The Maldon Triathlon
26th July 2014
Maldon triathlon was going to be my first proper triathlon. I competed in a sprint triathlon some years back but that was a pool swim where athletes started in a time trial format in order to stop the infamous crush in a mass start swim. Swimming is my weakest of the three disciplines and to make it worse Maldon was to be an estuary swim, which can be worse than lake or ocean due to currents. The race was Olympic distance and therefore had 1500m of swimming followed by 45km cycling and 10km running.
I have been meaning to race a triathlon for a while but that wasn’t the only reason I would be donning my wetsuit at the weekend. Even though we are on the same team, Ross Macdonald and I have always had a healthy rivalry when competing in OCR. To date Ross has never been able to get the better of me, but Ross is first and foremost a triathlete. Completing his first ironman last year in under 10hours and once holding the title of world age group duathlon champion, beating him at his own sport was going to be an impossible task.
As mentioned, swimming is somewhat of an Achilles heal for me and something I have been trying to work on for the past year. It has been a real struggle to force myself to keep making trips to the lake or pool, but necessary. I went from being unable to do 4 lengths front crawl without stopping completely drained, to now being able to swim 3km in open water relatively easily… but not very quickly. Looking at the times I calculated I would be leaving the swim something like 10 – 15 minutes after Ross with just the bike, run and transitions to make the time up – all things Ross is extremely talented at.
Ross was a great sport, parting with helpful tips about everything from the best transition techniques too when to take a gel and how much water I would need. I have a road bike but it has been taking a battering being used as a commuting bike over the winter so Dean Haviland Newman stepped up to lend me his Bianchi – a road bike but adapted with a set of aero bars to help gain a few seconds. Some final preparation including making a number belt and lacing my pair of inov-8 flites with elastic laces and I was ready.
Arriving at Maldon early on Sunday for the 7am start I racked my back and met up with Ross for some last minute advice. I was looking forward to the event but had heard horror stories about the start of the swim where being caught in the pack meant everything from getting kicked, elbowed, punched, swam over etc. Not a nice prospect for anyone! Ross said it’s best to go hell for leather to get a head of the pack and settle behind someone to capitalise on a drafting effect… it didn’t turn out to be that simple and that initial 5minutes of the swim are some of the worst of my life.
Every time I took a stroke my rhythm would be broken by someone crashing over or into me, I couldn’t get oxygen and even had to break into a few strokes of breaststroke to try and breath after being swum over. The same thoughts kept running through my head: get out, swim to the side, stop, this is horrible. Spinning around the first boy was the worst as everyone bunched to get the closest line. From here I managed to get into some sort of rhythm and actually managed to start swimming with some sort of form. I had paid dearly for my initial troubles and now sat within the back third of competitors. As I relaxed, swimming became easier and I almost enjoyed the second lap. On hitting the ramp and walking to dry land ecstatic to have the hardest part done and to have not drowned, I started to strip my wetsuit and jog to transition. I laughed to myself a little as I heard an announcement stating 30 were still in the water.
Later calculations revealed I had exited the water in about 64th position, 12 minutes after Ross! Not the best place to be in a race but it did mean I was now hunting. Once safely on my bike, I began blasting past people dispatching each competitor in sight before moving onto the next. I was unsure what effort to put into the bike and whether pouring everything into it would leave me with nothing for the run, but I was having fun finding out. Towards the end of the bike my overtaking was getting less frequent but I had already started to think about pulling my trainers on and getting into the run.
Turned out I had put in a good bike leg but still lost a further minute to Ross… far less than expected. It was now down to the run and catching a near 15minute deficit was not going to happen, but I was content with trying to go as fast as possible weaving my way past other competitors. Running of the bike is a strange experience but I managed to average something in the region of my marathon pace from earlier in the year. By the third lap of 2.5km I felt as if I was getting into my stride but was pretty glad to finish my fourth and final lap to a smiling Ross who had smashed me and every other competitor coming away with first place.
I had enjoyed my first proper triathlon experience but would need to spend many more hours swimming to reduce my overall time of 2hr20mins. My next race will be the Survival Run – The Celts for which I should probably start researching some of the skills we have been told to practice. I may also have some exciting news about a couple of big races in the autumn so I’ll keep you posted.