My First Olympic Triathlon
By Andrea Newton
Andrea is a swimmer turned Serpie runner turned Serpie triathlete and following first races in Lanzarote and Shropshire has been competing regularly since.
This season has been my first triathlon season and already I feel like I’ve made a good friend! I felt like I needed a new challenge after running the London Marathon in April. I had always fancied triathlon, as my background is as a competitive swimmer. If my swimming strength wasn’t enough to convince me, talking to the triathletes about the great cycling in Lanzarote definitely was!
Training for my first Olympic distance race, Shropshire, was limited compared to some I had spoken to but I was undeterred. Sure I had my running endurance from the marathon, but had not trained for swimming in years and had no cycle training at all before May. In the build up to the race I completed three sprint distance triathlons, All of which were great fun, and very rewarding as my times improved with each outing.
At the beginning of the season I invested in a good bike, and managed to get a couple of long rides of about 40 miles. The week before the race I was starting to get nervous, especially when I tried the windsurfing wetsuit I had borrowed from a friend at Tooting Lido for the first time. It didn’t take me long to realise how important it is to have a wet suit that a) fits and b) is tri specific. It would be a very long and hard swim in a windsurfing wet suit – and would certainly not put me in a good position going into the bike. Luckily for me, I was able to get a new wet suit at Tri UK who were exhibiting at the race. I definitely would advise anyone about to do their first open water swim to make sure you have tried your wet suit well before the race!
Arriving at the race on the Sunday morning I was very nervous. I had cycled the route the day before so wasn’t too worried about the bike course, I was dreading getting into the cold water.
The first wave of athletes saw the men off at 11am, the women were off in wave 5 – 40 minutes later. The only catch being transition closed @ 10.30am. Once the transition area has closed there’s no going back in – all your kit has to be left behind the fence, unless you have someone to leave it with while you race. This in not a problem when the weather is good, but we were unlucky and the girls had to stand around for over an hour in the pouring rain. For the first time I was beginning to question what I was doing.
By the time I got into the water and warmed up, I positioned myself in the middle of the pack – where I thought I would be safest. I was totally unprepared for the bashing around which started right from the gun. Before reaching the first buoy I had resorted to breaststroke to try and find myself a better position, and more importantly so I could see where I was going. Mentally I had changed my expectations from ‘have a strong swim’ – to ‘just get through this’. About half way through the race the groups thinned out and there was less bashing. I found I could swim at my own pace a bit more.
The swim was definitely a huge shock for me. I am used to having my own lane to swim in – and being able to see where I’m going. Don’t underestimate how much it takes out of you having to look out of the water all the time. Since Shropshire I have been training at the Lido club sessions on a Tuesday and Thursday morning and this has helped massively.
Getting on to the bike was a huge relief. I really enjoyed the bike and ironically this is my weakest discipline. Shropshire is an undulating bike course, but not too hilly. I’d set myself the challenge of trying to push the big cog all the way round and it was only in the last 8km I gave up on this.
Coming off the bike and into the run, make sure you have made a mental note of where you need to leave your bike. I made the mistake of not doing this at a sprint race earlier in the season, and spent far too long in transition.
Shropshire is an undulating run course, which I found very hard on the legs. I had just got into my stride out of transition and straight into a big steep hill. For me the run was about keeping a steady pace and getting through the 10km. My legs, arms and stomach were hurting by this point. The best bit about the run was sprinting down the hill I had been faced with at the start of the run. Then a little way on the flat and – hurray, the Finish!
I was absolutely exhausted – but it was a great experience. By the end of the race the rain had turned to sunshine. All the triathletes & spectators were getting together in the food tent. A fantastic idea, and just what you need once you have got your breath back.
Milton Keynes was my second Olympic. I enjoyed this race much more. The big difference for me was the swim. I positioned myself on the edge of the pack at the start of the race and was able to get into my own pace quickly. My swim time was much quicker and I used up much less energy. I hope for my third race – Cambridge, in 2 weeks, I will have more confidence to go hard on the swim & bike.
My advice to anyone thinking about taking up triathlon is, get stuck in! It’s great fun and you’ll improve very quickly.
Andrea's times were:
Shropshire; 2hrs 38.28 Swim – 26.42, Bike, 1hr 22.15, Run, 0.49.31
Milton Keynes; 2.29.17 Swim – 22.58, Bike, 1hr 16.12, Run, 47.41