Borris Viaduct

Borris Viaduct
Borris ViaDuct

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Overshooting it - My first triathlon, Skerries 2012

Beach Start, Skerries Triathlon 2012

When this weekend came along, I was pretty nervous to say the least. Despite all my training, it all felt like it was happening a bit fast and there were a lot of doubts going through my mind. I was only just about able to run 7km in training - could I run 5km after a cycle and swim? Would I able to balance on a bike after swimming? What the hell was being in a race on a bike like?! I hadn't done any brick training - why hadn't I done any brick training*?! As for transition practice... well I had taken my wetsuit off once and that was okay... Oh dear...

Billy picked me up on Saturday morning on the way to Skerries, the day before the big event, which was handy as I had accumulated a surprising amount of triathlon shtuff over the last 6 months! The 1st thing I did once I got to Skerries was one last practise lap of the cycle route - this helped calm me a bit, and I felt I really had a handle on crucial areas of the course to change gears on. Also the familiarity of the course was starting to make it feel a bit shorter, which was nice.

After that, I settled into a bit more of a normal routine, just chilling out with Billy around Skerries like any normal weekend. In a way, I still didn't really believe I was going to be doing this the next day, it was hard to know how to feel about it! In fact, I was probably a bit too relaxed, having a beer or two and a bit of junk food that night watching a movie. I told myself it would help me sleep! Yeah right!

I groggily got up at 6.30am on raceday. Registration was at 7am, 2 hours before the race, and the plan was to register, then go back to the house for breakfast and get ready i.e. so I was not waiting around in transition for two hours! So basically registration is where you sign in, pay a one day license if required (this is essentially paying insurance for the day, in case anything happens - this is included in your annual Triathlon Ireland membership, but if you're not a member and just doing one or two races, you get a one day license), and you get a goodie bag which includes the following:
  • your race numbers (for front & back, though if you have a race belt, you only need to wear one race number and rotate to front for run),
  • a coloured swimming hat which told you what wave you were in (Blue was for Olympic Distance, Red was for advanced Sprint Distance, White was for Beginner Sprint Distance - despite being a complete novice I registered as advanced sprint, as I was confident in my swim!)
  • your timing chip
  • a fancy souvenir t-shirt
  • various other goodies including a bottle of lucozade and a nutrigrain bar. To my dismay it also included a race-belt and an ankle strap for the timing chip. Dammit, I didn't need to buy those!
Anyways, I got back to the house and had my usual breakfast and got changed into my trisuit. I felt really nervous and almost defeated while doing this, like I was getting ready to walk the plank. This was not a natural feeling. I didn't like this feeling. Had I paid money to experience this feeling? What was I doing here? This feeling of nerves & anxiety did not go away as I walked my bike from the house back towards the transition area. When I got there things were a lot busier than they were earlier that morning, a lot of very serious and athletic looking people walking around setting up their bikes and gear.

When I found my rack, I reluctantly hung my bike off it, not really sure what way I was supposed to hang it. Then I stood around like a bit of an idiot, not really knowing what to do. I didn't want to over-eagerly put on my wetsuit too early and be found out  as a newbie! Then to my relief I saw there were other people standing around looking a bit bamboozled by the whole affair. I was not alone! Then I started chatting to the guy next to me - he had done one or two before and was very helpful. All of a sudden this was starting to feel a little less intimidating. Billy and my uncle Liam showed up and this calmed me down a bit further - around this time I also found out that my parents were coming up from Inistioge, with my older and younger brothers in tow. This was partially to see me race, partially to see Mary and Liam's new house, and partially to see what my designs done to it!.... Mainly to see the race though... Of course...

There was an announcement that the race briefing was about to happen and everyone crowded around a man with a mega-phone. I remembered from my Wheelworx "Intro to Tri" sessions that the race briefing was very important as it not only described the course and where you enter and exit transition, but also informs of any last minute changes to the course. I listened intently. Unfortunately I heard absolutely nothing through the screechy and muffled microphone. Ah well- I guess I'd just follow everyone else!

After the race briefing it was announced that the transition area would need to be vacated in 10minutes time, before the Olympic Distance race commenced. Time to get ready so! I left my helmet on the bike, with gloves, sweatband and prescription sunglass inside it. I hung my cycle jersey off one brake hood on the handlebars and hung my racebelt with race number off the other. I put my runners with locklaces just beside my transition bag, under my bike with cap just in the bag in easy reach for the run. I sprayed tri-slide all over my ankles and wrists, anti-chafed the hell out of my neck and stuffed myself into my wetsuit. I had my prescription goggles and swimming wave hat. I was ready to go!

