Attempting a triathlon was actually a goal I toyed with at the start of 2013. While I never worked toward that goal last year – instead opting to train for and run my first half marathon – it has been a sport that has captured my attention for years. As a child, I would watch the Escape From Alcatraz triathlon and the Ironman World Championships (held in Kona), on TV and dream that I too could be one of those athletes. With Pat taking up triathlon, it’s all gotten much closer to home. I see what his training is like on a daily basis, and have been a spectator for every one of his races. I love the atmosphere at a triathlon and the anticipation of the competitors coming into transition before heading out again.
I used to think I’ll just stick with running, but then I got bored with it, and needed a new challenge; entering my own triathlon was just a natural step. I thought I’d take it easy by entering a Try a tri, where the sole purpose of such an event is to give triathlon newbies a taste of the sport without having to invest large amounts of time to train for longer distance races, or to simply wrap their head around participating in a race where there are three disciplines, plus two transitions, to worry think about.
While I never worry about races and what to do – I don’t actually think I worry about much at all – it was a difficult task to mentally prepare for three disciplines. My mind would flutter between swim bike run, plus transitions, and everything would get muddled into one. When I told Pat how I felt as I was setting up my transition area, he said he goes through the same thing.
The day before the race was a travel day: we took the high road from our home off the east coast of Scotland, through the rugged and beautiful hills and mountains of Royal Deeside and the Highlands. Although the race itself was in Grantown-on-Spey, we stayed at the youth hostel in Aviemore instead, 30 minutes south west of Grantown. We arrived to our hostel before dinner time, and after checking in, we went for a stroll through a nature reserve close to the hostel. We dined on Primal Chilli con Carne and sweet potato (my carb-load food choice of the week), in the dining room and played a game of Monopoly before heading to bed before 10. We were both tired from the day, from the week really, and had a 6:30am start the next day.
Race day started before sunrise and with a delicious breakfast of an Alicia Paleo Pancake (made with tahini instead of peanut butter), topped with peanut butter and honey; a small omelette of sweet potato and my usual primal fruit parfait. The race wouldn’t start until 10:15 am at the earliest, which gave me enough time to enjoy a filling breakfast without having to worry about feeling hungry later on.
Registration opened at 8:15am and we arrived at the Craig MacLean Leisure Centre in a very overcast and misty Grantown shortly after. I went to register while Pat headed out for a mountain bike adventure in the land surrounding Grantown. He doesn’t like to just sit around and wait. I set up my transtition area.
Registration closed and the race briefing was held. Then, the wait for swim heats to begin.
Swim: 300m in 7:31
This discipline was held in the four lane wide, 20m long pool of the leisure centre, hence the need for heats of swimmers. Those who anticipated a slow swim time went first, while the fast swimmers had to wait for their heat – there were 13 heats altogether. I was fortunate enough to be in heat 4, which meant I had a bit of time to wait but I wasn’t waiting all morning either.
We were quickly briefed on the swim rules, and then assembled three to a lane with either a blue, white or orange cap on, which decided the order in which we swam. I was white, so I was the middle swimmer. After a 30 second count down, we were off! The orange-capped lady in our lane started off and within five seconds it was my turn. The only plan I had during the swim was to not overdo it – when I have, I’ve become light-headed – and to take a good breath of air at the end of each length. I don’t know how to tumble turn, and I wasn’t about to start. Within three strokes of the front crawl, I had caught up to the orange-capped swimmer and reached out to grab her foot; race organisers advised us to do this as a way of telling the swimmer ahead of you that you wanted to pass. Once the first of 15 lengths was complete, orange-cap lady let me pass. A few lengths later, and I was gaining on blue-capped lady. Again, I grabbed her foot, and again, she let me pass. This happened again with both swimmers. I was notified by the lane counter that I had two lengths to go, and when they were done, I exited the pool on the way to transition. I was first out of the pool in my heat.
I took off my goggles and white cap, tossed the cap in the bin close to the pool, then grabbed my race tshirt and flip flops that I had placed near the door outside; then I jogged to the playing field where transitions were set up. The swim time included the run from the pool to the transition area, where the timing chip on my left ankle beeped as I ran over the timing carpet.
Transition 1: 2:15
I put my tshirt on, activated my Garmin, put on my socks, shoes and race belt with my bib, then put on my helmet and grabbed my bike. I also had a brief chat with the second lady out of the pool.
