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

Notes for the future, my actual timings were:- swim 12:54, T1 4:11, Bike 1:20:34, T2 1:58.8, Run 29:57. Total time 2:09:36 🙂

What a Week!

It’s been a week of superhuman effort on one hand, and a very human effort on the other. My husband spent 4 and a half days cycling 1,400 kilometres from London up to Edinburgh and then back again. Wow. With 1,499 other cyclists. Incredible.

I did running, a bit of swimming, and a lot of driving. Not so impressive.
On Saturday we had both volunteered to help at registration for LEL (as it’s known).

Ready to register!
Ready to register!

This was an amazing experience, meeting riders from 53 countries who were due to set off on this amazing event the next day. We saw excitement and nerves, extreme preparation and last minute holdups (a strike in Calais and gridlocked M25 must have been nerve jangling for those stuck). I worried about the Indian  riders who were already feeling cold on what was quite a nice day, loved the noisy camaraderie of the Spanish riders, and was amazed by the man from Leeds who ridden down for the start.

On Sunday I waved my husband off, with prayers that he would be safe. I drove back home to Wiltshire and ran (and walked) a very slow 4 miles on Monday. I went swimming with my Mum on Wednesday morning and apart from the splashy kids I was the youngest by quite a few years. (Apart from the kids I was also the only one that got my face and hair wet!). I then raced 5 miles on Wednesday evening in a race I’d forgotten I’d entered. This was the Stripped Back Bustard 5, a great little race on a night with horizontal rain.

Stripped Back Bustard 5
Final corner

Despite just aiming to finish, I hung onto Dawn’s shirt tails the whole way round and was delighted to finish in under 50 minutes in 49:44. I was also delighted with my cup of tea and two hobnobs. (I’m very easily pleased).

Clutching tea and hobnobs
Spot me still clutching my tea and hobnobs

On Friday I drove up and back from London to bring an exhausted husband and his bike back home. M25 on a Friday. Twice. Lovely!

You might have guessed by now which of us was the superhuman! I’m only human, so can I have a rest now? Oh hang on, I’ve promised to take my son to parkrun so he can raise funds for his NCS charity of choice, Pets as Therapy. I’ll just leave his fund raising link here… Rest after parkrun then please?

Coffeeneuring #7. A Flood and a Flask.

It is the final day of the Coffeeneuring Challenge (which is basically to take 7 cycle rides to 7 different cafes in 7 weeks*).  Squeezing in my final ride on the very last day was cutting things a little fine, but I’ll explain why in another post.

I decided to pedal over to Corsham again but this time go to the very lovely Methuen Arms. We’ve eaten here before (and fabtastic it was too) but I’d never popped in just for a drink. Husband decided he had a bit of a tickly throat after his big ride yesterday, so I wrapped up warm and set off alone.

Last night, Storm Angus came through over most of southern England, and the ground was really wet and full of fallen leaves. Nothing my “Happy Shpper” couldn’t handle, I thought!

Half a mile out of the village, I came across this:-

img_0384
Flood not puddle

On closer inspection, this was a very large puddle, or even a flood. Large, and very murky. I dithered for a short while, then decided to turn back. The only other road to Corsham is another small, twisty lane but much busier with cars. I don’t like cycling on that road at all as it doesn’t feel safe so my Meuthen Arms trip would have to be postponed. However, I still had to fit in my final Coffeeneuring trip.

Thinking on my feet (wheels) I headed back home, and quickly made up a flask. I then set out in the opposite direction and headed for my allotment. Another first – Coffeeneuring Without Walls! (Yes, this IS allowed in the rules!)  Not surprisingly, there were no other people at the allotments, and I quickly mixed up my packet hot chocolate.

img_0388
Allotment, not prison camp

Standing at the deserted, sodden allotments, drinking quite frankly horrible hot chocolate, whilst thinking of the lovely surroundings I’d missed out on, I had to admit to myself that if I wasn’t trying to complete this challenge I wouldn’t have bothered. Still – that’s what these challenges are for, pushing you to do things that you wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Anyway, 2.5 miles done around and about the village, and my 7th Coffeeneuring ride in the bag! I would recommend my allotment as a coffee stop on beautiful sunny days. There is plenty of bike parking (the hedge is huge!), the locals are friendly but I’ll need to rethink my choice of beverage.

A round up of my Coffeeneuring Challenge experience is coming up in the next post.

 

 

* For the full rules see here:- Chasing Mailboxes Blog

Coffeeneuring #6 Costa coffee, Chippenham 

Friday 18th November 2016.

On a morning that started with snow on our velux windows and roof, knowing I had to squeeze a ride in was not a delightful prospect. I had planned a short route to a Costa Coffee which felt like a cheat because it’s a cafe I visit every Monday morning between my swimming lesson and my Italian lesson. I have never been to it by bike though – so it still felt like a worthy challenge.

