Training for, and participating in, my first triathlon has been all-consuming this year. I didn’t plan it that way, I just signed up for a free triathlon training course because I wanted to learn to swim and bike. But it took on a life of its own.
For regular readers who’ve been sucked into this behemoth here, please bear with me. I’m very conscious triathlon news has been monopolising this blog and I’m looking forward to balancing things out soon with more travel, wellbeing and midlife adventure stories. Those are the key elements of my blog and will get a fair airing right after this final triathlon update.
To wrap up my year of triathlon, here’s a personal breakdown of my first triathlon – Noosa Triathlon, including every stroke, pedal and step and tips that helped me, not only finish but finish well under my three hour goal time.
Deal with anxiety
I’ve previously used adventure to deal with anxiety and exercise to beat depression. But it has to be said that triathlon training and participation caused a lot of anxiety too. Anyone who’s got anxiety will know that we anxious types tend to deal with it by over planning. I planned my triathlon to within an inch of its life writing endless lists from what training I would be doing each week to what I would need to bring with me on the day and what exactly I needed to prepare in the transition area at 5 am on the big day.
Over-planning and lists ease my anxiety. They let me think everything is in control and, if anything does go wrong it won’t be my fault. They help me sleep better although there was a lot of broken sleep it was mainly caused by anxiety about things I hadn’t planned like the logistics of getting to and from the triathlon given there are 9,000 people competing and all the roads are closed.
I’ve read about visualising success before and thought about doing it but I’d never actually done it before. I took this photo to try and visualise how good it would feel to finish and I’m trying to portray confidence but I still look like a deer caught in headlights.
Nevertheless, I visualised myself on every step of the triathlon including how I’d use breathing exercises to keep calm before the swim and how I’d take off my cap and sunglasses and smile for the cameras on the final one-kilometre run. It helped.
As well as completing each leg of the triathlon individually multiple times I’d also done a full distance triathlon training event with the Noosa Triathlon Club. So the route was familiar and I knew I could do it.
I knew what to wear, what to eat and how fast I’d be able to go. The lists helped me remember everything and I bought extras such as two pairs of goggles and three bottles of water just in case.
Swimming 1.5 km
Swimming is my biggest weakness. Despite the sunny smile plastered on my face just before the race I have previously panicked, cried and been reduced to breaststroke during practice training sessions.
I’d also heard that the swim leg was rough, with people everywhere swimming over you and accidentally hitting or kicking you. I planned to swim at the back and the edges to avoid that but there were too many people on the day. I just ran into the sea with everyone else, tried to follow my friends, instantly lost them, but swam with all my heart anyway.
My swimming mentor yelled “concentrate” to me right after this photo was taken. She had previously recommended I try to draft in the swim, as swimming directly behind someone makes it easier and helps you go faster if you can ride on their bubbles. During swim practice, I could never manage to stay right behind anyone but during the triathlon, there were bubbles everywhere. I felt as if I was swimming on a highway of bubbles.
I also felt as if I couldn’t stop but had to keep up with the herd and that’s what I did.
I just kept my head down and kept swimming even when I got hit and scratched.
I’d factored 40 minutes for my swim but it only took 33 minutes which is fantastic by my standards – even though some people swam it in 22 minutes so there’s still plenty of room for improvement!
- Don’t be intimidated;
- Keep your head down and keep swimming;
- Swim your own race and won’t worry about the others;
- Try to follow bubbles;
- Practice sighting so you don’t swim too far off track;
- Clean your goggle with baby shampoo to stop them steaming up;
- Lighten your load – I even took of my engagement and wedding ring;
- Pee in the water so you don’t have to worry about that later;
- Concentrate on the swim and block out all worries about what’s still to come.
Transition 1 – From Swim to Bike
I ran harem scarem up the beach to the transition area. Heaps of friends came to see me and called out to me which was lovely. I was smiling and waving so much I almost hit someone myself. But I managed to run pretty fast and overtake a few people.
Everything in transition was organised so I just had to slip in my socks, bike shoes, bike helmet and sunglasses.
I also took a moment to pop two caffeine pills which I’d blue-tacked onto my bike frame. I decided I didn’t have the biking skills to swallow them while I rode but needed the caffeine boost to help me cycle and run as fast as possible.
In case you’re wondering caffeine is a proven and legal exercise enhancement. It will only work if you haven’t got a huge built up resistance to caffeine and should only be taken during a race if you’ve used it in training.
