Portishead Sprint Tri. A guide for first timers, by a first timer

I am a triathlete! No, really I am, I completed Portishead Sprint Triathlon this morning and am still all in one piece (and still wearing my medal, truth be told).  After training for my first Tri earlier this year but then having to miss it through illness I knew this was an itch that was going to have to be scratched. I needed to justify having the bike and 18 months of swimming lessons apart from anything else.

Rather than take you through a blow by blow account of the day I’ll give you some lessons as learnt by a first time triathlete.

Faff Time

Triathlon needs serious amounts of stuff. As I was getting everything together the night before I commented that it was like packing for a fortnight away.

Stuff!
Stuff!

Once you arrive at the race venue, all this stuff has to be sorted out and put in your transition area. Not just put, but laid out in the precise order you’ll need it, cycle stuff separate from running stuff, bike correctly racked (i.e. hanging precariously), helmet ready to put on BEFORE YOU EVEN TOUCH YOUR BIKE.

Tidy transition area
Tidy transition area

Then you have to find the toilets. Then you have to escape from your trisuit in order to use the toilet, and then get back into it again. Leave yourself plenty of time to get poolside for your race briefing, and whatever you do, don’t at that point realise you are still wearing your non-waterproof Garmin watch which you were meant to leave with your cycling stuff. If you do, make sure you sprint really fast back UP the hill to transition, and then back down again thus arriving just as your race briefing starts already panting and out of breath.

Race Tattoos

Do not get your tattoo wet until it is on the part of the body it is meant to go on. If you do, you’ll have to join the queue of similarly foolish people waiting to use the special “tattoo pen”. My pre-race prep included having a strange man holding my leg and writing on me, followed by me doing the same to him. How to make friends and influence people.

This is cool
This is cool
This is not
This is not

Swim – 400m

This is seriously confusing. Each person has to start at EXACTLY the right time, which in my case was 8:44:10 am.  The swim was in Portishead Lido, which is a lovely 1960’s 33m pool with 5 lanes. Each swim start had about 6 – 7 people in each lane, all with a different coloured hat* so they could start in the right order, 10 seconds apart.

Do we look like we know what we're doing?
Do we look like we know what we’re doing? The lane marshal is even having to point to the water to show where we should be “IN the water. Start IN the water!”

* I was special, I was “No Hat”. They ran out of colours.

Do not get emotional whilst swimming, even if you often get emotional in races. It is impossible to blub and swim and breathe simultaneously. It is okay if you immediately catch up with the swimmer in front of you, who is doing slow breast stroke, meaning you also have to do slow breast stroke so you can give yourself a quick talking to.

It is perfectly acceptable to feel surprised that you are enjoying the swim and even passing people. Just remember to tell your swimming teacher next time you see her.​​​

​​​Transition T1

If you have laid your transition area out in an orderly fashion, and practised changing from one sport to another, then transition is a breeze and will save you minutes of time. However if you are too full of adrenaline you will end up standing in bare wet feet in the middle of a field, struggling to pull on your brand new cycling jersey with very tight arm elastic over wet arms whilst simultaneously putting on your helmet because you MUST have it on your head before you even think of touching your bike. 4 minutes and 11 seconds is a long time to faff about in transition, but as long as you finally leave with the correct stuff then its fine.

Bike  Section – 25K

Getting on a bike straight from swimming is not as soggy and awful as it sounds. I was convinced this was going to be a dreadful, cold and squelchy experience, but it wasn’t. A tri suit is designed to dry quickly, and even my Aldi bargain did this magnificently.

If it’s a hilly course, then practice cycling up hills. This course had 3 long hills that I only got up because I was too stubborn to stop. My legs are saying “We told you so!” each time I try to go upstairs tonight. Enjoy the downhills, smile at the photographer but if you must cry “woo hoo!” make sure no other cyclists are too close by.

Transition T2

Your legs will feel like lead as you start running after cycling, and the conventional wisdom is to “spin” your legs before you get off the bike to minimise this. Conventional wisdom doesn’t say what to do what the final 50m of the bike course is up a short, steep hill that you have to struggle up.

This changeover should be quicker – just shoes and moving your number (on your tri-belt) from back to front. I wish I’d taken my cycling jersey off, but I was trying to be quick, and I feel self-conscious in my tight fitting trisuit. There was such a huge variety of ages, shapes and sizes I really shouldn’t have worried.

As soon as you’re ready, locate the “Run” exit and plod your heavy legs towards it. Feel encouraged that the other athletes around you are staggering as well.

