4. Eton Dorney Triathlon

The second challenge of our month of May madness – the fourth of Helping Hearts 2013 – saw us step into unknown waters – quite literally – with our very first triathlon. This was something we had wanted to do for a while (Cozzie especially, after she developed a slight crush on Alistair Brownlee following his gold-medal-winning antics last summer…). So, accompanied by my old friend Dave Marsden – who as soon as we signed up boldly laid down a £10 bet on him coming first out of our trio – on Sunday we took part in the Eton Dorney supersprint triathlon, run by Human Race. Boy, did it live up to expectations…

4. Eton Dorney Supersprint Triathlon – May 19, 2013

The Eton Dorney supersprint triathlon - bring it on!

The Eton Dorney supersprint triathlon – bring it on!

Have a read of two very different reports on the race below… and no, Cozzie didn’t drown!!

***Dom’s Dissection***

I’ll say this from the start – a triathlon involves a world of confusion, pain, bloody-minded determination and elation. As much as a 10k makes you gasp for breath like a fish out of water , or a half-marathon leaves you with aching legs for days, neither can quite compare to the bizarre transition your body goes through during the course of a triathlon.

Human RaceAs virgin triathletes we had chosen the Eton Dorney supersprint, run by the fabulous Human Race team at the lake that saw so much rowing glory for Team GB and Team NZ in the Olympics last summer. A supersprint is the shortest distance possible for a triathlon – a 400m swim, followed by a 21.2km bike ride and finally a 5km run. None of these elements are particularly tough on their own, but put them all together, one immediately after the other, and suddenly you’ve got quite a challenge.

So over the last few months Cozzie and I fortified ourselves with as much triathlon information as possible – poring over the incomparable Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography and gorging in awe on videos of people taking part in Ironman triathlons (a 3.8km swim, then a 180km bike ride, followed by a marathon run, taking up to 17 hours – can you imagine how that must feel?!).

Michael Phelps, eat your heart out!

Michael Phelps, eat your heart out!

Three months ago Cozzie took her first dip in a swimming pool since the 90’s. After those first steps – when half a length was a huge victory – she went back again and again, patiently putting aside her frustrations to learn how to swim again properly. From those early days of doggy paddle, she now ploughs up and down the lanes, swapping easily from breaststroke to front crawl and back again.

This, perhaps above anything we will do this year, has been a huge challenge for her. She has got through it by sheer determination, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.

So, swim training under the belt – check. Plenty of running ticked off – check. Not ones to leave things until the last minute, we bought bikes about 10 days before the race, and last week whizzed around Richmond Park a couple of times to make sure we weren’t going to fall off them. Bike training? Check…

And so to the day itself.

Now where did I put my bike...?!

Now where did I put my bike…?

There are lots of things to think about on triathlon day. Race numbers to be stuck to helmets, T-shirts and bikes, transition zones to negotiate and a whole massive spectacle to take in. We racked our bikes in the transition zone – the bit where you change from the swim to the bike and the bike to the run – and while Cozzie slipped into her borrowed wetsuit (thank you Debbie Bigwood!), Dave and I got chatting to a competitor next to us.

Who's going to win this one then, Fatty Boom Boom?!

Who’s going to win this one then, Fatty Boom Boom?!

It went something like this. Dave: “What do we do with our bike/helmet/wetsuit blah blah blah… So, this is our first triathlon -is it the same for you?” Bloke: “No, I’ve done a couple before.” Dave: “Oh, what time are you hoping to do it in?” Bloke: “I’d just like to do a personal best, maybe an hour and two minutes.” Dave: “Oh…” For comparison, I would have been delighted to finish in 1 hr 30 mins. The guy later told me he is competing for Great Britain in a few weeks, and he eventually came sixth in our race in 1hr 9secs – just goes to show the calibre of people we were up against!

Ready for hell - the big freeze of Dorney Lake

Ready for hell – Cozzie heads off to the big freeze of Dorney Lake

After watching Cozzie dive into the waters of Dorney lake, come up with frost on her face and shiver her way through the swim it was time for Dave and I to brave the cold. Jumping in from the pontoon, we came up gasping for breath, the shock of the 14C water cutting through (Dan’s!) wetsuit. An all too-long briefing in the water, then the gun – and the washing machine began.

Ready to go - I think!

Ready to go – I think! Are these my arms, or do they belong to somebody else?!

Legs, arms, elbows, feet – you get hit by everything. We could see no more than 2 metres in the water, and every time we lifted our heads out we got a mouthful of water. Those were the hardest 400m I’ve ever swum – months of training went out of the window as my perfectly honed front crawl descended into flailing breaststroke. 8 mins and 24 secs later I had struggled around two orange buoys and was dragging myself out of the water into the first transition zone, Dave hot on my heels.

