in the night so incredibly hungry that I had to go for a walk around the campsite, the only thing I had remaining to eat was a caffeine gel and I couldn’t bring myself to do that).

Strava link.

Last of the Summer Series

Last night was the final race in the Summer Cyclocross Series. I was looking forward to the race (not in Croydon!) but also dreading it because it was at Herne Hill Velodrome (my nemesis!). When people think of HHV they think of the track, but that’s not all there is – there’s a cyclocross course behind the track. And it’s tough!!

The forecast was always for rain but in the afternoon it pelted it down, with flash flooding in southeast London. I decided I’d make my mind up on the way to the venue, not wanting to commit but not wanting to definitely pull out. Work conspired against me and I couldn’t leave on time to get to Herne Hill for 7pm – something I wasn’t sure I was entirely unhappy about, given the rain the whole way there.

I got called a chicken by Neil (who wasn’t racing either so had no leg to stand on) and leant on the railings to watch the race. The course started in the track centre with a long sweep over the grass, then up over the track and into the woods, out of the woods and over the mounds, back into the woods, then back down into the track centre for some wiggly grass action and back to the start. It had stopped raining but there was a lot of mud.

There was a mechanical on the first straight, and the race came to standstill on the entrance to the woods, presumably because of a crash.

Within 10 minutes, people could be seen with broken rear mechs. A count was started.

Broken rear mech at the Summer Series

 

By 20 minutes in, the race looked like the Somme. In every direction, I could see people walking, carrying the corpses of their bikes. 10, 12, 15 rear mechs.

Dave came off a few times and called it a day. He went to join the queue to hose down his bike – the number of people now in the queue seemed almost the same as the number left in the race.

Rich broke his rear mech and joined the hosepipe queue.

It all seemed a bit farcical. 16, 18, 20 rear mechs.

Another broken rear mech at the Summer Series

Howard was still racing and I spotted him at the top of the track, fiddling with his bike. He started running, with the bike, pushing the bike through the mud. He kept running, an entire half a lap pushing the bike. Eventually he stopped running and – he told me later – washed off some of the larger bits of claggy mud in a puddle. Then got back on and goddamn finished the race!

The bell went. We congratulated Howard when he found his way over to us and he said “photograph me, to prove I did this!”.

Howard Stredwick at the Summer Series

He went to find another puddle, the queue for the hosepipe being too long. I was surrounded by people trying to ghetto their bikes to get home. I was just getting ready to leave myself when Jason told me I should go into the track centre for the prize giving….

It turned out that I came third overall in the Women’s competition! It seems there’s something to be said for turning up every week.

I was super embarrassed but got a cheer and went up on the podium to collect my prize, and later, went back on the podium with all the other winners to spray champagne around!

Prizes at the Summer Series

I thanked Jason for everything – for the support, for the bike, for the prizes – and he suggested the league, which starts next month and runs over the winter. Crazy talk… isn’t it?

Six weeks ago I’d never ridden a cyclocross bike or ever ridden off road. Now… well, I still suck at cyclocross but I’m so pleased I gave it a go. I’ve met some lovely people, tested myself, improved (marginally!) my bike handling and am slowly, slowly, conquering the fear. If I don’t keep doing it, I think I might actually miss it.

Third time’s the charm…

After enjoying riding the cross bike at the weekend I was looking forward to last Thursday’s race at Bethlem, the third race in the Summer Series. I set off from work, attempting a different route to the other week to avoid Croydon town centre, although found a bridge I needed was closed. I made it to sign on with a minute to spare, having stopped to buy some water at a petrol station, planning to down it at the start.

I couldn’t see any other riders and was relieved to find that the race started in the next field – only to then panic that it was in the next field and I was nowhere near!

Two kind volunteers pinned my number on and I dashed to the start, abandoning my water. Dave let me have some of his water, while Howard gleefully told me that the race was “entirely uphill” and featured a log hidden in the dark and a large, ominous-sounding drop off.

