It was never going to be “Chrissie Wellington performance of a champion” triathlete but with all excuses exhausted, it was with some trepidation that I prepared along side the Earl (he of the double-barreled surname) to complete our first open water triathlon. The plan has always been to try an Ironman next year, but even I’m not stupid enough to go into that without pushing myself first. With a season planned out, culminating next June in the Iron distance, this was a benchmark.

Prepare to fail

Nervous? Me?
Nervous? Me?

It was almost a perfect anti-preparation for this event that saw me falling off the chiropractors bench like an arthritic hunchbacked semi corpse 24 hours earlier. The attempt to shake off the twisted back and knee bruising wasn’t a complete success and its only after a couple of pints on Saturday night that I convinced myself it was a good idea. That, and the fact that people kept asking me about it and saying ‘I’m not sure I’ll do it’ really sounded weak.

After picking up the Earl and watching him stuff cereal gamely down his neck we realised I didn’t have my helmet. Rookie Mistake #1. A quick detour resolved it, but it didn’t help the nerves. We got to the lake on time and laid out the kit.

All the race reports and reviews always tell you about the layout of your transition and how to maximise your transition speed. What they don’t tell you is there’s a massive queue for the gents and some very nervous sounding and smelling cubicles. It’s wise to take your own paper because it disappears fast. The mood was lightened somewhat by the guy behind me bursting into a spontaneous nosebleed, something brought on by the slap in the face from the toilet atmosphere no doubt. Cups of tea, small-talk and exchanging nervous tips seemed to make the time pass, but credit to the organisers who kept the music blaring and chirpy compere who persisted in sounding upbeat about our impending torture.

The Swim : Prepare to freeze

Like buffalo herding toward a crocodile infested water hole we crept forward. 5 minute warning. The bubbling water and shaking hands belied the nervous smiles and jokes. A balmy 16 degrees said the compere. Refreshing said the compere. Lovely conditions said the compere. I’m sure he then went on to steal from his own Grandparents and sell double glazing to a blind pensioner.

After hobbling over the rocks and getting into position all thoughts of professionally filling the wetsuit disappeared. As soon as my face under it went numb and I was somewhat grateful for the early visit to the toilet. I’m quite sure I would filled my suit from the bottom up had I had anything of substance inside me. My entire body refused to acknowledge the idiot brain making it swim in the clearly glacial lake water. I’d positioned myself at the back hoping to avoid the scrum but hadn’t accounted for overtaking people in a desperate effort to get warm. After getting my rhythm going it wasn’t too bad, no real dramas apart from catching up one fella who suddenly broke into a well-timed breaststroke and promptly kicked me in the face. Lesson learned, sight more often.

Transition 1 – Time for Change

Out of the water and into transition, wetsuit off, copy everyone else and hang it over the bike mount bar (nobody tells you that either), socks, shoes and away. Seamless, 4 minutes but seamless.

The Bike : A test of commitment

bikeI’d almost talked myself into quitting in the water, the rolling was making my back ache but I’d talked myself into getting on with it. The tail of training with broken arms from the aforementioned Ms Wellington echoing in my mind. Get on the bike, get going and play it by ear. The fact I couldn’t feel my ears or my feet after the swim was neither here nor there.

The gods of triathlon laughed heartily and 1 mile in loosed off my saddle bolt sending me sliding back and forward. Pulling over I realised I’d been hit by Rookie Mistake #2. I’d removed my allen keys from the saddle bag a coupld of nights previous to tighten up an errant screw on the kids bed. Head back my brain said. Stop being a quitter my heart said. I finger tightened it and jammed the saddle as far back on the rails as possible to try and wedge it tight. It still wobbled around but by sitting on the nose I could almost hold it still. Back on the bike and up the hill, taking a few positions on the way.

It’s a local course so I knew the route which makes a huge difference. I found that I could hold my own on the hills and was overtaking on the downhills. It’s written in every book I’ve read to take the free speed so every time there was a dip I span the big gears to try and claw some seconds back after my unscheduled saddle stop.

Those spiteful gods had another card to play. Past me came a clearly seriously fit girl on a mountain bike with panniers (and slicks I should add). I couldn’t have that so buried myself in zone 4.9 according the Garmin trying to maintain the gap. Rookie MIstake #3. Race your own race, why my ego thought I could beat a mid twenties, clearly fit triathlete irrespective of my own shortcomings I’m not sure, but I paid for it on the next flat and lost a couple of spots as people came past.

Transition 2 – Shall we call it a day there?

Pulling into the transition I heard my name and looked around, the whole family were there, with the dogs cheering me on. Genuinely a surprise and made such a difference. I wanted to get in and out looking like I was relishing the the run when I clearly wasn’t. I briskly changed shoes and jogged out, head held high looking for the all the world like nothing hurt.

The Run : Run for the hills

What? You’re here to support me?

I hate running. I hate the incessant sound of my own laboured breaths. I hate the cramp that invariably hits my calves on the hills, and my bum on the downs. I hate the fact that there’s always one more turn. I don’t like running.

I was determined that this was the focus this time around, I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it if I try. The first hill put paid to that thought. Half way up I started walking. It’s at this point I have to credit my fellow triathletes. A few kindly words got me moving again and got me, rather aptly for a 40 year old, over the hill.

My second flat spot was soon shaken up by a couple over-taking and telling me to ‘get my head up’ which did the trick and got me moving. Finally across the line and not dissatisfied with the overall performance.


  • Make sure you’ve got rudimentary tools.
  • Make sure you run through your kit with a list the day before. Not from memory.
  • Run your own race, get your pacing at your level and stick to your plan.
  • Don’t try a new sports drink in a race, every mouthful made me retch.
  • Stop moaning about the water. It’s cold. Deal with it.
  • No matter how bad you think you are injured you can get through it.

The Facts

  • I had a good swim, the Earl caught me about 2/3 mile into the ride just before the saddle incident.
  • Bike wise I was happy enough given the circumstance.
  • Run wise I need to work hard on getting it done. Advice welcomed!

Swim – 18:15

Bike – 44:10

Run – 34:01

A well earned alcohol free beer....
A well earned alcohol free beer….thanks for the support Mr Etherington-Smith