Thursday, 4 August 2011

Virgin Active London Triathlon - Smashed, Wrecked, Gone!

Target A - finish (in under 03:15:00)
Target B - finish under 03:00:00 (based on rough estimates of individual discipline times)

As we were racing on Sunday afternoon, we had to rack our bikes in transition on Saturday.  4 hours of travel on Saturday, plus 30 minutes getting race packs, timing chips, racking bikes and checking out the place, and then come home again; that made for being already quite knackered on Saturday evening.

Sunday morning, we had to get up reasonably early to be sure of getting to ExCel in good time for my race assembly at 12:05 for a 12:25 start with the other Olympic Female Age Group competitors.  Traffic is pretty unpredictable on the route to ExCel and with road closures in place for the triathlon it could be lots worse.  We arrived back at the exhibition centre at around 10:45 and parked up, got settled and put the rest of our race kit in transition.  We made sure of where our bikes were for T1 and T2 (me, the second row B after row A and in front of the huge number "8" on the wall, about 15 bikes in from the opposite end to the swim "in".) and I went and bought a baseball cap to run in as it was pretty hot and likely that the sun would be out for much of the afternoon.

The time came for me to suit up and get ready for my race start and I'd pretty much missed the race briefing so skipped ahead, pulled on my wetsuit, Mr TOTKat applied the bodyglide on my neck to avoid any chafing from the wet-suit and I toddled in to the swim assembly for my pink swim cap and a breifing from the same race official as gave the briefing at Blenheim (a charismatic Welsh elf).  The swim start had a nice twist in allowing those who wanted to get off smartly to head down to the water and swim out to the start area first, then the rest followed.  The shame was that those who followed were not held back for a couple of minutes the same as with the men's wave so it got all close and jostly anyway.

12:25 and the start hooter went off, after having been treading water for about 5 minutes or so.  You know the stories about swims in triathlon being a bit brutal?  Well... it happens.  Ohyes.  You might think that ladies would be a bit more timid and polite and not mash people up in the water, but they do.  We are just as competitive as the men and don't stand on ceremony when choosing our racing line and sticking to it.  I gave as good as I got and only almost lost my goggles once.

I don't know what made me think that Victoria Dock would be fresh water.  I guess it just didn't even cross my mind.  It's salty, brown and smells like wet dogs.  Really not pleasant.  But in the already growing heat, it was pleasantly cool.  I'd joked with someone at the start that it'd be great to do the whole race in the water as it was forecast to be 24ÂșC or so and I really don't get on at all well with heat when I'm running.  Once I'd got over the surprise that the water was salty, and the few stonking smacks I got on the head and shoulders shortly after the start, I fell into a rhythm and worked out where we were all headed for the long leg of the swim.

The race pack said that there was one turn in the swim.  Slightly misleading even when you look at the course map in that there are two turns on the course; one after a long leg and one after an even longer one to turn back to the start again.  Thing is, it wasn't even that straight forward either.  The swim course was in fact a rectangle with two long sides, two short sides and the start/finish about 1/4 the way down one of the long sides of the rectangle.  What was worse was that there was a buoy left out from the sprints on Saturday that confused people on the really long leg of the rectangle and cause a few people to turn too soon, only to be shoved back by safety marshals in canoes and told to keep going straight for longer.  Sliiiiightly annoying, but I only lost a few seconds to people cutting across me for that.

Course Map

I really didn't put a lot of effort into the swim.  As I've never done an Olympic distance triathlon before and done absolutely no training for this event (I've run about 5 times since my bike accident in March, swum a few times and cycled to work a few times) I wasn't sure I'd be able to finish without reining in the effort and saving myself for the run at the end.  I also wasn't sure about race nutrition, but as it's "only" going to be 3 hours of effort, maximum, it wasn't too much of a worry.  So anyway, not the fastest swim of 1500m I've ever done and I didn't feel like I'd used up much oomph.

The ramp out of the water was a welcome exit compared with the Thames swim ones and the open water swim session we'd done earlier in the year, scrambling out knee-deep in mud.  No helping hands unzipping the wet-suit this time, but we were handed big plastic bags to dump our wet-suits into and had to completely remove them before the swim end line.  I was worried about getting my wet-suit off after the trouble I'd had after the Thames swim where my entire body seemed to have swollen up a bit and it took a good 5 minutes to get the damned thing off!  No such trouble this time and I slipped out of it like a greased pig (er!) then trotted off to transition to find my bike.

Horror of horrors!  With wet feet, dripping and dangling a bag of crap in one hand we had to run up some stairs - plastic coated ones - to transition.  That was a bit scary and I was worried about slipping and bashing my teeth out on the stairs.  That didn't happen (of course) and I pegged it along the subsequent sisal matting on the next floor up and into transition.  Where I found the right row (second row B after row A, next to the big number 8) about 10 bikes in from the end.  Of course, I was coming at it from the opposite end to how we approached to rack up in transition and I'd thought I was 10 bikes in, not 15.  So I was looking on the wrong side of the row, not far enough in from the end.  I couldn't see my bike.  Or the towel I'd left out to dry my feet while taking a gel and a swig of drink.  Or my helmet, or anything I recognised.  For about a minute, I cast my eyes about looking for my damned bike.  Then I started to wonder what I would do if it took me 5 minutes to find it; give up?  Discount transition time from my overall race time afterwards?  No matter as I spotted my baby boy bike and shot towards it.  Someone else had dumped their towel and wet-suit bag over my stuff so I moved it, got chomping on a gel, put on glasses, helmet and decided against socks to keep cooler on the bike and save a bit of time in transition (I could always decide to put some on when changing shoes for the run later anyway), took a swig of drink and then trotted off to the bike "out" to hop on my bike and pedal off.

