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 🙂

4 thoughts on “Portishead Sprint Tri. A guide for first timers, by a first timer”

  1. Well done! I loved reading your write up. Reminds me of when I did my first one… Do you think there will be another in your future?

  2. Thanks for the excellent write up, I have personally thought of doing a triathlon but can’t get my head around swimming so far, the running and cycling is fine but swim, no thank you.

    1. John, I’ve been going to swimming lessons for 18 months to get to this stage! I had been assured that people would be of all different standards, especially in the swim, and this was definitely the case. When you enter you have to give your estimated swim time so you start with others of a similar level. In my swim there were some people doing a very slow “head up” breast stroke, people having a breather at each end, and I even saw someone in the wave before having the pool to themselves doing backstroke! Keep practising and never say never!

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