First Ever Triathlon I signed up to Shrewsbury Triathlon back in February 2021 with absolutely no clue what I was about to embark upon. I had a BMI higher than my age, I could barely swim a 25m length of a swimming pool without completely losing breath, and had never used a drop bar bike. I’ve always avoided all things cycling and swimming, however, I had some previous experience with running. Although I had done nothing for the last 3 years. So I set off attempting to self train, lose weight, and teach myself “how to triathlon” through the medium of YouTube. I did manage to drop some of my excess weight (not enough) and built up a foundation running base. However, I had made little to no progress in the other two disciplines. I finally decided to join a Tri club to help prepare me for this new venture into the Triathlon world. J
oining TTC in May has so far proven to be one of the best decisions I have made in a while. Surrounding myself with like minded individuals has aided preparations for this event so much. Tapping into the wealth of knowledge and experience is without a doubt the best way to learn about multi sport and make the most out of the fast encroaching race day.
After initial sign up in February, there was very little communication from the organisers about the upcoming event. That was left right up until approx 10 days prior to the start. For a newbie, this was slightly daunting, but fortunately there were a plethora of TTC members who had completed this event many times before.
The latter stages of my race preparation became turbulent due to contracting COVID-19 and shortly after a road traffic accident whilst cycling from work took me out of action for 6 weeks through illness/injury. Poised ready to cancel my entry, 10 days out the pain from my cracked ribs sustained in the RTC had subsided to a point where cycling and running were once again bearable with the aide of painkillers. Therefore, I decided not to cancel my entry and attempt the race even if it was at a snails pace…
Race morning came and was a more frantic affair than I was hoping for. Why on earth I thought that dragging my wife, 3 young children and a overexcited dog with me at 7am was a good idea is going to baffle me for time to come. I had realised a couple of days before the event that the kit required to complete a triathlon (comfortably and sensibly) is vast and after I scrambled around grabbing bags and packs from around my house, I resembled something of a hermit moving caves. A quick trip to decathlon for a shiny new transition bag sorted that out. I had now gone from classic clampit to “all the gear, no f***ng idea”… After a typical Fanneran morning of screaming, rushing, and moaning kids was handled. We set off with my borrowed bike rack to Shrewsbury.
We arrived at the West Mid Showground at exactly 7:30 am. Instead of the expected queues of traffic and registrants, it was calm and quiet, and there was no line for registration. That was the point my wife Gemma reminded me of the unnecessary need for waking the household up at 5:45 am and treating departure like some kind of military operation. I went through registration and collected my race pack. I decided to wait for a while before setting up my transition space until it was more populated to avoid being the first one in, and also to get an opportunity to see how the more experienced competitors did things. The answer to that question was DIFFERENT, everybody had a different way of setting up transition. The combination of previous experience and practice had clearly been applied and most competitors looked confident in what they knew works for them. All competitors except the ones with zero experience and no transition practice, i.e. me. To my Frustration Richard Bradshaw had even said to me at track the week preceding, to practice transition even if it’s just once. Admittedly I did not take that advice. In that moment it became one of my biggest regrets as I must have repositioned my towel and running shoes about 3 times before I was satisfied on the final resting place. In that moment, however, I did follow a piece of advice given to me by Luke Mills that same day at track. I squeezed what seemed like a half bottle of talc into both my cycling and running shoes, then turned my socks into something that resembled a Victoria sponge cake. This would prove to be an excellent piece of advice.
Transition area set, I had nothing else to do for the next 90 mins except keep my bored children from killing each other and stop my unruly dog from barking and whimpering at everything that moved around site. I went for a walk and eventually started to bump into the other TTC members. I remember bumping into the Bradshaw family and Karen Sheriff and instantly felt more calm. There is something really settling about seeing familiar faces and knowing that you are not alone in whatever is about to come. We did our well wishing, the Bradshaw clan witnessed my failing parenting skills and got barked at by my unruly dog. Brief chats later with Chris Wood and Mark Goodrige again helped dampen down any nerves trying to rise to the surface. The event tannoy announced that the start time had been delayed by 30 mins to allow registration to complete and transitions to be set. Again a reminder from the wife that 5:45am was unnecessary. This also meant it was another 30 mins before I handed full parental control over to Mrs F for a coupe of hours. In a last bid attempt to settle the kids, we did what any normal respectful parents do at 9:15 am, we sat the kids down in the sunny grassy arena and fed them hotdogs and chips!! My new start time was going to be 10:20. At 10:00 we wandered across towards the Swim start area. Stopping slightly short looking for a suitable viewing spot of the river, when suddenly I hear a cry of my name from group of people at the swim start. They were calling my name to join the river entrance queue…. In a mad panic I wrestled my rotund body into my upper wetsuit, kissed the wife and started sprinting over toward the crowd. Suddenly Sarah Bradshaw appeared out of the masses telling me to stop and calm down, “just relax and breathe” she told me. Thanks Sarah, it worked! I joined the queue and descended into the river.
