“Why am I here? What am I doing?!” About 200m into the swim of my first triathlon, those were the only thoughts in my mind.
I looked around and realised two things; 1) I’m here because I chose to be, and 2) if I stop now I’ll have to explain to everyone that I gave up, and that’s not an option.
So, head down, take a few strokes and start to move forward. When it feels too difficult, take a few seconds break and then go again. As my breathing calmed everything got easier, and I started to enjoy swimming the way I enjoy it in the pool.
Triathlons had always sounded intimidating to me, but at some point last year I decided a sprint distance would be possible, and even if it wasn’t, that a more regular training routine would be a good thing anyway. Up until six months ago I’d only done a bit of running for the last few years, mostly once a week and never over 10km. I owned a entry-level, hybrid bike, which had taken me around local parts of London a few times, and I hadn’t really done any swimming since childhood.
I let the idea of a triathlon sit around in my mind for a few months and then started telling people, but realistically I knew that I wouldn’t put the training in without joining a club. After some googling, and tentatively signing up to the taster sessions, I turned up to a Ful-on Tri Thursday training night last December.
Joining the club was easily the best decision I could have made. From learning what my legs are capable of in spin class, to finding out what my arms were supposed to be doing for front crawl, I’ve made progress that I wouldn’t have been able to on my own. Every session has been welcoming and supportive (even when I’m the slowest runner by a long way), and doing this much regular exercise has been great for my mental health; seeing the improvements I can make is encouraging, but even the not so great sessions leave me feeling better afterwards than I did before.
Then race day arrived. Being the club sprint championship race meant there were loads of familiar faces, so setting up in transition was easier with people to ask for help and advice. Suddenly all the prep was done, and (after some help putting on my second swim cap) we were heading into the water ready to start.
Then the swim started, and even though I’d practiced swimming in open water and in a wetsuit, the nerves of race day and number of people around meant it felt very different. I really can see how people panic in those moments, and without the club swimming coaching I’m not sure I’d have made it through. But I got to the end of the 750m course, and suddenly realised I hadn’t ever unzipped my own wetsuit before – that’s definitely something I should have practiced!
Transition was surprisingly ok, although lifting my bike down from the rack really made me want something lighter than my bulky hybrid! The bike course was four laps, which meant I went past my best friend, partner and mum four times – each time hearing them shout for me and getting a boost of energy. I wasn’t sure how much to push during the bike to make sure I had enough legs for the run, but concentrated on trying to be consistent throughout and just keep going. The ankle I’d managed to twist a week before started to hurt a little, so with some trepidation I got to the end of the bike course and hoped that wouldn’t cause too many running problems.
Not having to change my shoes during the second transition definitely made it easier, and off I was on the run. My legs felt pretty good, and ankle wasn’t hurting at all, so I settled into my 5k pace and realised I was nearly done. Heading back after the midpoint turnaround got tougher, and it was amazing to hear a group of Ful-on Tri cheering for me, especially knowing I would be the last one from the club still going so it meant a lot they stayed there. After a final push, there was the finish!
My overall time was faster than I’d hoped, but it’s hard to resist seeing where it can be better. Between a more successful swim, a new road bike (coming soon…), and a few more months of consistent training, I’m sure I can cut a good amount off the total.
Whatever happens on future race days, I know regular training is the main benefit for me, having fun in the club sessions, and feeling physically and mentally stronger. If that means I improve my race times along the way, I won’t complain!