The cafe is on a small retail park just outside Chippenham and as I cycled around the car park I saw there was nowhere to lock my bike up by the cafe, but there was some cycle parking right over on the other side.

My bike at Bath Road Retail Park
My bike over here, cafe all the way over there!

It might have been a distance away, but it had the rare luxury of a roof. It was immaculate so although the park has been open for several years I think I was the first cyclist to use it!

Luxury bike parking with a roof!
Luxury bike parking with a roof!

I had a hot chocolate and sat in the window anxiously watching the dark skies before pedalling hard and fortunately beating the weather home.

Compulsory 'helmet and drink' shot
Compulsory ‘helmet and drink’ shot

7.6 miles on the trusty “Happy Shopper” bike, and just one more Coffeeneuring trip to fit in before the end of the weekend.

Coffeeneuring #5 Folly Row Cafe, Kington St. Michael

Wednesday 16th November 2016.

Another day combining running an errand with a cafe trip – multitasking at its finest!

Not a promising view…

Despite the view outside, a planned short car trip to the post office in the next village became a cycle ride on my trusty “happy shopper” bike followed by a circuitous route home via the Folly Row Cafe in Kington St. Michael.

Folly Row cafe, Kington St. Michael
Folly Row cafe, Kington St. Michael. That’s my bike parked behind the bins

Last time I cycled here I forgot my bike lock and just propped my bike up against the window where I could see it. This time I was prepared and as I wheeled my bike down the side I saw this sign:-  

There was a handy fold-away hook attached to the wall which was great but I did wonder how you would manage with more than a couple of bikes.

All safely locked into the solitary bike ‘tether’

Inside it is most definitely a china cup and saucer kind of place (I was even given a saucer with my mug!) which contrasted sharply with the fry-up breakfasts most people were eating. I carefully ate my raspberry crumble cake with my cake fork, and stirred my hot chocolate with my Isle of Wight commemorative spoon. Even with the tiny cutlery it all went down rather quickly (blush).

The rain had started spitting when I came out of the warm, dry cafe, and as I cycled home the wind had got up as well. Great unanswered questions of our time – why is it always a headwind?! Anyway 10.9 miles done! *

  • yes, of course if I had spotted that on my Garmin I would have gone round the block to round it up to 11 miles

Coffeeneuring #4. Grounded, Corsham.

A dithery moment after lunch on Wednesday 9th November 2016 which went like this:-

I ought to get out and do something.

I could go for a cycle ride.

I could go for a coffeeneuring trip!

But…

I have things I need to do.

I have things I need to buy.

I don’t want to walk around shops in my “clip clop” cycling shoes.

Light bulb moment!

Pop to my closest small town on my shopper bike and in normal clothes so no problems with clip clop shoes, no worries about leaving my bike locked up on the high street (well, less than if I was leaving my Trek) and I even had a basket to put my shopping in!

Simple!

The plan worked well. I enjoyed my ride, even though my shopper bike (called my “Happy Shopper”) is very heavy and takes a lot of work to cycle up even the smallest of inclines. Never mind carbon fibre or steel, I swear this bike is made of lead. I did my shopping and pushed my bike up the pedestrianised High Street without clip-clopping and locked my bike up in front of some shops.  I don’t like leaving my bike in this particular bike rack, because it’s right by where the ‘youf’ of Corsham tend to hang out, but it was in front of a barber shop so I hoped the two bored barbers would keep an eye on it for me. It seemed a fair swap after they’d got to laugh at me struggling to unwind my bike lock and have it “twang” out of my hands more times that I care to mention.

“Grounded”* was a haven of peace. A converted chapel, you have to pass through the old graveyard to get to it The sight of a peacock poking around the grave stones makes for a bewildering experience if you don’t know Corsham.

Just an average Corsham resident

Its high ceiling makes an impressive setting for a cafe. I sat down, had my drink brought to me (which was delicious and VERY HOT! Excellent!) and  relaxed. Ahhh! As I left, I told the waitress it had been the best part of my day – and I wasn’t lying.

I stepped out into the gloom, feeling revived and content, only to find it had rained heavily whilst I had been inside and although my bike was still locked up safe and sound, I now had a very soggy saddle to sit on for the ride home. Humpf!

Anyway 5.2 miles cycled, #coffeeneuring #4 done!

* Grounded, in Corsham

Coffeeneuring #3. The Birdcage, Malmesbury


Sunday 30th October 2016

Coffeeneuring with my husband home for the weekend. He’s a good cyclist so our trip was longer than it would have been on my own, we ended up doing a round trip of 31 miles to the local town of Malmesbury. A cycling club from Swindon had got there just before us so the two cafes were full. What was a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary to do, but go to a nice new Italian restaurant and have lunch there?!

