After wanting to try my hand at a triathlon for a while now, I finally took the plunge and entered the Nice Tri St Neot's Triathlon series. Instead of throwing myself in at the deep end with a standard distance race, I figured it would be better to first test my fitness with the Sprint discipline.
I was coming into triathlon training completely fresh not knowing what to expect. Physically, I was probably the fittest I’ve ever been though. I swam a lot as a teen and cycling is in my family (my granddad cycled across North America in 8 weeks, across the Andres and the foothills of the Himalayas, all after the age of 50). My running left a lot to be desired, but I was capable enough. After calling on a few friends who’ve tackled triathlons before, I was told to split up the distances in training into intervals. This, I was told, would improve my VO2 max; increase my speed consistency over the course of the race and just as importantly, stop training from ever becoming tedious.
I set myself the aim of doing each race discipline twice a week in the run-up to race day. With it being my first triathlon, I wanted to hit the ground running with as much momentum as possible and therefore decided against tapering one-week prior.
The swimming was my biggest error in training. Not once did I do any open water training. It was just a lot more convenient for me to base my training in the pool. Swimming 20 lengths of the local 50m pool in the morning before work suited my schedule a lot better. I learnt the hard way on race day when the open water humbled me and taught me a valuable lesson. Training shouldn’t be convenient; it should still push you outside your comfort zone to prepare your body for what’s to come.
When I was at a 25m pool, I’d split the 40 lengths into 10 lengths with a minute rest between rounds. The bike was done in 1k splits, and with running I opted for 500m sprints or one-mile splits, aiming to hit the same split time within a 10-20 seconds difference. This combination of intervals gave me a solid aerobic base.
I didn't really feel nervous on the morning of the race. It was more the apprehension of not knowing what to expect from the water or the race as a whole. I knew I wasn’t going to compare myself to others; I was there to complete, not to compete.
When the field of athletes entered the River Ouse, I was actually pleasantly surprised. I’d been so worried about the temperature of the water, but when I dunked my head under in the brief warm up, I didn’t freeze, and to my surprise the water was clear – dare I say it, the perfect conditions.
I was told from the start that jostling for position would inevitably happen in a field of over 350 competitors. I initially stuck to the game plan by hanging back, but my competitive nature pulled me in. This didn’t help calm my breathing. The one thing I was repeatedly told to do was to stay calm in the water and enjoy it, that way I could find a rhythm and settle into the swim. However, my breathing suffered and I soon found myself having to breathe every stroke, as opposed to every three strokes like in the pool (that’ll teach me for not acclimatising my body to open water).
Spotting was an art I should’ve practised too. I found myself having to slow down in the race temporarily to assess my position. In hindsight, I should’ve planned my spotting simultaneously with my strokes to improve efficiency.
One thing I wasn’t expecting was the niggling cramp I experienced in my quads while swimming. The combination of not sufficiently warming up, the cold temperature hitting my muscles, and not letting my arms do the majority of the work (to save my legs for the later bike and run) left my leg muscles stiff and unable to kick with any real strength. This combination of unsteady breathing and heavy legs meant I emerged from the water a bit off the pace.
My transition from water to bike was slow. I’m not sure if it’s common or not, but I was pretty dizzy and disorientated emerging from the water. Once on the bike though, it was a different story. I’m going to put this down to getting out of my wetsuit to show off my Sundried Performance Tri-Suit. I was flying now. I was in my natural environment and managed to make up ground. St Neots provided an ideal course for riders. Apart from a few big hills, the country roads of Cambridgeshire proved kind to the first-time triathlete. I’d hit my stride.
Myself and another rider spent large parts of the bike segment neck and neck. He would pass me on the flats; I would take him on the hill. This definitely helped keep me motivated as the miles racked up.
Going into the run, my legs felt surprisingly good. I’d shaken off the cramp and unlike from swim to bike, my muscles were warm enabling me to keep pushing harder.
Knowing all I had to do was make it through a 5km run and then I could reward myself with a Sunday roast, the run felt smooth. The hard miles had been done and I continued to pass a few more of the field. The two laps around a very flat and peaceful Regatta Meadow Park felt like it went really quickly and having amazing support from the crowds provided extra motivation to finish strong. Crossing the finish line, I didn’t feel hugely fatigued. In fact, I’m sure I crossed it with a huge smile on my face.
The smile as a crossed the line is what matters. As a first-timer trying a triathlon it’s so important to just enjoy the experience and not get to caught up in trying to keep pace with seasoned club competitors. I learnt so much from training, the preparation needed, and even more so from the race, for example pacing.