Thankfully, I had taken part in the SyTri mid week familiarisation swim a few days before with Mark G so knew what to expect in terms of water temp, current, and water visibility (or lack of it). When the 20 man wave entered the river, there were cries of shock and laughter as the competitors were taken back by how cold the water was, it was a balmy 13 degrees. The keen racers took position at the front of the pack and the casuals sloped to the rear, I positioned myself dead centre of the group in the middle of the river where I was previously told the current was strongest. As the starters klaxon went off, I started my watch and kicked away hard. A few strokes in I settled down and just focused on my arm positioning entering the water on each stroke. Concentrating on keeping my arms at 10 & 2 (advice afforded me by David Harley at one of the TTC abdab swim sessions). The water was a murky brown and the glare from the sun made it impossible to see. I knew sighting wasn’t my strong point but I thought, “stuff it, just reach and glide”over and over again until you get level with the red buoys. I spent the first half of the swim in extreme close proximity to another chap and we were matching each other stroke for stroke until he disappeared. I wasn’t sure if he had kicked on and I just couldn’t see him in the glare or he had just drowned. Anyway, I just carried on regardless trying to keep my breathing and heart rate as steady as possible and deliberately slowed my stroke right down as advised by Christopher Wood in our chat earlier. It turned out that it was me that had kicked on and left him behind… Before I knew it I had read the finish bouys and started to kick my legs hard and fast to prepare for the exit. Another tip from Chris Wood. It worked. I felt the shingle under my feet and started to power away up the embankment. I looked at my watch and it was reading 8:48, I was thrilled I was already on track. I pulled the zip down on my wetsuit and attempted to release my arms, but I couldn’t free them, I stopped and started to get flustered. I then realised that even though I had got my zip down I hadn’t unfastened the Velcro tab at the top which was keeping my wetsuit in situ. I fumbled it open and pulled my wetsuit down on the move. Breaking back into a run I summited the embankment to see my wife and kids shouting at me which was motivating. Then two more familiar voices of encouragement sounded out, first from Sarah Bradshaw and then Chris Wood I heard shouting me on from afar.
Making it into T1 and remembering to hit lap on my Garmin felt like progress. I ran straight past my bike and started looking at the rack numbers. Completely forgetting which direction the numbers went, a friendly competitor who was sat down asked me my number and when I told him he pointed to the exact position my bike was in…Result. Kicking my wetsuit off my feet, I decided to drop to the floor and pull it off by hand, hastily rubbed my feet with my towel and seamlessly slipped on my talc covered socks like butter (cheers Luke Mills). I strapped on my bike shoes, race belt, glasses, gloves, and helmet which were sat atop my handle bars as previously advised. I grabbed my bike and made the dash to the mount line. If ever there was a time to have a clip in failure this wasn’t it. My left pedal had twisted upside down and I spent what felt like an eternity trying to clip in to the underside of my SPD SL pedal….. Amateur.
Clipped in and away out of the showground, I started to put the pedal down. It felt surprisingly good! I looked down at my Garmin and I was away at about 21mph, happy! Now, the course was advertised as flat, however, my definition of flat is somewhat different and even the slightest of inclines started to require some out of saddle grind. About 3 miles in, I was overtaken by a car with L plates in the rear window. This wasn’t initially a problem until the car forced me to slow down due to his failure to move on and overtake the rider in front who decided the middle of the lane was his. At this point the cyclist behind me had caught me up and my Garmin was now reading 13.1 mph. Between us we were screaming at the car to move on but we were trapped behind him bumbling along for another mile and a half. At this point I knew that my average speed was way short of the required 18.6mph to hit my target time of 45 mins, so once the car had cleared I tried my hardest to get to and keep as close to the target speed as possible. I managed to pass the 2 riders in front of me in doing so and could then see stretches of open road. The next guy in front was now passing me on the other side of the road. That gave me a pretty good idea that the turnaround point was looming. When I hit the turnaround point at the roundabout just outside Baschurch, I knew that there was about a 90 second gap to the bike I had just seen go past, so once again I decided to put the pedal down and make up for some of that lost time. That was also the point that I decided to take on my first energy gel and drink of water from my bike bottle. I probably should have hydrated sooner but was too wrapped up in the unfolding race. Hammering down the road at what I felt was a good speed of about 23mph, another rider came tearing past overtaking me but it was no one from my wave or any of the other riders that I had overtaken previously. I realised after that it was fellow TTC member Matt Gibbons! I thought at the time that he is either really good or I will find him hanging roadside in miles to come. The results go on to show how impressive that effort really was, nice one Matt. I then saw Karen Sheriff pass in the other direction on her outbound journey and I managed to shout some encouragement across the road to which a pleasant reply came back. She was closely followed by Chris Wood and then Richard Bradshaw. The glimpse of those guys strangely gave that extra boost to put the pedal down and kick on. This was to be to my detriment as I would soon find out. I had managed to claw back at least some but not all my lost time on the outbound section though. Coming around the corner back into the showground, I unclipped from one of my pedals too early then had to scramble to re-clip in as there was about another 350 yds to the dismount line, another rookie error. With the most stationary dismount any cyclist can possibly achieve I had completed “the bike”.
