Just the other week, I made my triumphant return to running on the beautiful and extremely windy Reiss beach, close to John O’Groats. It wasn’t fast, but it was extremely pretty and more importantly, I felt no pain (for the first time in well over a year).
It was on this same beach that I gained the confidence to complete the Copenhagen Marathon and with my weight starting to drop again (slowly) and my cycling becoming an everyday activity, my Ironman dreams should still be alive.
However, last week I was on BBC Radio Scotland (listen here until the end of May) talking about why I blog.
My goal has always been to inspire and encourage others and it might be time to accept that I may need longer to prepare for my Ironman than I anticipated. Especially as I hope to launch at least one new cycling inspired initiative to help encourage people to move more and because I am currently not finding the time to train sufficiently (note to self: sort this out!) while trying to accommodate all my roles, campaigning and responsibilities. At some point, I have to decide what is more important to me. Helping others or helping myself (I want to do both).
But back to the present and back to my Ironman training.
For those who, like me, are triathlon newbies or wannabes, the Sprint Triathlon is made up of :
- 750 Metre Swim
- 20 Kilometre Cycle
- 5 Kilometre Run
Individually, I am competent at these distances in each discipline, so going into it I was hopeful that I would get through it unscathed even with my lack of real training (famous last words).
However, like most things preparation is key. Bishopbriggs is 8 miles from my home and on the morning of the event, the sun was out and I was feeling good (possibly too good).
I had considered cycling half way to a train station, but the timing was off and being my usual late self, I didn’t have any time to spare, so I just cycled on. [Lesson 1: investigate and plan on how to get to events with a bike]
All the way I was envisaging being late to registration; of encountering lengthy queues and of experiencing a confusing (to me at least) transition area (where you park and collect your bike).
The Bishopbriggs Sprint Triathlon
On arrival, however, all my fears evaporated. I was welcomed at reception and quickly issued with my timing band, race number and instructions (instructions that even I could almost follow). At the transition area, they must have sensed that I was a newbie and both marshals and another competitor came to my assistance. Neither cared that I was clueless nor wearing the normal triathlete uniform of a tri-suit. Instead, they only seemed to care about me being able to enjoy the race.
And that was to be the theme of the whole event.
We had a quick but instructional (and funny) briefing and then with my estimated swim time being slow and subsequently being in the first wave of triathletes, we were ushered to the pool (no outdoor swim in this event). Here, we were given more instructions. Everything had been thought of, and as I entered my lane, I could focus on one thing
Not killing myself in the pool.
Swimming is my weakest discipline and with my Total Immersion swimming still not perfect, I resorted to the breast stroke, which is perfectly acceptable even if my form is far from perfect. I had estimated 30 mins for my swim and I decided on an almost effortless pace as I had no idea how I would cope later on.
At 28 laps, I was accosted with a swimming board. Ok, that isn’t quite right. I had much earlier lost track of my laps, but thankfully, our lane marshall had it in control and a gentle wee tap to the head was to remind/reassure me that I had only two laps left (a nice wee touch indeed).
As I reduced this to one lap and turned for my final 25 metres, I heard the voices. Not in my head, thankfully, but all around me. The awaiting swimmers, my friend Mark and all the marshals were willing me on. As I touched that final pool edge, there was a huge cheer and as I slid out of the pool like a walrus, I had a huge smile on my face.
It was then out to the transition area to collect my bike and in all honesty, I wasted so much time untying shoelaces, attaching race numbers and generally messing around that I lost several precious minutes. [Lesson 2: All of these could and should have been done in setup]
Finally out of the transition area, I set my sights on the 4 x 5km loops on a closed road. Closed to all but two refuse lorries that is, which had somehow managed to break through the blockade of marshals. As soon as you leave the vicinity of the Leisuredrome, you are faced with a monster of a climb. No warning and no warm up. I went through my gears and by the top, my lungs were busting. The rest of the way out was relatively flat, well signposted and with a nice surface, so I paced it well ( I took it easy). At the turning point, there were two friendly and helpful marshals warning us to slow down for the turnaround but also offering encouragement.
The way back was slightly tougher, but we did have THAT hill to go down and the wee kid (or big kid) in me loved the exhilaration of speeding down it, only to be instructed to slow down again as we approached another turning point.
And here , disaster struck. As I slowed down, I placed a foot on the ground and I felt the pain of cramps shoot their way through my left calf and right up into my hip. I pedalled out of the area and managed about 100 metres and had to stop.