The Run – 5K

As a novice triathaloner, you will of course have researched the run course as well as the bike route. You won’t have chosen a run with a big hill in it, nor an Off Road section whose uneven surface is really hard work on tired legs. Scoffing 3 Shotbloks as you set off for energy is a good idea but be prepared to have a totally gummed together mouth afterwards (and face if I’m honest). Fortunately there was a drinks station at 1K which we passed again at 4K, although they didn’t have gin & tonic. I even offered to make it easier for them and just have gin, but no luck. Maybe next year.

Legs of lead
Legs of lead

As you head back to the race HQ, smile at the photographer, swear at the steps and hill up to the finish line, then sob quietly at the top as you see you have to run past the finish line further up the hill and around a tree before finally heading towards the finish line. Don’t forget your sprint finish!

This IS my sprint finish
This IS my sprint finish

Smile as you cross the finish line, and try not to buckle under the weight of the medal they distract you with as they remove your timing tab.

Ooh a shiny thing
Ooh a shiny thing

Post Race

Make sure you retire to the nearest cafe for post race nourishment. Medal wearing is compulsory. Remember to thank your faithful significant other who drove you to the tri, helped with your stuff, and has waited patiently to take photos of you as you head back to transition and the finish. Try not to feel emotional in the cafe as you realise you DID IT!!! – there is cake waiting to be eaten, dammit!

Cafe attire
Cafe attire

 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you all! Hopefully everyone is happy and healthy, and raring to go in 2017. Now don’t worry, I’m not going to do a long “Review of 2016” (I think the moment for that has passed), but I am going to have a quick backward glance over my shouder, and then blow my own trumpet just briefly.

I started the year injured and grumpy. I spent half the year still injured and grumpy. By the autumn I began entering off road races because I love them (and they’re easier on my foot), met up with lots of other Chippenham Harriers and rediscovered my love of running. I learnt how to swim front crawl, and now need to work on completing more than a length at a time. I got out more on my road bike, and completed the Coffeeneuring Challenge of 2016.

My coffeeneuring patch. Very proud of this

Brace yourself – here comes the trumpet blowing.

As at the end of 2016, after running in 4 races in the Wiltshire Athletic Association Off Road League I found myself currently 3rd in the ladies league (out of 90 runners), and first in my age group! This is glossing over the fact I actually came last in the tri-counties XC race – that was a hard slog! Just two more races in the league to go, so keep your fingers crossed for me. I’m dreaming of trophies (no idea if they actually give out trophies, but don’t shatter my dreams just yet). Oh, and Chippenham Harriers are leading both the Mens and Ladies Team competitions as well. Toot toot!

The last day of 2016 started with parkrun. A lovely atmosphere there, despite the drizzle and slippy mud. The new year started with volunteering at the same parkrun, not easy in torrential rain and with more runners than I’ve ever seen there (but not quite a record apparently!) My first lesson of 2017 was that the bar code scanners don’t work well in the cold and wet. My second was that some people don’t deserve a free run totally staffed by volunteers. I mean, we were all getting cold, wet and frustrated that the scanners weren’t working, but to throw your soggy paper bar code and finisher’s token at me shouting “Oh just take it then!” isn’t on really, is it?

Anyway, enough wandering down memory lane. Today I’ve run* my first parkrun of the year, last week I made it to my first ‘Efforts’ session of the year (probably my first since 2015), and I’m planning on going to my first swimming lesson of 2017 on Monday. Bring it on, 2017, I’m ready for you!

* staggered, slipped, wobbled

Swimming Nature – Christmas Special Offer

If you’re feeling intrigued by my last post about my swimming lesson with Swimming Nature, then hopefully you might be inspired to try some lessons for yourself. If so, you’re in luck. Swimming Nature have a Christmas Present for all of you!

They say:-

“Give the gift of swimming this Christmas

This Christmas, Swimming Nature are offering you the chance to help someone rediscover the joy of swimming, no matter how old they are. Swimming Nature gift vouchers are available at the special rate £139 (in London) or £109 (outside of London) for a three-lesson adult package. As children, we all loved swimming, but as we grow up and our lives get busier and we seem to do less and less of it – let alone consider taking up lessons. It’s easy to feel that swimming is something only kids learn and, by the time you’ve grown up, it’s too late to improve.

Swimming Nature lessons can have tremendous benefits, no matter if you’re an accomplished swimmer or starting from scratch. It’s a great way to keep in shape, you can improve technique and fix any bad habits picked up over the years, and it’s low-impact so it’s easy on the body.

