A week ago I completed my first ever triathlon. And there are two ways of looking at this, as I build up for Challenge Roth in just over a month’s time. First, you could conclude I am new to this… I managed to do an extra, unscheduled 22km lap on the bike leg, I set off on the run from the bike transition still wearing my helmet and I thought it was perfectly acceptable to chat to fellow competitors in the transitions… Clearly there’s a way to go… On the other hand, you could take the optimistic view. Which is that I completed a half ironman with a bit in the tank on all three disciplines. It gives me confidence for the real thing.
For now it’s back to the training. But before I give rasping commentary on our latest weekend, I should say why I signed up to this challenge in the first place. I’ve always loved sport, and having spent a lot of time swimming and running, I have always wanted a crack at an ironman. I’m also very competitive, so when a best mate tells you he’s signed up, and you’re enjoying a Lions tour in NZ, beer in hand, watching the sun go down… Well, you can’t just let him do it while you miss out, now can you?!?
Back to our training weekend. And back to Marlborough. Because we base ourselves at Ric’s, which is fast becoming known as the best training venue in the West of England. It has it all: lakes, hills, hearty nutrition and lots and lots of triathlon tactics, a topic of conversation which somehow never seems to dry up over dinner.
En route we made a stop at a friend’s for a bbq, which meant a great evening but a late arrival; late enough that the next morning hurt. Certainly we were a little slow out of the blocks…
The main target for the weekend was to bike the full ironman distance, ie 180 kilometres. We were out on the road by 8.15 am, planning to be back for 2.30 (at the latest), when a sports was massage booked. The first 90km was a fantastic ride, if a little hilly. For a local, Jack’s knowledge of the undulating hills was less than impressive: the number of times I heard ‘OK, that’s the last hill, it’s flat from here until Marlborough’…. But then, right around the corner, we were back out of the saddle and climbing again. It’s all good training but Jack might work on his ‘managing expectations’. Little did I know, his knowledge of the topography of hills would be matched by his knowledge of the local road network.
At 90km we stopped for a quick coffee and to refill the water bottles, and then headed out again at a good pace, still on track for 2:30 if we kept it up. At this point I should credit Jack for one thing – his ‘sizeable’ frame offers fantastic wind resistance, so sitting on his wheel certainly made my life easier, and although I’ll admit my legs were starting to feel it, I was determined and spirits were high.
Not for long…
At about 140 km Jack decided to check the time and the route home… Whoops… some geographical embarrassment... To get back on time now, would mean upping our pace another 2kph an hour… just what you want to hear on your first ever full bike distance, right? Jack was sympathetic for roughly 2 minutes, ‘Stay on my wheel Si, we can do this…’ It was a challenge. I was struggling to keep up. I tried to rationalise with him to go on, enabling me to detour straight to the massage - that way we would both be on time and I could do the full distance at my own pace. Jack disagreed so we cracked on.
And then 5 minutes after that, we took another wrong turn... The combination of this and me ‘freewheeling’ (desperately trying to have a break) down the hills led to a few expletives. I was battling with maintaining my nutrition, riding the last 30km at a quicker pace and keeping the big guy chilled. By the time we got back, we were late. Luckily Andy, the massage therapist was understanding. And made sure to put us through considerable pain.
I was happy to have done the distance but was certainly feeling the effects. Again, I learned a few lessons:
1. Give yourself more time when heading out for 180km
2. Make sure you ride your own race
3. Don’t ask Jack to be your guide around the local hills of Wiltshire (he only grew up there…)
The highlight of the evening was picking Ric up from his friend’s 60th in the early hours, and a sudden change in roles: the son picking up the dad a few drinks deep from a social occasion… Jack and I were fully aware of the ‘lovely food and divine wine’. We must have gathered this on the 2nd time of mention. By the time we got home we could name each course. Jokes aside, it was Ric who dragged us out for a swim on Sunday morning.
Fantastic. Finally an opportunity to leave Jack in my wake. We all managed to maintain good speed, swimming 3km in the open water. If anyone is wondering, open water swimming is a fantastic way to get rid of the hangover.
Before leaving for London there was time for another short bike session, with 3 x 15 min bursts. Naturally Ric was back at his best and left Jack and me chasing… but given that we’d cycled the full distance the day before, we were pretty happy with our pace. And then, in true Cooper form, we even followed the cycle with a run. The last surprise was a second BBQ of the weekend – it’s fair to say Ric is taking the crown for the best cook out of the Cooper men. The steaks were spot on and perfect fuel for the trip down the M4.
So, whichever way you look at it, it’s another step in the right direction in my triathlon training. There may be a way to go, but with a few more miles done and a belief I can do it, the road to Roth is really hotting up.