Category Archives: triathlon

Face Your Fears And Good Things Might Happen.

It seems that my eldest son and I have been learning a valuable lesson alongside each other over the past few months.

I faced my fear of swimming in open water.

wpid-img-20150805-wa0010.jpgAnd then eleven days ago I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon which included my first open water 1500m swim in the Royal Victoria Docks.

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A few months ago my 7 year old auditoned to be a mascot in the Rugby World Cup.

wpid-20150704_121108.jpgThis weekend we were able to surprise him with some awesome news from his rugby idol Leigh Halfpenny. Finlay is to be mascot for Wales at Wales’ first game against Uruguay.

wpid-20150815_125732.jpgI am so unbelievably thrilled for him. I’m still thrilled for myself that I completed my first standard distance triathlon at the biggest triathlon event in the UK.

Finlay and I both nearly walked away from these opportunities. Both of us turned back round and faced our fears and we’ve both discovered that sometimes you have to do that to make the good stuff happen. Go and do something that scares you. You never know what might happen.

Being Watched

On Saturday I completed my first ever Olympic Distance Triathlon. It was an absolutely brilliant day, full of lots of ‘firsts’. First race Olympic distance race. First race in open water. First time competing in a trisuit and first time racing in my fabulous golden visor. But there was also a significant first for me. It was the first time my two children, ages 5 and 7, had come to see me in a race.

As a teenager I raced nearly every weekend. Through the year track races would become road races and road races would soon become cross country competitions. I would have family at nearly all my races. Mum and Dad. Sometimes just Mum or Dad. Mum, Dad and brother. Occasionally extended family would come along too and it would become a massive deal. I remember cringing at being cheered on or as a female relative would loudly lavish me with praise in front of my team mates and other coaches. My nerves didn’t help either. Before a race I would become moody and irritable, snapping at anyone who tried to talk to me. I wanted to be left alone but I never was. In my own selfish, teenage way, I envied girls who were on there own, probably not even thinking that maybe they would like to have someone with them. Looking back I can see how I took my family being there very much for granted.

When I started back running after my second son was born I had accepted that I might not be able to have all the family around watching me in races. Trying to entertain a toddler and a young baby at a long event is no fun for the parent trying to support and it’s boring for the kids. I decided a while ago that I wasn’t going to force my children to come along to races to support me, especially if it was just a glimpse.

And then there are the crowds, trying to manoeuvre children on public transport, stopping them from running off, fighting and arguing. Ugh. It just wasn’t something my husband and I wanted to inflict on the family, especially when I felt like what I was doing was a little bit on the selfish side anyway. So for the races I have done since then it has just been my husband who has met me somewhere near the finish line. I don’t think I’ve even seen him on the sidelines as he’s had to fight through those crowds to try and find a good place to try and spot me while trying to get to the finish.

A few weeks ago I did a novice triathlon. It was a really early start and even though it was local I hadn’t wanted to drag the whole family out of bed to see me. I went along on my own, finished and then wandered around. I could see lots of children running along the side of the running course cheering on their mums and dads. Whats more these kids were around the same age as mine. I felt a little pang inside and started to wish that I had had someone at the end to give me a hug. I fought off the temptation to go up to one of the marshalls and hug them and went home.

On Saturday I had fully intended to go to the triathlon on my own, meet up with Team Tricurious and head back with a brief phone call to family to let them know how I had got on. My husband was away at a function with his ‘bar bus’ so the boys were with my folks. In the morning my Dad inquired a little bit as to where I would be and how long it would take. I just thought he was showing concern and some interest.

As I came out of the ExCel after my bike transition I had a huge surprise. There on my left were four people I recognised. Four of my own people. People who were there for me. I shrieked in excitement as I ran over to greet my parents who had brought the boys to see me for the very first time. They weren’t somewhere else just to meet me at the end, they were here to see me run!

My heart lifted and I tried to get more spring in my step. At the end they were waiting just beyond the finish line and they all flung their arms around me. My heart inflated even more with the love of my boys…….until they started fighting over my medal, moaning that I was too sweaty and pulling daft faces when we tried to take a nice picture. Right there the inflated heart shrank a bit as I had to go back into parental mode.