Riding so quickly I'm too fast for the camera! Or something like that...

Riding so quickly I’m too fast for the camera! Or something like that…

3 mins and 10 secs later and I was on my bike, following Dave out on to the flat, smooth 5km route for four laps of the lake. Tucked up in a crouch position, legs pumping as fast as possible, it was exhilarating as we zipped around the course, swooping around the occasional bend and spinning the cranks on the fast straights. Elite athletes whizzed past, the sound of their wheels buzzing in our ears as they whipped by, but we held our position. Suddenly, on the second lap, Dave appeared behind me. Surely he hadn’t lapped me already?! No – somehow I had passed him without noticing – though he still maintains I did one lap less than him…. I stayed on his rear wheel for the rest of the course, and it was great to see our support crew of Dave’s parents next to mine waving and cheering us on.

At the end of the fourth lap I was still on Dave’s tail, and we went into the second transition together. The moment you get off your bike you feel like your legs are made of jelly. You can hardly put one foot in front of the other, and it was hard to even walk the 100m to rack our bikes, let alone run 5km.

One. Last. Lap.

One. Last. Lap. To go…

A glug of water and a quick transition later and I was out on the run route, choking on a Jelly Baby as I struggled to find my land legs. The jelly legs made me feel as though I was falling forward at every step, and I felt like I needed to stand up straight and slow down to stop myself falling over. On and on we struggled, and I managed to slightly pull away from Dave as we trudged around the two loops of the course. It was so tempting to cut the top corner of the loop off and make that finish line come quicker!

Nearly there - one last burst!

Nearly there – one last burst!

Finally I was on the last stretch, 500m to go, 400m, 300m. I was neck and neck with three other guys, but about 250m from the line they put their feet down and pulled away from me. I had nothing left to sprint with, but the end was in sight. I raised my arms in triumph, managed a grimace for the photographer and crossed the line, before collapsing against a barrier, sucking in deep lungfuls of air to try to stop the pain wracking my body.

I’d done it, and when Dave crossed the line a minute later, we all had. What an incredible feeling! It was little more than an hour’s exercise – less than a game of football – but was completely different from anything we’d ever done before. It was great to do a challenge and have our friends and family there at the finish with a ready smile of support – and a chair to throw our weary bodies into!

We've done it! Swimming, biking, running - and now to the pub!

We’ve done it! Swimming, biking, running – and now to the pub!

Massive thanks to my mum and dad, Dave’s parents, Alyson and Mike, and our two surprise support teams, my old uni friend Anne, her husband Pete and their lovely kids, and Cozzie’s uni mates Dan and Grace. Though I’m not too sure how pleased I was to see Dan and Grace. They had come from Reading to Dorney Lake to see us. They had run over, which took them 3hrs and 11 mins, but still looked fresh as daisies when we saw them. And then they were going to run back. Another 3hrs and 11 mins. 6hrs and 22 minutes of running. Talk about raining on our parade!

"Come on, dad - you know you want to sign up for the next one!"

“Come on, dad – you know you want to sign up for the next one!”

So there you go – our fourth challenge. The triathlon took me 1 hr, 15 mins and 51 secs – a good 20 minutes quicker than I expected. My swim was 8.24, T1 was 3.10, the bike was 39.59, T2 was 57secs and the run was 23.20, and I came in 171st out of 585 triathletes – not too bad for a first time!

***Cozzie’s spluttering critique…. she didn’t drown!***

So, after a couple of months of learning to swim again, and one week as a bike owner, it was finally time for our first ever triathlon.

Gearing up in transition - may the best borrowed wetsuit win!

Gearing up in transition – may the best borrowed wetsuit win!

The weather gods were shining on us, as the previously forecasted rain never appeared, and it was a lovely day for some exercise. Eton Dorney is a fab location. We got there around 10.30am and some races had already started so I got to witness the course in action as we walked for 20 minutes from the car park to the registration and transition zone. I was relieved to see other competitors who weren’t kitted out in the latest triathlon suits, and a range of ages and abilities on the cycle course.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some serious pros there too – you could hear the guys on the proper Tri-bikes whizzing by before you saw them. And on seeing the swim leg of one of the races, I was also relieved to see plenty of people breaststroking towards the back of the group too. While I’ve come on in leaps and bounds with my swimming, I was still feeling like a beginner and not expecting to be able to do 400m of freestyle. I could even see the occasional bursts of backstroke by some people, so that allayed my nerves – albeit temporarily – too.

Ready to go!

Ready to go!

