he race that I’d been training all year for, the race that I’d bust a gut and aimed to go for a sub 3 hour marathon for, the race that I put myself through a 3km open water swim for and the race that I’d taken on the HOT London Duathlon for.
The London Triathlon 2012 was my big race and my first Olympic Triathlon, my main goal for the year, the reason for so much training and for so many other races. I was happy (apart from my injury), caused by someone landing on my calf before a 3km swim event in Marlow, a guy jumped on it entering the water, but still it was only the cycling that concerned me.
The morning arrived and with it my alarm clock set for 5am. One thing I was in control of is not being late so I got up early had a shower, ate a banana and made my way to the London Excel.
I paid my parking (£15 for 12 hours) and proceeded to registration. Quick flash of my ID and I was in possession of my timing chip and velcro ankle strap and on my way to transition. The area we were in was huge, simply amazing, it was like an expo in the middle with a running race at one end, a huge bike park at the other and loads of people milling around either as spectators, competitors or sales people. The atmosphere was electric, what a place for a first triathlon, I felt special, all this for me and 12,000 fit friends.
I had time on my side, so I wandered around the stands. Booked myself a massage and a place in the cold spa to aid in my recovery. The lower leg was still letting me know it wasn’t right, so I wanted to help it as much as possible.
The call up time was 11.40am so with 40 mins to spare, I entered transition to properly lay out my race kit. There’s no right way to do this all you’ve got to do is put things in a place that is easily accessible, in a methodical layout and respect for the other athletes around you. Plus if you can make your spot a bit more identifiable then it will obviously help. I saw some crazy coloured towels and people using coloured tape on the floor pointing to their bike. I opted for my old RAF Falcons helmet bag which is red and just stuck it out next to my front bike tyre. It doesn’t stop you going through it a million times and why preparation is always key!
I made my way to the really well-marked out swim briefing and joined the 500 other competitors in this wave. We all got given a nice green swim cap and listened to an enthusiastic Geordie give us the low down. 15 minutes later as I popped my first gel down my throat, we made our way outside to the Docklands. On entering I got nervous to avoid a repeat of last time, so I went away from everyone else and jumped in almost backwards looking for anyone that may follow me in. All safe, what did hit me was that I was about to swim 1500m and in an area of water that had waves!!!
I hadn’t swam much since Marlow, I’d been so focussed on the bike that I’d almost forgotten about the swim. What did give me confidence is 3 of my last 4 swims had been 1500m or more and that in doing the tough Marlow 3km swim I was ready for this…
I looked up and saw about 10-20 green swim caps heading towards the bridge…that way I thought! Anyway I kept battling the current/wind until about 30 metres from the actual buoy I was supposed to turn at until I felt a regular tapping off my legs as I swam, this had happened before but only a couple of times and they probably just went around me but this was happening for more than 30 secs. It started to play on my mind…in fact it was really pissing me off. The tapping becoming more of a grab as we approached the buoy. I let it get to the third and more forceful grab before I gave out a huge kick which definitely connected. I am not proud of this and would’ve liked this to not happen but this is a dirty tactic on their part and this was hard enough without some arsehole trying to use me to gain advantage…draft behind me by all means but pull me back…I don’t think so!
Strangely enough I never got tapped or touched again through the rest of the swim.
If you are nervous about the swimming phase hang to the back or side of the start, I put myself in the mix and this, as I found can happen. The exit point was in my vision for a while but took a while to arrive. It was a ramp that went into the water and I approached cautiously as I didn’t want to bang any part of my body on it. The water was still very choppy and my vision limited but what I did see was the nicest sight ever followed by the nicest sound too! A huge hand with a high visibility sleeve and voice saying “Grab my hand”. Grab it?! I felt like kissing it!!! I was hoisted out and planted firmly onto the ramp. Quickly gathering my thoughts (they were THIS IS A RACE so MOVE!!!) I made my way up the ramp through an arch that had water showering you…I thought what the hell is that for?!? 1500 metres of Docklands water, now driving rain…oh yeah, I fancy a shower!
