Onward and upwards
With my first triathlon (Thorpe Park sprint) under my belt, I wake up on Monday morning exhausted – but elated – even with that horrible bike leg!
I keep telling myself, “you’ve done one now…what’s next?”
By Tuesday morning I’m back in the gym for an hour on the stationary bike (20.92 miles…once again…Sunday? WFT?!? 1 hr 8 mins to ride 13 miles!?!)
That same day I put my bike in the car and bring it to work for a colleague to have a look at. Before I put it in the boot, I give the front wheel a spin – and of course, it’s like a perpetual motion machine, defying the laws of physics! Will it ever stop? No rubbing, no noise. Like a trip to the GP where the ailment has vanished by the time the doctor sees you, I’m starting to doubt whether this is a reasonable explanation for my poor cycling performance at Thorpe Park.
Then I get the bike out of the car at work, and as I wheel it into my office…. fssss…fssss…fssss…the brakes are rubbing again. It’s hard to believe that such a small amount of friction had such a negative impact on my ride – but it was definitely a factor.
After speaking to Danny (tri-to-be-iron), I’m informed that completing my 750 m swim using primarily breaststroke probably didn’t do my legs any favours either! So maybe it was a combination of the two things?
When my colleague sees the bike, he systematically scans it and says, “well, THAT can go…and THOSE!” pointing at my seat cushion, frame bag and lights. I’m told I can also get rid of my bell and puncture repair kit as well, as I’ll just be putting on a new inner tube which I can store in the pockets of my tri suit.
To prevent any drama with taking off my front wheel and knocking everything out of alignment again, I order a bike rack for the car. I don’t feel guilty about this additional expense as I can put both of the kids’ bikes on it when we go camping later this year – two birds, one stone (or one score in this case – God bless Ebay)!
I take it easy this week training-wise as work is crazy and family commitments prevent me from getting to Hadleigh for an open water swim. I do prove my resolve to work on this discipline however by ordering the Great Swim Local wrist band – although without a triathlon to train for, let’s see what happens!
The end of the week is double-busy, with work, then band rehearsals on Friday evening. Packing on Saturday morning, driving 70 miles to Windsor to rack up the bike, meet some family and drop Laura and the kids off at the hotel in Slough. Then driving back to Hornchurch for the band’s “last” gig (more on this next week), and then once the final song was played, driving another 70 miles back to Windsor to get 4 hours sleep before the race. Yes, that could have been planned a bit better…but the universe was conspiring against me on this occasion (perhaps)?!
That said, parked next to us was a friendly gent who began speaking to me the moment he got out of the car. After chatting for a while, about this being his first triathlon and my second, and how he had already signed up for an Ironman in Wales (really hard due to the hilly bike ride), he reveals that he’s from Hornchurch in Essex! We’ve both travelled 70 miles to an event where we’re parked next to someone from down the road! (Lee, I hope Windsor went well for you!). A man after my own heart, he has set himself that long-term goal that will keep him training and achieving smaller goals along the way – knowing that right now, there’s no way he could complete an Ironman. Very inspiring – so maybe the universe knew what it was doing after all?!
So despite going to bed around 1 am and setting my alarm for 5:45 am, I find myself wide awake at 5 am. I really could use the extra 45 minutes sleep, but I’m not risking going back to sleep and waking up groggy. Or worse – waking up LATE!!! I manage a banana and some coffee, but not the granola I brought with me for my pre-race meal. I’m still full from the last minute tuna and pasta I uncharacteristically ate 5 minutes before bed last night (which was 4 hours ago, and which didn’t keep me up because I was so cream crackered).
I had the common sense to pack my bags and lay out my suits the night before, so when the taxi arrives, I’m good to go – fairly confident that I’ve got everything. Laura and Robyn wish me well on my way out – Ralph is still in the fetal position, catching the ZZZZZs I’m craving.
