By Peter Persico
I’d always intended to complete a triathlon this year. That’s why I’d started swimming again, and even learnt front crawl. However, due to various reasons, none of which I can completely remember, I hadn’t actually got round to entering a triathlon. So, whilst I still had a few options, I decided to enter this particular triathlon. I bought a wetsuit and a new tri-suit, and entered. I have a bit of a tendency to do ridiculous things, and this, perhaps, is another example of this tendency. I say this because I chose to enter an open-water triathlon, despite having not properly been swimming in open water. If you’re going to do something, [generally] pick the more extreme option to wipe away those fears. However, I knew that there would be plenty of novice participants, so felt a bit better about my entry. I chose to enter the sprint distance rather than the super-sprint distance because the super-sprint sounded a little too simple.
The account herein is my take on the triathlon. For an alternative insider perspective, readers can also approach Amanda Rhodes regarding her experience of this triathlon. If anyone would like an outsider perspective, they can consider speaking with Martin Jones who got caught up in some of the cycle and run excitement whilst out on his long run.
Once parked up on one of the designated grassy areas at Harewood House, I made my way down into the entertainment village as it had been called. Registration was simple enough, as was putting things into transition. We were all given specific wave times. First off were the relay teams, and then the waves seemed based on distance and age group. Whilst in transition, I looked over my shoulder and saw both of the Brownlee brothers getting into their wetsuits with a cameraman by each as well as other associated people. Since they looked to be getting their ‘game face’ on, I decided not to say anything or inadvertently stumble into their photo. There were also lots of people around and lots of stalls selling various items, including food. Happily, the weather was pleasant, and I was generally enjoying the experience. A few worrying thoughts crept in about the swim, which wasn’t helped when I noticed an ambulance tearing away having collected someone who was brought out of the lake, but overall, I’d say I was looking forward to giving this triathlon a go.
The swim was 750m in the Harewood House lake. I made my way down to the starting area at the last minute to listen to the race briefing. The start would be a little way out in the lake rather than at the lakeside. Looking out, it seemed quite a distance to swim before turning around and coming back to exit off to our right. Whilst walking into the lake, I could feel sharp rocks underfoot, and then the floor became slushy. As I was wading out, I pulled my hands out of the water and noted that they were very dirty and had seaweed-type nature stuff on my fingers. Still having an occasional breathing issue with front crawl and not really having embarked on proper open-water swimming in such colourful water, I decided at this point that I was not putting my face fully in the water front-crawl-style. It may seem a bit weak and I still have that thought myself, but when it came down to it, I was a bit worried about getting some of that water in my mouth, coming up spluttering, and trying to carry on whilst convincing the people in kayaks that I could keep going. I would later try and convince a few people that I had swallowed some nasty bacteria that had sapped me of my vitamin C and left me with scurvy; no one believed me though. The lake remained shallow for quite a few metres of the swim, and my feet were often catching the bottom of the lake. However, as we got closer to the turn-around point, the lake got deeper, which was helpful. Overall, I managed to keep swimming, didn’t really swallow any nasty water, and wasn’t last out of the lake, which made me feel slightly better about not trying front crawl. Then again, I’ve heard it said that there is always one area in which you are not as competent; this would appear to be mine at present, with obvious areas in which to improve.
Coming into transition from the lake, I was attempting to take off the wetsuit as I ran. I’d watched a few triathlons on the television and Internet to see that this helped speed things up, so thought I’d give this a try. I was actually surprised at how well I managed! Once I’d got out of my wetsuit and put it aside, I immediately drank some coca cola that was in one of my water bottles. This was a bit of information I’d picked up a while back to help deal with anything swallowed during the swim, and would also provide a bit of sugar. Then, I put on my helmet, cycling shoes, and race belt, before heading out of transition. I’ve yet to try having my cycling shoes already clipped to my pedals as the professionals do, and didn’t think trying it out for the first time in an actual triathlon and on a hill start was the best idea; I guess I can still be a little sensible, but it is something I would like to attempt. Instead, I’d changed the pedals so that I could use my mountain bike cleats as they would allow me to run a little with the bike.
