The World Triathlon Series races in London’s Hyde Park were always going to be huge in every respect, for elites and age groupers alike. Having won an entry to the race in a competition run by Dassi Bikes, I went there to make good on the bad experience I’ve had last year at the ITU Age Group World Championships. However, given this was my first triathlon for this year and still struggling with my running from a trip up a few weeks ago, my expectations were moderate: complete and stay in one piece.
Last year race prep was a bit of a disaster. I had missed the train and ended up having to cycle from Greenwich to Hyde Park the day before the race, an experience from which I never quite recovered. This time I managed to catch the train with plenty of time to spare on what promised to be a glorious day.
I left Charing Cross and cycled to Trafalgar Square, picking up the bike route of last year’s race. Coming onto The Mall was just a glorious sight with the fountain and Buckingham Palace basking in the sun at the bottom and not a car in sight. Up the hill and through Wellington Arch; Hello, Hyde Park!
Time check once I was in transition. Over an hour until race time. I set up my bike, prepared my running shoes, explained some rules to some novices, chatted away with the referee, sipped on my Elivar Prepare, went to the portaloo, calmed down a girl who was totally frazzled and setting up her bike next to me. More chat with the referee about the Triathlon test event in Glasgow the weekend before while I put on my wetsuit, all the while thinking I had loads of time. The girl next to me hastily jumped in her wetsuit. I asked about the time: 9am! Balls! We legged it out of transition to the start and just caught the backend of our wave as they were led across to the holding pen for the race briefing. Phew!
As we walked out, I heard the announcer, John Levison of Tri247, welcome us onto the pontoon. He then proceeded to welcome a particular athlete, who is a very avid Twitter user and GB Age Group athlete… I turned slightly pale under my wetsuit, goggles and swim hat. John promised them a by the minute account of my race via Twitter, which would undoubtedly go something like 15 min swim, 55 min bike and a 32 min run. I haven’t quite figured out the tweet while you race part, but I’m working on it. Either way, the celebrity treatment and the banter made me smile and I didn’t think much about what was to come.
Time to get in the water. I had had a little dip in the Serpentine the day before and knew it was nippy to get in, but once you started moving it was lovely. The air horn went and off we went. I got out well, having a bit of argy-bargy with some folk around me, but nothing major. I found a rhythm and just focused on a long and smooth stroke, keeping my body rotation up. Round the first buoy, past the pink swimming statue, half way… Urgh, only half way? And where did I need to head to? Fortunately, there was a group just ahead. If I could just hang on to their coat tails… Come little Mako shark, do your magic! I caught swimmers from the wave before us, that’s 5 min caught up. 100m to go. Red buoys on the right, yellow on the left. Get the legs kicking. And Hello exit! At this point I didn’t know it yet, but I had improved my 1500 Open Water PB by 80 sec. I had just done 24.32 min for 1500m. Boom!
In contrast to my T2, my T1 is never particularly fast. I don’t like running full speed out of the water. I usually control it and follow through on my routine to get my wetsuit off. I actually passed runners doing their 10k and a few swimmers, up the grass in transition, down from the top, find the Swim out sign – there’s my bike. Wetsuit off, shades on, Prowell lid on, and off we went. No hitches.
Now on the bike, I committed a few cardinal sins, well just one, but that’s a big one. Generally, I wouldn’t introduce new things on race day. However, with my bike fit at Speedhub having just taken place a couple of days ago, I was out on the bike course with a completely new position and a new saddle, having only tested all this in a couple of turbo sessions. I had also never ridden to a power meter, but need to get used to that. So there was another new thing!
My little bike was zipping along nicely, I grew in confidence around the corners, keeping one eye on my power output and the other on the road. Surprisingly, the course wasn’t too crowded and it was only the super fast guys that came past me. The new saddle was comfortable in an uncomfortable way, but the great advantage is that I know exactly when I sit in the correct place.
Even the fast guys behaved very civilly out on the course, but sadly one racer lucked out big time. Coming up to the top roundabout, red flags were being waved wildly. I slowed down. On the ground was a chap, lying on his back, staring at the sky. Fortunately, medics attended to him and I hope he will be ok. It is a stark reminder though that triathlon is dangerous. I tried to focus back on my race.
One more lap to go. Time to push on that last bit and then think about T2. Nice dismount. But within the first couple of steps, I knew my running legs hadn’t shown up. Right then. Head down and struggle through. But even so, my T2 time was right up there. Oh, yeah, I’ve still got it.
From the first step of the run I struggled. Heavy legged, I plodded along, trying to focus on holding my form together. My right leg worked fine, my left worked in slow motion. Every pick up of my left leg was a conscious effort, slowly pulling it through treacle. Still I smiled because the spectators along the course as well as the volunteers were awesome and cheered every one on. The lady at the water station at the top of the Serpentine was hilarious, having a witty comment for every runner.
Somewhere someone shouts my name. Yay! I’m not sure I recognize the person, how do they know my name? Oh yeah, says on my number. I get through lap 1 past the announcer box. John sees me, more banter and hilarity. It gives me a lift each lap. All in all I’m just focussing on holding it together. One step in front of the other. One way or another…
Last lap. Somehow I always find something even though it’s not much. I smile, I’m happy, I’m moving. I skip the water this time. Blue carpet. John takes bets on how long it will take after the finish that the first tweet comes through. They reckon less than a second. I’m laughing, giving the crowd a wave. Compared to the commentary I got last year at the World Champs this was way better.
I look at the time: 11:28. 2 hrs 18 after I’ve started. My smile gets bigger. Arms high I cross the finish line. I make my way through the finish area. The lady collecting the timing chips is one of the organisers for the Commonwealth Games triathlon. She recognizes me from the training day. We have a chat. A fellow racers who finished after me pats me on the back. ‘Nice work. You made a nice target on the bike.’
I’m pretty pleased with myself. 2:18 is one of the fastest times I’ve done for a Standard Distance triathlon. I’ve got a new swim PB. My new bike position worked a treat. Just my leg needs sorting.
In the end, I was 15th lady and 3rd in my age group. For my first race this season, that’s all fantastic. I had a brilliant time at the World Triathlon Series Age Group race, and finally made peace with the Hyde Park course.