July 4, 2018
Have you ever had that terrible feeling in your gut like you have made the biggest mistake of your life?
Where fear, anxiety, and regret congregate in your brain and have you shaking your head in disbelief at your own stupidity?
Well, that was me on Sunday morning at 7am as I sat in a minibus full of super fit athletes as we carved our way through the streets of Paris in the early morning sunshine.
It was a glorious day.
If only I wasn’t about to attempt my first ever Olympic Distance Triathlon that is.
I got the invite just 6 weeks earlier.
Would I like to come out to Paris and take part in the event as part of a team put together by the sponsors Garmin.
What an opportunity? I thought.
Didn’t matter that I had only just learned to swim front crawl properly, didn’t have a bike and hadn’t really run since pulling out of the London Marathon back in April due to injury.
I replied in an email.
I must admit it forced me to get back into my training pretty sharply.
I started religiously going to conditioning classes at CrossFit 1971 again (sometimes two in a week), I swam at least once a week taking my 1500 meter swim down from 1 hour 6 to 53 minutes, and I acquired a bike to train on courtesy of Decathlon…and not just any bike, this was a proper road bike and I started cycling it everywhere. Oh and I did a couple of parkruns too…even one on the morning of my recent Tedx talk in Folkestone.
So I did train.
But probably not as much as you should in advance of a race of this nature.
After a lovely day in Paris on Saturday with the other Garmin athletes, collecting our numbers and going on a lovely trip down the River Seine which involved sunshine yoga, champagne, and canapes…and then a carb fuelled dinner in a gorgeous roof top restaurant…I set my alarm for 6am on the Sunday to face my fate.
I felt remarkably calm over breakfast.
For me the biggest fears were about the logistics, what to do when and where. I have only done one Triathlon and that was 12 years prior, it was a super sprint, I had months to prepare and all of the instructions were in English.
This time around I was clueless.
When we arrived at the start line it was bonkers. I think that is when it hit me…I was actually doing this.
I scanned the crowds to see if there was anyone who looked remotely like me….erm nope!! I looked like I had turned up by accident…OK so I had all the kit, but the look on my face must have given the game away that I was a novice.
We didn’t have much time…I set up my bike alongside endurance athlete Susie Chan and influencer Kerllen Bittencourt Rego, and then before I knew it we were walking the mile and a bit to the start.
It was proper surreal.
I went all kind of quiet.
We dumped our bags on the truck and then got into a big crowd as we moved closer and closer to the start. There were no real waves as such, just get into the canal when you got close and go.
It felt weird there not being like a “and we are off” moment, so instead Susie and I just squeezed hands and wished each other good luck before taking the plunge.
The 1500 meter swim would be taking place in the Bassin de La Villette, a canal that runs through the city. There was an hour cut off, which I knew would be tight. Due to the hot weather conditions, wetsuits were not permitted, but the water was not as cold as I thought it might be.
Nothing prepared me for the weeds though.
The first 15 minutes of the race were truly shocking. The pure number of bodies thrashing about and the weeds made it next to impossible to swim front crawl. I couldn’t seem to find any space, and also couldn’t breathe. Well, thats how it felt. For a while I wondered if I would even be able to swim the whole distance. I had to have a few words with myself to just get on with it the best I could. Having done all front crawl in training I found myself doing breaststroke just so I could actually get moving.
You kind of need nerves of steel for Triathlon, with a field, predominantly made up of strapping men it was all a bit aggressive in the water, people swimming over you, and kicking you in the ribs as they passed. It sounds awful, but it was also a little exhilarating too. When I managed to find space I di switch to front crawl and felt strong. My fitness felt great and I didn’t tire at all. It was hard to see how far you had swum though as I had my Garmin on the wrong setting.
I didn’t think I had any chance of getting in under the hour, but as the finish area came into view I looked at my watch and it told me 52 minutes, so with space around me now I powered through the last couple of hundred meters, exiting the water in 56.18…to say I was chuffed was an understatement.
I felt a little shaky as I ran towards my bike, but I knew in many ways the hardest bit was over….or so I thought.
I sat and put my trainers on and got some fluids in me in a 3 quarters empty transition area, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with my stuff and I wasted a bit of time realising I had to bring my blue bag with me and my bike. In the end I spent around 5 minutes in transition. The first part of the bike ride was on cobbles…this was a little bit of a surprise, I had to concentrate quite a bit and was unable to build up any speed. But once onto the roads I was able to really start getting into the race…lucky I knew my left from right in french as I was able to listen for instructions from fellow competitors.