I arrive at 6:30 am on the dot, and with my bike already racked up it all seems stress-free. I say my hellos to the two competitors I know, Danny and a work colleague (same one who fixed my bike). I lay out my towel, my flip flops, cycle shoes and trainers, my swimming hat, earplugs and goggles. I’ve arrived with my tri-suit on, so the wetsuit goes on next – still without lubricant. I need to get this for the next race – it goes on easily enough, but getting it off in transition 1 would be easier I imagine, with a bit of grease.
I notice several competitors with the exact same tri-suit and wet suit (Decathlon….you’re up there with Ebay)! There are also some pretty chunky bikes, which I start to think my basic road bike will fare better than during the race…but those thoughts are quickly hushed by the memories of last week’s cycling performance. The athletes themselves are all shapes and sizes, and just like the bikes, and I’ve already seen that this is no indicator of how they’ll perform. I mean, I look quite fit (more “Canvey Island” than “Love Island” than I’d like maybe), and yet…!
My wave isn’t until 7:45 am, but I’m zipped up in my wet suit and ready to go by 7 am. I decide to have a walk over to the coach station’s toilet block outside the transition area, and luckily everything has been timed just right. My body’s a little too keen if anything, thanks to the morning coffee…which increases the urgency for me to remove my wet suit and tri-suit. I make it. Just.
The swim start is a fair walk away from the transition point, and as I make my way over with Danny, I notice his white hotel slippers! I’m trying to figure out the athletic advantage to such footwear but it’s later revealed that his choice comes down to them being disposable. I don’t know it yet, but this is the last time I’ll see my flip flops – they had a good innings. (Note to whoever picked these up: Please do not wear these. I am wracked with guilt about what your feet may be about to go through if you do so. My most athletic body part, my feet, have been fermenting in these flip flops for years. Dispose of carefully.)
I don’t believe that it’s so cold and yet my teeth are chattering and I notice the uncontrollable shaking of limbs. Danny reckons it’s nerves…I’m sceptical, as I feel quite positive about what’s to come, excited even. But I guess physiologically speaking, anxiety and excitement are similar, it’s just the mental reframe that’s saving me from throwing up or pulling out!
After a quick briefing, which I try to look focused throughout, but I’m too excited now, I just want to get started. I don’t hear most of the instructions, or if I do my brain isn’t retaining them as they pass through one ear and out of the other. I ease myself off of the pontoon into the Thames and my first thoughts are, “F*** it’s cold…I need a thicker wetsuit…” followed by, “acclimatise…blow bubbles…” and lastly, “where am I? Holy s*** I’m at the front of the pack, I’m gonna get pummelled!!! “
At which point I hear, “15 SECONDS!!!”, have the presence of mind to start my watch, and we’re off!
I take a few shots to my sides and my legs, but it’s nothing malicious. I keep touching someone’s foot and think about Mark Allen doing this to Dave Scott to wind him up. My tickling this person in front may or may not have wound them up – I’ll never know, as they sped up and left me in their wake quite quickly.
I manage to do a lot more frontcrawl this time and the water stays out of my nose, but I swallow a fair amount of the Thames as my breaths seem to come when sudden waves hit my open mouth.
There’s a smell of hotdogs and onions and ketchup as I am swimming and during my first breast stroke break I jokingly ask the kayak volunteer if he can get me one. He’s not impressed, or he didn’t hear me. Either way, no hot dog – and i suddenly feel ready for that granola I missed out on this morning.
I manage some more front crawl, but at one point, having closed my eyes, I punch a kayak which has cut straight across me in its mission to help a struggling swimmer. Later on another kayaker is looking at me like I’m in trouble, which worries as I feel fine. I give him the thumbs up and prove I’m fine by getting back on with some more front crawl.
I don’t stop swimming. Front crawl and breast stroke the whole time, and even so I suddenly see the next wave of coloured hats over-taking me. “I’m going to get pummelled for sure this time,” but again, apart from a few taps, no one’s dunking me and it even gives me a bit of a push to swim a bit harder. Not as much as seeing the exit does though!