To treat someone (or yourself!) to the gift of swimming. Call Swimming Nature now on 03445 04 05 06 and quote “Christmas gift” and we’ll pop a voucher in the post. We can send it either direct to your recipient or straight to you, so you can present it to them on Christmas Day. Just make sure you order before 18th December so we can guarantee delivery before the 25th”

Contact them if you have any questions. I can really, really recommend this approach to swimming, and am wondering if I can treat myself for Christmas, or persuade a loved one to buy me a special present…!

Swimming Nature – a new way of learning to swim

I am sitting here trying to write this post, with my head still buzzing from a swimming lesson I had. I try and go every week to a swimming lesson, so what was so different about this one? Well, I received an invitation from a company called Swimming Nature to come along and have a free lesson from one of their qualified teachers and see how I got on. I read their website, was intrigued, and arranged a session at Fitness First in Bath.*

Meeting someone for the first time is often a slightly anxious moment, so you can only imagine doing this in a swimming costume on the side of a pool. Fortunately Paul, my teacher, was friendly and professional and put me at my ease. We had a chat about my swimming experience so far and what I was hoping to get out of the session. Due to the water being a little cool at the moment due to some technical problems, I was offered a swimming hat to help keep my head warm. I give you exhibit A:-

It actually did keep my head warm, so I won’t complain too much about it. Also due to a lack of mirrors I didn’t have to look at myself wearing it.

Paul went on to explain that the Shaw method of swimming, which is what they teach, is based on principles used in the Alexander Technique. I know very little about this, only that it involves having good posture from your head, down through your neck and into your spine. One of the first things we practised was how to glide and then stop. Sounds easy, but doing it without sticking your head up is difficult. Easier when your teacher is holding your head – oh yes – it’s very hands on, this teaching method. Holding my wrists to make sure I had floppy, relaxed arms; holding my head to keep it in the right alignment; having me hold his hips to feel the rotation – it sounds strange but if I didn’t think about it and just went with how it felt then it all made sense. My brain was buzzing, as it tried to understand what I was being told and reconcile it with how my body was moving. I have never had a swimming lesson like it – and I’ve been going to lessons all year!

When I got home, I jotted down what I remembered. I wrote “gliding – moving with the water. Power from arms, legs for balancing. Relaxed. Two stages to each movement – power and release, e.g. legs, breathing. Head / neck position”. Probably doesn’t make much sense to anyone else, but hopefully this will help me think about what I should be doing next time I’m in the water.

Another way to remind me, is to watch one of several videos that are available. Watch this one to the end, and just see how easy and relaxed this swimming looks:-

If you’d like to know more, do check out their website here.

If you’re really intrigued by their lessons, then they have a special Christmas offer. Have a look here.

* I was given a lesson, free of charge, with a Swimming Nature instructor with the agreement I would write an honest review of the session.

More Swimming – from Zero to One Mile

A couple of weeks ago I tried to start a swimming training program which would take you from “zero to one mile”. After all my swimming lessons this year, I still can’t swim further than about two lengths continuously with having to stop, so this sounded ideal. I set off to the pool all excited, rushed in, and failed miserably. I had a terrible swim, I felt panicked and out of breath and hated every minute.

I posted in the Facebook group for this training plan and received lots of advice and encouragement from the lovely swimmers. It mainly revolved around relaxing, not trying too hard, and not holding my breath. Buoyed up I headed back to the pool to try again – and couldn’t park anywhere.
I was beginning to think this swimming thing was jinxed, but headed back to the pool yet again to give it one last try. I managed to park (I went earlier!), paid and headed in. This time I put no pressure on myself about how far I’d try and swim, or how many lengths I’d try and do without stopping. I got into the ‘slow’ lane (which already had 2 people swimming slow breast stroke) and calmly started.

I tried to do 4 lengths before stopping, and if I felt tired or panicky I switched to a length of breast stroke before changing back to front crawl. I kept it really slow and tried to stay relaxed, really focusing on my breathing and steadily breathing out rather than holding my breath. I’d bought a little cheap lap counter, and was amazed when the laps were adding up.
After about half an hour, I’d swim 32 lengths – 800 metres – which I reckon is half a mile! I was delighted! I sent much love and many thanks to the swimmers in the Facebook group, and felt enthused to try again.

Sadly, after this breakthrough, events conspired against me and although I made it back to one swimming lesson (where we did tumble turns. TUMBLE TURNS! HA HA HA AH AHA!!!) I’ve hardly been swimming since. Serendipitously I then was asked if I’d like to attend a new style of swimming lesson which was starting up at a gym in nearby Bath. Of course I said yes, but what happened doesn’t deserve to be tacked on the end of this post. Read on to find out more. Spoiler alert – it involves a bright pink swimming hat…

Trying a tri?