Bike: 10.7 miles in 48:34
Within 30 seconds of getting on the bike, I was passed by two people. I ate a Nakd bar and headed out on the country roads around Grantown. The course was an out and back lollipop: you cycled out to a certain point, looped around a smaller road, then headed back into Grantown via the intial road. My first few miles along the flat road were fast, and I was able to settle into a rhythm. We met oncoming competitors from the previous heat as they were heading back into town for their run. Another lady passed me. At one point heading out, I saw a group of people gathered up ahead; I thought to myself “Wow, spectators!” Turns out they were just keen ornithologists!
The course itself was very undulating, and I found it difficult to get into a consistent pace (cadence?) when I was either cycling up or downhill. Switching into gears from going downhill into an uphill climb was also difficult. I need to work on this.
We were warned that part of the bike course was rocky and to be careful; I fully expected large stones on the race route, but when we passed said point, it was just an even road with tiny pebbles, similar to the road I live (and train) on. There were plenty of signs along the way warning us of gravel, and there was even one cautioning us on the wild life: apparently there had been Highland cows and sheep on the course earlier!
The lollipop course ended with a large downhill section, where I cautiously road down, just in case of this apparent gravel. Once I saw the road was clear, I eased off on the brakes and just went with it! I joined back to the main road into town.
I ate another Nakd bar at mile 8 of the bike and drank my homemade isotonic drink (recipe to come in another post!) throughout the bike. It was turning into a very bright and hot day!
Transition 2: 0:53
Really quick and simple! It seems there are two ways to dismount your bike at a triathlon: the expert way, where you unclip (or just take your shoes) out of your pedals, then swing one leg over the bike only to hop off and start running when you feet hit the ground. Or the beginner way, where you come to a complete stop, put your feet on the ground on either side of the bike, then swing a leg over and run with your bike into transition. I did it the expert way, (I had practiced a few times at home), and seemed to have surprised a female marshal in doing so. I jogged my bike back into transition, removed my helmet, switched my belt and race bib to the front, put my hat on and ran out onto the streets of Grantown.
Run: 2.6 miles in 24:33
Immediately, my legs felt the expected heaviness from coming off the bike. I actually felt like I was running in slow motion, but my Garmin told me otherwise: 8:30/mile pace within the first half mile!
The run took us through a residential part of Grantown, past houses then down a short lane into a beautiful woodland park. I reached the park and saw the water station, and a woman who had passed me on the bike, up ahead. I ran through the water station: my belly was full of my isotonic drink and it felt like it was sloshing around. I continued the run onto a single track trail, which took me deeper into the woods. It was beautiful!
We were warned that there would be a big hill on the run, so I made sure to pace myself accordingly to be able to run up it. Little did I know that my hill training up Clachnaben would be required! The hill, albeit short, was incredibly steep. So steep that I was better power walking up the steepest sections instead of attempting to run them. I also passed a race marshal who had the best position possible for the race: a chair in the middle of the woods with no one around. Heaven for some.
The rest of the run took me along trails and downhill, past the water station. This time I took a cup of water to wet my mouth. I was still feeling like I was running in slow motion, and my Garmin told me I was running 8:30 – 9:30/mile pace. I made my way out of the park and back onto tarmac roads.
My pace quickened to 8:45, and the playing field was in sight again. The triathlon that I had spent two months working towards was nearly over! Already!
I entered the finishers chute and ran to the finish, my ankle band beeping one last time. My first triathlon was over.
Official time: 1:23:48
Place: 17/26 (?) in my age group
Initially, I thought I’d gotten a new 5km PB. Then I looked at my Garmin and saw I hadn’t actually run a full 5km, so correction I was on track to a new 5km PB.
Would I do it all over again???? You bet! I underestimated my time for this race, thinking I would finish closer to the two hour mark, and I prepared, both mentally and nutritionally, to be active for that amount of time. I was actually disappointed the race finished too quickly!
In terms of nutrition, I’m really happy with how things went. The homemade isotonic drink + Nakd bar combo worked: I got enough high glycemic food and drink in me to keep my glucose levels at bay, and didn’t have any low blood glucose levels at the end of the race, something I experienced after Ballater. I also brought some coconut water to drink after the race, as it’s a natural electrolyte drink, and made a recovery meal of another Alicia Paleo Pancake with honey on top, and more omelette, along with Greek yogurt and fruit, to deal with carbohydrate and protein replenishment immediately. Then, it was just a matter of drinking water again to hydrate after a very hot day of competing. This is a huge step forward for post-race nutrition, and now I just need to work on mid-race fuel for running only.
Overall, I’m very pleased with my first triathlon. I’m also a bit disappointed that the season is almost, and I’ve chosen my races for the remainder of the year: I could easily do another triathlon next weekend! I see a few in my future, that’s for sure!
Have you done a triathlon?
If not, what’s stopping you?
What triathlons have you got your eye on?