A brief history of how I got there and what the race meant to me. I am 54 years old, have been running for 15 years and am a run leader with LRC. I always fantasised about doing a triathlon but couldn’t really swim. My son had completed Bolton Ironman a few years ago and I was in awe then - but now I realise how much more in awe I should have been.
Anyway a friend of mine (Rich Bradshaw) encouraged me to start swimming and I taught myself to do multiple lengths so I could string 16 together (with rests) so that I could enter my first Sprint Triathlon at Ludlow in 2018. I thought I was ready for the race but after one length of front crawl, racing alongside a breast-stroker I gave up and reverted to breast-stroke myself, completing the swim in 16:49.
I needed help, I joined TTC in Feb 2019 (again encouraged by Rich) and attended as many coached swim sessions as I could. I entered Ludlow Sprint again in 2019 and swam in 10:49 - much better. By keeping up the swim training I eventually managed a sub 10 min in training - just once but a massive achievement for me. I had never swam in open water and didn’t own a wetsuit, but to step up to a bigger triathlon I needed to bite the bullet and went for the first time on 7/6/20 - once again encouraged by Rich and Sarah.
As you have gathered, I’m a weak swimmer, and was worried about not making the cutoff time for a bigger distance triathlon. But with just half a dozen practices over the summer of Covid, and with the extra buoyancy of a wetsuit I was swimming the 1K lap at Alderford in about 25 minutes. Eventually I swam a 2K double loop non stop in about 50 minutes. It was then that I knew I had a chance at a half distance 70.3 triathlon so I decided to book up Ultimate Half and started a 16 week training plan.
There were three plan options in the book I had - just finish (100 hrs), intermediate (150 hrs) or advanced (200 hrs). I decided on the intermediate plan and for the most part stuck to it, colouring in the sessions green (met), orange (part met or alternative), or red (missed). The main red ones were the missed swim sessions for the first 8 weeks due to lockdown restrictions. All started well until week 3 when a recurring Achilles problem flared up which caused pain when running. I worked around this for approximately 9 weeks by replacing most runs with run/walks and elliptical cross-training - including brick sessions.
Once the pools opened again I immediately added swim sessions to the training, going 3 times a week including the Much Wenlock sessions when available. Once the lake water had warmed up a few of us went swimming at Alderford on 16/05/21 to cram in some much need OW practice - hoping we could still fit in our wetsuits after lockdown! We followed this with a lap of the Ultimate bike course and a mini run to finish - our own little triathlon, followed by cake / bacon sandwiches. Unfortunately the bike course was changed for race day due to roadworks but it was good practice anyway We managed a second OW swim and bike back to Telford before race day which provided much needed confidence. The bike home was going to be a gentle one but I soon realised that at an average of 17mph it was not going to be gentle - at least not for me. But we did it, so again, good training.
Then came the dreaded final taper week. A huge reduction in training hours and a growing fear of “am I ready” combined with “what’s that pain, has that just started hurting / twinging / creaking”. But I am experienced enough with running to know that these feelings are normal and to trust the plan. Then race day was here - 16 weeks and 150 hours+ training completed - now the glory lap(s).
Everything was packed up the night before and put in the car, bike-rack attached to the car, so all it needed was me to put the bike on (I left myself a note to remember it!), get the bottles out of the fridge/freezer, have some breakfast and go. Up at 5:30 am - shovelled some porridge down with an eerie sense of being excited but calm. Nicky came with me to support, and we arrived at 7:15 and met my fellow TTC friends. We racked our bikes and left T1/T2 kit ready under the bike - then checked, double checked and checked again in case anything was missing. A couple of last minute pointers from Paul to make sure all was in order and to help settle any nerves was appreciated. Then we just chatted by the lake trying to work out which buoys to go round because they had stuck an extra big red one in near the start that you only went round in lap 2. Time ran away quickly and suddenly it was time to get into our wetsuits and await the start. It was not the usual mass / washing machine start due to Covid restrictions; we all had individual starts 10 seconds apart. For me this was good and bad news. Good because I would not be part of the washing machine frenzy, which I would have avoided anyway by hanging back a few seconds, but bad because it was guaranteed people would be racing from behind me and I would be in their way. The start was well organised and we were called forward in groups of 10 based on race numbers and given a briefing of the course and buoys - so we didn’t have to worry earlier anyway!
I realised my goggles had got smudged inside with some of the Glide fluid I used on my neck, wrists and ankles. Luckily I knew one of the water-entry marshals who lent me her sleeve to wipe them clean! We were given a 5 second warning to get our goggles on - and then GO - I was off on my first 70.3. Into the water I waded, quickly let some water into my wetsuit as I had been advised to do and started swimming. No STOP - I hadn’t started my watch, bugger. Treading water, I fumbled to start my watch. Oh flipping heck the guy behind me is pushing past me already - doh. I urged myself to start swimming - go, go, go. All this made my first 300 meters a poor effort of swimming as I fought to regain composure with people swimming past me at a great rate of knots but by the time I reached the first turn buoy I had some clear water, had calmed myself and could get into my usual plodding rhythm. It wasn’t long before I was back at the start, hoisted myself out, walked the short matting (walking to regroup and steal a few deep breaths) to get back in again for lap two. Overall the swim was fine. I was knocked quite few times on the way round as expected but all the swim training I’ve done and the OW practise meant I could remain in control and just plod on. Then I was finished, completing the swim in 53 minutes - well within the cutoff time. I could relax (well not really - lots to come) and enjoy the rest of the day. I pulled my wetsuit half way down as I ran (jogged) the few metres (more like 200+ meters) to T1 to jump on the bike and GO.