It’s supposed to work by lowering your heart rate which is counter-intuitive to what you’d think but I find it also helps me focus.
Once everything was done I grabbed my bike and ran for the mount line.
Cycling 40 km
I bought a new Garmin Fenix 5s watch before the triathlon to record my swims and was pretty sure that I’d come out of the water in 35 minutes so I had time up my sleeve for that. However, I still thought my goal time of 1 hour 20 minutes on the bike was challenging and the pressure was on to achieve that and maintain my lead.
Here are the tips:
- Buy a speedometer and keep an eye on it – I knew my average speed on bike rides was 29-31km/hour and wanted to keep it above 31km/hour on this ride.
- Know your speed on the flat and hills – Noosa Triathlon bike leg includes one three kilometre hill and, having done it many times before, I aimed to go up it at about 18-19km/hour.
- Spin your legs – Everyone told me not to push any big gears. Doing so would tire your legs out. So always change down to an easy gear and increase speed by moving your legs faster. That works your aerobic system without depleting muscle power.
- Encourage others – I called out “keep going, you’re doing great” to everyone I passed. It encouraged me as well as them.
- Even if you feel exhausted and cry (as I did around the 32km mark) keep pedalling.
- Concentrate – Around the 32km mark I also realised I’d pulled something in the back of my left leg and started to worry about if I’d still be able to run. But I manage to pull myself back to the present and focus on finishing the bike leg.
- Eat according to the system you’ve practised – I had one 800ml bottle of water filled with double strength Gatorade powder (four scoops) along with three Gu gels.
- Sellotape the gels onto your bike – The gels we taped to my bike stem so I could easily rip them off and suck them down without groping dangerously in a pocket. They were also mildly caffeinated to keep my caffeine level up throughout the tri.
- As on the swim, don’t be intimidated. I kept going as fast as I could right up until the end and was determined not to be stuck behind slower riders as others overtook me. I stayed on the right and flowed along with the cyclists who were over-taking.
Transition 2 – From Bike to Run
This is a fast transition. I just took off my bike gear, clipped on a new belt I’d bought with my race number attached and donned my trainers. I also poured one of my water bottles over my head and chest to cool me down and took one bottle with me to drink along the route.
Running 10 km
I ran a half marathon (21km) last year so the distance wasn’t too far and I started off great. But then I got really tired, as the photo shows. I look as if I’m about to collapse but I kept going.
- Pace yourself – My watch was set with alerts so I could try to maintain my goal pace and time of 52 minutes;
- Slow down, to begin with – I failed at this and went too fast for the first 5km then bonked around kilometre six.
- Keep running – At one aid station I stumbled and got a cramp in the back of my right leg and walked a few steps. But I knew it would still hurt if I ran or walked so I kept running.
- Find someone to run behind – The best part of my running was when I found an IronMan to run with. We chatted and that took my mind off things.
- Run through all the cold showers.
- Take two drinks at each aid station and pour one over your head or chest to stay cool.
- Focus on pumping your arms – at this stage, the legs will be tired but if you pump your arms faster the legs will want to keep up.
- Don’t worry about your time, just try to stay focused – My run time shows I slowed down drastically from 6-9km but at least I kept running.
- Take off your cap and sunglasses for the last kilometre, smile at the crowds and look out for friends.
- Finish strong – Coach Nick Croft (two-time winner of the Noosa Triathlon) was watching proceedings about 500m from the finish. “You can sprint now Annabel” he said. So I did.
Rest and Recovery
As a non-sporty person who hates sweating, my key concerns were having a shower after the tri and changing into clean clothes. Once I’d done that, I found my friends at the Noosa Tri tent and sat down. All I could do was drink water and smile.
- They gave out icy poles to tri finishers. Yum!
- Stretch – I skipped this step which was silly.
- Sleep – Despite the general build-up of sleep deprivation caused by all the early morning training and sleepless nights it was impossible to nap afterwards. I was so tired but also totally wired.
- Allow a week or more to recover. This week I’ve done an easy bike ride, an easy run and an easy swim but mainly I’ve been avoiding exercise and sleeping lots.
Was it worth it?
Yes! I haven’t felt this proud of myself since I last gave birth over 12 years ago. It’s a huge feeling of achievement. They always say you can do anything if you put your mind to it but this is proof.
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