Thorpe Park – My Triathlon Debut

The Day before…

It’s Saturday 8th June and I’ve just realised that in order to get my road bike into the Zafira, as well as the two kids, the front wheel is going to have to come off. No biggie – I can see the quick release lever, and with a quick tug to release the wheel from the front brake, it comes off no problem and my trusty steed in thrown into the back of the car.

My bags (plural) are packed with (almost) everything the checklist I downloaded says I should have, and I’m satisfied that the equipment will see me through my first triathlon.

To save Laura and the kids an even earlier wake up time than is necessary, I booked a hotel close to the event the same day I bought the race ticket. Of course when we arrive, despite being an hour after check in, the room is not ready so we are asked to wait. Then the key doesn’t work and finally we find out we have to pay to use their car park?!?! But what do you want for £56, I suppose…

Once we’re finally into the room, I lay out all of my gear. This obviously takes a bit longer than before a marathon, and helps keep the nerves at bay. It’s a calming ritual. My subconscious is getting the message, “All the gear is here, you’ve just got to go and do what you’ve done in training…but MUCH faster!”

Superhero time!

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that while sons and daughters don their various superhero outfits and disguises, there’s still a desire in at least some of their parents to do the same. Dress up and perform some amazing feat of speed, strength or in my case, stamina. That void doesn’t come close to being filled by heaving on a suit and tie, and ticking boxes “for the man” man. I actually enjoy my work, but it doesn’t scratch THIS itch!

As I set my stuff out, somewhere in the back of my mind there’s a Hans Zimmer-esque tune playing. Yes, I’ve not even completed a triathlon yet, but this gear secretly (not so secret now I’m writing about it) is the equivalent of my bat suit, utility belt, etc.

“It’s superhero time. Mission starts soon. Training is done. All of your gear is here…” WAIT, of course, all of my gear is NOT here. My bike is still sitting in the car, dismembered, so I go to retrieve it just to make sure I can put the wheel back on with the minimum of hassle.

The wheel goes on without a single expletive from me, and after wedging the bike into the hotel lift, it is soon located, whole, in the hotel room – next to the bat suit, etc.

Race day

As the hotel is located just a mile away from the event I decide to cycle there. I think, this will wake my legs up whilst giving the family an extra hour or so in bed before coming to cheer me on.

As I’m wheeling the bike out I notice a repetitive noise coming from, where else, the front wheel. The brakes appear to be rubbing a bit on the wheel but I can’t see where. I lift the bike and try to spin the wheel, but it quickly comes to a stop. A little bit of maneuvering the break pads seems to fix the problem, so then I begin my ride in.

The next thing I notice are the tyres are a bit spongy. I have a hand pump, and I’m sure someone will have a proper pump at the event, so again I’m not concerned about this.

Registration is so straight forward, and the only tips I pick up are 1) the second number bib is a spare if you have a race belt 2) the timing chip goes on your left ankle to stay away from the gear mechanism, etc.

Even racking up my bike and setting my gear out is a doddle – there is no chance of losing my bike or getting lost in the transitions. I borrow a pump for my tyres at the last minute, get on my wet suit and I’m good to go.

SWIM

The water is said to be 18 degrees, and as soon as I’m in the water for a little acclimatisation, I know I’m fine. I’ve spat in my goggles and this seems to be working i.e. no steam. The buoys are HUGE so sighting is no problem. I don’t know if the earplugs are working or not, but I’m not feeling sick or panicky, so let’s just say they are.

There is no way I would feel this calm, had it not been for a second session with Mark from Tri ‘N’ Swim Well at Hadleigh Country Park earlier this week. This made up for my first open water swimming experience…but I still have a lot to learn here. If I come in to some money, I will invest in some lessons…for now, I will see how far I can get with YouTube.

The horn goes off and initially my front crawl seems to be going well. The mosh pit I had feared is not happening, I have space, but every time my face goes under, my nostrils are filling up with water – even when I’m exhaling from them?!? Mental note: buy a nose peg.

I end up doing a mixture of “head above water front crawl” and breast stroke.

