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10 things I learnt from my first triathlon
August 31st 2014 / 1 comment
Triathlon first-timer Susannah Taylor explains the highs and lows of training for her toughest hour of exercise yet
1. Bumps and bruises are mandatory
When I first decided to train for a triathlon, I actually had never been on a road bike (a bike with thin wheels and many gears aimed at going super fast). Not only that, but I decided it would be a wonderful idea to wear cleats on my first outing. (Pedal cleats, if you don’t know – I didn’t, do now - are the cycling shoes you’ll spot on every cycling pro). They lock into your pedals so you can push and pull hard and seamlessly on the pedals). However, what you forget when wearing cleats for the first time, is that you can’t just put your feet down, you have to click them out first. The result? I went 3 yards and fell off, feet still in tact with the pedals, much to the hilarity of my husband. Ouch. The same week I was so busy concentrating on how my gears worked, I fell into a ditch. A few days later I didn’t see the end of the pool (don’t ask), and smacked head-first into the end. Triple ouch.
2. A brick session isn’t a date in the pub with a builder
If you’re anywhere in the vicinity of a triathlete, you'll hear them talking tri-lingo. Here's a translation:
Tri Lingo: ‘I just did a brick session’
Translation: a fitness session that involves biking then running back to back – it’s a term coined, not actually because your legs feel like bricks (although they do, like jelly in fact) but by a man called Dr Matt Brick who coined them ‘bricks’ during his duathlon exploits.
Tri Lingo: ‘I’m practicing total immersion’ or 'TI' to those in the know
Translation: a swimming approach I was taught based on efficiency (see point 7 below)
Tri Lingo: ‘He was drafting’
Translation: If you sneakily tuck in behind someone in the bike race they take most of the wind resistance. This is illegal in triathlons, so maybe don't try it unless you want to be disqualified (you may want to be).
3. You need to invest in suitable race attire (warning: it gets expensive)
Let’s just say that a long training bike ride one day left me walking like John Wayne because I didn’t have padded shorts. You can't really scrimp triathlon kit. Here are the things every girl should have:
- A racing bike – I have a Pendleton Initial Road Bike which I love to bits (see above)
- Padded Shorts - A hard saddle on a human undercarriage over 20 miles can do a fair bit of damage, which is why one of the best investments you’ll make as a first-time triathlete is a pair of padded shorts. I bought mine from Wiggle.co.uk.
- A wetsuit – A definite must, believe me you won’t want to be swimming in a murky like of 15 degrees without one. Make sure it's a tri wetsuit though which is lighter and more flexible than a traditional one.
- Cycling sunglasses - You need a pair of proper sports sunglasses that shield your eyes from the sun, rain, flies and flying stones. Mine are Oakley Radar glasses which you customise yourself. Oakley inscribed 'Get The Gloss' on the lenses of mine (below). V cool.
- A tri-suit – a quick drying vest and cycling combo you wear under your wetsuit on the day that dries super fast so you can go straight from bike to run. Mine was from sweatybetty.com
- A cycling helmet – you are not allowed on your bike without one.
4. It would push me to my limits and beyond
I did the Blenheim triathlon in June. There are various distances, but I did the shortest, otherwise known as The Super Sprint. It’s a 400m swim, 13.2 km bike ride followed by a 3.1 km run. Now that might not seem like much to you, but put them together, back-to-back, in a race and it adds up to the hardest hour of exercise i have ever experienced. It taught me that I needed to up my stamina. Thankfully my awesome trainer Steve Mellor of Freedom2train has set me some grueling sprint sessions that involve really enjoyable things like 5 minutes of hard running (3 times with 3 minute breaks), followed by 3 minutes of hard running (5 times with 1.5 minute breaks). It honestly feels like you're DYING, but it's definitely is making me faster.
5. I would live in Lycra
If you feel self conscious in Lycra then maybe a triathlon’s not for you - during training for a triathlon you start living in the stuff. I do the school drop off in it and am often wearing leggings and vests for half the weekend so I can go straight for a run whenever I get the chance. On race day you will also be squeezed into a wetsuit which leaves nothing to the imagination. My favourite leggings? Lucas Hugh and my new Salabasana Reversible yoga Capris from Sweaty Betty.
6. Race day can get aggressive
Standing on bank of Blenheim Palace’s lake we were all told to give each other a hug pre race (cute, or so I thought) and there was a sense we were all in this together. Until, that is, the klaxon went off. Those women who had embraced me a minute earlier were kicking, grappling, and even swimming over each other and on the bikeride they screamed ‘LEFT!’ as they took over you on the right. Beware the false smiles at the start.
7. I would learn to swim all over again
You can do breast stroke in a triathlon, it’s just that front crawl is much more efficient, and you use your legs less, which means you save them for the bike and run. In order to feel really confident swimming across a lake doing front crawl I went for swimming lessons with a local teacher in Oxfordshire. Sibylle taught me a process called Total Immersion where balance and streamlining your stroke and body increases propulsion. It’s about smooth rolling and stretching movements in the water in order to be as streamlined as possible and not trying to overpower the water which is a common mistake My biggest breakthrough was that kicking should only be 5% of my output. Once I stopped kicking so hard I felt I could swim forever.
8. Open water swimming is daunting
It’s one thing learning about Total Immersion (which I had practiced within an inch of its life), and another doing it on race day. What with the woman in front kicking me in the head, the woman behind hitting my feet with every stroke and not being able to see more than a foot in front of my face in the green murky lake, I ended up doing breaststroke. All 450 metres of it.
9. That I am a goggle snob
Now you would think a pair of goggles is just a pair of goggles right? Very wrong. A pair of Aquasphere Vista Goggles is to swimming apparel what Christian Louboutin is to footwear. The difference being, however that Aquasphere goggles are only £22. Why are they so amazing? They have wide lenses that give 180 degree visibility and one-touch button that springs them on and off your head. They don’t steam up, they don’t leave those horrible rings round your eyes or dig in. Who knew I could be so attached to a bit of plastic?
10. That none of the above has put me off doing another
When it came to race day I wanted to be sick when I came out of the water, the lake was green with algae, I got kicked, it was pouring with rain, I ran with wet socks, got shouted at by marshals, and on the run I was so fatigued I felt like I actually might die. However, as the saying goes 'It’s the hard that makes it great’ and it whilst it was painful at the time, the sense of achievement afterwards was totally mind blowing. I snapped the Cruciate Ligament in my knee at the beginning of last year and had an operation where they replaced it with one of my hamstrings. I couldn't walk for months or run for a year - so this felt like one hell of an achievement. Would I do it again? Next weekend I’m doing the Cotswold Tri. Who's signing up for next year with me?