Well after sitting down, putting my socks & shoes on, my sleeves on, my helmet on, my bike computer on, my gloves on - where did those 5 minutes go for goodness sake! Eventually I pushed my bike out of T1 and was off on the two lap bike course. I had decided to drive the new bike course the previous day before registering, to get a feeling of what was in store, So I knew there were a couple of cheeky hills, especially the one at mile 15 which reached 11% albeit only for a short distance. The bike is probably my second strongest / weakest discipline and I knew I had to maintain at least 14mph to beat 4 hours. If I could average 15-16 then all the better. When I reached the hill at mile 15 I think I was averaging just over 15 mph so I was happy so far. I was constantly getting over taken by stronger cyclists including TTC friends Neil K and Dave T. One big guy came whizzing past me just before the hill but then half way up shouted loudly “I hate bloody hills, I’m not made for hills” - so I gave him some encouragement as I went past him, only for him to come whizzing past me again on the decent - as expected! The second half of the lap seemed faster although I’m not sure if this was mind games or reality.
Soon I was back at the start - no wait, not quite - we had to carry on past the start for another mile on a dog leg to make up distance, and what a horrible pot-holed bit of road it was too, but only for a short distance. Then back to the start, round the cone and off for lap two. I had arranged for Nicky to pass me my third bottle containing tailwind just after the turn point (which was allowed) to make sure I could remain hydrated and get the carbs in. I also had quite a picnic of cut-up flap jacks, fig-rolls, energy bars and dried apricots in a top tube bag that I dipped into every so often to help get some solids in me as well as just fluids.
The weather was kind most of the day - warm but not overtly sunny, with mostly cloud cover. As such I had decided not to put sun cream on in T1 but luckily did put my arm sleeves on and a buff that hung down covering my neck under the helmet. Later on after the race had finished I realised putting these on were good decisions because the gap between my tri-top vest and my arm sleeves was quite red. Maybe next time I’ll do as Paul did and put sun cream on before the swim. The second bike lap was on par with the first (about 1 minute slower) with the same flow of stronger bikers passing me, and me passing the odd few slower ones. One minor issue as I crossed the point where the start of the outbound loop crossed the end of the inbound loop - I was crossing the round about going onto the loop when cyclists coming off their loop didn’t stop at the roundabout and cut straight in front of me causing me to brake hard and wait for them to move out of my line before I could continue. Ah well - racing is racing.I was also slowed up a couple of time waiting at roundabouts but not for long. Soon enough the bike leg was over, so back on to the grass to go to T2 - but why does my leg not want to twist out of the pedal cleat ! Twist, harder - phew just in time otherwise it might have been an embarrassing fall at the demount line - and Nicky was there taking photos. Double phew! Bike leg complete in 3hrs 38 which I was happy with.
Back in to T2, a much faster change (relatively) to strip off all the bike stuff, put my trainers on (complete with new elastic laces), put my running hat on and GO. Having practiced lots of bike to runs I knew what the feeling would be like - jelly legs - so all was good. A run down past the finish chute, past a cheering squad of TTC friends and I’m off on my strongest discipline - hoping to break two hours. Mile one was always going to be a steady one to find my legs and get into my stride - so a 2hr+ pace was expected to start with. I soon settled down into a pace I thought I could sustain in the growing heat. All was good until I suddenly realised I was still wearing my cycling glasses - doh - what a fool. What were my photos going to make me look like? So at the exit point from Alderford onto the road section I saw Nicky so I threw her my glasses whilst she was trying to get a decent photo of me - fail! The run course was not bad, being logically made up of 2ish miles inside Alderford grounds, 2ish miles down the road and back - three times to make the half marathon. Normally on a half marathon I don’t carry anything but I had decided to carry one bottle of water and one bottle of high5 on a running belt to keep me fuelled on the run. I could not be bothered to keep getting a bottle out of the belt holder, drink it and put it back again, so I carried the water bottle as I ran. What a faff that was, so as I exited Alderford onto the road section for the second time I decided to pass the bottle to Nicky - who once again was trying to get a decent photo. Fail 2 - my bad. One good thing about the course was the constant passing of other competitors on the opposite side of the track / road so I was able to see a lot of TTC friends on their run - Dave H, Rich, Craig, David T, Luke (not Paul who had probably finished, showered and had a three course meal by the time I finished) - which was great. At mile 11 a huge blister on the inside of my left leg big toe popped causing minor pain but nothing I hadn’t experienced in many runs before. I finished in 1hr 55 so was happy with that. Rounding the final corner to run up the finish straight I was tired but happy. Unfortunately probably a bit too tired so I forgot to a/ do up my tri-top zip (for my epic finish photo) and b/ smile for the camera. Not so epic photo then! Oh well. I did it. I completed my first 70.3 half distance triathlon. Not bad for a non swimmer and seldom biker 2-3 years ago.
I collected my medal with a huge smile and went to congratulate all our other TTC crew who had already finished, thank our amazing support crew and wait for the ones yet to finish. Thank you to all who have encouraged me, coached me, given me tips and advice over the last couple of years to help me realise this dream. And of course to my wife and family who have given me the time and space to train and to put up with all that goes with that.
Now what’s next?