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On a serious (and soppy) note it meant a lot to see my family on Saturday. I can’t believe how happy it made me feel to see them and I am thrilled that they were able to come along. I’m glad that the boys got to see one of the events that they see me training for. They have seen that the hard work goes towards something special. I also think it’s important for young boys like mine to see that the women in their lives can be strong and determined.

Saturday was an incredible day for me for so many reasons but having the boys there really topped off a fantastic day. My teenage self obviously underestimated the power of having people there cheering you on. My 35 year old self however really appreciated having people there for me and right now being watched in all my races is something I could get used to. Until the time comes when the boys’ activities take over and I become the cringe inducing parent of teenager on the side line.

A Hot, Sweaty Triathlete – A Tricurious Post

You can also see this post over at http://www.tricurious.co.uk. And while you’re there check out the other great blogs from the Tricurious team, who are tricurious no more!

I am like sooo organised. I’ve packed my stuff. I’ve packed the kids’ stuff. I’ve taken an instagram picture of my kit. I’ve tweeted it. I’ve blogged about it. I have found baby oil. I have researched tube trains that allow bikes. I’ve even put my numbers on my bike and helmet so I don’t have to fiddle around in the morning. I am just tooo organised for my own good. 

Yes I indeed had thought about all the little details that I might need. Until I got to my parents house and realised that when I had put my number stickers on my bike and helmet I had left the envelope containing my bib number and security bracelet in my hallway back in South Wales.

Sweat poured over me as I read the competitor information.

‘YOU MUST BE WEARING YOUR SECURITY BRACELET ON ENTRY TO THE EXCEL’.

The cold sweat poured down my back as I silently panicked while trying to sort the kids out for bed. What a stupid rookie error. Stupid, stupid, stupid. They were bound to turn me away at the DLR for such an idiotic mistake.

Turns out I wasn’t getting out of it that easily.

On arrival at the ExCel after the sweatiest of tube rides I spoke to a very nice lady at the Help Centre who wrote out a spare number and gave me a spare security number. The sweat that had been pouring off me in panic at forgetting my number now started to drip off me in the realisation that this, my first Olympic Distance triathlon, was about to happen.

Meeting Laura, Katie, Anita and Cathy in the Media Room at the ExCel really put me at ease. The sweat receded from a skin tsunami to a gentle creek. The balcony leading out from the Media Room gave us a great view. The sun was high in the sky, the Royal Victoria Docks were still and glistening and the occasional roar of the planes flying into London City Airport right over the top of the swim waves made me realise that my first open water triathlon was happening in a very special place.
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I was incredibly lucky to be here and I started to get the first pangs of ‘bring it on’ rather than ‘help, get me out of here’. From our elevated position on the balcony we were able to cheer and we were able to cheer Becca, the first Tricurious athlete, off in her swim wave.

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Before I knew it, the time was 11.30. My race was due to start at 12.20 and there was still the job of getting a wet suit on in a humid room surrounded by other people who seemed to have assistants doing that for them. It was brilliant to laugh about baby oil, chat trisuits with Cathy and Laura and hear about the amazing cake that Katie had made for afterwards. I realised that this is what I often miss about the races that I do. I usually go to the start on my own, all up in my head with my own thoughts feeling like I want to vomit. But on Saturday there were no vomitous feelings. The presence of like minded souls, chatting and laughing helped keep me at ease. The sweat though continued to pour off me so I sipped more water before heading down to the swim assembly.

The Swim – Keep Your Eyes On The Pig

Last week I was terrified about open water swimming. But out of no where on Saturday came a new determination. I even jumped into the docks instead of inching myself in gradually. The ‘bring it on’ attitude had really come to the surface probably accompanied by a bit of ‘get this bit out the way’.

The swim course was well marked out with plenty of buoys. I made sure I kept my eyes on the larger read ones at either end. I also decided to keep my eye out for the giant floating pig. If I was going past the pig on either side then I knew I was well round on either lap.

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I had made myself stay back and over to the sides of the wave but not long after the hooter went off I found myself almost swimming over people doing breast stroke. Oh shit, I’ve gone off too fast I thought, but my arms felt good and my chest didn’t feel too strained. So I went with that rhythm, chanting the drum beat in my head. As I rounded the final buoy I realised that people were veering off to the left. I was about to swim past the pontoon! So I changed course and managed to swim between some ladies (sorry) and staggered up the red, floating carpet to get ready for wet suit removal.