I performed a few stretches and tried to get back on and the tightness returned. With it ‘only’ being a 20km cycle, I had no water [Lesson 3: Always bring water and even energy gels] and I could have kicked myself. If I could have moved my leg, that is. At this point, I thought that my race was over and part of me just wanted to curl up and hide. A member of the public then approached me to see if I was ok and suggested that I walk up the hill with my bike and that’s what I did.
As other riders passed me, most asked if I was ok and by the time I reached the top, the pain was easing off. So, I jumped back on and managed to complete the ride only a few minutes outside of my pre race estimate of one hour and that was with me pushing my bike up THAT hill. [Lesson 4: Do more hills. Whether it’s cycling or running, I need to do more hills]
Again the dismount and transition area was clearly marked and with only the race bib to change from back to front and a change of hat (it was extremely sunny) I was quickly out and onto the last leg.
And this was quite apt as I was on my last legs. I couldn’t run and managed only short bursts of jogging interspersed with longer bouts of walking. [Lesson 5: Include more “Brick” training sessions where I go straight into a walk or run after a bike ride] The run route is along the canal and it at least offered a beautiful backdrop. It is shared with the public, so there were cyclists, runners and dog walkers, but at no point did this feel like an issue and at the turning point we were met by by another marshal, who was my friend Ray from my Great Run Local Glasgow days. I wasted a minute or so catching up and stealing his water (thanks Ray) but it was a minute worth wasting.With his encouragement and his water, I set off and managed a few bursts of running, but I was sore and tired and it was hot. If I have one complaint, it is that there should have been at least one water station, but I should possibly revert back to Lesson 3.
The route had us then run under a bridge and along the canal in the opposite direction before crossing another bridge (again manned by friendly marshals who even took Ray’s empty bottle from me) and entering the final mile on a more trail like surface. I walked/jogged most of it until I got to the final 500 metres. I picked up the pace (relatively speaking) and sprinted (again, relatively speaking) towards the inflatable finish line where I pumped my hands in the air, having completed my first “real” triathlon. I was given some water and encouraged to have a wee sit down. I didn’t have to be told twice.
I lay back in the grass, spread my arms and stared skywards.
I was a triathlete.
I was a slow, knackered and sore triathlete, but a triathlete nonetheless. I lay like this for a few minutes and then the urge to tell all and sundry about my exploits took over and I headed towards my bike, gear and mobile phone. I picked up some much needed refreshments in the Leisuredrome cafe and set about updating all my social media accounts with my accomplishment. As I spoke to my girlfriend on the phone, I felt tears welling up. I was both emotionally and physically drained, but I was also beaming with pride.
Once rested, I gathered my bike and gear and collected my timing sheet from the manually operated system, bade farewell to my hosts and set off on my 8 mile cycle home (yes, I did sleep well last night).
The Bishopbriggs Triathlon was superbly organised by Glasgow Triathlon Club and it is a perfect introduction to Triathlons with both Junior and Novice events also available. With an indoor pool, closed roads and a beautiful run route it was both fun and safe. The marshals were all friendly and knowledgeable while the locals came out to cheer us on. It’s an annual event with 250 Sprint places up for grabs and they do sell out quickly. At £46 it isn’t cheap, but you can get a £5 discount if you are Triathlon Scotland member (I joined after signing up) and it compares favourably with the big name events who charge upwards from £70 for Sprint Triathlons. You also have access to showers, restrooms and cake!
With the cost of entry, the cost of bikes (all triathletes/cyclists adopt the N+1 formula to owning bikes, where the number of bikes you need is N, the number you have + 1) and the amount of kit needed, triathlons are for the serious athlete. I am partly assuming this as they seem to have no time for frivolities. For there was no goodie bag and not even a medal for finishing (although you do get a far more practical Glasgow Triathlon Club towel). Obviously finishing is reward enough.
As someone who collects running medals with the mentality of a magpie, this was disappointing, so I decided to digitally create my own for posterity.
If a triathlon is something that you are considering, then I would have no hesitation in recommending the Bishopbriggs Sprint Triathlon. It’s friendly, fun and now unforgettable.
I certainly hope to return next year to beat my finishing time of 2 hours : 33 minutes : 27 seconds and hopefully improve upon my position of last place.
Yes, I was the last finisher and it hasn’t detracted from how I feel about the event or my performance. I had an amazing time and at no point did I feel that my shape or pace were being judged by anyone.
Thank you Glasgow Triathlon Club for a wonderful Bishopbriggs Sprint Triathlon
This week I am speaking at Elevate Arena about being fat and fit and this illustrates why being active is so important to me. Despite being obese, staying active allows me to enjoy (relatively speaking again) these events and it enables me to feel better about myself. I do want to lose more weight, but I will not let my excess pounds slow me down (too much) or stop me from challenging myself or enjoying life.