At the exit, further down the bank, I tread in sludge which gives way and brings me to my knees on a sharp rock. I stumble out, a bit dizzy, but recover enough to start running towards the transition area with a smile on my face.

17 mins 41 secs for 750 m. I think that’s respectable?

Feet like flippers…I’ve evolved for this…and yet I’m still quite slow atm!

cycle

I can feel that something is not right. I tell myself it must be the swim, maybe the water I’ve swallowed…and no AJ – seriously, I’m not 100% getting on the bike. It just feels like bloody hard work.

I tell myself that it will wear off. Same as a bike to run transition. I have never done a swim to bike brick session before – that must be what it is.

But a mile in, when I expect to have got my bearings, my rhythm, to have outrun my excuses…I still feel like I’m cycling through treacle. It has to be the bike. I look down. No punctures.

If I’d known what was to come, I might have quit at this point!

At no point do I consider getting off the bike to mess about with the wheels or brakes, which looking back, would have been the right move. Even doing away with the front brake and relying on just the back one would have been better than doing what I did. Carry on.

I’m really concerned, it being my first triathlon, about drafting and overtaking. I don’t want to break these rules (or at least get penalised for doing so), but as it turns out I never have the opportunity to overtake anyone, and no one is ever in front of me long enough for me to be accused of drafting!

This is the worst part of the race for me, and I have to shake off some pretty negative self-talk as cyclist after cyclist whizzes past me. Laura tells me after the race that she actually thought something had happened to me it takes me so long!

1 hr 8 mins for 21 km…it pains me to type that. Even as a newbie.

run

Of course there is no question that this is going to be the strongest part of my race. I have just spent the last 1 hour 8 mins being overtaken by everyone and their nan, so I enjoy catching up and overtaking these cyclists on the run.

I am a bit concerned at one point about my breathing, as my lung capacity seems to have reduced. I feel quite a bit of pressure in my chest, which I put down to swallowing some water in the lake – the bike doesn’t really tax my breathing, just my legs – so that’s why it’s taken me so long to be affected by it.

After the race I google “dry drowning” and worry myself silly for a bit. If I can’t sleep later, and it doesn’t feel any better, I’m off to the hospital…but I have felt worse. I’m sure it’s fine.

I really enjoy running through Thorpe Park…it makes me wonder about Disneyland races, or other theme parks. One to add to the “someday, maybe” list.

After completing the run I meet up with some friends who were also racing, and go over some of the issues we’ve had during the race. At no point do they warn me that I still have my earplugs in from the swim! I find this out as I’m packing up my stuff in the transition area!

At least I wasn’t running with my helmet on I guess…that WOULD have been embarrassing!

20 mins 17 secs for 5 km.

Strong finish on the 5 km run.
I knew the bike wasn’t going well, and even at MAF pace in training I have done better, so I’m not worried. I’ll put this right next week.

So I have been bitten by a bug. A bug with 3 legs – or 5 if you include transitions!

next actions

I need to buy a nose peg. I need to get my bike set up properly, and I need a bike rack so I don’t have to keep taking my wheel off! I suppose I also need to learn how to remove and replace the wheels, front and back, if I ever get a puncture!

I have less than a week until Windsor and the distances are doubled for each discipline, so I’ll need to pace myself better and fuel on the ride. My goals for next week, other than completing the race, are:

  1. Use mostly front crawl, not breast stroke for the swim
  2. Have a much better bike ride – 40km in 1 hour 30 mins
  3. Complete the race in around 3 hours (this would be a massive bonus after today’s performance, but achieving the first two will get me closer to this)

A couple of other things to note:

  • I messed up with my watch, so I really need to practice with that this week
  • I didn’t fuel at all or hydrate until the run – I will need to get some gels/cubes in me during the ride at Windsor

A final note, I am extremely grateful to Laura, Robyn and Ralph for coming to support me today. They took great pics and made me feel like a rock star at each transition. What a lucky guy I am to have you three in my corner!

Still had some energy for Thorpe Park with the family afterwards

Triathlon Training – Part 2

With less than a week until my first triathlon, I have been reflecting on my training – which to be honest, I have not taken as seriously as I have my marathon training in the past. That is to say, I have taken a much more relaxed and spontaneous approach than when training for a marathon – not following a strict schedule or plan as I usually would.