Part of me wanted to scream at everyone ‘DO YOU KNOW WHAT I’VE JUST DONE? I DIDN’T THINK I WAS GOING TO BE ABLE TO DO THAT. THIS IS MASSIVE’.

But I didn’t and once a nice man helped me with my wet suit bag I trotted as best I could to my bike. Can I add that carrying a water logged wet suit in tired swimming arms for about 150 odd meters is not easy!

The Bike – Fecking Hilly Bridge

I love my bike, I’m good at riding. I’m from Wales, we have really big hills so I’m like awesome at climbs.

Well if I thought that before I have basically had my arse handed to me by 4 laps of London slip roads and dual carriageways. I found the bike course hard. It was really, really hot. I had stuffed a Welsh cake in my mouth which immediately dried up my entire face and also made me feel like I was covered in sticky crumbs.

Once I was out on the course I regretted putting on my cycling tee over my tri suit as the heat just felt like it was ready to melt me. My legs felt a bit slow and heavy but as I hadn’t been on my bike since my crash a few weeks ago I reasoned that my legs just weren’t in bike mode.

On the first lap I really hit the bridge with all my effort. Only the bridge had one hill, shortly followed by another hill, followed by a sharp turn which put you back on the bridge with the hill. There was then a fairly flat out and back section. And then it was back to the hilly bridge. Looking back I went out far too hard on the first lap and really paid for it for the following three laps. I did not enjoy the bike section but I knew it was a means to an end. Head down and keep going.

Into transition and someone told me to zip my cycle tee up. And then tried to tell me the reasons why I needed to zip my top up. I zipped up my top, they continued talking at me but after realising I was looking at them a bit blankly they waved me on into the transition zone.

As I came off my bike I thought my legs felt okay. This was my body giving me false information. I’ve decided the human body sometimes lies to you to make you keep going.

The Run – Hot. So so hot.

When I ran out of the transition area I saw my parents standing with my two boys. My heart lifted and I ran over to give the boys a kiss.

‘Keep going, don’t stop’, bellowed my Dad. Ooh flashback to about 20 years ago at a club cross country I thought to myself as I ran down the ramp.

A ramp. A fairly steep ramp that we would have to run back up four times. Lovely.

The run was a funny one. It was hideous but also a bit wonderful. Agony and ecstasy all at the same time. Every lap ticked off was a lap closer to achieving my goal. But I really suffered in the heat. My golden visor did a good job of shielding my face but I couldn’t keep the sweat out of my eyes. My legs felt like they were dragging along the floor so I’m not entirely surprised that I tripped, fell and barrel rolled in a section which seemed to be the most dense with spectators.

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What really keep me going during the laps was that from time to time I would see Cathy, Laura and Katie. We’d wave to each other and high five each other. In fact I don’t think I would have finished the run without their support.

When I looked around I noticed how everyone seemed to be struggling in the heat but everyone was taking the time to cheer someone else or give someone a supportive hug. By the end of this run we would all be triathletes, a title that some of us thought impossible even this morning.

Laura caught up with me and gave me an incentive to power myself up the ramp for the last time. As we ran into the lane towards the finish Laura nodded to a girl in front and said ‘you think we can take her?’. That was all the encouragement I needed and from somewhere the legs found a final sprint. As the announcer called our names we raised my arms into the air. I had done it. I was a triathlete. I real life one.

And After….

I found my family just outside the finishing area. The kids went to hug me and then sprang back. I was a triathlete but apparently far too smelly, hot and sweaty for them to hug. My parents took pictures but decided to take the kids home out of the hustle and bustle. Spectating is a bit boring for kids.

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Once I’d found my fellow Tricurious team members again we made our way out to the run course to cheer on Will and all the other runners. This part of the day really filled me with warm and fuzzy feelings. We screamed out for people with names on their vests. We cheered those with distinctive running outfits or just generally supported those who looked like they might be struggling. It really felt like we were part of the bigger picture by helping other competitors on to their triathlon goal (even though some might have looked like they wanted to punch us).