Once out of transition, we had to push our bikes up a grassy hill for about 200m to the mount line. We had also been told that the bike section had an uphill start and so we should pre-select an easy gear in order to get going. The hill was noticeable once on the bike, and it was part of subsequent laps, adding to the hill leading up to this hill. There were plenty of people milling around various parts of the course, including on these hills, so I had to make it look good. There was also another hill coming off the Otley Road and back into the Harewood Estate that provoked a few responses from various riders. There were some good flat parts to the course and some sweeping descents with sharp turns as well. Having previously fallen off my bike trying to manoeuvre around corners, I am pleased to report I never once came off the bike. I did see one cyclist in front of me misjudge a turning and go wobbling onto the grassy verge at one point, which made me feel better that I was managing, but I tried not to get too overconfident lest that bite me later on. I didn’t like cycling over the metal sheets that covered the cattle grills because at speed I worried they would do something nasty to my tyres; however, this never came to pass. I also became aware of the motorbike marshals hanging around me at various points on the bike course; happily, I did not pick up any penalties, but didn’t like being a focus of attention. At the dismount line, which was slightly off part of the first hill, we then had to run with our bikes back into transition. I was glad to get off the bike at this stage, and ready for the last part of the challenge – the run. This was mainly because I am reluctant to take drinks whilst cycling in case I have an accident. So, after a quick drink of water, racking my bike, removing my helmet, and change of shoes, I was off.
I’d made a little error in bringing my road shoes rather than my trail shoes to the triathlon, despite being fully aware that the run would take place on such a surface. Still, I thought, how hard could it be using my road shoes, even if they were flats with just 3mm soles? As it turns out, there were a few more uncomfortable moments on the run, but I managed to stay on my feet and not fall over. There was a cameraman shortly after starting the run section who took the photo above. As I was approaching the cameraman, I realised that I had forgotten to swivel my race number to the front, and remember being surprised this hadn’t been commented upon as I left transition because I’d once forgotten to do this at a duathlon and had a marshal shouting at me as I ran off. I quickly rectified this issue just in case and to help with photo identification. After only a short distance the route split depending on whether you were running the sprint distance or the super-sprint distance. The sprint distance run section had a few cheeky hills included at various points. On one particular hill there was a sign on a tree that said, “Dig in, this is Yorkshire”. I actually found this quite an amusing sign despite the burning undercurrent in my legs and lungs, but this was not true of everyone who read it, and I did hear a few choice words from people who were walking by this point up through the trees. Despite finding the sign amusing, I did not find the hills amusing, especially that particularly long hill, and they certainly tested my calves. I’d like to say that I’d taken in the atmosphere and environment to help me enjoy the run, but that would be a lie because as the run progressed, I was focusing more on keeping going than on how nice the view may have been that day. I believe there may even have been some animals around on parts of the course as well and other people walking, but I was only vaguely aware of such obstacles.
To finish, we had to run uphill with Harewood House in front of us, and then turn to come back downhill so that as we crossed the line, the House was behind us for our finishing photo/video. Seeing the finish was a welcome sight, despite having to go up another hill to get there, and the look on my face as I approach the finish is not what many people would associate with ‘happy’. When I knew the finish was approaching, I gave a little kick to finish faster and stronger, which is perhaps more apparent in photo than happiness. After crossing the line, I was handed a bag that contained various items, including the all-important t-shirt, water, and energy drink. I don’t remember much of what I did afterwards except for stagger around for a short while before deciding a drink and some food were a good idea. The BBQ-sauce pulled pork sandwich I bought was a little pricey, but well worth it I believe, and I could have eaten several such sandwiches.
All in all, I think it was a successful first triathlon with a few areas on which to work for next time, and, perhaps more importantly, I did enjoy the experience.