I hadn't looked at my watch and had no idea how I was doing for time and was still thinking not to over-cook the bike to leave something in the tank for the run.  The bike stage was... relatively uneventful.  I took it pretty easy, did let go a bit in the down hill sections and re-discovered that yes, I am awful at cornering.  There were several times where I'd overtaken someone pretty comprehensively and was pulling away from them and then would get to a roundabout, or turn at one end of the stage or the other, only to be overtaken back by those people only having to overtake them back again... several times in a row.  By the end I felt pretty fresh and only got a bit cross that the final few metres were up quite a ramp to get back into the exhibition centre.  Best bit was the people with cow-bells near the end of the bike laps; absolutely loved that!

Feeling awfully good and having done a load of maths in my head while on the bike, I was hoping that my watch would say I'd been going for just under 2 hours when I got to my spot in transition.  When I'd got over the fact that I couldn't find my place (again!) mostly because there were no other bikes back (which worried me at first, but then made me think I must have been quite quick), I whipped off my helmet and bike shoes and pulled on my running shoes, my new baseball cap, squirted two gels into my mouth in quick succession and grabbed my bottle of Gatorade to take out for the first bit of the run.  I dared to look at my watch.  It said 01:47:xx and I started to giggle.  It was apparent immediately that not only was I going to beat 03:15:00, but also 03:00:00 quite easily even if the 10K took an hour (which I didn't think was going to be the case unless my knee gave up at a late stage of the run).

The first run lap was not exactly nice.  It was pretty warm, I felt quite sick, the water and feed stations were plentiful, the water spray was heavenly, but some of the terrain was horrible (plastic flooring made from inter-linked plates, probably designed to go over mud and other uneven stuff) and the course a little narrow in places.  4 laps with a couple of tight turns, some indoors in the ExCel centre where it was dark and cool and the crowds were even more encouraging and you could see the finish, however far out of reach it felt on the first couple of laps of the run course.  It was pretty warm, as I said, and at each water station after the first one I took two cups, drank some of one and threw the rest of the water over myself.  It ran down my neck, front and the backs of my legs and into my shoes so pretty soon I was aware of my feet rubbing quite a bit in the arches but I paid little attention to that as the coolness of the water was more important than a little pain in my feet and a good finish time more important than a few days pain after the race.  Around half way through lap 2, I noticed a bit of pain around the skin of my inner upper arms and the sides of my torso.  It reminded my of how my legs used to feel when I wore a skirt with bare legs when I was carrying a bit more weight than I do these days.  That would result in excruciating pain and rawness in the skin on my inner thighs and a need to wear soft trousers for days afterwards.  So I resolved never to mock marathon runners who look like chickens when they run - I get it now.

And, you'd think you'd be able to count up to 4, right?  Hah.  Lap 3, I lost it a bit and had no idea if it was lap 2, 3 or 4.  So I had to work out what time each of those laps would give me on my watch and I was pretty convinced it was the 3rd lap and if my watch said something in the 02:3x:xx that would confirm it.  And I looked down.  And my watch said 02:3x:xx!  Last lap the next one!  I knew that if I'd got it wrong I'd end up disqualified anyway as there were a gazillion timing mats all over the course so the timing would show whether you'd missed a lap (also that you could see your splits).  I put a bit of effort in to the last lap, started to feel a bit emotional that I was going to utterly smash my targets and felt the emotion welling up.  It had to be pushed down a good few times as I still had to get to the finish and not collapse just short of it.  I felt tired, drained and sure that if I'd had to do another lap I'd've been too tired for it, but I was happy enough that when my name was called out going over the penultimate timing mat I waved a bit and then threw myself up the ramp and across the finish line.

A vision of loveliness, an angel in green, she handed me a bag of ice.  I almost told her that I loved her.  I immediately shoved it under my arms alternately to cool off the burning pain in the skin, sat down and had a bit of a panic attack.  Then remembered to turn my watch off.  I wheezed and groaned like a donkey and sat down on the steps right next to the finish to calm down and get control of my breathing.  It took a couple of minutes, but was easily done and I leapt up onto the podium for my finisher's photo and off to get my stuff from transition and some food as I was feeling both pretty sick and hungry at the same time.  My feet were utterly ruined and had enormous blisters from the run.  The next few days would involve hobbling about in trainers, wearing blister plasters.

To cut the rest short, I dumped my stuff in the car, found the magic timing printing machine and squealed (02:45:01!  00:31:11 swim, 00:03:55 T1, 01:09:56 bike, 00:03:07 T2, 00:56:49 run) and waited for Mr TOTKat (his race start was at 14:30 so a whole 2 hours after me so he watched me start and was about to get into the water when I came back from the bike stage), who had a horrible time in the run, and then fretted over him as he was in a bit of a state afterwards and quite dehydrated.  13 hours after we left the house we got home, had showers and headed out for food - a huge burger and chips and a couple of pints of defective beer (2 pints and we were just full rather than squiffy).


Overall, I'm really pleased.  Bitten by the Olympic distance bug and confident I can achieve a sub 02:30:00 time with some putting some effort into each of the disciplines instead of worrying about finishing, actual training and familiarity for sure.  (Slightly annoyed that the official time has 1s added to the swim time. Bah!)


  1. WOW, well done you :-) ... I'm exhausted reading the report you guys must be knackered!! Hope you recover form blisters soon. Did you strap your knee up?

  2. BabyWilt: thanks :o). I did indeed have the k-tape in place and it worked really well (and stayed on under my wet-suit!)

  3. Great race report Kate! And a HUGE congrats on such a fantastic time. You've had such a rough ride recently, this must feel great :D

  4. It does feel great, yes. Rather tempted by the HSBC triathlon in September now, but there are other things so close to that and... argh! But I WANT to do another Olympic distance nooooooow! :oD