T2 was almost one of my successes for the day, had I not ran half way down the wrong side of the bike rack. Luckily the rack was fairly empty so I managed to limbo with my bike underneath to the correct position. Having styled that one out, I hung the bike and discarded my helmet and gloves. I then smoothly slipped on my talc doused trainers, took another energy gel and ran for the exit. It felt fast and the marshal at the exit advised that I needed to turn my race belt around to front display my number as I went. Energy gel on board I felt good and strong ready to smash the 5K(ish) run.
Leaving T2 fuelled and ready to run, I noticed a sharp cramping sensation in my left hamstring. I thought nothing of it and try to push on. I looked at my Garmin and my pace was 8:09 min/mile. I needed to speed up to hit my target pace of 7:21. This would have allowed me to complete the 5K in under 23 mins, which should have been achievable. However, when I tried to pick up the pace the pain in my left hamstring intensified, so I had to settle at a pace that was manageable and pain free on the gravely, rutted, pot holed terrain. Unfortunately for me that pace was locked in at about 8:17 min/mile. That was only 6 seconds slower than my previous HM pace and I was supposed to be only doing 5K. Frustration had got the better of me and I sat at that pace for the next few laps feeling strong and knowing that I had more to give but my leg was literally acting like an anchor. The course was 3 laps of a circuit within the showground so there were plenty of places for spectators to watch the entire run. My family were making their way to different points of the course so it felt like I was always in earshot of one of my screaming kids. It was nice having the support there, although I still haven’t got used to hearing my kids shout “go on Jamie” due to lots of daddies being out on course. At one point my 9 year old daughter started running alongside me and kept pace. This threw me and I had to check my Garmin to make sure I wasn’t subconsciously slowing to a walk. I hadn’t and I now know one little girl who is going to start going back to the Junior Parkrun… At the end of lap 3, the course dog legged around to finish in front of the grandstand. Normally this is the point in any running race where I would grit my teeth and go for the epic sprint finish. Not today however, today I had to carry on my current pace (which felt pedestrian at this stage) whilst some hero from Stafford Tri Club sprints past me screaming “come on mate almost there, dig deep”. Whilst I respected the support he was affording me, I couldn’t help but think “If only this Lizard knew” I wanted to run him down but had nothing to give. I crossed the line and hit stop on my Garmin. I glanced down to see what my watch said, I had achieved the 1hr 30min target I desperately wanted to achieve. My chip time confirmed I had completed it in 1:24:59, I had completed a triathlon. It didn’t sink in for a while, I knew that somewhere by now Karon, Chris and Richard would be on or close to their runs. I grabbed my tribe and headed over to the area where each run lap concludes. First I saw Chris Wood, he was motoring, I pointed him out to my wife who couldn’t believe how someone had the capacity to run that fast at the end of a triathlon, it was impressive to watch. We then cheered on Karen Sheriff who was cruising round the run course making it look easy like just another day, another good effort. Then finally, we saw Richard B looking strong and eating up the circuit like the seasoned triathlete he is. I somehow managed to miss both Rachel M and Mark G at the end of their races, so I apologise for that, but the results confirmed you each had successful days so well done for that, great efforts all round. It was great getting to cheer on the TTC members (that I saw), it made me feel like I was now part of something, a club and a community. The whole atmosphere was buzzing and there was a real sense of togetherness in this world of Triathlon. I was on a complete high, all I wanted to do was rest up, shake off my hamstring cramp (it wasn’t cramp as it turned out, but a strain through overuse confirmed by the Physio) and go again at Ludlow…. I can’t wait!!!