Was it easy? No. Was it worth it? Yes. Would I do it again? Definitely. And, more importantly: if I can do it, anyone can. It was fun, friendly … and far more accessible than I’d ever imagined.
My final preparations were sub-optimal, to say the least. Things felt (relatively) under control until my little boy came home from nursery with a nasty bug just days before the event, and Plan A – a family camping weekend in the Lake District with the Keswick Mountain Festival short triathlon in the middle – was well and truly out of the question.
We moved to Plan B: I would set off before dawn on Saturday morning; scoot to Keswick in time to set up the mysterious Transition Zone; dash round the race, jump back in the car and head back up the road to Glasgow for bed time. Phew.
I had no chance to think about gathering my kit together til after work on Friday. I’d only owned a cycle helmet since Wednesday and a wetsuit since Thursday anyway, and they were both still in their boxes. (I hadn’t even tried on the wetsuit on the basis that if it didn’t fit, it wouldn’t help me to know that!) I finally dragged the bike out of the shed some time around 10pm; bundled it into the car thinking that I really should’ve checked the tyres … but sleep seemed more of a priority so I locked it all up and headed to bed.
Transition set up was the first challenge of the day. I’d had some pro tips from my friend Robert, the man behind the open water swim brand Vigour Events – ‘kick really hard at the end of the swim to get the legs ready for the bike’, and ‘freewheel at the end of the ride to prepare your legs for the run’ … but all that felt like rocket science when I was still puzzling over how on earth you fasten a race number to a wetsuit.
Triathlon lesson #1: you don’t fasten a number to a wet suit. Who knew …
It didn’t help, either, that my parents – my fabulous support crew for the day – had quietly added various elements to my registration pack that they thought might come in handy. It was tricky enough figuring out where to attach four separate race numbers and a timing chip; when I also found a pair of scissors, a pencil and two bits of chopped up envelope in my pack, the sport seemed positively arcane.
I’d always imagined triathlon was a fairly stuffy and serious sport, but the atmosphere in the transition zone was all very jolly and people were keen to chat and help. Lots of people were racing for the first time; others were there for their first open-water triathlon or their first mixed-gender event; and those with experience were generous in their support and advice for us first timers. Someone zipped me into my wetsuit (it fitted! Hurrah!); someone else offered me a go of their lubricant (though I had to ask what it was for) and eventually I was all set up and ready to go.
It felt like an age waiting for the start of the race, but at last we waded into the water.
Lesson #2: Hanging about a field in a wetsuit is CHILLY. Having a support crew to pass a jacket to will really help!
My training, such as it was, had given me reasonable confidence that I’d survive the swim; less confidence that I’d survive the bike; and absolute certainty that the run would be a piece of cake. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The 400m swim was one loop of a rectangular course. I started too far towards the front of the group, and unwittingly found myself pacing against competent swimmers at the front of the pack. I am absolutely not a swimmer, and very soon I was struggling to breathe; my wetsuit was squashing my lungs; the water was choppy and panic set in. I was sure that I would either retire or drown.
Salvation came in the form of a big surge of water that half choked me; I swallowed a good gulp of Derwentwater and whilst I spluttered on the spot, a good 20 people overtook. After that I found myself in a relatively open space, away from the fast swimmers, and remembered that I CAN swim after all – so long as I do it s-l-o-w-l-y. I set off again at my own pace, and immediately realised that I would make it to the shore; no drowning, no retirement.
Lesson #3: don’t go with the crowd. It’s your race; do it your way.
I staggered out of the water, legs like Bambi despite Robert’s good advice about the kicking. I had every intention of shedding my wetsuit as I ran to my bike, but found I absolutely could not undo the zip, no matter what, so all hopes of an efficient transition were dashed.
Lesson #4: Triathlon is a four-discipline race.
Transition is a sport in itself, and I discovered that it is by far my weakest. I lost a disgraceful 8 minutes struggling out of my swim kit and onto my bike, but I got there in the end and headed for the road.
I’m a bad cyclist, but it was a relief to be moving again on solid ground.
Lesson #5: Make time to check your tyres!
The route was beautiful, but I very soon regretted my squishy tyres as I puffed my way up the first hill. In fact, I’d really done myself no favours at all with my choice of bike kit (other bikers shouted encouragement as I lumbered by – ‘wow, no cleats – good going!’, and one kind spectator called out that I was only the 3rd person to go by on a mountain bike – woohoo!) My bike kept popping in and out of gear, but by the time I found my rhythm and struggled past the odd one or two road bikes, things started to feel good. When I finally zoomed back to transition I was already pretty much dressed to run (thanks to my lack of proper cycle gear!) so transition no. 2 was super speedy.
The run was a shock to the system. I’d expected it’d be a piece of cake, but after all that unaccustomed riding and swimming, it felt TOUGH. It was my first run of the week following the 35-mile Kintyre Way ultramarathon the previous weekend; my knees were still recovering and my body felt like lead. Nevertheless, I only had 3 miles to cover so I pushed on around it in fairly good form and raced into the finish line to collect my first-ever triathlon medal and, better still, a bottle of fresh cold water to clear the taste of lake from my mouth. Hurrah!!
So, to conclude, I survived it. What’s more, I loved it – especially the part where you get to cross the finish line and collapse in a heap at the end. Will be be doing it again? Definitely. Will I be better prepared next time? Probably not. But now that I know what I’m letting myself in for, I’m looking forward to the next time already!
I’d like to thank Keswick Mountain Festival for having me as part of their blogging team in the lead-up to the event; Hoka One One and Berghaus for the excellent kit they generously supplied (read my Hoka Mafate Speed review here), and Garmin for the loan of a Forerunner 920XT to support my (woefully inadequate) training.