As a runner there is now a multitude of other events that you can try to mix up your racing and events participation. There are obstacle course races, duathalons, aquathons, relay races and bike sportives. There is of course, triathlon as well. The fastest growing participation sport in the UK/world!
I have been increasingly interested in triathlons for a while now. The success of the Brownlee brothers at the London 2012 Olympics, the BBC coverage on the World Triathlon Series, Rich Roll’s book Finding Ultra and World Triathlon staging their races in lovely locations has all helped stimulate this interest.
I have put off doing a triathlon for a couple of reasons. One, because I have not swum properly for about 20 years (where it does not involve a running bomb or a water slide!) Two, it’s also really expensive and you need loads of kit.
Intotri have solved the second bit of my issue. They run free monthly timed triathlons over the super sprint distance (400m swim, 10km cycle, 2.5km run). You also don’t need fancy kit. A swimming costume or shorts, a road worthy bike, a bike helmet and a pair of trainers and you are ready to go. It also happens to be fairly local to me.
I signed up online mid-week and a 5.30am alarm got me up on a beautiful Sunday morning to throw my hybrid bike in the back of the car and set off to the Xcel Leisure Centre in Walton on Thames for a 7am start.
Upon arrival, I messed around trying to reattached the front wheel of my bike, registered, got allocated my number, racked my bike, laid out my kit out and scuttled in to the swimming pool area for the event briefing. We then lined up in race order based on our predicted swim times and we were ready to go. The swim is in a pool (no open water to worry about) and the competitors are set off at 10 second intervals. It involves swimming 16 lengths, snaking up and down 8 lanes.
Even though I swam competitively as a lad, and can still “lay it down” over 25m. I have had enough experiences since to know that swimming is very muscle specific and without regularly using these muscles (i.e. swimming) you are going to get tired very quickly.
As my start slot came around, I slid into the water, set off at a reasonable pace and tried to maintain my front crawl form. I managed to complete 4 lengths of front crawl before my arms felt like they were going to fall off and had to resort of breaststroke. I found that my breaststroke seemed to be of a similar speed as my front crawl as I managed to maintained the distance to the people in front and behind me. With a final flourish of front crawl on the last length I dragged myself out of the pool and went out the fire doors into the cool morning air.
Another thing that Intotri do is they do not time the transition from swim to bike. This allows you to exit the pool safely, but also takes away the need to rush your transition if you do not have all the kit to do it quickly or you are not comfortable running around a car park in your speedos! I wanted to get a feel for the event, so I tried to be as quick as I could in transition.
After a quick towel down, (I have not seen the Brownlees do this), I whipped my board shorts off (compression shorts underneath to maintain my modesty), pulled on a t shirt and a pair of running shorts, squeezed my trainers on, grabbed my bike helmet, un racked my bike and I was off to the start of the bike section.
Hopping onto my bike, the cold air was quiet refreshing as I got going. This being my first time, I was not sure what my perceived effort was supposed to be, so I set off at what I thought was a fair pace. Within the first minute, two people flew past me. I thought to myself – either they have really good bikes (this was definitely part of the reason!) or I am just not trying hard enough. I only had the control to sort one of these excuses so I flicked down a gear, started to hammer the pedals and tried to hold on to them. The cycle course runs from Walton on Thames to near Hampton Court and back again on a road that runs fairly parallel to the River Thames. As the road is close to the river, it is very flat and a popular route with other cyclists. Having people in front of me certainly drove me on to put a lot more effort in over the course of the bike section. I pretty much went as hard as I could for the whole 10km. I also manage to hold on to one of the people who had initially passed me.
I swept back in to the transition area, racked my bike, threw my helmet off and I was off on my run. The run follows a very picturesque 2.5km loop along the upper and lower towpath between Walton Rowing Club and Sunbury Lock. Now was the time to get motoring. I have not swum for ages, I am a fairly leisurely cyclist, but what I am okay at, is running. But, guess what? The pounding of the big cog had left me with nothing. I had a go at picking up the pace on the run a few times, but to no avail. I enjoyed the scenery, noted down a couple of good looking beer gardens and battled through as best I could. I crossed the line with a big smile on my face and the knowledge that I had completed my first triathlon and it still wasn’t even 9am.
A celebratory chocolate brownie kept me company (for about 30 seconds) as I moseyed back to the transition area. I retrieve my helmet and rang out my damp board shorts. Following the cycle and the run I was now pretty much dry. I put on my trackie bottoms and hoodie and encouraged some of the other competitors who were still on their way or were doing the longer sprint distance (400m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run).
So how was my first triathlon?
My first triathlon was fantastic and a massive learning experience. You think it can’t be that hard. I do at least two of the components in various forms fairly often, but I was hugely surprised by the excursion that each section took, and how it drains you for the next one.
The organisation by Intotri is fantastic. These are people giving up their time to run a free event to allow others to have fun and give triathlon a go. I think that should definitely be appreciated. The distance is very manageable for those who have not tried it before. The facilities at the Xcel Centre are excellent and all the participants are very friendly and a lot were in the same boat as me, nervous but excited at being first timers. I think the best thing about Intotri is that there are no time limits for the event. You can be super speedy or you can take it nice and easy, it’s very inclusive.
Would I do it again?
I will definitely do an Intotri event again and as I push on, I will possibly think about doing a longer, paid event. There are also lots of things I can do to improve next time. The first thing that springs to mind is to get some swimming goggles! If you are thinking about giving a triathlon a go, I would definitely recommend it. If I can link back to a recent post (How do I start? and The benefits of cycling to work) you probably have enough kit (or can borrow kit) to give it a try. I managed to do it with normal kit that I already had.
How did I do?
I came 6th out of 17 who did the super sprint distance. Below is a breakdown of my times.
- Swim – 00:08:45
- Transition 1 (T1) – 00:02:55 (way longer that I thought I took!)
- Bike – 00:23:32 – average speed 25.5 kmh or 16 mph
- Transition 2 (T2) – 00:00:39 – the second best transition time of the event (but no cycling shoes to change)
- Run – 00:11:25 – around my normal (post BMF) parkrun pace.
- 00:47:16 including T1 and T2
- 00:43:42 excluding T1 and T2
- 00:44:21 excluding T1 – my official time