So it happened. I entered my first triathlon! (Spoiler alert – I am now officially a triathlete!)
It’s something that has been on the cards for a while. I’m not sure exactly when I decided I wanted to do a triathlon, but it was late 2015 when Nat first gave me lessons in riding a road bike and using cleats, and when I first started going swimming semi-regularly (I had been a swimmer in the past, not a particularly fast one but a competent one, but I just found it incredibly boring so I gave it up and didn’t start again for many years!
That year, 2015, I competed in my first multisport event, the Sam White Memorial Aquathlons, at Glenelg just after Christmas. As a first timer, I opted for the short course (250m ocean swim and 1.7km run). There was also a medium and a long course (2 times and 3 times the short course). I managed to win my age group and also 10 passes to the local swimming centre which made it a pretty worthwhile exercise!
Then, a few months ago, not long after I finally got myself a bike, I did my first duathlon (run/bike/run) which you can read about here. (Another age group win – probably helped by the fact I was the only one in my age group!)
Now I had a bike, I had decided that this summer I was going to bite the bullet and get that first tri done. The Gatti series was a perfect choice – not far from home, and catering to a wide range of abilities. There were several distance options ranging from the Mini (100m swim/6.5km bike/1k run) to the Challenge (800m swim/26k bike/6k run). For my first one, I decided on the Tinman (300m swim/19.5k bike/3k run). The Mini was a little bit too short – I suspected my transitions would take longer than the actual swim/bike/run bits! And the Challenge was a bit too long – especially 800m in open water. I was pretty confident I could swim that far but I’d never swum more than about 400 in open water.
Because I wanted to look like a triathlete, at least until I got into the water and started to swim, I bought myself a tri suit online. I went with a 2XU one, I got it cheap and I knew the 2XU sizing from other stuff I have. It took a bit longer to arrive than I’d hoped, not arriving until the Monday before the race. I wanted to swim, ride and run in in before the day.
After my Glenelg Classic race on Sunday, I met up with Karen and Daryl, who were doing a long bike ride, for coffee. I also casually mentioned Sunday’s triathlon to Karen and said “You wouldn’t be interested in joining me for the triathlon on Sunday, by any chance?” Now she will probably tell the story differently but I can assure you there was no arm twisting. Let’s just say she required minimal convincing! (I hadn’t even entered by this stage!) We’d decided to keep it relatively quiet (ie not broadcasting on Facebook) but by Sunday evening we’d both entered and it was all over Facebook! (Hint: it wasn’t me who posted it!)
On Monday, which was quite a hot one, I went out to my usual cycling haunt, Victoria Park. Unfortunately my usual track was blocked off with a equestrian event being set up, so I had to ride a shorter loop (and consequently a lot more laps!). I’d opted to put a T-shirt on over my tri suit – the tri suit is sleeveless and I didn’t want to have to put sunscreen on my shoulders. I would of course do that on race day! I’m not sure if I would have wanted to ride much further without extra padding in the shorts, but 20k was relatively comfortable. I then racked my bike (by ‘racked’ I mean I took the front wheel off and locked it up in my car) and changed my shoes before setting off for a 3k run. Although it was quite hot, the tri suit was still relatively comfortable. I’d also gone with different shoes to normal – I had an old pair of Asics which I never run in anymore but they have the advantage of being really easy to slip into. For 3k it wouldn’t matter too much that they were no good for my feet! I’d also put elastic laces in them to further speed up transition. I calculated I did the transition in about 3 minutes which I was pretty happy with. All up, from the start of the bike leg to the end of the run leg, it took me 65 minutes. So, based on that, plus maybe 10 minutes for the swim, and add on another 5 minutes, I should be able to finish the triathlon in under 1 hour 20. It didn’t really matter, but I like to have some kind of rough idea going into an event!
I then had to fit in a swim somewhere. I needed to swim in the lake or the ocean – apparently chlorine is not particularly kind to the kind of fabric tri suits are made of! I decided to swim in the lake because that was where I’d have to swim on race day! Plus, there had been a shark sighting earlier that day. No sharks in the lake! Plenty of jellyfish, but no sharks!