As I boarded the District Line to go home I realised that I probably looked a mess, stank of dock water and at risk of nodding off. My medal hung around my neck and I sat on the stuffy, airless train focussing on all the good that had happened that day. Laura and Katie did an amazing thing with Team Tricurious and I’m a little sad that it’s over. They have been nothing but encouraging and the support from the other Team Tricurious members has been immense. It was so good to be able to meet them and hug them. We can now say that we are triathletes, whether we leave it at Saturday’s event or choose to go on and do more triathlons at whatever distance.

As some people rose to get off the train at Embankment a woman, speaking loud enough for me to hear nodded towards me and then said to her friend ‘Always has to be one show off hasn’t there’.

I could have got narked off and given her a filthy look. But instead I thought to myself, yes, yes I am showing off and I have every right to show off. And I am not alone. If you go East you’ll find plenty more of us show offs, because today we are all triathletes.

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Conquering The Panic At Bristol Open Water

On Tuesday we returned from our family holiday in France. I hadn’t been able to take my bike with me so cycling was out but I had managed to run almost daily. I had taken my wet suit in the hope that we might be near a water sports lake but this was not to be. Instead we went to the beach and while the boys played I had a very tentative go at sea swimming. The little old French ladies who were in their swimming cossies must have wondered what on earth I was up to as I swam in the shallows along side them, cloaked in my wet suit.

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Swimming French style at Coudeville sur mer in Normandy.

That swim in the sea though just didn’t feel like enough. And the swim in the quarry felt like such a long time ago. Before we had gone away I had planned to visit Bristol Open Water Training Centre but a bike crash and a tummy bug had put the kibosh on that. Illness and the crash had taken away a few training opportunities and I couldn’t get them back. I think my husband sensed me being all fidgety about swimming and he suggested running me down to Bristol yesterday.

I had no idea what to expect but on arrival the lake looked fantastic. Still water and plenty of buoys. I had read a little bit about the lake and knew that it was a 600m course. I also knew that many people came here from South Wales so it had to be good for people to travel that distance. As I looked out over the lake I could make out the heads and arms of figures swimming around the perimeter.

We made our way in to pay and register and met Mike, the owner of the lake. If you have a minute you have to read the history of the lake and what he did to get it up and running. But briefly ‘Mad Mike’ (now aged 76) was a wind surfer who was always on the look out for a place for his wind surfing school. In 2012 he found a farmer’s field in the village of Almondsbury and transformed it into what is now the training lake. Mike is a great person and I think he is what makes the training centre so good. He is knowledgeable about water sorts and triathlon and has a brilliantly dry sense of humour.

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Support crew were a bit eager.

After paying £6 for my swim Mike directed me to the ladies changing room. And it is just that. A room to change in. There are no showers but who needs them when you’re going swimming in an incredibly clean lake (filled with carp)? Mike gave me a bit of background about the lake, the water quality and a little advice to get me started.

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Do I have to fill my wet suit up?

The lake water is chest height so Mike said I would be able to put my feet down if I needed to. He watched me get in and made sure I filled my wet suit with water. He guided me as to which buoy I should aim for initially and then the order to sight them in order to make the 600m lap. My aim was to do 2 and a bit laps to make it up to roughly 1400-1500m.

My husband and the boys had watched me get in. The boys thought it was hilarious and my youngest kept laughing about how cold and murky the water looked and how daft mum looked in her wet suit. Mike sent them off round the path to visit the goats and I headed out for red buoy number one.

As per the quarry and the sea, the cold on my face was a shock and I gasped and shivered. I brought my head up and swam breaststroke for a bit to get my bearings, then put my head down and was off. I opted for breathing every two strokes as this seems to be what I’m happiest with right now. But as I made my way round a buoy on the furthest side of the lake I felt panic kick in again. My pulse went up and my breathing rate increased. All the negative thoughts about swimming poured into my head again and I had to go back to breaststroke for a quarter of a lap. I stood up briefly and looked around. Maybe I should just do one lap. Maybe I should pull out of Saturday. But then as quickly as the panic had set in it suddenly started to ebb.

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That’s not a seal, that’s me!

