As a runner, average mountain biker and massively below average swimmer, I’m not sure signing up for my first triathlon was my cleverest idea to date.
Triathlon has always been something I admired from a distance, maintaining the usual “I could never do that” attitude. However, the niggling feeling of wanting to get involved just wouldn’t go away. In April 2016 I signed up for my first sprint distance triathlon. I had six months to train for a 750m open water swim, a 26 kilometre bike ride and a 5.5 kilometre run. Now I’m fully aware that this kind of distance is easy to a lot of people, but at the point of entering I hadn’t swum a length in 18 years and had never ridden a road bike in my life. So I enlisted back up. I signed up two guys from work that had expressed an interest. If I’m going to look like a tit, at least we will all look like tits together!
The running was already in hand, running two nights a week with my running buddy Mark (who due to my nagging has also just signed up to run his first half marathon at the Great North Run). I’ve always run on and off for as long as I can remember, but having a running buddy has seen me enter more and more events such as 10k runs, half marathons and even obstacle course racing. As the Great North Run is two weeks before my first triathlon, there is a good chance this will be mentioned multiple times again!
This is where the unfamiliar territory starts, road cycling. I’ve always mocked Lycra wearing “roadies” and preferred riding my beloved Lapierre Zesty mountain bike round the trails of gisburn and lee quarry. However if I was going to give it a go I needed a road bike. I looked at new bikes in halfords and all terrain cycles but they were either crap or far too much money, so after looking and bidding for a while I bought a 2013 Cube Peleton for £380! Thrown into the bargain was pretty much everything I would need, including a turbo trainer!!
The first session out on the bike was supposed to be a steady ride through the valley to get used to the thing, but ended up being a slog up Cragg Vale, a notorious climb used in the Tour de France when it passed through Yorkshire. I was quite pleased with how quickly I got up considering it was my first ride ever (35 mins). The “group” ride is now every Wednesday (25m of hills) and Sunday (40m) including three of us that are doing the triathlon and one piss taking southerner, who loves to push his bike uphill and crash his bike downhill, thrown in for good measure.
Ok, now we are getting into deep water, literally. I’ve always assumed that I was a strong swimmer, confident enough to stupidly sign up for a half mile swim anyway. However, when I started my swim training I realised how far off I really was. I started swimming with a friend twice a week but couldn’t manage any more then a length without stopping. I couldn’t breath, how could it be so hard!? I started looking into lessons at the local pools but didn’t like the idea of people I know seeing me learning how to swim, especially when I had a misguided opinion that I could already swim!!
I signed up to a term of lessons at a private swim school an hours drive from my house. Every Sunday I would do a two hour round trip to swim for 30 minutes in a cold pool, where 15 minutes in all the parents of the kids attending the next lesson would join and watch me splashing about trying to learn to swim. In the first six weeks of my lessons I felt little improvement, often coming away feeling down and pessimistic about what lay ahead. On week seven everything seemed to click, the countless lengths of stopping and starting, practicing bilateral breathing, all seemed to fall into place. By the time I finished my final lesson with the swim school I was swimming six sets of 100m at a time without stopping for any long pauses, and my technique felt ten times stronger. I would recommend getting swim coaching to anyone worried about their swimming.
Two weeks after my final swim lesson, and only one week prior to this post, I attempted my first open water swim. Holy shit. It was foggy, cold and scary. I pretty much breast stroked the whole way round, attempting to do from crawl when I could, but whenever my face entered the water it felt like ice cubes on my face and halted my breathing. We struggled, but we got round the 700m loop, and three days later returned as temperatures soared to 30 degrees for a second attempt, then a third two days after that. I’m glad to say it’s getting easier each visit and I’m actually enjoying it the most at the minute, although I’m still pausing every 100-150 meters to catch my breath.
And that’s where I’m at right now, still no where near but loving the training. After reading Can’t Swim, Can’t Run, Can’t Ride by Andy Holgate (great book) I remembered the suggestion that blogging will keep you training as it feels like people are watching, so here goes…..