In 2010/11 I was doing a decent amount of road cycling around the Peak District training for 24 hour cycle races at a little known race circuit called The Nurburgring. At the time I fancied a go at a triathlon, thinking back I even started to swim some evenings. I then stumbled upon the game of American Football and sold my bike, triathlon, what triathlon?
The event I had my eye on back then was the Hathersage Hilly, a local sprint triathlon, comprising of a 420m swim, 20k cycle, and 6k run. Fast forward 8 years, my American Football days are behind me and my desire to be in the gym is at an all time low. A friend of mine put a road bike up for sale and for whatever reason I figured now would be a good time to re-visit cycling. Only that wouldn’t be enough, with entries soon to open for the 2019 ‘Hilly, I went all in and signed up at the first available opportunity.
Training started immediately. I knew that I’d be fine on the bike, whilst it had been a good few years since I’d done any real road miles, I don’t know, I just felt confident that I’d quite quickly get back to where I was all those years ago. I’ve flirted with running in the past as well, always using Couch to 5k, and then just adding distance on top of it, so whilst I’m no natural in a pair of running shoes, I knew that with some work I’d be able to run the required 6k without too much trouble (ha, little did I know).
Swimming? Well if someone was to ask if I could swim, then the answer would be “of course!”. Problem is, I’ve never had to swim competitively, or do any real distance in front crawl. Nor had I ever been taught how to front crawl. My first trip to the swimming pool was eye opening, I splashed my way through a single 30m length of front crawl before reaching the end of the pool completely out of breath. I knew I wasn’t in great shape, but surely it wasn’t this bad? For the first few weeks I alternated between front crawl and breast stroke. My wife who is an ex club swimmer came along and gave me some pointers, I watched a sizeable amount of Effortless Swimming film, and read articles on breathing, and body position in the pool. Twin that with some determination, I managed to build up my stamina and comfort in the pool to swim the required 420m without having to worry the life guards on duty.
As the event drew near, my nerves started to jangle. Despite knowing I could swim 420m, I also knew it was my weakest discipline. Those familiar with triathlon will know that the swim comes first, so whilst it would be nice to get it out of the way, it was also all I could think about leading up to the event. Even more so, when on the Tuesday before I had a dreadful “final” swim. Prompting me to do a second final swim a couple of days later, I’m glad of that because Thursdays effort was much better than Tuesday. But still, I was dreading climbing into that pool.
The Night Before
Registration is open for a couple of hours the day before. In an attempt to limit the number of unknowns during the morning of the event, I took a drive out to Hathersage and picked up my race pack. The pack included my numbers, swim cap, and a branded event towel (neat addition). I also took the time to check out each transition area (there are two at the ‘Hilly) to try and familiarise myself with what I was going to be faced with early the next morning.
I’m usually a fairly certain chap, not so much when I’m nervous and there are a thousand thoughts zipping around my head. An early night was required, but what time do I wake up? I laid my head down on my pillow with an alarm set for 5 am. 10 minutes later, “that’s too early”, alarm set for 5:30. 10 minutes later, “that’s too late”, alarm set for a compromising 5:15. Drifting off to sleep, I’d be wide awake at 4:45.. Didn’t even need the alarm.
The Big Day
Awake, showered, and suitably caffeinated I loaded up the car and headed out on the short drive to Hathersage. My start time was a precise 08:32, but given this was my first event I wanted to attend the pre-race briefing at 7am. The briefing was over and done with in 15 minutes or so, leaving me plenty of time check my bike in, unload the bits and pieces I’d need moving from swim to bike. Then wander down to T2 to drop my running gear and bags off before a short walk back up the hill to the pool just in time for a PTP and to collect my timing chip.
During my final checks at T1 Ben arrived. I’ve known Ben since I was a spotty 16 year old, I’m now a slightly less spotty 35 year old, that makes Ben one of my oldest friends. The magnitude of doing my first triathlon with one of my oldest friends didn’t actually hit me until after the race had finished, but what an honour. Ben is a little more experienced at this stuff than myself, he’s in training for Iron Man Santa Cruz, and would end up finishing the ‘Hilly 5th overall and 1st in our age category. He’s been a great help on the lead up to the event, luckily I didn’t follow his lead by completing the cycle with my shoes on the wrong feet.
Just before being called forward for the swim my wife and twin boys arrived, perfect timing. A quick hello and good luck kiss to/from each of them I nervously wandered down the edge of the pool to take my lane. An event volunteer asked us to climb in and be ready for the off, he then began to count down from 15. I took a big breath to try and calm down, and soon I was off on length 1 of 14. I set off slowly, and struggled initially to pick out a line along the bottom of the pool to follow. Clattering into the lane divider a few times, I was soon at the end of my first length and overtaking a slower swimmer. I turned and headed back where I’d just come from, again struggling to find a line to follow, hitting the wall and catching another swimmer. Despite the trouble I was having swimming straight I felt quite comfortable, and wrongly assumed that as I was catching people up I must be absolutely flying.