The bike felt light which was great when going uphill and down hill and going fast along the flat (check Bradley Wiggins here!) but every so often a gap would appear and the wind would knock you a couple of feet to the side, enough to make you grip that bit tighter and for your heart to skip a few beats. This was exciting, here was I cycling on the empty streets of East London going at a pace that made me smile, I could even hear the Rocky theme tune in my ears! I got to the ‘Tower Bridge’ turning point which was back from the iconic landmark pity as it was just a point in the road rather than a turning next to the bridge and the Tower of London. The turn was slow for obvious reasons and back on the pedals to pick up speed again, this time the wind and rain was in my face. Not as much fun as it had been on the way here. Another thing that was against you was the spray kicked up by the other bikes around as this got you in the face from the ground up. Drafting (sit behind another bike) is something that only certain races allow and this wasn’t one of them but even if it had been I’m not sure I would have due to the spray.
As I was battling the elements and the occasional hill, I divided the bike route into five parts. 1st part was done by cycling to Tower Bridge. The 2nd and 4th part was gonna be the killers. As we did 2 laps of the course they were the long stretches from Tower Bridge to the Stansfield Road turn point heading from West to East. It made it easier to apply myself and recover rather than seeing the whole thing as a slog!
Transition 2 wasn’t too bad as I came in from the rain turned left to the end, turned sharp right and made by way to the ’4 and 5′ on the wall, found my point, bike racked, helmet off, trainers on, numbered turned round and go! At no point did I really smile on the outside but there were times that somewhere inside me was smiling. Although I could feel my calf/Achilles as I ran it wasn’t too sore so what made me smile is that I felt I had done it, not underestimating the 10km run but I was the closest to a comfort zone as I could be in terms of finishing the race. I had been worried about the illness and how much of a factor it would have on me and the answer was I felt about 90% all the way up to here. Prior to the race I thought that I might not complete the swim and to me that would’ve been a massive blow that would have had me sulking for months! But here I was running out of the Excel centre towards my 1st of 4 laps thinking all I’ve got to do is pace myself.
It was about pacing myself for a few reasons. The first because of my leg. I couldn’t run to the point at which my lungs are bursting like I do when I’m going for a PB at Bushy Park Run as I wasn’t that person today. My leg would’ve MADE me stop and I don’t want to think of what the outcome of that could’ve been. The second reason was this was still an unknown area for me. My 1st triathlon was a sprint distance (400m swim, 20km bike, 5km run) and due to the heat on that day the 5km run was one of the toughest 5km’s I’ve ever ran, this was only my second triathlon and it was double the distance and I had an injury.
The first 2 laps were fine but I could feel the lower part of both quads ache more than usual towards the start of the third. I put this simply down to the fact that I’d used my quads to cycle and here I was having to lift my legs higher than normal on the slight hills and through the water jump’. As I completed the 3rd lap a rush of emotion came over me as then next time I could turn sharp right inside the Excel to go down the finishing straight and boy was I looking forward to that. I took in the last lap as a bit of a victory lap, a victory over my body, a victory that I was 2.5km from completing something I’d put off for so long.
I saw a couple of people walking on my last lap and I allowed myself to speak and encourage them to keep going. I was conserving as much energy as possible so if I wasn’t gonna allow myself to smile then I definitely restricting the amount of chatting I did. I was in two minds about thanking the magic 3 that helped me on the run but I had my head down and was still competing against the clock.
A twitter follower tweeted me that morning and said he’d done his triathlon on Saturday and that I should do the ‘Mo Bot’ as I crossed the line. I replied back saying “haha” and thought nothing more of it until I ran towards the ramp and out came my Mo Bot (in case anyone’s thinking anything rude, it’s not. Google it!). What a great celebrations it is. You can do it without breaking stride and it got a few people saying “Yeeeeeeaaaaahhhhhh Mo Bot”. Thanks Mo Farah for your celebration, I’m not sure I’ll do it ever again but I felt like an Olympic Champion crossing that line.
I have learnt a lot from this experience as I do most. What I have taken away from my recent participation in multi-discipline events is to respect them. Don’t approach with a “I can do that” attitude as an Ironman Triathlon must be called an Ironman Triathlon for a reason and instead of saying “next year”, I’m currently in training to become an Ironman in 2015…
But after all that, if you really want my advice, if you have man-flu, stay in bed... Do as I say, not as I do!