Lunch with warm dough sticks
Lunch with warm dough sticks

Lovely lunch, disappointing mocha, great ride.

Coffeeneuring #2. Merkin’s Farm Cafe

Wednesday 26th October 2016.

Bouyed up by my first successful (if short and somewhat wussy) Coffeeneuring adventure, I planned a trip to Merkin’s Farm for half term, when I presumed I’d be able to drag my teenaged son with me. The promise of one of their homemade bean burgers will normally prise him away from his computer and onto his bike. Unfortunately, this time I obviously wasn’t persuasive enough, so a solo trip it was.

It looked cold and grey, so I dressed up in my new (and highly attractive) winter cycling gear.* What’s not to love about fleece-backed black and hi-viz yellow lycra? (Shall I start a list??)** Anyway, it’s warm and visible which is what matters. I planned a route and set off. Route just happened to go past Great Chalfield Manor – anyone spot Poldark there? No, just a van.

Great Chalfield Manor
Anyone seen Poldark?

I arrived, ignored the suggested cycle parking,

Bike parking
Bike parking

 

parked in front of an (unfortunately)  pink bench,img_0185


 

and headed inside for my veggie breakfast.

Veggie breakfast
Veggie breakfast

An uneventful ride back home (no falls this time!) completed an 18 mile round trip. The only downside to this ride? It wasn’t as cold outside as it looked and I was sweltering in my winter cycling gear especially on the return journey with a warm, full stomach. It was worth it though!

*Maybe, just maybe, that’s why my son didn’t want to accompany me

**You’ll be glad to hear I have no photos of me wearing this attractive outfit

 

Coffeeneuring #1 – my kind of challenge!

I was sat reading a very boring text book today, grumbling that I hadn’t made it out on my bike this week, and thinking that I now wouldn’t manage it, but that I’d have liked a ride today but I couldn’t quite motivate myself but but but… then as a distraction I looked on Instagram. I saw one of my friends (a proper triathlon Ironman!) had posted about a cycle ride which included a cafe stop, with the hashtag #coffeeneuring2016

coffee what-ing? 

A quick google told me “Now in its sixth year, the Chasing Mailboxes Coffeeneuring Challenge is a relaxed cycling endeavor for people everywhere. If you like riding a bike and enjoy drinking coffee or tea (or even hot chocolate or cider), consider this challenge.”

Sounded like just my kind of challenge, but I thought I’d better read on to make sure there were no catches. No compulsory 100 mile rides. No double espressos. No failing if you fall off. I read on, and no, it all seemed fine.

There are some rules of course, like in all good challenges, but they’re pretty straightforward. 7 rides, in 7 weeks, no more than 2 rides in one week, a round trip of at least 2 miles, a drink of some description, coffee or not, hot or cold. You can even take your own drink and drink (or brew it) outside as long as you go to 7 different places. 

Totally inspired, I immediately leapt onto my lovely “happy shopper” bike and pedalled the two and a half miles to our local farm shop & cafe* and enjoyed a lovely mocha. 

I’m going to enjoy this challenge, and it will definitely make me get out on my bike. 

For more information have a look here:-coffeeneuring

*Allington Farm Shop, Allington, Chippenham SN14 6LJ

Two runs (one race), one swim and a cycle ride. Boom!

So I finally did it. In one week I managed a swim, two runs AND a cycle ride. Never mind that, one of the runs was a race. I know – get me, eh?

The bike ride went surprisingly well. I enjoyed it, especially as it just *happened* to include one of my favourite cafes* as a stop to warm up.

Mmmm

Unfortunately it was also a chance for me to prove as true the old saying “pride comes before a fall” by also including a stationary “couldn’t unclip in time” tumble off the bike in front of an admiring audience.

The swimming lesson went well, the first (short) run was fine and I was feeling quite enthusiastic for the Marshfield Mudlark on the Sunday.

Finally got to wear my club vest again
Finally got to wear my club vest again

First real race for nearly a year, so I was feeling nervous, and glad I would be meeting up with other runners from my running club – the race to be “last harrier home” was on! It was only as I stepped out of the car, I realised I’d left my trail shoes at home. Sigh. The recently-retired road running shoes I was wearing to drive in would have to suffice.

Fortunately it wasn’t very muddy at all this year, and there were zero cattle on the course (woo hoo!) it was just a lovely run through the countryside. Wearing a number. With a bunch of other people. In old road shoes.

Felt so good afterwards I was persuaded to enter another trail race. I’ve just noticed it’s described as “quad burning”. What have I done??!

* Merkin’s Farm, Bradford Leigh, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, BA15 2RW   GO!