I put my head down and got going again. Eventually I found a rhythm I was comfortable with and I mentally added a drum beat to my stroke. I just repeated the drum beat over and over ‘da da daa, da da daaa’. And with the drum beat came songs which I sang along to in my head. Before I knew it I was well into my second lap and I was feeling comfortable. When I felt that moment of comfort wash over me I knew I was going to be okay. If I just kept moving to the beat of my own drum I would be okay.

At times my sighting was way off and I would very briefly have to swap to breaststroke to adjust my course. But there was no repeat of the panic earlier in the swim and I started to enjoy it. I know that you can’t see anything in the lake beyond the murk but I reasoned that if I were in a pool without goggles I would likely close my eyes with my head in. It’s a tiny bit like that.

Towards the end I felt like I was gliding through the water and even wondered if I could do a third lap. But then I reasoned that with the London Triathlon on Saturday two and a bit would be enough. What struck me was how little I had thought about the swimming pool’s black line or stopping every 50-100m or so like I do indoors. Without it being there you just don’t think about it and you literally just keep swimming because that’s all you can do.

By the end of the swim I started to feel like Saturday was on for me and now I am half looking forward to getting in the docks and swimming my little heart out. I was glad that I went along to Bristol. I felt like it was a little gremlin that I just needed to squish in order to feel that bit more prepared for Saturday.

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Feeding the carp so they don’t eat the swimmers!

When I climbed out Mike wandered over to ask how I got on and gave me a well done when I told him what I had managed. I was feeling more and more pleased with what I had done and when Mike said hope to see you again I said that he would, and I don’t think I was lying!

If you’re in the South West or South Wales and you’re looking for a clean training lake then I would highly recommend a visit to Almondsbury. Have a look at http://www.bristolopenwater.co.uk. You can also look at the Facebook page here. There is a summer swimming race series at the lake and there is also a running path around the lake and cycling routes mapped out around the area.

The Wisdom of Farmers.

I hadn’t been able to do much over the weekend. Youngest had been ill so most of the time had been spent cleaning up vomit. I didn’t feel able to get out and leave him while he was unwell. So yesterday afternoon came my chance to get out. Although when I had the chance to go the rain was hammering down.

Now I am usually a total fair weather rider. A bit of damp and I would rather run, swim or stay at home. But I decided the time had come for me to head out in the rain. After all I would be sopping wet when I jumped on the bike during the London Triathlon. So really I would just be replicating the conditions of the event. It was also fairly mild so I knew I wouldn’t get cold either. My plan was to ride for roughly 90 minutes and follow that up with a run.

I headed out and was soaked through immediately. I considered going home as it really was hammering down but ‘NO!’ I thought to myself. It is the tough sessions that make you better. I was mindful of the road surfaces and as I made my way through country lanes I was careful on the down hills.

As I relaxed slightly on another downhill I came face to face with a tractor with a front loader. I jumped, braked and my wheels skidded. As I headed for the tractor I decided that I didn’t feel like taking on a huge metal object with spikes in front of it. In a split second I opted for the second worst option: the hedgerow.

I had expected just to hit the hedge and fall sideways. But instead I flipped over and somersaulted. Everything went black as I felt my neck and my back whip round. And then I was on the floor with my bike beside me. I sat up and looked down. Everything seemed okay but for a moment I thought I saw white on my shin. ‘Bone?!!’ was the next though that flashed through my mind. The farmer who had been on the tractor was standing over me trying to get me up and I mumbled something about a broken leg. Ridiculous looking back now but I really went into shock.

I felt the blood draining away from my head. The farmer insisted I would feel better if I stood up but I kept pulling myself back down to the floor. Every time he pulled me back up I pushed myself back down again, not wanting to pass out standing up. I knew he meant well but I knew where I would feel safer.

After a while I managed to get up and the farmer, who was called Phil, helped me onto the tractor where I sat beside his Welsh Collie Meggy. Phil placed my bike on his front loader and after a phone call to my husband he insisted on driving me all the way home.

As we weaved through the back lanes of the local villages Phil and I chatted. I bemoaned how daft I was and how stupid I had been for going out in the first place.

‘Shit happens Kath’, was his reply, ‘there’s nothing you could do about it. Bikes get fixed, people not so easily’.