So, all suited up and ready to go, I watched on as the Olympic distance race started. As they had to do twice the distance in every discipline, they had to swim the 750m triangular route, run onto the beach and through a gate and then run in and swim it again! After a year of (fairly) dedicated training to get me to a point of feeling 50% sure I could even do a sprint distance race, I really couldn't get my head around the prospect of doing an Olympic distance event. Something strange happened to me around this point though - as I looked out at the guys leading the race, I started thinking to myself, "I'm as good a swimmer as them, maybe better...". Then I remembered how in most of my chats with people who had done triathlons before (some of whom had done them quite regularly), NONE of them had liked the swim! In fact for most, it was really something they wanted to get over with. I remembered being baffled at how so many people could regularly enter a tri-discipline event, and hate one of the disciplines so much! I was starting to psych myself up in a big way now - I was probably a better swimmer than most of these people!! Sure, I didn't know this at all, but that's what I was telling myself, and it was working. My nerves were gone and I was ready. I took a quick dip to get some water into my wetsuit and shortly afterwards we were called to starting position. Here we go!

Now at this stage, I was incredibly pumped up and ready to go, but I was still aware that I might be getting a bit overly confident. After-all, despite my swimming background, I had never done a sea swim race before or a beach running start with 200 other people! I nestled in the crowd about 6 or 7 rows of people back. My plan was to stay on the outside, and give myself space to swim at my own speed until the crowd spread out a bit, as triathlons swim starts can be notoriously chaotic. The race steward announced on the megaphone would be starting soon, and starting listing things to do if you started panicking in the water and how to signal the guys in canoes etc, - I didn't really want to hear this! Then he said the siren would go off in 20 seconds and there would be no countdown. The silence was deafening.

Then the siren went, and we were off!

I started to run, but 1 minute of tensely waiting in the crowd had turned my legs to jelly! I was actually happy when my feet hit the water, the cold shock, knocked some feeling back into my legs. I took a couple of skips and jumps over the waves and dived in and started 'dolphining'** from there - it was really effective, and got the feeling back into my legs. Once this happened, the adrenaline kicked in and I started swimming hard ..... too hard - I was in sprint mode! My legs were kicking in full turbo, and my arms were in full swing, and I was cruising past people on my left and right.

Now to be honest, I wasn't sighting (ie. looking out for 1st buoy, making sure I was swimming in the right direction!) at all in this starting sprint. I just was so caught up in the rush of it all. The water was so clear I could base my direction on the other swimmers around me. Then it came to a point when there was no longer other swimmers, so I decided to do one or two strokes of breast-stroke to take in my  surroundings. My, was I surprised!

I looked around, I was close to the first buoy, maybe 20m from it or so, but there were barely any swimmers ahead of me, 4 or 5 maximum. Wow, I couldn't believe it. I was well ahead of the pack - talk about overshooting it!

I continued swimming around the buoy at a slightly more relaxed pace. There was 2 main reasons for this:
1. I wanted to get into a sustainable rhythym to get me through to the rest of the race
2. I was absolutely wrecked! I mean totally destroyed! I was out of breath, had major lactic acid build-up in my shoulders and had to swim breastroke quite a few times on the long stretch to the next buoy in an attempt to settle down, but it wasn't really working. To say I got my pacing was wrong was an understatement!

I rounded the 2nd buoy to start the final stretch back to the beach. My main thoughts at this stage were "I'm dying. I'm actually dying...", and "Oh shit, this is my strongest part of the race, I'm wrecked, and I still have to do a cycle and a run after this. I've made a huge mistake. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit...". So yeah, I was in a good place, mentally! People were definitely passing me now, but I couldn't tell how many. It was a relief to start seeing the seabed become visible and closer as we got closer to shore.
Swim Exit & Feigning Energy Levels!

I decided I needed to swim as far in as possible to limit the distance I would be running against the resistance of the water. I swam until I couldn't avoid my hands touching the bottom, and then jumped up and started running. This was a really weird sensation, as the my blood realised it now needed to be in my legs! I had feeling in my legs by the time I was completely out the water, but was still struggling for breath. All the same, I felt pretty good - the crowd that were around the big inflatable gate that I had to run through made a big difference and I found myself bounding through that, and even heard my family shouting their support, though I couldn't see where they were.

This good feeling was brief however as I had to run over a little sand dune before entering transition properly. This sapped my energy big time, my legs were burning, and my pace dropped significantly - what a difference 50m makes!