By the time we’d gotten through registration and figured out where the various stickers and numbers needed to be put on our bikes, helmet, top and swim cap, it was time for me to set up in my allocated transition spot.  I was surrounded by some serious looking triathletes, although I think wearing wetsuits gives that immediate professional appearance! A bunch of the girls were applying special lube to make the wetsuits come off quicker in T1, and they all looked generally pretty serious, whilst I fumbled around pinning my number to my running top, before stripping down to my running tights and sports bra and squeezing into my borrowed wetsuit (thanks Debbie!)

And then we were called to the jetty and it was time to jump in. My god, the water was BLOODY freezing. We had to flail/float in the water whilst we got a briefing, and I was a bit panicky just trying to stay afloat! Then it was time to go… and everyone else went.

Please Mr Kayaker, can you give me a lift...?

Please Mr Kayaker, can you give me a lift…?

I waited until there was a bit of space in front of me as I didn’t really fancy elbowing my way through anyone, or having my face kicked, so I started off trailing at the back. I tried freestyle for a start, but the water was a bit choppy (and didn’t taste nice…), and my breathing was still very fast and panicky so I couldn’t actually compose myself to swim properly. God dammit, after months of re-learning to swim, I couldn’t remember a damn thing about composure! Anyway, there were 1 or 2 others trailing at the back with me, and one particular girl was also finding it less than enjoyable. Thankfully the kayakers  were also nearby in case we got into trouble and they were really encouraging. I did have a couple of moments of uncertainty about whether I could actually complete the swim leg at all, but I battled through.

Cold and tired - but I've done it!

Cold and tired – but I’ve done it!

Although the rest of the bright pink swim caps were fading from my vision as they ploughed through the water, and I was generally feeling pretty useless.  My breathing was still rushed, and I was cold, and tried a few more strokes of freestyle, but just couldn’t do it! So I settled with a weird breaststroke/doggy paddle flailing that would not have impressed my swim instructor at all.  I even did a couple of turns onto my back to try to get my breathe calmer, but that didn’t really help either. Finally, I could touch the ground and clamber out of the worst swim of my life, and into transition.

Goggles and cap got torn off, I stripped my wetsuit half way down, and then tried to put on my running top – but it got all twisted and caused quite a faff. Eventually, shoes, socks and helmet were all on and I was finally out on my bike, the last of my wave to start the cycle leg (28th) Poo.

All that practice in Richmond Park paid off for the ride

All that practice in Richmond Park paid off for the ride

But the bike was awesome. I loved flying along the tarmac, and it was nice to not have to dwell on my sh1tty swimming performance and just get on with catching people up. Which I gradually did, and eventually overtook half a dozen girls on the bike – although I also got lapped by one of the leading girls who asked me “Do you know how many others are in front of us?” – I had to laugh, she actually thought I was one of the leading girls until I explained that everyone was in front of me as I was last out of the water!  She congratulated me though, and pushed on through.  My new bike was great, except it still doesn’t change into the top gear properly so I ended up doing all the cycling on an 8 speed instead of 16 speed bike, but I really enjoyed it, and I actually did the 10th fastest bike time (44:08) in my wave!

Look at me - I've done it! Now where's that hot Alistair Brownlee...?!

Look at me – I’ve done it! Now where’s that hot Alistair Brownlee…?!

Then it was onto the run. Bike racked, helmet off, Jelly Babies in hand I headed onto the 5k running loop – and was immediately cheered by super-runners Dan & Grace who I wasn’t expecting to see – which was awesome! My legs felt sooo slow after knocking out 21k on the bike – it really was like running through jelly and didn’t feel particularly fast.

But I must have been doing okay, as my time was looking all right, and I managed to overtake a few more girls and finished a 5k run in a time of 25.08 – which I’m pretty pleased with, although I know with more transition training that I could have done that faster. And it was actually the 10th fastest run of my wave too!

It felt great to finish, and on reflection (much later in the day) I was actually very proud of how I did.  The swim was a massive source of frustration (and the cause of some tears later on because I’d worked so hard at it, but basically couldn’t do it which gave me a massive feeling of failure), but on looking at the times I completed the swim in 14:26, which was actually faster than I had aimed for, even though I didn’t do any proper swimming strokes.  So from leaving the water last (28th place), I actually finished in 15th in my category, and was 84th (of 184) females on the day so it was a respectable finish for my first triathlon.


Human Race put on a brilliant event, and if you’re ever thinking of taking on a running, cycling, swimming or multi-sport event and don’t know what to choose, they are a great place to start.

We’d rubbed shoulders with GB athletes, tested ourselves in a completely new way and come up smiling. Every minute of training over the last few months has been worth it, and every penny we raise for Southmead Hospital will make a huge difference. If you can, please help us make the lives of people with heart disease in Bristol that little bit better.