And he was right. I have a tendency to over analyse and judge myself for my decisions when things go wrong. But Phil as right. I couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen and it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was literally just ‘one of those things’. Yes I was sore and had a bruised ego but I was relatively unscathed. I needed to focus on that and be thankful rather than going over ‘what ifs’.

As we made our way through Pontyclun High Street it must have looked a sight. My bike hanging off the front loader of a tractor. He insisted on taking me all the way to my front door even though I told him to drop me by the high street and I would walk. I couldn’t thank him enough. He had been in the middle of doing his work when I had met him round the corner and I had probably added hours to his day. But again he said ‘Shit happens’.

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My body is fine although it is bruised and a bit sore today. My ego is fine because really I had done nothing untoward, I had just been cycling in a modest manner. My bike seems fine and that’s good too. Sometimes shit does happen and you just have to pick yourself up and carry on. Or get a farmer to give you a lift home. I might give myself a rest day today though. Think I deserve it.

Panic At The Quarry

It had been weighing heavily on my mind that I had yet to take the plunge with open water swimming. With under a month to go until the London Triathlon I didn’t want to wait until the day itself to have my first experience of swimming in open water. My wet suit had been hanging on the back of the bedroom door for a few weeks so lack of kit was not an excuse. I had researched open water swimming locations in South Wales and it turns out there aren’t many lakes or rivers you can just go and dip into. But following a chat with a colleague who is a triathlete herself, she suggested Chepstow Quarry or the National Diving and Activity Centre. And after a lot of bargaining and trying to tell myself I didn’t have time to do it my husband virtually shoved me out the door this morning so I had no choice but to go.

After a bit of detour following a wrong turn through Monmouthshire I finally found the centre which is in the English side of Chepstow. I looked over the barrier and my breath was taken away by the beautiful blue pool beneath me. I started to feel more excited about jumping in and swimming. I imagined how liberating and amazing it would be.

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At the site shop I paid my £2.50 (half price this weekend!) and signed the visitor declaration.

‘It’s so if you drown you don’t sue us’, joked the very pleasant man behind the desk.

And I smiled and laughed. A ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha……er what?

The changing area was basic but had everything you needed apart from maybe a few lockers to stash bags so after changing into my costume and wet suit I headed over to the path down to the quarry taking my bag with me. I stopped to ask a chap if I was going the right way and he kindly offered to drive me down to the pontoon in one of the mini buses used to ferry divers and their equipment back and forth.

A couple of divers were packing up and one asked me how far I was planning on swimming, ‘2.8 miles, 3 miles, how many laps?’. I explained I was a total novice and this was my first time in open water. ‘Well you’re doing the right thing’ he replied. They jumped into the bus and I waited until they were out of sight so I could take an obligatory selfie.

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And for a while the happy, excited me was left right there on the ramp leading back to the centre.

I walked down a little ramp into the water and was pleasantly surprised by the fact I didn’t jump with cold as I entered. I presumed my wet suit was doing its job.  I walked further in and allowed the water to flow over my neck and shoulders. I took a sharp intake of breath as I felt a little colder. I jumped forward, threw my face in and immediately pulled myself back out. There had been nothing. I could see nothing. There was only blue. Just a wall of blue right in front of me.I don’t know what I had expected but it was a shock. My pulse soared and my respiratory rate went up. I tried again.

Same thing. Shock and panic. I tried breast stroke and felt like I was gasping. I tried putting my face in for front crawl and turned round and headed back. What was wrong with me? I could feel panic crawling all over me. I started to judge myself. It was a disaster, I had driven all this way for nothing, I feel stupid, I can’t do the London Triathlon.

And so I sat in the shallow area contemplating getting out and giving up.

But I didn’t. I had a stern talk to myself. I know I’m an okay swimmer. I’m not going to drown. I can do breast stroke if I struggle. Nothing is going to get me. There is nothing in there.

I tentatively swam away from the shallow area, breast stroke first and then front crawl. I had gone half way to the first buoy. I swam back in. The next time I swam mostly front crawl three quarters of the way to the first buoy and swam back in. Gradually I got closer and closer to the first buoy and further and further away from my ‘safe zone’. I’m not sure on what attempt but I was soon swimming front crawl around the buoys, close to the perimeter of the quarry. I stuck with breathing every two strokes as I seemed to find my rhythm and I still didn’t like seeing the wall of blue and nothingness in front of me. I have been brainwashed by the black line of the swimming pool.

