When I think of racing in triathlon, images of warmth and sun come to mind, set around beautiful tropical waters. Nothing could be further from the reality of conditions for the Nepean triathlon. It was cold, wet and the freshwater lake to swim in isn’t appealing with its brown murky colours. With a strict no spectators allowed policy due to COVID19 restrictions, the check-in was a little different and had the feel of passing through customs at the airport. It was all very smooth and well-executed.
After setting up in transition I was looking forward to putting my wetsuit on to get warm, but after looking around and seeing nobody else in a wetsuit I realised something was up. The temperature of the water tested the morning of the race showed that the water was too warm to be wet suit legal. I was literally shivering by this stage as I started to mentally prepare to race. The swim was a point-to-point swim, so there was an 800m walk or jog/run in my case to the start point. I used this opportunity to get a little warm!
After a little of waiting around, it was finally time for my wave to start. Into the water, and thankfully it was warmer in than out. After treading water for a couple of minutes we were off. ‘Easy speed’ I kept this on repeat as I swam off to the side of the pack. I could see a few swimmers pulling ahead, but I had a game plan.. just swim my own swim and enjoy the clear water. After a few minutes, I saw I was catching back up, eventually, I drew alongside someone and they equalled my pace too. We continued side by side albeit about 1m apart, for the rest of the entire swim, oblivious to others around us. It was great having that presence there to keep you pushing and not drifting off. I exited the swim about a minute down on the front pack in a time of 16:09. Was really pleased with that time for a non-wetsuit swim.
T1 was quick. With no wetsuit, I ran up, dropped my goggles and swim cap, put my helmet on, grabbed the bike and kept running. I felt like I’d forgotten something as it seemed so simple. I exited T1 in 40 seconds to start the bike leg.
My mount was better than previous attempts, keeping some forward momentum. But the elastic bands wouldn’t snap which were holding my shoes up. I tried pedalling with them, but it was just hard work. I reached down to break them manually before continuing on. As it was raining, I thought I’d get my feet in each shoe rather than trying to get right up to speed first. It was tricky in the wet with some s bends to start off with, while trying to get your feet in. It made for quite slow going.
Look closely at the image and you can see the purple rubber band at full length still attached to the rear stay.
Once I got going though it was time to make up time. The course always felt like whenever I’d get up some decent momentum I’d come to a sharp turn/uphill/u-turn. In fact, on the first lap, I almost hit the wall at the end of the course. I was watching my speed and finally got a decent clip going along at 43-44km/h when I glanced up to see barricades straight ahead and the u-turn. I knew I was going far too quick to turn, so it was hard on the anchors, praying I’d pull up in time as my HR soared in fright (ok a slight exaggeration but Garmin recorded a 3 bpm increase when normally it goes down at a u-turn).
As the race continued my confidence at holding speed through the corners also improved. I’d found a comfortable groove, maybe too comfortable as I noted my heart rate was around similar to what I’d do for a half ironman. Well, I’ll run hard to make up for it I thought. I got blocked a few times as being a later wave start there was lots of on-course traffic. Thankfully, I didn’t see or have any further mishaps on the bike. Preparing for the dismount I sat up and felt a cramp just under my rib cage. Ouch, this is going to be hard to run with I thought. I jumped off the bike in a time of 46:02.
This time T2 was probably my worst transition ever (yes even slower than my very first triathlon). I ran to my bike rack, racked the bike and took my helmet off. Reached down to flip my shoes over and wowzers! Hip flexor cramps; I stood abruptly straight back up looking down at my shoes lying on the ground. I reached over again, and similar pain started to hit me. At that point, I just sat down on the ground. Now I could reach my shoes and socks which were soaking wet from the rain. It was a challenge trying to get the wet socks on, but I was worried about blisters and thought the extra time worthwhile if it was going to keep raining. Finally with my shoes on my feet I jumped up and ran for the exit in a time of 1:26.
Out onto the run, I tried to settle into a good rhythm, but I could still feel light cramps I’d felt just under my rib cage when on the bike. All I could do was cruise along just under 4min/km pace and let it settle, hoping that I’d be able to push the pace shortly. On the upside, the run was quite pleasant and I was comfortably running along, maybe too easy as my 2nd kilometre was slower than the first. I decided to play a game of beating each kilometre split, even if only by a second.
I dropped the time from 3:57 to 3:47, then 3:46, and 3:45. I came around to start the final lap of the run and my cramps seemed to be manageable. I heard over the loudspeaker I was currently in 2nd place for my age group, and it motivated me to drop into the 3:3x. The next kilometre was a little slower as I felt the cramping intensifying, but for the final 3km I managed to get faster and faster all the way to the finish (3:39, 3:35, 3:32). The run leg time was 35:55.
I didn’t know if I’d done enough to run myself into first but was thankful that I’d been able to race and learn some more about myself particularly when many events have been cancelled this year. Finishing itself was celebration enough. Once the results went up I found out I was indeed fortunate to have won my age group.
Thanks to JGR Images for the photos.
After a couple of days reflection I’ve realised, I need to do more core and time trial (TT) specific work. When I do TT work, I feel my glutes engage slightly different to when cycling on a road bike, but I’ve not really considered the core benefits by training in the TT position. I’ve often struggled with cramping on the run, and thought it was nutritional related, but having experimented with that a lot, this race has provided me with a lightbulb moment.
Cramping is because of muscle fatigue, I’ve known this with leg cramps but never really thought about it with my core. When my core cramps I’ve often confused it with a stitch. During this race, however, being short and cool I didn’t drink much and had only 1 gel. I controlled my heart rate and effort on the bike, so this leads me to believe I was definitely experiencing cramps and not a stitch. So now I’ve realised this weakness of mine I’m excited to improve it so hopefully, I can start getting my run performance to what I believe I’m capable of.
Also, always pack your swim skin, just in case it is a non-wetsuit swim. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.