Foot has  been feeling good, and I thought about maybe going on my bike. I was also tentatively thinking about trying out a little run.. I felt excited at the prospect, but also weirdly nervous (What if I still couldn’t cycle without pain? What if I couldn’t remember how to run? How the hell did I ever ride with clipless pedals??!)

Monday. Swim

With these thoughts rumbling around in the background, the weekend rolled by and it was Monday again – swim lesson day! This week’s excitement was being moved up into the ‘big’ class. This is the class where the teacher says things like “front crawl, breathing every third stroke, four lengths” rather than “kick from your hips, straight knees, floppy ankles, go to the life guard and back”. Still quietly thinking about floppy ankles I survived the lesson but blotted my copybook by accidentally telling a lovely (male) classmate that he was like a broken woman by the end. Whoops!

Tuesday. Bike

My daughter went to a spin class the other week, and I’d been wondering if this would be a good way to see if my foot would manage cycling without then getting stuck miles from home if it didn’t. Tuesday gave me the chance, as her friend cried off the session having already booked (and paid for) a place. Off I trundled, clutching a water bottle and towel.

The experience is summed up in the conversation I had with my (spin class loving) husband later that night:-

Him “So how was it? Was it okay?”

Me “umm. It was okay. Bit weird”

Him. “Ah. Did you try and freewheel?”

Me “ummmm. Yes. Didn’t work”

It came to me as I tried to fall asleep on Tuesday that with swimming and then cycling, I only needed a run to complete a triathlon, in the right order. So I thought, laughing to myself, “Well I could try a run tomorrow!”

Wednesday … RUN!

The thought stuck, and kept popping back into my head throughout the day. It was louder even the sensible voice which muttered “You should probably rest that foot today”. In the interests of a good story, it finally persuaded me to try a little run. 3 miles later after a torrential downpour, with a tad of walking and a smidge of Tweeting, I’d done it! My first run since January 14th this year!

So, Swim, Bike, Run – triathlon done! Three events in three days, (so slowest triathalon ever) but more importantly first run in months. I’m happy, and sitting with my foot on a bottle of iced water just in case.

N.B. I loved my run so much, I tweeted a short video with the title “I’m doing running!”, a phrase shamelessly pinched from Jay, who writes over at Born to Plod. Thanks Jay *smiles sheepishly*

Getting Emotional

If you’ve read any of my race reports you’ll know that I often feel very emotional at the start of a race, in a “I can’t believe I’m doing this!” kind of way. I also have been known to have a blub at the end of races (I’m thinking most recently at the end of last October’s Bristol to Bath marathon, when I hugged my family, snottily sobbing “Sub 5! Sub 5!”)

Today I nearly cried in my swimming lesson, and not because I was hating it, or because the big boys were splashing water in my face. Not this time. This time was with pride, and affection for my fellow swimming students.

At the end of our lesson Alison (the teacher) asked if I wanted to try swimming a whole length. Our class usually only swims half way so we’re never out of our depth, so this was a big deal.

I nodded excitedly, and after being instructed on what to do if I felt too tired to continue to the end, I set off doing backstroke. I successfully reached the end, and only then realised that Alison had swum up alongside me to make sure I was okay (bless her!). I reached the end, turned around triumphantly and the rest of my class all cheered. As an encore I then swam all the way back doing front crawl. I was delighted with myself, my classmates were cheering and congratulating me. I felt awesome!

As if I couldn’t feel any better about myself, as we left the pool a lady who’s only been coming for a few weeks spoke to me. This lady started off simply walking in the water with a float, and on this day managed to take her feet off the floor and kick herself along. She told me she’d been in an accident when she was 11 and had been scared of water ever since. She said seeing me swim my two lengths had inspired her to keep on trying so that one day she could do that. I was welling up at this point, I can tell you.

Who knew swimming could be so emotional? And who knew it could demonstrate the power of a good teacher and supportive class mates? Right, I’m all inspired now. Off to find a time to practice with Floaty McFloatface.
image

I am “Captain Speedy”

I have been spending my birthday money, and today I bought myself this:-

image

Can’t wait to get myself down to the pool with this beauty*. I am officially, in the words of Eddie Izzard, “Captain Speedy”**.

*Obviously I look just as sleek when swimming as the lady on the packaging.