I practiced sighting and would occasionally swim breast stroke to get myself back on course. At times I would feel like I was getting somewhere but then I would look up and would find that I hadn’t gone that far, possibly due to the wind across the quarry. I tried my best to get to the other end of the quarry but conscious of time and not wanting to feel too far away from my ‘safe zone’ I found a rocky ledge on the edge of the quarry ‘to sort out my goggles’.

I took in the turquoise expanse in front of me. It was truly beautiful but I was also aware how alone and a little unnerved I still felt. I was almost three quarters along the far wall of the quarry. I had no idea what distance that was but I felt an urge to swim back rather than push my luck. I headed straight out across to a larger grey buoy that was straight across from me and then turned to swim back to the pontoons.

On the way back I found that I started to relax a little. I started to breath every three or every four strokes and I didn’t feel ‘as’ panicked. My sighting was all over the place but the wind helped to push me closer to where I needed to be. I thought I was on course until I realised I was almost past my turning for getting out. I scrambled in the water to change direction and found myself almost on top of a diver. Whoops!

As I walked up the ramp my legs felt like they might buckle and my arms were numb and tingly. My hands shook as I stripped the top half of my wet suit down. I had done it. My first open water swim. It hadn’t been pretty and it had been a shock to the system but it was done. It was no longer unknown.

Sitting in the cafe above the quarry I wondered if I could have done more. Probably yes and I was annoyed with myself. But on the way back in the car I started to feel emotional. This was something that really frightened me and even though I had managed to swim in open water for the first time, a lot of mental energy had gone into fighting away my fear.

There have been lots of milestones for me in exercise: the first road ride, the first time I was clipped in on my bike, the first 3 hour long run, the marathon start line and even though I have faced them with nerves and trepidation nothing has ever made me feel like I did today. I’m hoping though that by facing it head on it will be less scary the next time I do it. And let’s face it, there has to be a next time.

‘Do one thing everyday that scares you’, that famous Eleanor Roosevelt quote popped into my head as I traveled home from Chepstow. I had certainly done that today, in fact I felt like I had rolled a weeks full of scariness into one hour. But then while looking up that quote to make sure I was attributing it to the right person I came across something else she had said:

‘We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.’

I think I gained some strength and confidence from what I did today. I didn’t think I could do it but I did. Next time I’m sure it will be easier. I’m ready to go back and try again.

If you are looking for an open water swimming venue in and around South Wales then it might be worth heading over to the National Diving and Activity Centre in Chepstow, Gloucestershire. The people were friendly and putting my own fears to one side, it is great for swimming. 

A Novice Triathlete

At 10pm on Sunday evening I finally flopped on the sofa. The boys had been in bed for hours and my husband, who has been really unwell with a tooth abscess had also retired. As I sat on the sofa with a glass of wine in my hand I suddenly thought to myself….

I completed a triathlon today.

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At 6am on Sunday morning I was racking my bike while at the same time thinking did I really want to do this? Could I make some excuse up to withdraw? For some reason doing a triathlon strikes massive amounts of fear inside me but here I was staring triathlon right in the face. After cycling 87 miles in the Velothon a few weeks earlier I decided I really had no decent excuses that would enable me to wimp out. This triathlon was happening.

After a race briefing in the reception of Pencoed Swimming Pool the first wave of swimmers, of which I was one, were ready for the off. When I entered this novice triathlon I firmly believed that it would take me 20 minutes to swim 16 lengths. Turns out the emphasis on swimming I’ve put on training in the last couple of weeks means that I’m a fair bit quicker than I thought. I finished the swim in 10 minutes. As I climbed out to walk along poolside (no running allowed!) I heard clapping from the viewing gallery. A smile flashed over my face as I realised that the most challenging part of the triathlon for me was already over. I could get on with cycling and running.

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Well I thought swimming was the most challenging part. I think the first transition is where I showed myself up to be a true novice. I had opted to wear a swimsuit and sports bra for the swim. This meant trying to get dry cycling shorts and dry t shirt over wet clothes. It was a bit of a fight with lycra as two of the marshalls urged me to hurry up and get going. I cursed myself for not being brave enough to go for it with my Aldi Specials trisuit but this was a learning experience and I know now what I would do differently next time: embrace the gear!