Wednesday afternoon I headed to West Lakes only to find NOT ANOTHER SOUL there! I went in anyway, and did 2 laps around the buoys which I worked out would be probably around 400m. I touched 2 jellyfish! I had new goggles as I’d had issues with my previous ones leaking. However, I wasn’t particularly keen to see what was underwater so I pretty much swam the whole thing with my head out of the water (but still swimming freestyle, sort of!) The tri suit felt quite comfortable to swim in, so I was happy that it would work for the triathlon!
Thursday was a regular running day, and at post-run coffee I picked the brains of 2 experienced triathletes, Neil and Sarah, wanting to get some last-minute tips. Sarah mentioned something about not swimming in West Lakes after it had been raining, adding “do you know that rule?” Err, no, I didn’t know that rule. And it HAD been raining! Maybe that’s why there was no-one else there!
Friday was another running day, I had a particularly good hills run. (I wasn’t bothered about ‘tapering’ for this event – I didn’t have any time goals, and regardless of how much running I did, I knew I was going to be able to manage the 3k run relatively comfortably.) I then went to work and proceeded to fall up the stairs, landing quite heavily on my right knee (for the anatomically minded, right on the tibial tuberosity!)
On Saturday I went out to Mawson Lakes parkrun, I had no issues with the run, there was a bit of bruising on the knee but it didn’t impede my running at all.
Then I got home and got all my kit organised for the big race – there’s quite a bit more involved in prepping for a triathlon than for a running event!
Sunday morning was an early start. I got up at 5:30, leaving home at 6:15 to be at West Lakes by 7. Registration was from 6:45 to 7:45 and as a complete n00b I wanted to give myself plenty of time!
After collecting my race number and yellow swim cap, I headed over to the bike compound to rack my bike. I had to try to find a spot where I would easily be able to find my bike! In the end I went with row 7 (thinking ‘lucky 7’) and as it turned out, Karen and Ros had the same idea! I’d first met Ros at the very first South Australian parkrun, way back in December 2012, and she was the person who put the idea in my head that I wanted to do a marathon one day! Ros was doing her first Tinman, but was a ‘veteran’ of a number of shorter triathlons. Her husband Roger was her support crew and ‘official’ photographer!
Running buddy and Ironman finisher Sarah, doing her first triathlon since having a baby, came over to make sure I was all sorted!
There were quite a few familiar faces there, most of them doing the Challenge (Karen, Belinda, Sarah, Luke, Rob and Matt) and also our regular running buddy Neil doing the little-known ‘Swim and Spin’ – essentially the Challenge distance tri but without the run! In the Tinman, other than Karen and Ros was Naomi who I’d met at a few running events over the years!
Most people opted to get into the lake before the start of the event, to acclimatise to the water temperature. Many were wearing wetsuits. Probably not so much in the Tinman and the Mini, but certainly in the Challenge most people seemed to be in wetties. I had opted not to wear a wetty, firstly because I don’t have one, secondly because I didn’t think it would make a significant difference to my 300m swim, and thirdly because I was sure any potential gains in the swim would be lost in transition!
Pretty soon we were all called out of the water for a race briefing. The director explained the course for the swim, bike and run, and I tried to take it in, but I figured I’d always have someone to follow!
The Mini competitors went first, followed closely by the Tinmen (is that what we are?)
I had my Garmin all set up in Multisport mode so all I had to do was press ‘Start’ as we crossed the mat to start the swim leg.
Although it was really quite slow, I was really happy with how the swim went. It was essentially three-quarters of a square – straight out, around one buoy, across to another, and then straight back to shore. I didn’t get kicked, I didn’t kick anyone, and miraculously I even passed a few people! I felt very comfortable throughout. I probably could have gone faster, but as it was my first triathlon, the last thing I wanted to do was burn myself out on the swim! A lot of people had told me that they often panic in the swim and can’t get their breathing right, but I didn’t have any such issues. And I didn’t end up drinking too much of the lake so I’m counting that as a win!
There were a lot of people doing breaststroke which was my Plan B but I had been swimming freestyle exclusively for the past few years. I’m sure I can swim breaststroke faster than I can swim freestyle at the moment, and the added bonus of being able to look straight ahead AND breathe, made it quite a tempting option, but I was determined to stick with freestyle which is what I did. Again, as I didn’t really want to see what was down there, I didn’t actually open my eyes underwater, and I did have my head out a lot of the time (mainly to see where I was going!), but technically it was still freestyle! (Apparently someone was even doing backstroke! I didn’t see it, but I thought that was pretty brave!)