I started near the back, to let the faster riders get off to a good start, but was depressed at how quickly everyone got away from me.

I overtook one chap on the hill, hills being my strong point (if by strong you mean ‘less weak’). And into the woods… where I slowed right down. My balls-out “fuck it!” approach of a fortnight ago was long gone – I wished I’d done a sighter lap with someone better than me, to give me tips on what to do. I inched along, dismounted/remounted in the exact same way I saw my primary school dinner lady do (ie. not very cyclocross).

Back out onto the grass and I wondered how long it would be before someone lapped me. More slow dismounts, the photographer discretely averting his lens as he wanted ‘race’ photos, not this pathetic excuse.

The second bit of woods was a complete unknown to me – at least the first I recognised, albeit in the other direction. Lots of roots, stumps… and the drop off. I bottled it. Oh god. Oh god. I’m going to splat down on the bottom here, in front of these kids who are here to heckle the riders but don’t heckle me because they’re embarrassed for me. I’m embarrassed for me. Oh god. Let this end. I walked a bit.

Being back on the grass, which actually WAS all uphill, was quite a relief, in a masochistic kind of way. My lips felt like when I was super dehydrated at the London Marathon. I got lapped, kind words hanging in the air as they flew by. I inched through the woods again and as I came out more people tried to lap me, but shouted at me to get out of the way (the opposite of what they’d been told to do) so I swore under my breath and felt like crap for impeding their race and being so rubbish at cyclocross.

I felt like crying. I like the worst rider Bethlem had ever seen. I felt stupid, and slow, and empty. My legs felt like they were made of china, filled with air but weighty and cumbersome. I had nothing left, yet I’d not really given anything.

I quit. I couldn’t make my legs move any more. I felt like a heavy cloud, made of nothing yet carrying the weight of the world. I stopped, dragged my bike under the tape, and finally drank my water. I ate a 9bar and that gave me the energy to get home, along with a packet of crisps and a Lucozade.

DNF.

It was a hot evening on a tough course. I was dehydrated and haven’t been eating properly. But it’s still embarrassing.

Cyclocross at Bethlem

Pre-bonk. Still not happy.

#WestNorwood4Lyf Leisure Centre

I’ve lived in South London for 9 years, with many of those years spent in Herne Hill. Back in those days, I used to go to West Norwood to go to B&Q and once to the self storage centre. It felt slightly alien – more suburban than zone 2 Herne Hill and much poorer and dirtier. Fast forward a few years and I’ve been priced out of Herne Hill and East Dulwich and now live in West Norwood.

One of the things West Norwood has going for it is a brand new leisure centre. I remember visiting a friend 2 years ago and the centre was being built, due to open in Autumn 2013… Then spring 2014… Then summer 2014… Then, finally, July 2014. Hooray!

I decided to check out the pool (I’m only really interested in the pool, rather than the gym or other facilities on offer), though this plan was hampered slightly by reduced opening hours for the first fortnight (midday – 8pm). I’d really rather swim before work and look forward to the pool being open at more suitable hours.

The entrance to the leisure centre is opposite the station, up a drive. I’m unsure whether it will seem dodgy in the dark.

West Norwood Leisure Centre

I locked my bike up on the ample, covered bike racks. This is a nice touch.

West Norwood Leisure CentreOnce inside, I joined the queue at the reception desk. There are machines that you can use if you’re a member but non-members (or anyone asking a question) have to queue up. There were 3 people behind the desk, although 2 were studiously ignoring everyone and the other was on the phone as well as trying to book people in. I had to wait more than 5 minutes to be seen, despite other members of staff milling about.

“Just a swim, please”, I asked.

“That’ll be £4.20. Oh, and there’s only one lane open”, I was told.West Norwood Leisure Centre

I’m not massively au fait with swimming prices in London’s famous London but this seems quite steep. I handed over my cash and didn’t ask about lockers, feeling a bit like a mystery shopper. Minutes later I felt like an idiot as the lockers needed a pound coin and I obviously didn’t have one and had to go back to the reception area wearing only my swimming costume.