In an aside, am I the only person who loves that you get to do stuff while still being soaking wet? No one, like your mum,  is telling you off for not drying yourself properly and getting your dry things wet. It’s liberating. No, just me. Okay, moving on to the bike ride.

What struck me with the bike part of the triathlon is how you have to consciously change the way you’re breathing. Breathing for swimming is, to me, completely different to breathing on the bike or on a run. It took me a little while to settle in and find my rhythm. There were plenty of marshalls out on the route but I had to remind myself I wasn’t on closed roads and I had to abide by normal traffic rules. But at just after 7am on a Sunday in semi rural South Wales the streets were deserted and I don’t think I was passed by a car once on the 17km route. There were also no supporters so the triathletes were cheering and waving to each other.

As I racked my bike and started to get myself ready to run a marshall stood over me and shouted ‘double knot? You don’t need a double knot, get out and run’. So I did as I was told. A marshall stood on a little ramp that lead us onto a set of rugby pitches. Two laps of that field and back over the ramp and I’d be finished. As I ran past him I told him I couldn’t believe how much fun I was having.

‘You’re absolutely smashing it babes’, was his reply.

I’m not sure I was smashing it but his little compliment made me smile all the more and I picked up my cycle tired legs and ran like a banshee.

As I came into the finish someone with a microphone was calling my name so I raised my hands in the air and waved to about four spectators. My novice triathlon of 400m swim, 17km bike and 3km run had taken me 1 hour and 9 minutes. But hang on, I thought as I looked at my print out, my first transition was 12 minutes. Longer than it had taken me to swim 400m. Surely that can’t have been right? Had I really faffed for 12 minutes? It hadn’t felt like that but maybe time moves differently in triathlon world. Yesterday was not about being competitive but when I realised that if my first transition had been just a few minutes faster I would have come second in my wave instead of third I heard Dave my Competitive Shoulder Monkey shout ‘DAMMIT!’.

I had no idea what the time was. I stood around by the transition area for a bit and then realised I was actually cold and wet. And then I also realised that instead of using a locker for my dry stuff and useful things like my phone I had left them under my bike in transition. I sneaked into transition while it was quiet which resulted in a jokey but kinda’ not telling off but I was shivering and I needed a towel. I phoned home and everyone was still in bed. My husband still sounded ill and my youngest shouted hello before shouting about needing a poo. My eldest was still asleep and for a little bit I felt a bit sad that they were only up the road and my little supporters were all tucked up still.

So I threw myself into supporter mode myself and started to cheer the people coming into the transition area and whooped and clapped the runners coming into the finish. I heard someome mention ‘Elite wave’ and I did wonder how you can have an elite wave in a novice event? Can you be an elite novice?

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Eventually, as the final wave left transition on their bikes the marshall allowed us to grab our bikes and gear in small groups. On the 10 minute drive back home I cheered the triathletes out on their bike leg from my car and waved to the marshalls, even though they would probably have no idea who I was.

As I got in the door my eldest was leaving for rugby training with his dad, whose face still resembled the elephant man. I took the puppy on a long walk with our youngest. Then it was the usual business of cracking on with normal Sunday business: dinner, swimming lessons, make sure uniforms were ready and bug husband about going back to get more antibiotics as he was clearly very unwell.

When I sat down that evening with my wine I gave myself a celebratory pat on the back. I had almost made the morning’s triathlon part of my daily ritual: pop out, do a quick tri, back in time for second breakfast. I couldn’t get over how much I had enjoyed it and how I would look forward to doing Sunday’s event again. I learnt a huge amount from my first triathlon and many aspects of the event have been demystified for me. There is so much I can take away from it and I can be cheered by the fact that the swim wasn’t as awful as I thought and that I can in fact cope with doing one after the other without my legs falling off.

Then I realised that it was nearly 10.30pm, half a bottle of wine had gone down far too easily. I had been up since 5am that morning and I needed to sleep. I went to bed that night a triathlete. A novice one perhaps, but still a triathlete.