I think this is in part due to being sensible, knowing that I want to avoid injury or burnout at all costs – my priority is health, not fitness/performance – but I also have a lot of people around me who “care”. By care, I mean they like to remind me that at almost 39 years old – no spring chicken – what I’m doing could be considered extreme and potentially harmful. I do take on board what they are saying, but with a pinch of salt, as their advice usually comes between puffs of tobacco or bites of cake.

My diet has also not been great. Basically, I started carb-loading the week before the London Marathon, and continued to eat anything and everything I wanted for several weeks after the event. I generally keep meat, caffeine and alcohol to a minimum – although not while camping!

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Training break 😎

A post shared by Dean "Deano" Saunders (@norocketscientist1980) on

Pasta, rice, potatoes, bread and sweets (mostly ice-cream, popcorn, biscuits and chocolate) are the reason I will not be at my ideal racing weight for my debut. As I’ve said, health is my number one priority and I’m nowhere near worrying about my weight generally…but I’m just acknowledging those extra unnecessary kilos add extra minutes.

Anyway, knowing that I could run 5 or 10 km easily enough, even after a 40 km bike ride, I chose to focus on the other two disciplines: swimming and cycling.

All of my training has been done, wherever possible, at my MAF (maximum aerobic function) heart rate – no speed work at all. I will write a post on this at a later date, but the basics are:

  1. Take 180 and subtract your age e.g. 180 – 38 = 142 bpm (beats per minute)
  2. Add 5 if you’re fit and making improvements, so for me 147 bpm

I wear a heart rate monitor (wrist or chest strap preferably) and whenever I’m doing cardio activities I aim to hover at this heart rate, slowing down if I go above 147 bpm.

Open Water Swimming

My experience here, apart from the odd dip on holiday, is severely limited. You can read about my first Open Water Swimming session here. As disappointing as my performance in that first session was, I booked a second session for 6pm on Wednesday 5th June – forgetting that I had band practice that evening at 7pm! I apologised to the band and told them I will do my best to get there as close to 7pm as I can. I need another open water swim before the race or there’s a danger I will panic and ruin my debut!

The next week and a half is super busy, with my first two triathlons (9th and 16th June) and my last gig with the band (15th June).

POOL SWIMMING

Below are my dates, distances and times:

06/05/19 – My first time in the pool for any serious swimming, since 2013 when I trained for and completed a 5 km swim for the Marie Curie charity (this would not have been a pretty site – I used whatever stroke I could just to get through it, and wouldn’t have completed it had I not dabbled in the total immersion swimming technique after seeing Tim Ferriss do a Ted Talk on it).

12/05/19 – 1500m – 45 mins – 3 x 500m, with a breather after each 500m.

18/05/19 – 1500m – 35 mins – 2 x 750m with a short breather half way.

28/05/19 – 1500m – 34 mins – no stopping.

01/06/19 – 1500m – 37 mins – This was my first swim in the 50 m pool, and my watch didn’t seem to be working correctly at first. It settled down though, eventually, and I got into a decent rhythm. My main reason for stopping so often was my goggles kept steaming up – this is something I need to google a solution for!

From what I’ve read, 40 mins is a standard time for the Olympic swim – so in the pool this is no problem, but in open water it might be a different story.

ROAD CYCLING

I got rid of my mountain bike and bought a second hand road bike for £90. I don’t like the thin wheels, the gears took some getting used to and every time I go out I’m sure that I’ll get a puncture. It hasn’t happened yet though – touch wood.

I was actually quite nervous about being on the road on a bike. There are just far too many bad drivers out there, and the pot holes in the roads don’t make life easy. But it has been quite warm, bright and dry and it is actually quite an enjoyable activity – minus the achy undercarriage after 30 minutes. My shoulders and back also get a bit tense, so this is probably due to a combination of the bike not being set up properly for me, and poor posture.

From what I’ve read, for the Olympic distance I should be able to cover the 40 km in 1 hr 20 mins, but my best times in training have been around the 1 hr 30 mins mark.

