Hi, I’m Sarah and I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon at the AJ Bell World Triathlon in Leeds on the 10 June.
As you can see from my photos, I’m not a ‘typical’ triathlete that you’ll see in magazines – for a start I’ve got curves – and I’m more interested in enjoying the experience than the time I take to finish. More tortoise less hare.
My triathlon journey began back in 2015 when I turned 40 and I booked a holiday to Everest Base Camp. In the year leading up to my trip I knew I needed to get fit. I started by joining East End Road Runners (EERR) and that’s where I met Danny. I also knew that I would need to do more than just running so I signed up to complete the Southampton Fast Twitch and London triathlons, both sprint distances. I enjoyed these events and felt proud of what I had achieved. I went to Base Camp and I loved the experience. However, when I got back from Nepal I lost my fitness motivation.
At the start of this year, I decided I needed to set myself a series of new challenges as a way of pushing myself. The Leeds triathlon was high on the list of things I wanted to do, and I managed to convince my fella and brother-in-law to join me but this time I had to do the Olympic distance.
As soon as I signed up, I told Danny, who offered to pull together a training plan for me. Apart from one week, where I felt really rubbish, I followed my plan. On a couple of occasions, I ran and cycled further than what I was supposed to because I had other events to complete. Overall, I started to get more PBs.
My training schedule included: 7am morning runs with Rav and Sarah – fellow EERR members; Tuesday night EERR running track sessions; Wednesday morning spin sessions; Thursday night runs – 7 miles at 7pm; Sunday morning social runs, swimming in the London Docks and London Fields Lido with Kathy, Allyson, Sherry, Claire and Han and long bike rides with Alice, Kathy and Han. Mixing up the training in this way made things more interesting. However, on reflection one thing I didn’t do, which I really should have, was to include more core sessions in my training. This is something I will do next time.
Soon after I signed up for Leeds, a few other people from EERR – Nick, Han and Jecks – registered for the London triathlon. The four of us, plus Danny, formed a small What’s App group and we started training together as well as providing each other with much needed motivation and moral support.
Out of the three disciplines, freestyle swimming is by far my weakest area. I don’t have a problem swimming in open water or with my head being under water as breaststroke is my preferred style. But, for some unexplained reason, after a few metres of swimming front-crawl, I panic, and everything goes wrong. After speaking to the others in our What’s App group, I soon learned that it wasn’t just me who was concerned about the swim. Danny offered to help us by showing us some basic techniques, drills and building our confidence more generally.
There’s a lot to do the day before a triathlon including:
– Last-minute spin on the turbo, bike cleaning and basic maintenance. Luckily, my 7-year-old niece, was on hand to help my fella with his bike.
– Register for the event. We headed to Roundhay Park to sign in, pick up our race packs, rack our bikes, drop off a bag for the finish line and look at the route in more detail, particularly the different transition stages.
– Kids, and dad, to take part in a Tri event organised by the Brownlee Foundation. A short race on a static bike followed by a run to the finish line. Not sure who enjoyed it the most, competitive dad or the kids. As soon as he crossed the finishing line, my 5-year-old nephew wanted to do it again – another triathlete in the family?
– Tour of the event village to pick up some last-minute energy drinks and gels and a quick go on the bouncy castle.
– Kit preparation. Double and triple checking I had packed everything and lay it all out for the very early morning start.
As usual, I didn’t sleep that well the night before the event. I had to make a couple of trips to the loo during the night. How much of this was due to nerves or simply ‘getting older’ I’m not too sure. I do know that I was awake before my alarm clock went off at 5am and I already felt tired.
As soon as we arrived at Roundhay Park, we were told that due to fog and poor visibility the swim had been reduced from 1,500m to 750m. Phew I thought.
Feeling anxious whilst waiting to start, a woman standing next to me asked if I was in the right group because I didn’t look old enough. A simple comment, but it made me smile and cheered me up.
My brother-in-law was the first to start followed by fella and both set off to do the 750m distance. However, by the time it came for my wave to start (16 out of 18 waves), the fog had cleared and the organisers decided that we would do the full 1,500m! We were called to the start line and received the swim briefing in which we were told to get into the water, hold onto the pontoon and wait for the klaxon. There was no time for a quick warm up. The water was cold but clear and unlike the London Docks, it didn’t taste that bad either.
As soon as the klaxon blew, I waited for everyone around me to go. I started swimming front-crawl but then the old demons kicked in and water was seeping in through the side of my goggles. I changed to breaststroke to calm down and then tried front crawl again. It just wasn’t working. I decided the best option was to alternate between the two and just get myself around the course. Towards the end, I was overtaken by swimmers from not just the next wave but also the one after that. I felt disappointed in myself – not a great start. I ran the 400m or so uphill to the transition area – passing several swimmers who had finished before me.
My bike is really basic. It’s not a fancy light carbon fibre tri bike with tri bars. I have an aluminium framed Specialized Dolce bike. I don’t like cleats – but I now know this is something I will need to try again going forward.
At the start of the bike ride, there’s a really steep hill. Danny had already told me that I needed to make sure my bike was in the lowest gear possible. This was great advice and my bike was all set up. The organisers kept making similar announcements because a couple of riders had already fallen off.
The two-lap course, which was really well sign-posted involved riding through hilly residential areas. When I say hills, I really do mean hills. Living in London, Richmond Park is probably one of the hilliest rides I’ve completed as part of my training. But, that’s nothing compared to the Leeds course.
As expected, I was overtaken by loads of riders from different triathlon clubs on some really nice bikes. Overall, I enjoyed the bike ride, despite the hills, and made a deal with myself to do more hill training when I get back to London.
As soon as I finished racking my bike, I set off for the uphill run out of the park. More hills. At this point my legs were on fire. I knew this would happen and I had trained for it. I soon started to pass runners who had overtaken me on the bike and I settled into the run to the city centre where I knew that my family would be waiting for me. When I reached the turning point, I heard ‘go-on Auntie Sarah’ and then saw my niece and nephew jumping up and down and waving. This was a much-needed boost and I was looking forward to seeing everyone at the finishing line.
When I finished, the first thing my nephew said was: ‘why did you take so long – daddy and uncle Terry finished ages ago?’. When I said I swam the full 1,500m and the guys only had to do 750m, my niece said: ‘you swam further, that means you won’.
It may have taken me 3hrs 55mins to finish…… but the main thing is that I did it.
If you have read this blog and are thinking of doing your first Olympic distance triathlon, here are my top tips:
Find some like-minded people to train with
Find a really good training plan and stick to it as much as possible. Treat all three disciplines equally and include core strength training in your plan
Nutrition (something I need to understand better)
Aim to finish first and look at your times second