For the eleventh chapter in my blog “Fatman to Ironman” I will describe my transition from first time multi-sport event finisher to Triathlete.
I found myself writing this chapter after finishing my last swim training session with STAR for the year. It was Thursday 20th December 2018. Before the session had started I was sat poolside with Charlie Waters (DivStar) and Sue Hartwell, my swim coach. We were reflecting on our year and how far we had come. Coach, Katie “Narna” McBain would shortly join us. Together we reflected on what we had achieved.
2018 had been a year of possibilities.
We had started off the year, in the pool at Durrington, in our second Triathlon swim training session ever. I would go off on holiday, and come back to find Charlie had already been promoted up a lane. My other DivStar buddies, Angela Bailey and Sue Allison had also improved, so much in such a short space of time.
As you have read in my previous blog chapter 10 Training for my first multi-sport event – Avon Aquathlon 2018. We all signed up for two multi-sport events in that swim.
Having shared my experiences of the Avon Aquathlon with you, I couldn’t wait to jot down my experiences of the second of those events we had signed up for. The Durrington Triathlon 2018. I was determined I would perform better.
For Billy Harriss (TriForce) the Avon Aquathlon had been all about me gaining some multi-sport race experience. That day he would see the monumental task ahead of him, and me. He never once expressed any negative thoughts, in fact he was full of praise, he always believed I would be a Triathlete. We met up for a race debrief, and hatched the next phase in our plan.
I would need to get a bike!
April isn’t really an ideal time of year to start cycling outside. We were still suffering the usual unpredictable British weather. Nonetheless, I started researching the vast world of modern bikes. When I last rode a bike it was so much simpler. No Carbon, No Di2, just simple alloy frames, and cable based mechanics. I also had to consider Tri bars and TT options. I was overwhelmed! It was now a very different world. I was about to spend a fortune and I didn’t have a clue! On top of this I had never ridden a road bike.
I was trying to educate myself and understand it all, Billy would try and help but ultimately, it was down to me. I had to decide on a marriage safe budget.
In the meantime, I would visit the gym and start using Wattbikes.
I had never heard of Wattbikes before. Billy had convinced me everything would be ok. I downloaded the Wattbike App and started getting some early data back to him. I didn’t understand terms like resistance, Watts or cadence. I would soon learn!.
I would quickly form a love/hate relationship with those bikes. I loved the fact I was riding again. I loved the fact that my training was becoming so varied and interesting. I hated the puddle of sweat I would leave on the side of the bike. That embarrassed me back then. Today, I see even the fittest of guys sweating profusely on those machines. I love a Wattbike Session.
In the meantime, I had convinced myself, if I was going to do this triathlon properly, I needed to spend loads of money. A classic trap. I have since read about many athletes, in their first year, spending bucket loads of cash on kit. What I have learnt since then is the best investment, undoubtably is weight loss. I’m still working on that one.
Fortunately! The ever tempting world of Wiggle, and endless online discounts would only go as far as a decent pair of Swim Jammers (Game changers) some cycling shorts, and a pair of Tri shorts. The race skin would have to wait.
It was my work colleague, Nigel Brown who would help me make the right decision.
Nigel was quite vocal at the time, and I was surprised by his reaction. We have a great working relationship and rely on one or other to speak their mind. He would not be holding back. Despite my best efforts to convince him, he was right. The age old adage “Buy cheap, buy twice” was not going to cut it with this particular Royal Marine. This Royal Marine was also very familiar with triathlon.
Nigel was worried I might spend loads of money, and actually hate triathlon. On reflection, it was a fair point! However, I would fall in love with this barmy, bonkers sport. I was hooked. The guy who had grown up without sport in his life, had now fully embraced it, and it all started with a bad back.
Fortunately, that year had seen the employment of another colleague, also a Royal Marine and a keen cyclist. Mark Anderson was looking to become race fit. He had signed up for a series of events, and was in the process of going full carbon. He had a bike he was using for winter training, that he wouldn’t be using if he upgraded. He offered it to me at a very fair price.
I’m not sure if those two Royals got together on that deal, but they saved me a few quid, put some money towards Marks new bike, and potentially saved a few domestic disputes. See you on the start line Mark!
Going to the bike shop
I didn’t get a chance to get on the bike for a few weeks after buying Marks bike. I was keen, yet fearful at the same time. I had never ridden a road bike before and needed the right day. I also needed some decent shorts….. I needed to get to a bike shop.
For my first trip to a cycle shop in twenty years, I had decided to go full out and have a spend. I had saved a fortune on the bike after all.
As well as the essentials, helmet and lights etc. I would buy cycling shoes. Yep! with cleats. With little experience I would be clipped in.
Normally this kind of thing wouldn’t have bothered me. However, a member of my running club, transitioning into Duathlon, had broken his arm wearing the very same shoes (forgetting to unclip at a junction) I will spare him the indignity of being named but Ian, you know who you are.
Before I had left the shop, the owners made sure they had sold me everything I “Needed”. I really had my pants pulled down in the bike shop that day.
The following day I would return my Gucci Assos bib shorts, having never felt the comfort of memory foam. Even my coach Billy had never worn these and chuckled at my vulnerability. I used the refund money to buy more bike accessories.
Having signed up for my first Tri event I had convinced myself I needed to invest. In reality I already had, I had a professional coach. What I was failing to do was invest time – Time with my wife. More about that later.