I unzipped my wetsuit while running on entering transition and had half of it off and around my waist by the time I got to my bike .Most people seemed to this as soon as they were out of the water, but I didn't even think of it until I had my bearings - the migration of blood flow from upper body to lower body can have quite a disorientating effect! I took off my prescription and goggles and quickly replaced them with my prescription sunglasses which were waiting for me in my helmet and started to pull the wetsuit off my legs. This was going well (though not as easy as it appeared on youtube videos), but then disaster struck. The right leg of my wetsuit was stuck - it was not coming off! The timing chip was holding it back. I tried to force it but it wasn't happening. I had to sit down down, pull my wetsuit back up, take my timing chip off, and then pull the wetsuit off. I was losing a lot of time, and was aware of LOTS of people passing through transition ahead of me. I got up to put on my cycle jersey - this turned out to be quite difficult, as I had no feeling in my arms or hands from swimming in the sea and it took what felt like an age to get the zip attached and zip up. Clipping on my race belt was a similar experience, but the runners were fine - thank god I had the lock laces, can't imagine what tying laces here would have been like. I put on my helmet (it is illegal in a race to touch your bike before you do this), got on my bike and away I went, finally.

I had lost a huge amount of time in this transition! Obviously as my first triathlon I shouldn't have cared, but in full flow of race day my competitive mentality was fully engaged. Dozens of people had passed me in transition, and it seemed to defeat the purpose of my aggressive swim - something I would need to work in the future. But first I needed to complete this race!

I ran my bike out of transition to the mount line and got on the bike. Was definitely still feeling a bit weird getting on the bike - I had never done anything like this after a hard swim, and my balance and awareness was well off 100% - this did not feel safe! I started to feel better quickly enough though, as I got a bit of speed up, and only my legs were exerting energy, and unlike the swim I was still moving when I stopped pedalling!

The first 2-3km stretch of the cycle (ie the coastal stretch before going up the Black Hill) was difficult. Not only was I trying to find my pace on unfamiliar post swimming legs, I was pretty paranoid about the 'no drafting rule'.***

A long line of cyclists had developed on the route along the coast. As cyclists passed me I felt I had to slow down to make that 7m gap within the time. By doing this I was allowing other cyclists to overtake me easily, some of whom probably shouldn't have been passing me. It took me a while to realise that there wasn't a lot of race marshals out here and it was everyman for himself. I started to gain a bit of confident on the bike and started fighting my corner, re-overtaking some of the guys that had overtaken me earlier. We rounded the corner  under the railway track and started the climb up the Black Hill.

I had done a lot of practice on this course, and knew when to change gears for climbs like this and it showed. Despite being on a very light and easy gear, and feeling like I wasn't putting in too much effort (but at a high cadence), I overtook a lot of people on this section, which was pretty satisfying, particularly when passing some guys on very expensive looking tri-bikes with all the aero gear. "You can't buy hard work!" I thought to myself, which was probably a bit hypocritical of me as I had made some serious investments this year just to have the basic gear... and in hindsight probably could have added more hard work!

By the time I made it to the top of the hill, I was out on my own. I wasn't sure how far the others were behind me, but there was no one ahead of me, which was nice - I was cycling on my own terms now. I belted down the descents and around the flats, and was feeling quite comfortable, while still working quite hard. Occasionally a really fast cyclist would whizz by me - nothing much I could do about that! Despite my disastrous transition, it seemed my swim had put me ahead of a lot of serious cyclists, which felt good!

I found myself passing another little mini-group of people on the rolling hills of the countryside roads and was feeling good. Then I had a bit of a set-back. As I went to change gear, as practiced for another climb, I lost all resistant and was pedaling air - my chain had came off! Balls!

I quickly got off to the side of the road and tried to put the chain on with the bike upright. It was probably because I was on high adrenaline and panicking, but I couldn't do it this way, and had to put the bike upside down to make sure the chain was back on. I lost about a minute here, and during this time about 20 people I had passed on the hills re-overtook me! This was pretty frustrating to say the least, but at least I had the pleasure of overtaking them again over the next 5km!

I was about halfway through the cycle at this stage, and the 2nd half was much more straightforward, passing some people, getting passed by others until we came back to the main road, the pacey stretch back to Skerries. There was someone about 50m ahead who I thought I could catch, but we were about the same pace, so I followed him in for the next 5km at pace. After passing under the railway bridge and coming back into Skerries, there was a lot of corners to negotiate and I lost my rhythm a bit. The fact that I had not fully gotten to terms with my balance on the bike was telling as I took a lot of corners ultra cautiously here, and had to work to get my speed back. I still managed to pass some people on this section, while still getting passed myself by some really quick guys!

The very last section was a bit crappy, with a lot of tight back lane-ways that were full of potholes to deal with before getting back to the transition area. Pace was out the window here, but at this stage it didn't matter. I was starting to think about the run. I must say I was in a much better state of mind now then I was at the end of the swim!

I stopped and carefully got off the bike at the dismount line, and ran my bike back into transition. This transition was pretty straight forward. As I was already wearing runners, all I had to do was rack the bike, remove helmet, put on sweatband and cap and away I went!

Coming up the dismount line at the end of the cycle. As it happens my action camera would have my only record of my cycle split! 

The run did NOT feel good.

