On Saturday I took part in the Virgin Active London Triathlon sprint distance event (750m/20km/5km). I have taken part once before as part of a relay team and was overwhelmed then by the sheer scale of the thing. This years was bigger and better organised than the last time I took part (well, unless you took part on the Sunday when the weather was awful and organisation went out of the window, but that’s a different story). Anyway, given the distinct lack of any training I’d done at the point at which I signed up (about 10 months ago) I only committed to running the sprint distance, rather than the Olympic (1500m/40km/10km) or Olympic Plus (1500m/80km/10km) events, either of which are still clearly somewhat shorter in distance than my main goal of the Outlaw (2.4m/3.9km, 112m/180km, 26.2m/42.2km).
The day started relatively well, with a relatively straightforward journey to London. My fellow masochist for the day Nicola arrived in Wokingham early and we drove to the Excel arriving for around midday. Nic’s wave was at 3:30 and mine was the last sprint wave of the day at 16:50. Getting there so early meant we had time to get a good space in transition, familiarise ourselves with the sheer size and complexity of an event with 13,000+ competitors, and to have a relatively leisurely lunch (which is where I went wrong last time and “bonked” painfully after 30km’s or so). We also had time to watch a previous wave’s safety briefing and see them take to the water and start the race. It definitely put me at ease to get some comprehension of the number of first timers doing the event, and the number of people who had a genuine fear of the swim. It was somewhat reassuring to see the race split quickly into those who were genuinely competitive with those who were there for the challenge of the thing. “Doggy paddle” seemed to be the swim stroke of choice for the back 10% of the field.
Anyway time fairly flew by after this and having watched Nicola start her race I set off to finish setting up in transition and getting some last minute food and drink in. 16:50 came round very quickly and thanks to a helpful lady in transition I managed to squeeze myself into my wetsuit ready for my safety briefing over by the swim start. After the obligatory warnings/competitor hugging/”I am Spartacus” shouting we descended the steps to leave the Excel centre and proceeded down onto the swim ramp. I took a minute to calm myself, clean my goggles, adjust my swim hat and then jumped in. Now, I didn’t expect Maldivian levels of water cleanliness and clarity but I was somewhat shocked by the water in the dock – grim doesn’t quite do it justice. A green colour I can’t even begin to describe and a distinct taste of diesel made a 750m swim a less than enticing prospect. With 450 people in my wave alone, we were split into two distinct starting groups and the gun quickly fired.
And we’re off! The first thing that surprised me was how fast I was swimming; a combination of the buoyancy of the wetsuit and some significant time spent in the pool meant that I blasted the first 100m, having started back from the main field in an attempt to secure some space and avoid any argey-bargey at the start. However, 100m in and I quickly met with some real traffic. Unfortunately after that it was difficult to find any space and therefore any rhythm. I’d swim 50 metres crawl and then quickly find myself swimming over a large group and being forced to breast-stroke or just swim very slowly to avoid any collisions. It was either that or take a much longer course to find the space – in hindsight I probably should have done that. I finished in a time of 16:30 (2:12/100m), which considering the traffic was OK I guess, but that strategy will need to improve for Outlaw.
Exiting the swim was “fun”; dragged from the dock by a 16 year old and then forced to remove my wetsuit in front of a screaming crowd of increasingly inebriated spectators. I threw everything into the plastic bag provided and ran up the stairs and back round into transition (400m?). I had everything laid out nicely in transition so threw on my number belt, sunglasses, helmet, shoes (not yet confident enough to have these attached to the bike) and ran to the bike exit, which I was positioned about 10m from (the benefit of arriving early!). After a shaky start, not helped by an immediate tricky descent out of the Excel centre and onto the main drag I tried to settle into a rhythm. Now it’s at this point that I should say that I haven’t cycled for about 8 weeks having injured my foot in my previous open water exploits so I wasn’t expecting anything extraordinary. This was even more clearly going to be the case when I got out on the bike course; apart from a couple of sections at the beginning of each lap (including the one “climb”), the course was quite narrow and in some places twisty. In addition to the sheer number of competitors on the course, this meant overtaking was difficult and in some cases nigh on impossible, it also meant all of the previous warnings regarding drafting were pretty much ignored. I finished the bike leg in 39:47 (1:59/1km, 31kph) – again, I couldn’t be too unhappy given my lead up to the event.
Coming into transition meant negotiating the large number of crazies who’d dismounted their bikes prior to the short sharp uphill into the Excel centre (200m or so prior to the dismount line inside the centre). Once I’d reached the line myself without taking anyone out (and having already removed my feet from my shoes), I jumped off the bike and ran back through to my place in transition (cheered on by my personal cheer squad – thanks Nic!) dumped my bike, took off my helmet, threw on my trainers and a cap and “ran” out. Now I’ll admit to being a little out of practice with regards to the run – again I haven’t run any distance for about 8 weeks so my aim was to complete the run, at a nice pace and if I managed to do that without any pain at the end of the day then that would be a bonus! The great thing about the run course was the accessibility for the spectators – they were everywhere and willing to cheer on anyone and everyone – added to the staff at the drinks stations and the helpful and encouraging marshals created an amazing atmosphere. I set off at a slow but comfortable pace – took a drink at every Gatorade station and had the girls at the water stations (who were perhaps overly willing) throw the water at me, I also ran through the very welcome water sprays – it was still quite hot and humid outside. I paced myself round in 27:56 which is a full 8 minutes slower than I know I can do it – serious room for improvement but considering my build-up, to be expected.
Overall with too much time spent in transition I got round in 1:30:37. Bedford Autumn Sprint in two weeks (400m/24km/5km) – time for a few bike/run sessions now my foot feels better. I’ll write a race report in due course – hoping for faster pace on both the run & the bike, obviously!
If you’ve made it this far – kudos. Tell me I owe you a beer next time you see me. Someone might as well enjoy one.