Theo & Freddie wondering what was taking me so long
Another few lengths passed, and at what I thought was half way I took a look at my watch to confirm my distance. Something had gone wrong somewhere, the distance my watch showed was out of whack. I spent the next couple of lengths trying to count back, my watch had planted a seed of doubt, damn. How many lengths have I actually done?! Luckily Ben had been counting for me, he confirmed for me on one of my turns and after that I comfortably maintained what I thought was a fairly quick pace before jumping out of the pool and jogging towards my bike.
My swim would end up being very pedestrian, the slowest ~400m I’ve swam to date at a gun time of 11:20. To put that into perspective, during training I was knocking on the door of 8 minutes for a 420m swim. I couldn’t help but feel a bit deflated when I looked at my watch, but the fact that I was able to feel any emotion at that point was a good thing. In actual fact I felt quite fresh, I really had taken it steady.
The race info pack suggested the run from pool to bike would be carpeted. I think whoever’s job it was to bring the carpet had forgotten, I cursed them as I dodged tiny stones heading into T1. I found my bike quite quickly, dried my feet took on some water, did the crossword, put on my helmet, shoes and tri belt and headed out. My transition time was a very relaxed 2 minutes 39 seconds, compared to Ben who was in and out in less than a minute, it’s safe to say I wasn’t in a huge amount of rush.
This would be the first time I’ve ever needed to ride a bike dripping wet through, the cool morning air actually came as a nice surprise. I’d done the bike route a handful of times since March so was fairly comfortable with the task in hand. Really, this was where I should make up any time I lost during the swim.
According to Strava, I PB’d up the climb chopping 30 seconds off my previous best effort. The climb felt fairly straight forward, I got to the top with a smile on my face for the camera man waiting, and was looking forward to getting hard on the pedals for the short flat and long downhill into T2. On my training rides I’d always had fairly clear roads, not today unfortunately, I was held up for the majority of the ride back down into Hathersage by slow moving cars. I was quite annoyed by this really, especially the chap who appeared to go above and beyond to get in my way almost coming to complete stop before turning off the road, thanks.
This did mean that my legs felt quite fresh as I turned towards T2, every cloud and all that. As I approached the dismount line I stood and stretched out my calves as best I could before hopping off the bike and jogging towards my running shoes.
A gun time of 46 minutes was disappointing here. A little out of my control, but still frustrating.
As I entered T2 my wife, children and friends who had come to cheer me on gave me a shout. All I could think about at that moment was just how many are too many Haribo sweets to consume in one go. I racked my bike, pulled my helmet off and shoved in a handful of Tangfastics. Slung my running shoes on, and then with a mouth full of gummy sweets attempted to push down an energy gel sachet.
Initially I got lost, but quickly found the exit and went out on the run. 500 meters in, and finally through the cocktail of sugary sweets and goop, I settled into a fairly quick pace (for me). The first couple of kilometres are fairly flat, taking you along the Derwent, through a field and into the woods. Then the climb starts, or so you think.
The first is a fairly sedate 50m climb over around 500m of distance, then all of a sudden you’re on a downhill. Initially that’s quite nice, until you realise that this downhill just means the subsequent up hill is getting longer and longer. I ease off the pace a little bit to try and prepare myself for the real climb, or the ‘ski slope’ as it’s known. Another ~ 500m distance climb, this time up 100m, and as every other competitor around me did, I unashamedly walked it. You’re never short of a hill to run up in Sheffield, but nothing I’ve done during training prepared me for that climb. I’m told that of the 230 or so entries, just 7 “ran” from bottom to top, kudos to those people, absolute monsters!
Once at the summit of the ski slope, there’s another easy climb which felt relatively downhill, before the proper downhill to the finish. At this point Ben caught me, I knew he would at some point, and he was under instruction to make me laugh as he came past. He did just that, I returned the favour by going all Tom Brady on him and shouting LET’S GOoo!
I tried my best to pick up my pace over the last kilometre or so of flat into the finish maintaining a low 5 minute per kilometre. The turn and run to the finish was quite an emotional time, but I turned on the after burners to leave my tears behind and cross the finish line.
My run time of 43 minutes wasn’t anything to write home about, but I’m confident I’d have broke my 5k pr had it been a flat course. So some positives to be taken from how I felt transitioning from bike to run.
As said, coming into the finish area was quite emotive for me, not sure why. I poured myself into training for this single event, and just like that it was over. From barely being able to swim a single length of front crawl, and struggling to run for any longer than a minute before having to stop for a rest, here I was, a bloody “triathlete”.
I loved it, the competition, the camaraderie, the challenge, all of it, it exceeded my expectations. Without a doubt I’ll be back for more, I can’t wait.
Previously I’d mentioned my boys. We have 1 year old twin boys (Theo & Freddie), and as some of my fellow competitors remarked that I’d done well to prepare for a triathlon whilst having such young children. Nah.. My wife has been absolutely mega in supporting me through it, honestly couldn’t have done it without her, so a huge thanks to Lucy for putting up with me over the last few months and doing such an amazing job with the boys. I tried my absolute best to not let training impact my time at home, but I’m sure it did from time to time.
Finally, thanks to all the volunteers at the event, it was brilliantly organised.
See you next year!
The day before at Leyburn 1940’s weekend.
Overall Position. 138/239
Age Group (35-39). 15/21