I crawl out, the most ungraceful sea lion you’ll ever see, and run for the transition. I struggle a bit with my wetsuit but get there eventually and notice that Danny is already there in transition (meaning he overtook me on the swim despite starting later).
It’s a long run out of transition, especially in cycling shoes, but 400m and 7 minutes later I’m off on the bike ride and compared to last week, I’m loving it. I feel like greased lightning!
Suddenly I need to concern myself with overtaking and drafting! A clear sign that things are going well.
The rain starts soon after the start of the ride and I try not to think about how thin my tyres are or how I’d rather be on a mountain bike in this weather.
The one piece of advice I had gone against, was keeping my cycle frame bag on. I’ve got my spare inner tubes, CO2 and cliff blocks inside and until I get myself a seat bag, this will work fine.
I find riding a bit monotonous, unlike running, and I hate the feeling of my thighs burning, as the lactic acid builds up – this lasts for hours after a ride for me.
Danny had told me that the course was flat, so rather than suggest he is mistaken, I keep telling myself, “bloody hell, he doesn’t even consider these hills…I must be crap on the bike.” It turns out the course has changed since last year!
I get into a rhythm though, wolfing down Cliff blocks and water so that I don’t have to think about fuelling on the run.
Towards the end, a steward annoyingly turns his back on the riders giving me no indication of which way to turn off at the roundabout. So I go left, and have to turn back suddenly as a more awake steward catches me going the wrong way.
At the end of the ride I unclip my shoes and jump off the bike while it’s still going too fast. I skate the first 5 m of the transition, earning a small round of applause for staying on my feet and not dropping the bike.
As I put on my trainers I make a mental note to purchase some speedy laces – and to find out what “speedy laces” are actually called!
I throw my glasses down by a tree on the way out (some kind person puts these on a bike rack for me to find at the end).
The incline on the run is agony for me…I hate hills…like cycling with any sort of power, they make my thighs burn!!!
There is a lovely stretch on the run, through the grounds as you go away from the castle and then back again. I look forward to seeing the professional photos for this part.
I run straight past my family near the end of my first lap, so go back on myself, almost crashing into two other runners (sorry lads) to give high fives to Robyn and Ralph. I don’t want to disappoint them after waiting so long for me!
Stupidly, I start heading towards the finish line after just one lap and have to turn around – once again, against the current of runners – and get the other two laps done!!!
Three laps is almost too much – especially when you know what’s coming. I’m not a fan of laps. I want novelty. Anyway, I keep going…never stopping (except right at the start to redo my shoelace)…never walking.
I manage to cheer on other runners I know, although my face is numb from the bike ride, and when I go to cheer on the first person I recognise, I can’t say their name properly and I’m sure my face looks like Rocky Balboa’s. I raise both arms, smile and raise my eyebrows – just to check I haven’t had some kind of stroke.
During the last lap I really focus on my own race. I have my secret mantra while running, which helps me keep the rhythm of my breathing and cadence going.
As I approach the finish line, I have nothing left for a sprint finish which is just as well as I spot Laura and the kids. She is holding Ralph up and lifting him over the gate, so he can cross the finish line with me. So holding his hand, he whizzes ahead and beats me across the line before I hold him up for a cuddle. A very special moment for the Saunders boys!
I ask the steward to put my medal on him, and she not only does so, she also kindly gives me a second medal – which is fantastic as both Robyn and Ralph get one now!
I’m really happy with my time, but my form is sloppy as hell and the run up to race day was less than perfect. I’m sure I can do better and I’ve got no intention to quit now. I probably won’t race again until next season…probably…instead I have a lot of learning to be getting on with, and not just with triathlon.
Massive THANK YOU to the family once again! It really was a Father’s Day to remember, and I’ve definitely redeemed myself on the bike!!!
Thank you also to Danny for inviting me to write a guest blog for tri to be iron.