Ampleforth Triathlon – My first race

My first ever triathlon. Only signed up as a guy at work suggested it due to my interest in mountain biking.

I mean how hard could it be; swim a few laps, ride an easy 14k loop then run 5k. Well the problem is I couldn’t really swim that great, well not front crawl anyway. I could manage about 4 lengths then I would my breathing would go to shit and I’d have to rest. No idea why as I could run 10k in 42mins. But swimming is a weakness for most people so I wasn’t alone.

So I arrive at Ampleforth College an hour before the brief time to a bewildering sight. The place looks like Hogwarts …only grander! I see a mass of people, all ages, emptying their cars of all manner of equipment. I see someone carrying a big plastic box with all their gear in; at first I laugh to myself as the guy looks a right dick carrying this huge box like he is moving desk at work. But then I see another person with one, and then another. I look down at my rucksack and Sainsbury’s carrier bags and suddenly a big waterproof box looks like a good idea!

I nervously approach transition and starting copying what everyone else is doing by laying out my towel, and my shoes and then my socks inside my shoes so I know which is left and right. I have a quick look round and see what everyone is riding. There is a huge mix of bikes, from £100 Halford’s offerings to some very tasty carbon XC bikes. By the looks of it some people are taking this very seriously indeed! That said I have my trusty steed with me, my Cube Stereo full susser. 140mm all round with remote lock out for the climbs. It’s a quick bike uphill and with the rims wrapped in Kenda’s finest it grips very well too.

After I have racked my bike and sorted out my transition gear I attend the race briefing trying to remember how many lengths I have to swim and which door I run out of. I’m in the first swim wave so a quick change and I’m stood at the side of the pool with 20 other guys all in various lycra outfits. From the skin tight shorts which I have got on to the all in one swim suits that look kind of S&M like.

Anyway the time approaches and we enter the water. I have to wait for the 2nd whistle which gives the guy in front 5 seconds head start – doesn’t really seem a lot to be honest and the thought of swimming in a lane with 4 other people is quite unnerving. And we are off! As soon as my head goes under the water I go off like its a 25m sprint, forgetting to breath every 3 and end up breathing every 5. That lasted one length then I was panting like a dog. But onwards and upwards, a quick glance back down the lane and I’m off again.

I’ve done lots of 10k races before so used to crowds but this is different as there is so much to concentrate on that all you hear is silence and all you focus on is the 25m of water in front of you. Eva Green could be on the poolside doing a turn and you wouldn’t know! gutting!! So I manage about 10 lengths out of the 20 then catch my arm over the line dividing which ends up me treading water, out of breath and the guy behind about swim over me. I have to swallow my pride and result to breath stroke. Although my front crawl is so poor that I’m only losing 5-8 seconds a length. Length 18 I get a float hit over my head, I turn to wonder what the f**k has just happened and the women explains that I have 2 more lengths to go – ‘thank f**k for that I think’. I had noticed that the pool seemed to have less waves in it, albeit I’m not the last one out but I’m safely in the bottom 10%. I haul my arse out of pool, my shoulders aching my trying to do breath stroke fast. A bit light headed I pull off my swim cap and follow the blue plastic matting out of the fire exit to the car park that is now our transition. Once outside the cold hits you, its April and probably about 8deg – and it’s now raining too.

T1 – trying to get my top on!

I wobble over to my bike and now try to put into play what I have practised over and over again in my back garden – the dreaded T1 (swim to bike transition). It takes a minute to get my socks on as my feet are obviously soaked from the pool, next my SPD mtb shoes, then my race belt – all going good so far. Next is my top. I decided to ride in my Orange mountain bike top as a little nod to the company down the road – I figured having some of the best bikes in the world built a mile from my house must bring me some sort of luck. So I throw it over my head and reach to pull it down – only I can’t as because I am piss wet through its all scrunched up around my upper back and won’t come down. It must have taken me 90 seconds of wriggling and cursing to finally reach it and pull it down, and when I did I was greeted by a nice ripping sound as I had pulled it too hard. Last thing to go on is my helmet and I’m off. I pull my bike from the racking and cautiously jog over to the mount line trying not to slip on my metal cleats. I reach the mount line, jump on and it’s home from home. At last something that is familiar. I crank the pedals and realise that I hadn’t changed down my gears before racking my bike. Nothing to do but pull on the handle bars and get a few revolutions out whilst pulling the right XT trigger as fast as it would go.

