Somewhat late, since I have had pictures on my facebook profile for months, but I thought I should add a post about my experiences at the London Triathlon in August 2008. This was the second of three major endurance events I completed in 2008, the others being the Blenheim Triathlon and the New York Marathon, in aid of Epilepsy Research UK. I would like to thank everyone who generously sponsored me for those events, your donations have since been passed on to the charity and will be put towards improving the quality of life for eplieptics who suffer from more severe symptoms than my own.
The Joy of Weekend Engineering Works
The Mazda London Triathlon was my first Olympic distance event, a 1500m swim, 40km cycle and 10k run. Since I had already had something of a dry run at Blenheim I knew largely what to expect during the race itself. this time however there were no generous family members around to provide transportation, so that was my responsibility, and I don’t drive. Unfortunately, National Express or whoever was running East Anglia’s railways that particular week had picked Sunday 10th August for engineering works between and Cambridge and Audley End. Audley End is a 15 mile cycle from Cambridge, quite a nice cycle on any other day, but one I could have done without on the day I’m supposed to competing in a Triathlon. If that weren’t bad enough, the first train to arrive broke down and I had to wait 45 minutes for the next one. The accumulation of delays reduced the 2 hour buffer with which I had left myself to prepare to about 30 minutes and seriously threatened my participation in the race.
Had I not participated this article would have been rather pointless, so suffice to say all problems were resolved and I made it to the ExCel centre and into Prince Albert dock for the beginning of the swim. As at Blenheim I was surprised at the number of triathletes who hadn’t done any open water swimming preparation – I certainly would not have liked that to be my first experience of it. Probably the most depressing part is that the markers for the super sprint and sprint distances were still up, so my initial thought was along the lines of, Oh, its not that far. No wait, that’s for the 400m race, it must be the next one. No, that’s for the 750m race. The marker for the 1500m race was a blurry orange blob in the distance somewhere near Dover. 1500m, a distance I can cover in less than 5 minutes on foot, is a hell of a long way in open water.
The start of a triathlon is a rather chaotic affair, advice is often given for novices to stay near the back and it’s advice I would be inclined to take. The stronger swimmers can make the rest of us minnows feel a bit like a cat in a washing machine during the early stages. Incidentally, it was at this point that I lost my GPS, which now lies at the bottom of Prince Albert dock. Do not be tempted to take yours into the water, leave it for the cycle and the run.
Whoever organizes the Mazda events seems to be intent on making the transitions as painful as possible. In Blenheim there was a 400m uphill run out of the water, in London there is a flight of stairs after the swim, which left me barely able to breathe. Nonetheless, even without the GPS, the cycle is by a huge margin my favourite event and at that time was the only part of the triathlon where I feel I can really compete and not just hold my own. I still had my rather old fashioned road bike but I had finally invested in a set of SPD pedals and, having gone through the baptism of traffic light embarassments, was keen to see what improvement they might make.
There is a certain amount of Schadenfreude to be enjoyed when overtaking someone who clearly spent more on their bicycle than some people do on their cars, with an 8 year old road bike that originally cost less than £200 ( ok, it’s had a few upgrades since then ). Of course, this is just making up for the experience of being overtaken in the water by people twice my age doing breaststroke, so I cannot allow myself to feel too smug about it.
As I said, I didn’t have the GPS so couldn’t be too accurate about pace but I found someone who was just slightly above my standard and followed them around the route ( not too close though, drafting is illegal in most Triathlons, including this one ).
A word about T2 ( the cycle->run transition ) in the London race. The ExCel centre is huge, as anyone who’s ever been to a conference there will know. Transition to the 10k run involved running around most of the perimeter of the event hall, which, from a rough calculation, is about 400m. That’s just transition, and is not actually part of the run component but it is mitigated somewhat in that the actual run is slightly short of the standard 10km. This was the most difficult part of the race, as the leg muscles adapt to the difference between cycling and running and at one point I didn’t think I was actually going to make it out of the conference centre. It was painful, and involved no small amount of willpower to keep going.
Once that transition period is over though the previous disciplines are forgotten and it becomes all about the run. I am a better 10k runner than I was, but even at that time I was good enough to enjoy it particularly without the blistering heat we had enjoyed at Blenheim in June. The difficult part is that it is a 2 lap race, so there is a psychological impact when you come to the end of the first lap and see the runners ahead of you finishing, knowing that you still have 5,000m to run. At the end of the second lap, there is a punishing uphill ramp to the finishing straight and it was at this final point that I was overtaken by someone who had decided to do a sprint finish and I still regret not taking him on. Next time.
My final time was 2:56:01, which I think was pretty good for a first effort particularly given a rather poor swim time. A final thanks to fellow triathlete Mark Oxenham who saved me the grief of a train journey home by providing transportation, and to Suzy and Anna for coming down to offer moral support.