London Triathlon is a huge event. Such a contrast to the old school, low key, local race at Porthcawl from a few weeks ago. Thousands of competitors, tens of thousands of supporters, closed roads, air conditioned transition zone….whats not to like? And the Olympic Plus race would hopefully make the perfect preparation for South Africa. The 80km bike leg with a 10km run off should provide a good test with the added bonus of hot and steamy conditions.
4:15am Alarm goes off. I jump out of bed. Eat. Oats, yoghurt, fruit, nuts. Lovely. Given how hot its expected to be later, this is one day where I’m grateful for such an early start.
5am I head out of the flat and out onto the road. I’m cycling over to ExCel Centre in East London and the sun is just getting up. I’m astonished at just how many people are around. I must live a very sheltered life as didn’t expect to see just so many people going strong on their Saturday nights out and here’s me kick-starting Sunday.
5:30am I arrive at ExCel. Its nice and quiet so easy to get through registration, into transition and set up kit for the race. The word is that it will be a wetsuit swim and this is exactly the news I was hoping to hear. When the race organisers sent around a late Friday email warning that the water temp in the dock was over the cut-off of 25 degrees it created a bit of panic in my head (that old chimp of mine causing havoc again!). I don’t think I’ve ever done 1500m without a wetsuit. Even in the pool I do all my long reps with pull buoy and paddles so early Saturday morning I was in the River Usk with only my trunks on to do a bit of confidence boosting swimming. I only did 15 minutes but that was enough to reassure me that I’d be ok if wetsuits were banned.
6.45am Race briefing. It is indeed a wetsuit swim. The water temperature is an alleged 22 degrees so shouldn’t create any overheating issues. I’m happy.
7am The race starts. I get away well, smash it hard for about a minute to get clear of the crowds and then settle down, accepting that a few really fast swimmers will come over the top of me. I find a few feet to swim on and simply focus on following these, trusting that they can navigate their way up the dock in a straight line. With it being early morning and the swim heading east, we are going straight into the sun so being able to spot what seem like very small red bouys in the shape of a pig is not easy. So I don’t worry about it and just follow the feet in front. So far so good. I get around the first two pigs at the top of the course and then start to head back west. I must have drifted a bit off line as I lost feet on the way back but could see a big red shape in the distance so didn’t worry about. I remembered hearing at the briefing that the route was basically to turn right at each of the four red pigs so kept focussed on the big red shape I could see ahead. As I got to it I had a bit of a collision with a few swimmers (as I soon discovered that they were heading straight on and I was turning right around the pig). I looked up and couldn’t see anyone and started to doubt my move. So I stopped momentarily and looked around to see the rest of the field continuing to head on down the dock. I realised id gone wrong, so had to turn around and rejoin the route. The last phase seemed to go on forever after this mistake so I was really happy to reach the pontoon and exit the water. Unusually, this race insists that wetsuits are removed immediately on exiting the water and then carrying it in a bag back to transition.
Out onto the bike I went and quickly settled down into a relaxed aero position. The bike leg was 80km and 3 laps of a route upto Westminster. It was a very straightforward course and lap one was about navigating the manhole covers that seem to be everywhere and finding the smoothest sections of tarmac. Lap two I went a bit quicker and then on lap three I was starting to tire and get a bit bored. With a course that was all about riding in a straight line apart from dead turns at each end there was little to keep interest high and generate a distraction from the pain of pushing the pedals around.
I was glad to get to the end of lap 3 and quite happy with my time of 2:14:19 for the bike. Over the last couple of kilometres I was aware that I my quads were starting to cramp as I was pushing up the last few bridges. As I dismounted my legs went into cramp and I had to gingerly trot with straight legs back to my racking spot. Trying to put on my running shoes caused a full blown cramp through the quads and I had to stand completely still, breathe deep and slow and allow the tension to dissipate. After about 30 secs it eased and so I decided to try and jog it off rather than stretch. I headed out of the air conditioned ExCel building and back into the heat of the riverside. I could sense tightness in my lower quads but it wasn’t getting any worse so felt I was ok to press on. I relaxed, got into a comfortable rhythm and was soon at the first aid station. I needed to drink lots of water. So on the first lap I stopped and downed a couple of cups and threw some over my head before continuing. There were two water staions on each lap so I decided that at each id drink one cup and throw one cup over my head to cool me down. This worked well and as the 4 laps went by I felt more and more comfortable. I felt that I was running pretty well, and was getting lots of positive feedback from Coach Annie who was out on the course. At the end of each lap we came back into the air conditioned building, did a complicated loop, past the finish line and then back out into the ever rising heat. As I passed the finish line each lap I couldn’t work out why it was taking so long. The laps were supposed to be 2.5km and given that I felt I was running well it didn’t make sense that it was taking approx. 13 minutes a lap. Im convinced the lap was long but it was the same for everyone so didn’t really matter ( I’ve asked the organisers for clarification).
I crossed the finish line in 3:43:48 feeling really satisfied with my mornings efforts. I knew I’d managed the whole race pretty well, handled the challenges sensibly and loved the sensation of racing on closed roads and on a beautiful sunny day in London. I’m almost ready for the big race of the year.
11am There was only one thing to do next. Celebrate with a well earned pint of chilled Erdinger Alkoholfrei. Thanks Karl. It hardly touched the sides. The perfect end to a cracking morning. I wonder what those party-goers I saw earlier are upto now?
I later learnt that I’d been placed 2nd in my AG, 18th overall out of 220 finishers in this Olympic Plus event and in fact was 3rd out of all over 44’s. That’s definitely one more statistic to support my Faster After Fifty argument!