My first ride
My first ride was planned as a simple one mile loop around my village. (I didn’t plan to post it on Strava)
I practiced, leaning against the side of my house, clipping in and out. Eventually I would push away and go.
I was quite surprised just how much confidence I had lost on the bike, I was wobbly from the get go. Perhaps as wobbly as the last time I had ridden, either the last time being through drink, as a teenager. Or when my pedal fell off and I gave up after one week of riding.
As I approached the end of my lane, I chose to try the brakes, well in advance. So much so, I had to pedal to get going again. I had quickly realised that if I became too slow I would need to put my feet down. They were clipped in. I was not going to break my arm!
The end of my lane is a blind T junction, you cannot see what is coming from either direction. We are in the country, and most people do not follow rules. I would frantically unclip my left foot whilst I had a bit of momentum. I now had the indignity of walking, a straddle, to get to the junction. Ridiculous! How come as a teenager I would be fearless, drunk or sober on the bike. Somehow, as an adult the ground seemed a lot less forgiving.
I would turn right at this junction and then left at the next. A sort of arm signal offered to anyone around.
I wobbled my way left into, what I thought was the sanctuary of Orcheston. A village in a valley? I had run and walked the hills many times, and somehow convinced myself a quiet walk is as good as a quiet ride. I was beaten, shaken, and would turn back to the sanctuary of Shrewton within minutes. I was not ready for hills.
On the way back past the stables, and past the vets. I began having a word with myself.
I live in a valley. “If I am going to get out of my village I am going to have to put some work in”
I was back at the same junction where I had turned left. At this point I could of gone home, it would have been a mile or so. I chose to bear left and crack on!
Very quickly I would be faced with my next decision. A more open T junction with limited visibility from the right, Nothing was approaching ahead/left. I would instinctively remember the cyclist wobble at the line routine. I would stay upright with enough time to make my decision to go. I was impressed with myself.
I turned left/ahead and made my first accent for twenty years. I was proud and scared at the same time. Scared if I couldn’t keep peddling, I would fall off. Proud that I was once again riding a bike.
I gave it my all. Despite fading and being near death at the top, I was there. I had used all of my gears and all of my breath. But I was there. I made a phone call to Sue, reassured her and got going. The Wattbike had worked!
That planned 1 mile loop turned out to be a 18k out and back ride. You really can’t forget how to ride a bike?
My first DivStar ride
My cycling had been going well and I had accepted the invite from my training buddies, to join them on a recce of the Tri route. It was now only a few weeks to go before race day. Coach Katie “Narna” McBain was eager to get us all out there and get “a feel”.
The route is in a beautiful part of the countryside, and on part of Salisbury plain I had never seen.
We all met up at the pool in Durrington, where only a few weeks earlier we had endured the Avon Aquathlon as a team. Today we were raising the bar, we were triathlon training.
Having realigned my front wheel, pumped my tyres and reset my helmet more times than nerves would permit. We all lined up for my first DivStar team photo, on a bike.
It was a mild and overcast day, I had plenty of water and was on a mission. I was now starting to use hydration supplements and energy gels. Just a few weeks earlier. I had had my first ride in a long time. Today, I was going to smash it.
We set out as a group, allowing Coach Katie to see where she needed to be in the pack. Before long we got stuck in and began to put the hammer down. I soon found my “love” of hills and the girls found their “love” of mechanics. No one was left behind on the ride out. It was brilliant fun.
We would stop for a chat and refuel at the halfway point.
For the way back Coach Katie “Narna” McBain had briefed us all about a particular hill. I listened intently and promptly ballsed it up when we got there.
I remember the politeness of each and everyone on the bike as they cycled passed me. As I lay in a heap on the side of the road. Giggling in my own indignity.
If they had slowed to help, they would have suffered the same indignity. It is a brute of a hill.
I approached the hill hard and fast, momentum was going to get me a fair way up. Then I would have to change gear. My cadence had dropped and my chain was tight. My derailleur couldn’t shift the chain across. I was left in a high gear at the front and rapidly unable to rotate the crank. That day my knee would save me from a broken arm, but my dignity would be shattered for ever. I would suffer almost the same on race day. I would get off and walk that day.
Despite this, we all performed beyond expectation and our coach was proud of our development. In the meantime I had been working exceptionally hard on my swim.
As you will read in my race review for my first ever triathlon “Durrington Triathlon” The Swim wouldn’t click until the week before race day…. Taper week. I had suffered the “T” demon and I had had enough.
For this part of my blog I refer you to my second only multi-sport race review, and third race review….
The feeling of euphoria as I crossed the finish line was overwhelming. I had completed my triathlon ambition. Somehow, I knew my journey wasn’t going to end there.
I was exhausted that day in May 2018, although, after finishing, I managed to find the energy to run back and cross the finish line with my training buddies. I was buzzing with a post race high!
The run part of my events has since become my weakness, partly through injury. Mostly because run injury has made the other disciplines my strength. As a runner alone, injury would have written me off, and doubtless I would have given up long ago. Today, as a triathlete, injury makes me stronger.
You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is real joy! Arthur Ashe.
Thank you for taking the time to follow my blog. I have found the process of recalling the highs and lows of my journey (Reflection), to be hugely beneficial.
For the next chapter in my blog I will describe how I bounced from pool based triathlon, into Open Water Tri
I would love to hear what you think of my blog so far and welcome your comments. I hope at least one of you might be inspired enough to know you can Tri.
Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”
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