I’ve definitely caught the triathlon bug and next season I’m already lining up a few standard distance events. My advice to anyone thinking about taking the step and entering a triathlon – just go for it. You have nothing to lose, everything to gain. Thank you again to Sundried for the incredible performance tri-suit. Not only did it look great on, more importantly throughout the race it was unbelievably comfortable. At no point did I experience any discomfort, tightness or chafing, which allowed me to focus solely on my performance. Here’s to a successful off-season training hard!
About the author: Michael Jennings has been the Junior Fitness Editor at Men's Health Magazine since November 2016. His editorial areas of interest include fitness, nutrition, supplements, activewear, retreats, and events.
From the Brownlee brothers to Benson, Jenkins and Holland to Stanford, team GB are bringing a strong team to triathlon at the Olympics in Rio 2016 with the hope of matching previous years medals.
There is no shortage of pedigree athletes in the ranks for team GB with Olympic Champion Alistair Brownlee leading the way and brother Jonny– who won bronze in 2012 – also selected for his second Olympic Games.
They will be joined in the men’s race by 22-year-old Gordon Benson who staked his claim by clinching the gold medal for Team GB at the inaugural European Games at Baku 2015.
There is plenty of strength in the women’s ranks also, with 2013 World Champion Non Stanford included, along with fellow London 2012 Olympian Vicky Holland.
Helen Jenkins rounds off the team and will bring plenty of experience, having competed at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012 and winning the World Championships in 2008 and 2011.
Rio 2016 will be the fifth Games that has included triathlon in its programme – the first being Sydney 2000 – but it took Team GB until 2012 to claim a first Olympic medal.
At London 2012 it was only Javier Gomez who denied a Brownlee one-two on the podium as the Spaniard split the brothers to take Olympic silver.
Team GB have now selected 71 athletes from eight sports for Rio 2016. - See more at: https://www.teamgb.com/news/team-gb-selects-six-triathletes-for-rio2016#sthash.bngPPWbU.dpuf
The Men’s event will take place on Thursday 18th August at 3pm and the womens will take place at 3pm on Saturday 20th at Fort Copacabana.
Rio 2016 Triathlete Facts
Emma Snowsill’s winning margin over silver medallist Vanessa Fernades was 1 hour, 7 minutes at the 2008 Beijing Games.
The highest number of Olympic Tri medals won is 2 held by Simon Whitfield and Bevan Docherty.
The highest Olympic finish to date for a GB female is held by Helen Jenkins at 5th in London 2012.
There are 4 paratri categories at Rio. PT1,PT2 AND PT4 for men, PT2, PT4 and PT5 for the women.
British medal favourite Alison Patrick’s ITU win percentage in the PT5 category is 64%.
There has been 1 marriage between two Olympic gold medalists - 2008 champions Jan Frodeno and Emma Snowsill.
Simon Lessing came 9th at the 2000 games after being favourite for a gold medal.
Allistair Brownlee’s winning run split at the 2012 Olympic Games was 29:07.
After 515km of racing, there was only a 15 cm margin between Nicola Spirig and Lisa Norden at London 2012.
9.7 billion has been spent on the 2016 Olympic games.
See more at: https://www.teamgb.com
Sundried ambassador Lori Westcott gives us a race report of the Marlow Classic half iron distance triathlon which she completed last month in Buckinghamshire, UK.
After finishing 3rd woman overall at Windsor Triathlon the previous week, I decided on a last minute whim to enter Marlow Classic Half Iron distance triathlon. With Lanzarote and Weymouth 70.3 fast approaching, I felt it was important I did a 70.3 distance before my biggest two races of the season.
Windsor had been tough; the weather was extremely hot and racing in my first elite wave, the race had taken a lot out of my body. So in my head, I would use Marlow as a hard training race. My confidence was high after Windsor's podium finish, so I was ready to push my body again to its limit and see what I could do.
I was first out of the swim, which I was happy with after being only a few weeks post elbow fracture. The bike was very hilly and had lots of pot holes, and I was still getting used to my new TT bike, but I pushed hard and entered the second transition still in 1st position. I knew the athlete in 2nd place was just behind, as I saw her enter transition as I left for the run. 4 laps and a friend giving me splits helped me keep the lead and finish with a PB of 5.11, 4 minutes ahead of 2nd place. This was only my second race at this distance and my first half distance with Team Dillon. Emma Pallant has been my coach for the last year and has worked me hard all winter, so the miles are finally paying off.
My first season has had some highs and lows, however, the key has been consistency. I think I can count on one hand how many sessions I have missed in the last year. Next week I am off to Club La Santa in Lanzarote for a hard training block. Bring on the rest of the season!
Sundried ambassador Matt Leeman gives us a race report of the tough and challenging Outlaw Iron Distance Triathlon in Nottinghamshire, UK.