The hardest bit was the swim into shore, because we were looking RIGHT into the sun! Even though my gogs are very darkly tinted (a godsend in this case!) I still had trouble seeing the yellow caps in front of me! I saw people start to run while I was still swimming, and I remembered 2 pieces of advice I’d been given. First, start kicking with about 20-30m to go. Then your legs won’t be so jelly-like when you get out of the water. I don’t normally kick when I’m swimming freestyle, but apparently that’s not particularly unusual! And that goes to show what an advantage a wetsuit, with its super buoyancy, is – your legs don’t sink when you aren’t kicking! The second piece of advice was to keep swimming until your hands touch the bottom. It’s much easier to swim than run in water! My swim time was 11:23 which was 81st out of 103 competitors overall, and 29th out of 44 females. I had a bit of work to do!
I made it to shore, and my legs felt OK. I pulled off my cap and goggles and made my way to transition. I had never practised the swim to bike transition, and had no idea how long it would take. I had my towel laid out so I quickly dried off, mostly my feet so I wouldn’t be putting socks on wet feet. Firstly though I put on my helmet and race number, the 2 things that were made very clear at the briefing! I got my socks and bike shoes on, and was ready to roll! T1 took me 1:47, I was relatively happy with how it went, I know a lot of more experienced triathletes have their bike shoes clipped into the pedals already and just slip into the shoes as they mount the bike, so that could possibly have saved me some time or maybe caused me to stack it right in front of all the spectators – who knows? On T1 I was 51st overall and 20th female. Bit better than my swim!
Then came 3 laps, 19.5km, on the bike. On my last ride before the triathlon I’d noticed the bike was making a noise that didn’t sound right, so I’d asked Nat, from whom I’d purchased it, if she wouldn’t mind taking a look at it for me. She suggested that her son Fraser, whose bike it had been, would be better able to assess it, so I’d left it with him for a few days to take a look at. In the end it was just the bike seat was a bit loose (probably from when I’d been gradually easing the seat height up, as recommended by my cycling buddies!. When I had got the bike back on Saturday, Fraser had told me that he had adjusted the seat height so I’d need to adjust it back. As I hadn’t marked where the seat height HAD been, I had to guess a little bit. It was way too high, so I was gradually lowering it, sitting on it in my lounge room, holding onto the couch! I got it to a height that felt comfortable and I could clip in on both feet, so I guessed that would be OK. I hadn’t actually ridden it since I’d adjusted it, though.
My biggest concern with the whole triathlon, and one that I pretty much didn’t have any control over, was the possibility of getting a puncture. Given the distance of the ride, and the fact that I haven’t practised changing a tube, my plan if I got a flat was to pull out. Most people I have spoken to since would have the same plan. In a longer ride, different story. I certainly don’t plan to pull out of Murray Man 2018 with a flat. (Did I just say Murray Man 2018?)
So I ran the bike to the ‘mount’ line and hopped on board. The seat height seemed OK. It took me a little while to clip in (maybe 100 or 200 metres?) but once I was in it was all plain sailing. And there was no more of that noise – the only time the bike made any noise was when I stopped pedalling, for example to go around a tight corner and especially if there were other riders coming up behind me.
The ride was a surprise! I felt entirely comfortable throughout, I managed to overtake a lot of people, and going around corners was made SO much easier by being clipped in. I did use my brakes on one or two corners, but compared to when I did the duathlon in running shoes, well there was no comparison.
I did not use gears. I have mastered the cleats – gears are the next lesson!
I did see quite a few forlorn figures walking up the road with their bikes. Clearly they had the same ‘Plan B’ as me!
With some relief that I hadn’t gotten a puncture, I completed the ride and ran back into the bike compound to rack my bike and get ready for what I always expected to be my strongest leg, the run. I had completed the bike leg in 40:57, which was actually the fastest ride (other than short sprints of course!) that I’d ever done! So that was a pleasant surprise when I found that out! I was 67th overall on the bike leg, and 19th female.