Below are my dates, distances and times:

06/05/19 – 33 miles – 2 hrs 39 mins

11/05/19 – 21.76 miles – 1 hr 32 mins (cycled in to work, but had left the car there the previous day, so drove home)

13/05/19 – 13.4 miles – 40 mins

18/05/19 – 16.5 miles – 1 hr 04 mins

19/05/19 – 12.5 miles – 52 mins

22/05/19 – 44 miles (22 miles to and from work, taking 1 hr 30 mins and 1 hr 33 mins. So doing my bit for the planet as well!)

26/05/19 – 30 miles – 1 hr 55 mins

02/06/19 – 24 miles – 1 hr 29 mins – my first ride with Decathlon’s cheapest cycling shoes and clips! The outside of my right knee is aching a bit more than usual so I may need to adjust these.

STATIONARY BIKE

I can’t believe how much I sweat on a stationary bike! I just try and stay to 90 rpm at level 15, and these are the distances it says I’ve covered. I got a turbo over the winter, but couldn’t get it to pick up my sensors (zero data = zero motivation) so what you see is the only cycling I have done.

Below are my dates, distances and times:

02/05/19 – 9.73 miles – 30 mins

08/05/19 – 9.73 miles – 30 mins

16/05/19 – 5 miles – 15 mins

21/05/19 – 13.58 miles – 40 mins

ROAD/TRAIL RUNNING

I have spent so little time running since London, as I’m continuing to have some issues with a tendon in my right leg. Focusing on swimming and cycling has enabled me to rest my leg a bit, but really I need a good lay off for a while. Just stretching and very low mileage.

The Olympic distance 10 km run is supposed to take an average first timer about 60 minutes, which is well within my reach normally. It may be that the 10 minutes I lose on the bike I make up for on the run, meaning that a sub 3 hour finish is still feasible.

Below are my dates, distances and times:

16/05/19 – 4.0 miles – 31:47 mins *brick session

19/05/19 – 3.1 miles – 25:20 mins

22/05/19 – 1.2 miles – 13:29 mins

29/05/19 – 6.2 miles – 58:13 mins

02/06/19 – 3.6 miles – 37:48 mins *brick session

TREADMILL

All treadmill running is done with a 1% incline.

Below are my dates, distances and times:

08/05/19 – 3.62 miles – 30:02 mins *brick session

13/05/19 – 3.85 miles – 30:01 mins

21/05/19 – 3.03 miles – 25:49 mins *brick session

STRENGTH TRAINING

I don’t do these regularly yet…but these are the exercises I want to start including 2 or 3 times a week (and the reps I want to hit). This has come straight from the Primal Blueprint book. Will keep you posted on my progress with these.

Push ups (50)

Pull ups (12)

Squats (50)

Planks (2 minutes)

CONCLUSION

So as you can see, I haven’t completely slacked off. I’ve done a far share of miles in each discipline, at no great speed, but just to ensure that I can complete my first two triathlons.

I am really excited about Sunday, and not just about the brand new experience of triathlon. Included in the price of entry to the race, are 4 free tickets for the theme park! My kids don’t know yet, so it will be a great surprise for them. Let’s hope I’m in a reasonable state to enjoy the day after the race!

Camping in Maldon with my family over the bank holiday weekend.

Triathlon Training – Part 1

Open Water Swimming – with Tri ‘n’ Swim Well

It’s 04:30 am on a Saturday and of course, despite not having work today and remembering to turn my alarm off last night, I wake up “naturally” at this unnatural hour. It has taken years to get into this habit and for the most part I’m grateful. Not this morning though, as my first open water swim is not until 07:30 am, giving me 3 hours to think (read, worry) about it. It’s all been pool swims until now – all 3 times I’ve been!

It fit me when I bought it before the London Marathon (4 kg ago).

I have got on superhero outfit #1, aka my tri-suit (as in, “try not to laugh”, or “try and hold your belly in”). Like Superman, I put on some less comical clothes over the top for the drive (just in case I’m pulled over for speeding or suchlike, and need to get out of the car). I assume there will be a changing room, or a phone box, at the reservoir to transform again.