About 2K in there was a stonking hill. Now despite having a brilliant bike I still do not really understand the gears so went up it totally in the wrong gear…at one point I thought it might be easier to get off and walk. So my legs were sore and I was out of breath by the end of it…and I did for a moment wonder if the 40K was going to be out of my reach.
But then I really started to enjoy myself.
In training I was managing 10K blocks in 30 minutes, but I never managed more than 20K in a day and often split up as I used the bike to get to places rather than any big long rides. But I was able to find some real power somehow and was averaging 30K per hour speeds, and more on the downhills.
In many places around the course I was overtaking cyclists or keeping up with blokes with super impressive bikes who looked like proper cyclists. The route was lovely taking in the Bois de Boulogne and the Paris Racecourse and then as we looped back towards the city centre the Eiffel Tower…it was a wonderful moment to see that because I knew I wa son the home straight.
It had been a hot ride, and I had needed to take on fluid every 15-20 minutes but as I got off my bike at the end of the 40K I can remember thinking, gosh I could have gone on for more.
I managed to do the bike in 1.37.57
It took me a while to find my bike. I also picked up a yellow card for taking my helmet off before finding it (oooppps). By the time I left transition, it was very clear that I was at the back end of the race, it was now approaching 11.30 and the sun was incredibly hot.
I knew I had an hour and half or so left to go, and that I would need to pace myself and take on as much fluids as I could at the fuel stations, as I was now completely out.
I was bloody hot.
I was struggling to cool myself down as there was little shade.
I took on a run walk strategy running as much as I could and then walking for 60 seconds at a time whenever I needed to.
The run was two laps of a route around the river crossing a couple of bridges. The spectators were great with calls of Bravo and Courage. I was frustrated that I couldn’t have run more of it, because it was now a little lonely at the back and my motivation to keep running was being challenged. A few groups encouraged me to run with them as they passed and I tried to keep up for as long as possible.
The support from fellow participants was great, all the way around the course (well apart from the swim I guess ha ha)
After over an hour of running, I knew I was on the home straight, the roads were being reopened to traffic and tourists were going about their business posing for selfies and the like but I didn’t care. I was on a mission to get to the end.
The finish line was inside a sports club with a running track, and as I entered I was met by the PR lady taking care of us, and I ran as hard as I could for the line.
I had done it.
It was still so hot though and I needed to get out of the sun. I stood in a marquee for a while trying to cool down, taking on some water. I then had the task of finding my team mates, and going to claim my bike and bags from the baggage truck.
I bumped into Susie on the way and we had a very excitable debrief about the race.
I was super impressed with my time.
Not bad for a first attempt I don’t think.
I was thinking it might have been closer to 5 hours, but the speedy cycle leg was my saving grace.
We sat in the shadows of the Eiffel Tower with a wonderful picnic (Although I was too fatigued to actually eat) and for once I was actually quite quiet….taking in what I had just achieved.
Stunned that I had done it.
And in my view, not just got round but actually competed.
I was also super excited at the prospect of doing another one, to have a more successful swim and run.
So what’s next?
Well, now a few days after the race, with no real soreness to speak of either I know I absolutely want to do another Olympic Distance Triathlon before the summer is out.
It would be silly to lose the momentum I have managed to build.
So I am looking for opportunities to get involved with some races here in the UK, and maybe training dependant maybe even move up to half ironman for next year…DID I REALLY JUST SAY THAT OUT LOUD?
Thinking BIG as always.
And so some Thank You’s
Firstly to Garmin for inviting me. I never will really understand my selection to the team. As I sat there at dinner with world champion cyclists, world record holding runners, and fitness influencers with hundreds and thousands of followers…I didn’t feel out of place, but I did feel a little bit humbled. You took great care of us, and the event will be one I remember for a long long time.
Also to Decathlon UK, I have been working alongside this brand for a few months and they have been incredibly supportive of my fitness challenges, helping me to find trainers earlier this year when no other brand seemed to be working, and then kitting me out with a new bike and all the accessories I needed to make this a reality. Triathlon is not a cheap sport, but Decathlon has made this a possibility for me….and my the look of how many people were kitted out in Decathlon kit at the event, their price point makes it affordable for many more too.
And finally a massive thank you to endurance athlete Susie Chan. She was so supportive over the weekend. Not only did we have a good old giggle together, but she also gave me some great advice about pursuing my endurance event goals in the future. So who knows, one day I may even attempt the Marathon De Sables and then I can say it was all her fault.