T2 was pretty quick, as I’d practised that one (albeit ‘racking’ my bike in the car, which would presumably take longer than racking it on an actual rack!) – I got through it in 48 seconds but I did have a few false starts putting the bike on the rack, so I can still improve on that! I was 47th overall on T2 and 19th female. All I had to do after racking the bike was swap helmet for cap (I didn’t want to be ‘that’ person who started their run still wearing their helmet!) and bike shoes for running shoes. I noticed quite a few people riding in running shoes, which would have made their transitions much quicker than mine, but unlike wearing a wetsuit in the swim, I knew that wearing bike shoes on the ride would make me much quicker on the bike, and more than make up for the slightly slower transition. The elastic laces on my running shoes helped a lot! I did somehow get a rock in one of my running shoes in the process, which did not make for a particularly comfortable run, however with it being only 3k AND my best leg, I pressed on regardless. I heard occasional running buddy and very accomplished triathlete Piet praise my transition! I was pretty happy with it myself!
As I pressed the ‘lap’ button on my watch for the last time, I realised that I hadn’t actually pressed ‘Start’! (Well I HAD pressed it, but obviously not hard enough!) So I went into the run with no way of knowing how far I had to go!
Running off the bike is always hard. I had practised this a number of times. But it’s hard for everyone, so despite my legs feeling a bit like jelly, I still managed to pass a lot of people on the run.
Because the last part of the run leg was the same route as the bike route, which I’d ridden three times, I was aware when I was getting closeish to the finish line. It certainly felt like a long 3km!
And then there it was, the last turn, and I could see the finishing arch! I saw Shelley and Piet who had come down to watch (Piet has been trying to talk me into triathlon for years, and later told me he thought it wasn’t my first triathlon, he said I looked like I knew what I was doing!) and with a huge smile I ran, arms aloft, through the finishing arch!
I AM A TRIATHLETE!
I had completed the run in 13:32 which was an average pace of 4:31 per kilometre. My 5k race the previous weekend was 4:30! So given that I’d swum and ridden before that, I had to be pretty happy! (It definitely did not feel that fast!) My run split was 18th overall and 4th out of the females. It was a great way to finish!
First things first, I took off my shoes and socks – stupid rock!
Then Justin, who had been down there all morning taking videos of Karen and myself to capture this epic moment, stuck a camera in my face, I gave the thumbs up, thinking he was taking a photo and then he started interviewing me! Luckily I didn’t swear! He later put together a bit of a compilation video as a memento of the day, which was really great – thanks Justin!
It wasn’t long before Ros crossed the line to complete her first Tinman (and also win her age group – well done Ros!)
Then we were all waiting for Karen – she hadn’t been far behind Ros in finishing the bike leg. There was an out and back section in the run leg, I’d seen Ros heading out as I was heading back, but I hadn’t seen Karen. And in her fluoro tri suit, it’s not as if I could have missed her!
And before too long I spotted Karen approaching the finish line! And in true Karen style, she nearly got lost at the finish line! I’m not sure how she could have missed that HUGE YELLOW ARCHWAY but she looked like she was veering right, perhaps to follow the Challenge course and do another lap of the run course? Maybe as an ultramarathoner, 3k was just not long enough? Anyway, we all yelled out to her and she did manage to find the finish line! (And thankfully she loved the event too and is already planning her next one, otherwise I may never have heard the end of it!)
As I had pre-existing lunch plans, I wasn’t able to stay long after the event, and consequently missed the presentations. As it turned out, I kept up my tradition in multisport events and won my age group! (And before you ask, YES, there were other people in my age group!)
My overall time was 1:08:30, which doesn’t really mean a lot to me because I don’t have anything to compare it to. It was significantly faster than I was expecting, though! The swim was a little bit slower, the ride quite a bit quicker, and the run probably about what I would have expected (maybe a little bit quicker). I think I was 10th female overall which was almost certainly thanks to my run leg (and a good T2!)
So! Triathlon! I loved every minute! This definitely won’t be my last!
Things to work on for next time.
- Pressing ‘Start’ on my Garmin.
- Racking my bike a bit quicker.
- Swimming a bit faster.
- Maybe even some gear changes on the bike leg!
So for anyone who’s thinking of trying a triathlon. You don’t need to be a great swimmer, cyclist OR runner. Piet said to me at the finish line (after asking me when I’m going to join his Tri club!) that triathlon is a very inclusive sport. Which I agreed with, then adding “AND VERY EXPENSIVE!” But you don’t have to have all the latest and greatest gear. This really is an event for everyone!
Thanks to everyone involved in putting this event on, and congratulations to all participants, especially those fellow ‘triathlon virgins’! Hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did!