I drive to Hadleigh Park and arrive nice and early, 06:30, avoiding a major pet peeve of mine, “tardiness”, which would stress me out completely and make taking on board any instruction a lot less likely. I take the opportunity to wander around with my selfie stick and record something for the vlog, and I reminisce about the Parkour classes I attended here last year with my son Ralph.

Parkour with Ralph, summer 2018

Instructor #1, Gill (which is pronounced “Jill” of course, not as I wrongly said it, “gill”, like a fish – even if she can swim like one) is the first to arrive. We chat for a bit and after letting her know I’ve swum in lakes before, the essence of what I say is, “How hard can it be?” to which she replies, “Have you ever swum in a wet suit?” I say “no”, then self-correct as I remember that ten years ago I had done some very short bursts in a wet suit in Australia – back when I still had, “I so want to be a rock star” hair. So great, no big deal – I think.

Australia, 2009, newly-weds

Instructor #2, Mark arrives shortly after, takes pity on me and shows me how to put on the wet suit I have donned only once (in a Decathlon changing room, with my two kids laughing and pointing). The first lesson is that the zip goes at the back, which I already know, but when I put my first foot in, it’s in the wrong leg but I don’t know that until the second foot is in and I’m pulling the thing up. Numpty.

Thanks for the vote of confidence Robyn!

A short while later, superhero outfit #2 on and adjusted, some more members of the group arrive. Some first timers, also training for their first triathlons, some more experienced and more superhero-like in physique and demeanour. And they all seem really nice actually – which I was surprised about. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that a lot of triathletes are super-competitive – which I’m not, except with myself – and I like to avoid these people as much as possible. But like I said, this was a friendly group (maybe it takes time and experience to get that way?).

I collect a wrist band after signing my disclaimer, then before getting in for the swim I’m branded with “21” on the back of my right hand and given bright yellow cap.

Still smiling at this point!

I tell myself that, “this is a brand new skill, don’t underestimate how hard it might be, forget everything you think you know about swimming, put on the white belt and get re-educated.” That’s what I tell myself. But I can’t hear “sensible me” over “monkey me”, who’s screaming, “it’s F******* cold! You’ve got to pee now! Is my wet suit filling up? Why can’t I get the breathing right like in the pool?!” and several other “less kind” thoughts about my ability to learn anything new.

I have my own goggles, and due to an unforeseen absence of anti-fogging solution, I have to wipe away the mist on the inside of them every time we stop to tread water. All adds to the fun, and the difficulty. Let me be clear – I don’t get motion sickness. My wife and kids do. Every time we drive, get a train, or a boat. And I, at least in the past, have not been the most sympathetic driver/co-passenger. I’ve mellowed out a bit now, I mostly just roll my eyes…but it does strike me as a bit pathetic. Well, karma is a b****! Within about 5 minutes, I’m seeing spots in front of my eyes, I’m dizzy and breathing is all I can think about – but I’m not going to let anyone know that of course. I manage to focus enough to hear most of the instructions, but I’m tempted to grab the kayak and abort the whole mission. If it isn’t motion sickness, it’s probably just me hyperventilating (my fingers are tingling a bit).

By the end, both sensible me and monkey me are shouting profanities, the last of which being, “You had to use BREASTSTROKE?!? You couldn’t even do front crawl the whole way?!? P***!” I emerge from the reservoir, head down, and pride submerged somewhere out there by the second buoy.

My first true open water experience is now over, and I survived. I have walked away with lots to think about, which means something to write about (every cloud aye?). I am tempted to go to the pool tomorrow morning, just to make up for the swimming I thought I would be doing today.

Let’s just pretend I looked this warm and happy when I got out at the end.

My next action for project “Open Water Swimming” is to spend a good hour or so in open water, just to swim and practice on my own. I need to immerse myself in something and learn from trial and error, with occasional instruction. I don’t do so well with taking on a lot of information all at once. It just takes me a bit longer to process things, and that’s fine. As I’ve said once or twice, I’m no rocket scientist, but I’m no quitter either. I’ll be giving it another go as soon as I can.

Massive THANK YOU to Tri ‘n’ Swim Well for today’s session. Hoping there’s some embarrassing footage I can cringe at, and learn from soon!