Honestly I was expecting my legs to feel a bit ropey after getting off the bike for the run as I hadn't done remotely any brick training in my preparations - strangely enough, this was not an issue at all. What was an issue, however, was the fact that I was not wearing any socks!**** The first 1km or so was fine, but as I started running around corners, there was a lot of slippage within my shoes, and this new friction creating a lot of discomfort. On top of this, as I had not mastered balance on the bike, I had not drank any water while cycling and so at this stage was pretty dehydrated!

The run course went from transition along the coast path around the Peninsula to the lifeboat house where you ran around a bandstand (pain), and back down the coastal path past the transition area and around a car park at the other end of the beach (pain), before returning along the beach path to the finishing line just in front of the transition area. The water station was located just after passing the transition area the 1st time, about 2km in, and I was dying for a drink at the stage!

Drinking from a plastic cup while running a panting for breath is shit - I would not recommend it. The cups were tiny, about 100ml, 10ml of which went towards my hydration matters, 90ml of which went down my windpipe. I could have just stopped and walked to have a drink, but I really wasn't confident I could get the legs started again if I stopped them! I tried again, getting another cup as I got past the end of the drink station. Same result. Balls. Looked like this final 3km was going to be tough!

I battled through it though, and after rounding the mast at the end of carpark (pain) to head back, I got a bit of a second wind. Maybe I literally had a tailwind to help me out here, but I was a bit more aware of the remaining energy I had, and I picked up the pace a little bit and even passed one or two people! (for the record, my run was mainly defined by getting passed by people, so I was pretty pleased to see I could still pass someone!).

It seemed to take ages on this familiar run route before the finish line came into view, but it was a great feeling to finally see it. Though I'm not sure this would have been clear to the onlookers at the time, I made an honest attempt at a final sprint and crossed the line.
Attempting a sprint finish!
My elation was tempered by my exhaustion. I went to the the athletes food station and got (in this order): a water, a banana, a coffee, a flapjack, a water, a sandwich, a bar, a water, a flapjack and a water. I was absolutely pooped, but food and water after such an exertion as heaven!

I eagerly went to the timing station to get my time. From speculating roughly on times and factoring in 'shit happens' I was hoping to do a time of about an hour and a half. To my dismay, as I had taken off my timing chip in T1 (I didn't put it back on), I had no cycling or running and splits! Luckily as an official at the finish line had taken my race number, I had a finish time..... 1:29:59! Brilliant! I had gotten within 1 second of my goal time - who does that?!

By taking my swim split, final time, and working out my cycle split, from the action camera, I was able to roughly work out my splits as something like this:
Swim:  00:12:58 (Official time - was 12th out of 233 people in the swim! Woot!)
T1:       00:03:00 (at least)
Cycle: 00:48:20 (Based on my action camera footage)
T2:       00:00:45 (This felt quick, would be surprised it was over a minute)
Run:    00:24:56 (By deduction, this might have been slower and T1 faster, but unlikely)
Total:   01:29:59 (88th in race overall, not bad for my first go!)

We got back to the house, I got changed and I went for a pint or 3 in Skerries where my brother and cousin had to suffer my reflections of the race I had just done. The post-race buzz had kicked in now. All the bad bits were forgotten about, I was very happy with the way the day had went. Needless to say, I was dying to do the next one!

* Brick-training is a training session where you go for a cycle followed by immediately by a run. The distance of the run is insignificant - it just serves to condition your legs for the transition from cycling to running

** Dolphining is a technique used by swimmers on beach-start races. It involves diving in to the water when you are between knee and waist deep, pulling your knees in and then thrusting yourself from the sand into a dolphin-like dive back into the water & repeating this until you are at an adequate depth to start swimming properly. This is a particularly effective way of getting out quickly on a swim start as running out after a certain depth can become pretty tiring! I had only read about the week before the race in a triathlon magazine and thought I'd give it a go!

***The 'no drafting rule' basically states that you cannot cycle within a zone 7m long by 3m wide behind the cyclist infront of you. Once you enter this zone, you have 10 seconds to pass, or face a 2minute penalty. Once your wheel passes the front wheel of the other cyclist, it become their duty to fall 7m behind you within 20 seconds. This all makes perfect sense when reading it, but was quite confusing in the race itself!

**** No socks - One of the things I learned from the 'Intro to Tri' classes in Wheelworx was that you don't generally put on socks in T1 (transition 1) after the swim. This is because you don't have the feeling in your fingers generally to do so, but also because you would generally be putting your feet into special tri-shoes already clipped to your pedals, and would have the option or opportunity to put on your socks in T2 when changing to runners. As I hadn't got clip in shoes or pedals yet, I was already in my runners on the bike, sans-socks, and even though I considered it I decided not to take off my runners to put back on socks when changing to running. This would be to my detriment!