** Eddie Izzard on swimming at school :- ”I swam widths and lengths, more of a widths person myself… It used to be, “Well, we’re going to go swimming. All of you kids who can swim, off you go and look very lean and fit and cut through the water like… things that cut through the water. All of you, fat kids, here’s a bit of a puddle. In you go and humiliate yourselves in the shallow end… We’ve got this float thing, a white, batted paddle, and you get in the shallow end… (mimes going in the shallow end of pool) and do widths across… Oh, it was terrible! It was an aqua zima frame, it was. You get to the side… (panting and turning around) And you just crawl like a really slow waiter or something, you know? You had two positions, this position or Captain Speedy! (mimes bowing down head and pushing paddle) ”

First swimming lesson in 35 years

Many years ago, when I was a child, swimming lessons were tortuous but thankfully rare. I remember in primary school being taken to the nearby town, to Greetby Hill School that had a tiny pool. After the fear of kneeling on the side of the pool to be checked for verrucas, one poor teacher tried to teach thirty children to swim. I remember getting a ribbon for making it across one length (10 feet – this was back in the Seventies), and finally another for making it three quarters of the way around the circumference (25 yards). I was too scared to tell them I’d put my feet on the bottom in case they took my ribbon back. It was enough that I’d made it round without drowning or swallowing a plaster.

At secondary school we were taken a few times to the new town swimming pool, set in the park and imaginatively called “Park Pool”. This was emblazoned on a large sign on the outside wall of the building. A highlight of my childhood was when the”l” fell off and it was apparently called “Park Poo”. Again, if you could make it from one end of the pool to the other you were deemed able to swim 25 metres and that was enough. I never reached the giddy heights of having to wear my pyjamas whilst diving for a rubber brick, and I was quite happy with that. That was the sum total of my swimming lessons until today.

Let’s cut to the chase. Today I made it to the swimming pool, I made it into the swimming lesson, I survived it and I ENJOYED it! Now there’s a bonus – I would have rated it a success even if I’d simply not drowned. And not swallowed a plaster.

A very patient lady called Alison gradually got me to put my face in the water and breathe out (how hard can that be? Pretty hard if you panic and try to breathe in – don’t try that at home). She gradually got me to swim with a float and with my face in the water, and as I stopped panicking it become much easier.

There were a couple of us at the same sort of level, so it was good to have some company as the rest of the class (instructed by another teacher) ploughed up and down doing ‘proper’ swimming (head in the water and EVERYTHING!) We tried lying on our backs with a float and kicking, then moved on to face-down-holding-float-kicking. For an encore we went for face down, kicking, holding a float with one hand and flailing around with the other arm. I think we were meant to be doing a beautiful front crawl arm, but cut me some slack – it was my first lesson.

By the way Alison kept shouting “HIPS!!!!” at me I don’t think I even have the kicking part sussed yet, but do you know what.? I’m going to go back and do it some more next week.

Now, can someone tell me how long it takes for goggle marks to fade? I *think* I might have had them too tight.

Goggle marks, not huge eye bags!
Goggle marks, not huge eye bags!

Oh – and a bonus cat picture. Look who I found, curled up in the foyer?

Waiting to teach the gymnastics, maybe?
Waiting to teach the gymnastics, maybe?

Not thinking about it. Still.

Last weekend I went to our cycling club’s annual dinner dance. It’s not nearly as stuffy as it sounds, and funnily enough our table turned out to be about 50% runners and triathletes so I had plenty of people to talk running to.

Obviously cycling was mentioned once or twice, and inspired by this, and still not thinking about running, I got my heavy Raleigh bike* out on Tuesday and went for a little ride. It was a lovely day, sunny but a little breezy, and I made a short trip to the next village’s shop. I pedalled, I smiled, I didn’t fall off (always a bonus). I made it home, I put my bike away and my foot started hurting. I grumbled and tried to ignore it, and started limping. Pah! So with my realistic head on, that’s running AND cycling out so I guess I’ll have to look at swimming next.

When I swim, the teenaged life guards nervously watch me, worried they’ll have to get off their plastic chair, leap into the pool and save me. I don’t swim well. I’m of the “head up – hair dry- breast stroke” school of swimming (think downing insect and you’ll get the picture). A lovely friend of mine told me about the adult swimming lessons at our local pool, and swears she spent her first session being persuaded to put her face in the water. This is good news, as six months later she took part in a one mile long charity sea swim. Pretty impressive stuff, and whilst I’m not currently planning such a feat, I’d love to be able to swim with my face slightly closer to the water.

The session is at 9am tomorrow, so yet again- wish me luck!*

* Specifically, I need luck not to chicken out, not to drown if I actually make it there, and that my foot holds up. Thank you.

* otherwise known as my ‘happy shopper’ bike because it has a basket on the front