In the correct gear I head off down the initial wet grass slope and onto the fire road to the woods. I’m flying here and closing in on loads of riders in front, until I pass them and realise they are girls, and one is on a road bike. I look further in the distance and can’t see anyone. F**k these people are quick. I keep pedalling and head into the woods. Once in the woods I’m presented with a strange situation, I have done hundreds of miles on singletrack on my own and with mates – but never had to ride quickly. Since there is no one I can see in front of me I don’t know how to pace myself. My speedo reads 8mph – which isn’t too bad on muddy tree lined routes – but the fact hat I can’t see anyone in front I’m guessing it needs to be quicker. So I’m left trying to ride as hard as I can in soaking wet and now very muddy clothes whilst trying to stop myself hyper-ventilating. It’s during that time you start to think why did I pay for this; I could be in bed, nice and warm. But I’m not one for quitting so head down and ride hard. 40 minutes later I’m out of the woods and heading back to the swimming pool via about a mile of fire road and one very steep grass bank that must be a 150m high at least. My Fat Albert tyres that had being brilliant in the mud are now slowing me down …a lot. Full suss bikes are not meant to be ridden quick on flat hard surfaces and I’m killing myself try to keep up with the guys in front – at least I hope they are guys.

Love my bike

  I reach the grass banking and drop down to my lowest gear whilst locking out my front fork (god bless remote lock out on my Revelations dual air). 30 seconds later I’m off the bike pushing it up the hill like everyone else. Here is my chance to gain a few places as I grit my teeth and run up the banking with my bike on my bike – I get a few heroic looks and it raises my spirits until I release the looks are reserved for the guy behind me who is riding up this bitch of a hill quicker than I could run. This is steep, 15% at least. How this guy managed that feat is beyond and has avoided me every time I have done this course in the years later. Finally at the top and I’m back into transition for T2 (bike to run transition) I throw my bike on the racking, change my top, put on my trainers and eat some of my Twix I have in my bag. All the other guys have these plastic sachets they are squeezing into their mouths – I appear to be the only one eating chocolate, oh well it tastes nice.

I turn and start to run out of transition and quickly realise that my legs don’t really want to run they quite like walking. Well fuck it they are going to have to run as everyone is watching and some have cameras! So off I go on the 5km loop through the grounds of this £6k a term school. It was an hour since the whistle went for me to start and I’m back in the curious scenario of running in the cold and wet with hardly anyone around trying to make myself run as fast as I can. There are no distance markers so I looking at the guys in the distance across this massive expanse of open fields and cricket pitches and trying to figure at the half way point. To my amazement I manage to catch up and pass a couple of people whilst running, turns out my legs might not have fatigued as much as I thought they had. 20minutes or so later and I’m back at the bottom of the huge grass banking with only 200 metres of wet grass and 10 or so other runners between me and the finish. I shorten my step but keep running whilst looking at the guys in front who have slowed to a walk, I pass a couple of them and crest the hill to applause and cheers from people watching, why are they clapping me, I don’t know them. I sprint the last 20metres to the finish line and get presented with a plastic cup of something orange and again more applause and praise. I try and say thank you but nothing comes out so I just nod and try to drink this fluorescent liquid I have being given. I manage a sip then cough it all back as I’m too busy trying to breathe rather than swallow liquid. I minute or so later I gather myself and give my heart rate chance to come back down from what feels like 180bpm at least.

 I grab my bag and head inside for the showers. It’s now that I take in what I have accomplished. Now accomplished might sound a tad strong, but think about it, I’ve swam 500metres, rode in the mud and rain up and down hills for 17k then had a 5k run across fields thrown in for good measure at the end – all without stopping in the cold.

This ended up being the first of a very expensive and addictive hobby which I really love

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