They say that the difference between ‘try’ and ‘triumph’ is a little bit of ‘umph’ and I tend to agree. If there’s one way to make yourself feel good about something then it’s to put in a whole lot of effort. I had my trainer Steve Mellor’s words ringing in my ears on Saturday morning as I waited in the green murky lake at Blenheim Palace, waiting for the horn to blast. “Enjoy it,” he said, “And really bloody go for it. You won’t be happy if you haven’t gone for it.” Did I go for it? Yes. Am I happy? Ecstatic.
As I pulled up the blinds on Saturday morning, I wailed at my husband ‘It wasn’t meant to raaaaaiiin!” It was steadily tipping it down (BBC weather, please sort it out, your forecast is useless), and it continued to heavy drizzle all morning. It’s fine running and swimming in the rain (could be fun, I thought), but on a racing bike with wheels about 3cm thick? I was worried about the cycling. All thoughts of the weather evaporated however on arrival at the majestic Blenheim Palace grounds – the thousands and thousands of cars indicating what an absolutely huge event the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Blenheim Palace triathlon is. With over 7,000 people taking part, it’s the second largest in the UK – and it just so happens to be on my doorstep. The enormity of it meant my heart began to race.
As we racked our bikes in the transition area (the area where you switch from swim to bike then bike to run in a triathlon) in the huge central courtyard, nervous hysteria started to kick in as my friends and I lubed ourselves up with wetsuit salve (helps you to rip it off faster after the swim). We donned our wetsuits, swimming hats and goggles (don’t enter a triathlon if you want to look sexy) and headed down the bank to the swimming pontoon. In the distance there was a red and white buoy that looked tiny near the far left bank - this was the point we had to swim around and then on about another 250 metres, making it 750 metres in total. Suddenly the sight of the enormous stretch of water expanding in front of me looked terrifyingly vast. Gulp. I'd swum way more than this distance in a pool many times, but swimming it without stopping? Without the knowledge you could put your feet down or touch the bottom and without ever hitting the reassuring end? Now that was another deal entirely.
The best piece of advice I’ve had in tri-training is not to go off too fast if you’re nervous. Last year in the shorter distance I lost control of my breathing and became quite panicky, and ended up doing breaststroke, which isn’t advisable in a triathlon as it tires your legs. Having had lessons and having practised front crawl again and again (and knowing I could do it), I was determined to stick with it. As the klaxon went, I started off well, and I felt good, especially as no one was kicking me or thumping me in the face.
Then, however, I got out of breath and stopped. Bizarrely, instinctively, I did something I’d never done before – I started doing backstroke! I did this for about twenty strokes before becoming paranoid I may get disqualified, and it was then that I had a small word with myself. “Sus, you have learnt front crawl, you can do it, now get your head down and damn well do it.” The personal pep talk worked, and I restarted, breathing every two strokes instead of my normal three. I have never been so happy to see a red and white buoy so much in all my life - it meant I was on the home stretch - so I picked up my pace. I never once thought about how green, murky or flipping freezing cold the lake was, just my stroke, getting through it and the sound of my breathing, blasting hard through the water.
Emerging dizzily out of the water, I was quickly up into transition, and ripped off my wetsuit (you wear a tri-suit underneath – it clearly says in the info pack ‘No nudity in transition area!’), then trainers and socks on, helmet on, quick swig of water before I was off on the bike for three fast laps of Blenheim grounds. I felt good on the bike, especially by the second lap and I was up and out of my seat climbing the hills, out of breath but ok. All those hideous, lung-busting hills I’d practised in training must have been worth it.
It was now that I experienced how wet the course was however. Half way round the second lap there was a woman in front of me who sat in my way (despite my shouts) and her bike sprayed me head to toe in muddy water as I tried to pass her – it got in my mouth, my eyes, everywhere. I was filthy, breathless and starting to feel the burn, but there was no time for rest as I raced back into transition for the last time.