As part of my preparation for the Liverpool Triathlon I had picked out an aquathon to practice swimming in a competitive field and removing my wetsuit in anger amongst other things. The race was organised by Manchester Triathlon club, and as a new member it will probably be the only event I take part in this year. The event encompassed 2 laps of the Ontario Basin (where I had swum 4 laps last Thursday) followed by a 5k run up and down the Quayside that I know and love from lunchtime running with office colleagues – simples!
My running training has become quite intense and frequent as I have added some interval training with Matt to my schedule. On Wednesday we ran to the footbridge by the Lowry, and once across it did 4 pairs of 300m runs along the banks of the ship canal. We both ran at our own pace, meaning that in the second of each of these pairs of sprints we run back to the starting point from different positions but hoping to finish at the same time. Matt beat me every time but only because he wasn’t putting enough effort into the outward leg!
Anyway, I now had experience of running at a quicker pace to give me a sustained finishing spurt which is to be engaged when the finishing line comes into view at Liverpool. The couple of lessons in Salford Quays together with last week’s swim meant I was very well prepared for the first discipline too. I arrived at the Watersport centre in plenty of time over 20 minutes before registration opened and destracted myself by constantly rearranging the mass of kit I had transported from the office (by bike) and grabbing a locker before they were all taken. I was getting quite nervous. I had already changed into trunks and tri-suit in the office shower to reduce the amount of clothes I had to carry and I was anxious that the second biriyani of the day (I had only consumed it at 4:45) might cause another trip to the toilet and I definately didn’t want that complication adding to my preparation AFTER putting on the wetsuit. To calm and distract myself I looked for random fellow athletes to talk to just to gleen extra bits of info about the event (even though a pre-race briefing would tell me all I needed to know). I still paced around a lot with furrowed brow. Registration opened, I took my number and pinned it on securely, the water was a balmy 18.7 degrees and a full field was expected. There was a junior event running in parallel but as it turned out only a couple of competitors were involved in that. All the adults looked seriously athletic and fit, unlike some of the open water swimmers of previous weeks, who are clearly designed for endurance rather than speed – I was entering a ‘Sprint’ event after all.
There was still great cameradery amongst us and when I finally put my wetsuit on in the shower area (as the changing room itself was absolutely chocker) a guy gave me a couple of tips whilst sharing his Body Shop butter creme with me (applied to limbs to aid quick suit removal!). As soon as you come out of the water, lift your goggles so you can see where you are going. Obvious it must have caught him out in some way previously (I didn’t ask) but this would also be a good mental trigger when going into the transition zone, not to panic and not to forget anything as the adrenalin would be pumping through my boday. That was good advice.
The second piece of advice was nearly the undoing of all my efforts that evening: go off quickly so you don’t get left with slower swimmers at the back of the field. I had learnt about drafting and the fact that if you tuck in behind or along side a slightly faster swimmer you can keep up with them. Since I wasn’t looking to do a particular time, I was intending to hold back, let the fast swimmers pull away and settle down into my own race – so this stratergy was suddenly turned on its head. As the 50+ swimmers dipped into the water I entered towards the front and claimed a place on the starting line rather than behind it. It then became apparent I would be treading water for about 10 minutes so seeing other swimmers taking a couple of dozen strokes to warm up their shoulders I thought this was a good idea and practiced some starts: pushing off at speed and kicking hard with my feet.
By the time we reassembled with 30 seconds to the start I was in the zone and visualising my heros: I was Michael Johnson, I was Lance Armstrong, Usain Bolt and Alastair Brownlee rolled into one. I was a caged tiger, a coiled spring, a super-charged bad-assed mofo and so as the hooter sounded I did as a good an impression of the Thorpedo that my little 5′ 6.5" frame could muster, I claimed and held my place in the pack and I was glorious….. for about 100m. I then realised that I was still kicking as if being chased by a Great White and the word sustainable had been erased from my brain. As I approached the first turn I knew I was in trouble, my breathing was irregular and I decided to push on past the congested first turn then break to a bit of breatstroke and sort myself out. In the last year I have taught myself to breathe on both sides whilst doing crawl and I though it had become second nature, not so tonight, I was breathing every 4 and so felt exhauted. After the event I reasoned that I wasn’t trying desparately to keep up with people or overtake them in that first 100m, I was simply trying to be polite and not get in the way of anybody behind me!
The rest of the first lap was fairly slow, fitful and uncomfortable and only on starting the second did I slip into the comfortable rhythm I had found swimming the previous week. I slowed due to some congestion immediately before exitting the water up a ramp so there was no weak knees feeling as I walked into the transition zone and found my box of goodies. Catriona and the kids were a very welcome sight and I removed by suit in a quick and controlled manner before putting on socks and shoes. It could have been quicker but I thought it was a really good transition and then I started to run. Not quickly at first, but as I gradually accelerated to what seems to be my default 7:30 minute mile pace all was far from good in my legs. It felt like I had a tight knot tied in both my legs at the base of my calves. I had never felt this before and didn’t like it one bit. If this got worse in the next couple of minutes I would be unable to continue as I definately didn’t want to risk injury before Liverpool. I had kicked through most of the swim and particularly hard at the start which was entirely unnecessary and I severly regretted it now. I drew some comfort from the fact that I had the same pain in both legs so maybe it wasn’t an injury? I was also belching chicken biriyani with worrying ferocity. I trotted along to the first turn by the Lowry Theatre and noticed that the pain was going away. Maybe it was some kind of muscle spasm, or shock, and by the time I completed the first of the 4 running laps the pain had gone completely and I knew I could finish, though not particularly quickly. My pace built over the rest of the run and it will be interesting to see my splits. There were a couple of photographers around and they, along with my cheering family, gave me a boost as the lens was focussed on me.
At the end I was delighted to have learnt so much in one event, the time didn’t matter (well obviously it does actually) and I didn’t embarrass myself by demanding data from the race officials immediately. There was no unnecessary sprint finsh (there was nobody to try and catch at the end anyway) but I couldn’t help but make a silly dip for the line, I suppose that was just the Michael Johnson in me.
Looking forward to Liverpool!