Key takeaways:

  1. Pee before putting on the tri-suit and wet suit
  2. Sit down to put on the wet suit – zip at the back
  3. Anti-fogging solution for goggles (spitting, a la “Jaws” doesn’t work)
  4. Fewer and slower strokes
  5. Don’t use my legs to kick – save these for the bike and run
  6. Pick a tall stationary landmark for sighting, not buoys, clouds or people
  7. Hum into the water to exhale
  8. Swim my own race – just like running – and accept that I’m going to have someone swim over me
  9. Thicker swim suit when I get some money….or, only do triathlons in the height of summer!
  10. Get into the water, blow bubbles and float face down like a star fish to acclimiatise before the race
  11. Wear flip flops – my trainers are soaking!

P.S: Taking full advantage of one of the few Saturdays off work, I am watching my son play football. He’s only 6, so it’s a bit painful to watch. He can’t trap the ball, or pass straight, and he runs funny. Worst of all, he doesn’t listen to the coach and instead alternates between being seemingly lost in his own head, and messing about with his mate from school. My frustration quickly dissipates as I realise, the apple does not fall far from the tree!

A rare occasion…Saturday football training with Ralph.

My First Post

Hello, my name is Dean from Essex (Deano to those nearest and dearest) and I’m about to complete my first triathlon at Thorpe Park on Sunday 9th June 2019. I’ve been invited to write up my experience for my cousin Danny’s blog (https://tritobeiron.blog/), which I’ve been following for about a year. Apart from being quite an honor, it was the perfect motivation for starting my own vlog/blog/website and getting into a more regular writing routine.

About Me

I’m no swimmer or cyclist, but I absolutely love running – that said, I’m no Kipchoge either! As Murakami says, “I’m more workhorse than race horse.”

I’ve run 4 marathons, including Athens (November 2016, in 4:13), Antwerp (April 2018, in 3:44), Amsterdam (October 2018, in 3:27) and last but not least, London (April 2019, in 3:24). My ultimate running goal for the marathon is to go sub 3 and qualify for Boston.

Triathlon

So despite watching Danny’s efforts and being really inspired and impressed, I’ve put off getting involved in triathlon for a number of reasons:

  1. Money – I was warned that it’s not a cheap hobby to pursue, and it’s taken me a bit of time to acquire a basic road bike, tri suit and wetsuit. I won’t be wearing cycling shoes or clips this time around, and my only extravagance has been my upgrade to a Garmin Forerunner 910xt from my Forerunner 35. The entry prices are much higher than running events, which I don’t do often, preferring just to train and watch my progress.
  2. Time – I work ten hour days, most days, and occasional Saturdays. I do my best to spend the last two hours of each day with my wife and two young children, before going to bed at 21:00. To fit training in I get up at 04:30, commute to London, and then run or go to the gym before work. Fitting running into my life has been manageable (although I’ve sacrificed my weekend lie ins), but I don’t know how I’m going to regularly fit in swimming and cycling as well.
  3. Not my main goal – I started running to get fit, unwind from work, and admittedly now I’m approaching 40 – to avoid the dreaded “dad bod”. So what started as a thrice weekly jog, became marathon training and now my main goal is breaking 3 hours (Berlin 2020). Triathlon for me, at this point, is a good way of cross-training and I’ve not read anywhere that it will hinder my marathon progress.

All of that said, I’ve thrown myself into this challenge as much as my resources, family and work schedule will allow at this point. I’ve just finished reading “Iron War” by Matt Fitzgerald, and the possibility of completing a 140.6 one day has started as a little whisper in the back of my mind…maybe once that sub 3 mountain has been conquered.

I am aiming to post on “Vlog or Blog Mondays” from now on, so stay tuned.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles…

…begins with a tentative, first step.

Welcome to my site “Mars and Peace” – my journey to becoming an astronaut, while simultaneously reaching nirvana.

Although those lofty goals are going to require an incredible amount of my time, money, energy (not to mention a complete personality overhaul), I’ll attempt some smaller challenges along the way and document those here and here!

Mondays are vlog or blog days, so stay tuned for weekly instalments.

sky earth space working
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com