When my coach and I first decided I was going to race two full distance triathlons in two weeks, I was intimidated to say the least! But I have great trust in my coach and we have been at work getting myself into the best possible shape going into these two races. I won the first race which was the Bastion triathlon at Hever Castle and immediately got to work on my recovery ready to go again in a short space of time.
At first, I seemed to recover quite well and felt good pretty quickly, but as I got back into a more substantial training load I began to feel tired, not the ideal feeling going into a full iron distance triathlon. However, when you're racing at an elite level you have to make the most of the race season, get your head down, trust in the training you've done and get the job done on race day.
As soon as the gun went off for the swim I felt relaxed and controlled. Others were around me for the first few meters but soon dropped off the pace, which is always a good boost! I exited the water in first place with no idea of the time as I was just focused on getting myself ready and out on the bike as soon as possible. As I emerged from the changing tent I heard the race commentator announce I had completed the swim in 46:38, taking the swim course record. This gave me a massive buzz as I set off on the 180km bike.
My coach had given me a talk the day before the race and instructed me to start the bike conservatively and allow the strong bikers to catch me then let the bike race begin! There was a group of three of us changing positions until about half way through the bike, then the lead biker broke away. I pushed on to limit the time lost along with second place but once we had hit 100km I lost second and was in third position. This is when the race became very tough. I was riding out of my ability in an effort to stay at the very front of the race and now found myself in no man's land. Triathlon is an individual sport, therefore you have to be mentally tough to dig in and keep going, even when you feel like just pulling over to the side of a road and lying down on a hay bale (a genuine thought I had as I passed a farm). But the feeling of giving up and not doing all the hard work and sacrifice justice would stick with me a lot longer than a few hours of pain. I kept pushing on and got off the bike in third place.
Second to swimming, running is my next favoured discipline. But after all that exertion, running a marathon is still a daunting prospect. The run course at the Outlaw takes in laps of the rowing lake followed by a more or less out and back loop along the Trent river into the city of Nottingham. I broke the marathon down into more manageable chunks in my head and paced myself accordingly. I was in third place and knew I would be happy with a podium finish. As I was running along one of the straight sections of the river I saw an athlete sitting on the side of the course and thought it was the second place runner, as I got closer I found out I was correct and they had pulled out of the race. This meant I was in second and so I kept pushing as I knew there was a strong runner behind me. Eventually, I was caught with around 10km to go putting me back down to third place. I was able to hold this position and finish in a time of 8 hours and 54 minutes.
All the times I felt like giving in and said no, was fully the right decision. I had managed to hit the podium and perform at two big races in two weeks. Taking a long standing course record in the swim and a personal best improvement of 37 minutes in the process. Very happy to be in the sub 9-hour club!
Natasha made a big move to Australia the same year she qualified for the Team GB Age Group team. She talks to Sundried about all things triathlon.
Have you always been into sport?
I have always been a sporty person and have actively participated in many sports from karate to climbing, hockey to skiing, but in the last 5-6 years I have been training hard for triathlon.
What made you decide to enter the world of triathlon?
I was a member of a running club and after a while I felt that I needed to try something new. A couple of other people fancied a go at triathlon and so we got together and entered our first race. I haven’t looked back since.
What’s been your favourite race to date and why?
Without a doubt it was the World Championship in Mexico last year. It was perfect. Perfect venue, perfect support and the race went exactly to plan. I couldn’t have asked for more.
And your proudest achievement?
Qualifying for Team GB's Age Group team.
Have you ever had any racing disasters/your toughest race yet?
Every race is an opportunity to learn. My worst race ever was a local race very early in the season. I decided not to put an extra layer on in transition and my hands became so cold that I couldn't change gear or press on the brakes!
How do you overcome setbacks?
I have certainly had challenges along the way. Work, family and life in general can throw all sorts of challenges at you. As a family we emigrated to Australia at the same time as qualifying for GB. That’s a lot to organise in 1 year!
What is the best bit of advice you wish someone had told you before you started competing?
Get swimming lessons straight away!
What are your goals for 2018?
I hope to qualify for GB again next year.
Who do you take your inspiration from?
There are so many people I take inspiration from. Those who have made it to the top of their field like Chrissie Wellington but also the mums, dads and kids who turn out to the local events and give it their all. It is a sport for everyone.
What do you like about Sundried and what’s your favourite bit of our kit?
My favourite things are the shorts and the training tops. I don’t need the warm things as much now that I am in Australia! I'd love to see more running shorts. I love the fact that Sundried has charity at its heart and as a company they consider the environment and ethics within the company structure. It is inspiring.