The changing rooms are signposted as Toilets and once inside there is an array of identical blue-doored cubicles, some with showers, some with toilets, some with changing benches.

Pound coin finally in hand, I left my stuff in a locker and safety pinned the key to my costume. I much prefer lockers with padlocks, as I have a combination padlock and don’t have to worry about coins or keys.West Norwood Leisure Centre

In the pool, there was an aqua aerobics class going on, although there appeared to be very little aerobic activity from the class participants. There was also an adult swimming lesson in the far lane, leaving two lanes in the middle for lane swimming. I got in to the lane not marked as a slow lane and set off, accompanied by the blaring music from the aqua aerobics class.

The water was cooler than my usual pool (thank goodness!) and a sign outside said that it was 28 degrees. It was clean, bar a few hair bands on the bottom and the omnipresent floating plaster. The pool is chlorinated but not too badly, meaning my skin didn’t feel like it was burning. I kept my goggles on anyway.

Although the lane next to mine was marked as slow, the swimmers in my lane were very slow. Lots of head-up breaststroke and wonky backstroke. No one seemed impressed by me overtaking, although I tried to do it unobtrusively. As with every pool I’ve been to, the lifeguards did nothing and slow people were not encouraged to move to a more appropriate lane.

Towards the end of the session the pool emptied out as both classes finished and the slow swimmers left the pool. I was really getting into it – reach, extend, rotate, even turning well – and would have stayed for longer but had to call it a day after 40 lengths.

I spoke to a staff member on the way out about private lessons and was told that they don’t have enough instructors at the moment to offer this (something I wasn’t told when I originally left my number). The staff seemed friendly though, and hopefully someone will eventually get in touch.

I threw some clothes on and left without showering – one of the joys of the leisure centre is that it’s 5 minutes from my house. I’ll be back – this is a nice pool in a (for me!) fantastic location, although I’ll probably get a membership as it’s a significant saving (£22 per month, as opposed to £4.20 per swim).

 

Mission: slevless

My brother did Ironman Austria earlier this summer, and I was so inspired that I decided to sign up for a triathlon of my own. I chose a sprint distance race (the Thames Turbo Sprint Triathlon) as I felt that these distances weren’t too daunting (swim 426m, bike 21.5k, run 5k). No problem, surely? I mean, I already ride a bike and ran a marathon earlier this year, how hard can it be?

With less than three weeks until the race, this where training currently stands:

  • Swim: I’ve swum twice at Latchmere Pool (did 1k gracelessly but with no difficulty) and once at Tooting Bec Lido (had a panic attack after one length and tried to claw my wetsuit off, only managing to stay in the water because Bernie convinced me that I could do it). As a kid I was a good swimmer, got lots of badges and was consistently used by instructors to demonstrate good technique.
  • Bike: I ride over 100 miles per week, although much of this is commuting, interspersed with my new cyclocross hobby. I’m reasonably confident that I’ll be okay on the bike.
  • Run: I’m desperately trying to put some speed into my legs, as generally I train too slowly.

My race experience may be somewhat lacking, too:

  • Swim: I’ve only competed once in swimming and that was in secondary school, doing 100m butterfly. I think I came 2nd, it wasn’t a strong field.
  • Bike: Other than cyclocross and some sportives, I’ve never raced a bike.
  • Run: I did a lot of athletics when I was younger (100m/200m at primary school and 400m at secondary school) but didn’t run much until last year. I’ve done a handful of 5k and 10k races, a half marathon and a marathon. I remain unable to pace myself and frequently crack under pressure.

Specific to triathlon is the issue of transitions. I’m the world’s biggest faffer. I can faff in any situation. I can’t guarantee I’m not going to have half hour transitions due to the amount of faffing that I do.

T-minus 19 days…