Sunday 25th September 2016 saw me participating again in the local sprint-distance triathlon, organised by the Mid Argyll Triathlon & Cycle Club (of which I’m a member). I say “participating” despite starting the race fully expecting to be competitive, as my performance fared much like a check-list of the Laws according to Murphy.
This was my fourth time taking part in the event. My first brush with triathlon was about 15 years ago, this race, just after I left high school – that must have been one of the first years (if not the first) of this event being held – but it didn’t really stick to me, or me to it. I recall cycling along the Meadows road to Cairnbaan (A816) on my slick-tyre’d mountain bike, pedalling hell for leather, and still barely keeping pace with other riders just idling along on their road bikes. Slightly demotivating start!
I raced in 2014, my first year having moved back to the area and just a month or so after having purchased my cyclocross bike. I was in fairly good shape having run the Edinburgh marathon the year before and kept up the running since; I swam regularly and though not quick, could get round the bike course in decent time. But a couple weeks before, I’d niggled my right knee while out for a run. I’d rested it, tested it (failed), rested it again, and tested it again (failed), and so given it a good rest for a fortnight before the triathlon. I was confident. I did a good 8 minute swim; struggled through transition-1 as I couldn’t get my running vest on; thought I did a reasonable cycle leg of ~40 minutes; felt good through T2 except for the expected jelly-legs; but 200 meters into the run, knew I wasn’t going to finish strong. I eventually hobbled over the line in a time too slow to really count.
In 2015, I was still nursing the bad knee. Doctor suspected it to be cartilage damage, physios thought it ligament, MRI scan showed knee to be “perfectly healthy” – so I gave up on the medical professionals and just rested it. I swam a lot though. Having bought a new swim-wetsuit, I was doing open-water once a week and also pool-session once a week. So I sought to put together a really competitive team and enlisted one of the fastest local cyclists and one of the fastest local runners. Not only did we win the team category for the Mid Argyll Triathlon 2015, but we set a new event record also.
2016 though, I’d long since had enough of resting. Getting back out on my bike through winter, I found that the constant slow-testing of my knee in pressing the pedals started to pay real dividends in the strength of my knee, and gradual lessening discomfort. Eventually, I started running again – even took part in a series of 10k runs during April and May. So no excuses not to do the full triathlon this year as an individual entrant.
On the day of the race, I was both comfortable and confident. I arrived in time to set up my bike and stuff in transition area before helping out with a spot of area marshalling before the race briefing. Then I had a couple of hours to chill out and watch other competitors and/or participants (depending on their own individual aspirations) before my swim heat began.
Then it all started to go wrong. Realising that without a race-belt to hold my race-number, my options were: 1) Swim with race-number affixed to tri-top with safety-pins (didn’t know if the paper would just get wet and fall off; if the paper would interfere at all with my stroke; or even if I was allowed to swim with safety-pins and race-number); or 2) Swim in just my shorts and then put tri-top on in T1 – I rolled the dice with T1.
Having pretty much only swum open-water this year, I couldn’t get my swim stroke properly and found myself thrashing through the water with maximum effort and minimum efficiency. In transition, I had the same issue as 2 years ago and couldn’t get my tri-top on; two and a half minutes later, I followed most of the swimmers who’d taken an extra minute in the pool, out of the transition area and onto the revised bike course. The bike course had had to be revised at last minute due to adverse weather conditions – flooding having made part of the road unsafe to race on, but the high winds remained and hampered all efforts to get a decent cycle time. By the time I re-entered transition area to rack my bike and change for the run, my energy was drained and competitive motivation spent – I just could not be bothered being there any longer. Yet even at such times, my basic competitiveness will not allow me to drop out – that’s just never an option. I finally finished the event, well down the race standings and thoroughly disappointed with myself.
The realisation hit quickly afterwards that while I do a fair bit of running, swimming and cycling, my training of this last year has not really been concentrated on achieving anything particular. I have been training for general fitness rather than a particular event. I recall hearing or reading somewhere, that in order to be successful in triathlons, you must approach with the idea that triathlon is one sport, not just three disciplines.
Worryingly, given that I had the Glasgow Half Marathon coming up the following weekend, on the 2nd October, I realised that my current race pace was significantly off where it needed to be to even get close to my PB (set in 2002) of 1 hour 44 mins 40 seconds. So I then had a full week to negatively ponder that my realistic finish time might be considerably slower than anything I would naturally consider acceptable.
Needless to say, I didn’t go to Glasgow full of comfort or confidence.