It seems logical that a Sprint triathlon be my first step into triathlon given its the shortest distance that is regularly organised. For newcomers it offers a manageable distance and for more experienced racers a chance to test form, transitions and kit. Although distance vary slightly, I had entered the Llanelli Sprint Triathlon, which was also doubling up as the Welsh Triathlon Sprint Championships. The distance of the event would be: 750m swim, 28km bike, 5km run.
The fact that the swim was going to be open water was an important factor for me. I really wanted to experience the washing machine that is a mass swim start before Celtman, although the water was nowhere near as cold as Celtman and the distance much shorter it would still give vital experience.
I will admit that as I was preparing for the event I was quite nervous, not something I feel when entering most cycle events these days. The early 5:30am wake up wasn’t pleasant, but even that wasn’t really early enough as when I got there most people had already racked their bikes!
I managed to squeeze my bike in on the end of a rack, keen to avoid running too far in transition with my bike and set up my towel with shoes on, looking at other competitors setups to try and get a few tips. I wasn’t off until the 4th wave, so I was able to watch the first waves on the swim leg. It was a pretty simple swim, taking the form of an M (written backwards) shape within North Dock, Llanelli.
When it was time to enter the water I made sure that I got in early to acclimatise to the fairly mild 15 degree water temperature. When the hooter went and the mayhem started my heart rate was through the roof already and I was struggling. It wasn’t quite as bad as my first open water attempt, but I couldn’t get into a rhythm with my breathing or stroke. I almost stopped a few times as I started to panic, but managed to keep my nerves under control and kept going, altering my breathing to every stroke for a while, rather than bilaterally breathing as I usually do.
Getting to the first buoy at around 225m was hard work and I was well into the mid pack, but tried to stay on the pace of a couple of other swimmers alongside me. As the swim continued I did improve gradually, but it wasn’t until the final 200m that I really felt comfortable and was able to swim “normally” and breathe bilaterally. My stroke improved and I did manage to improve my placing and finished with the 47th fastest swim (14:05), which I was over the moon with given the 350 rider field.
Through transition my wetsuit removal was straight forward, but since I don’t have triathlon specific shoes, I was pretty slow compared to the fastest, losing at least 30 seconds. It was good to be out on the bike and I settled into my position and pushed hard, keen to make the most of my strongest discipline. The course was pretty flat, but had lots of urban areas and traffic was building up, making it pretty dodgy. With all the previous waves on the road I was overtaking a near constant stream of riders, coupled with the cars that were also trying to get past with some dreadful driving on display.
I felt pretty good on the bike, the Shiv I am using is fast and efficient and although the flat course doesn’t suit my smaller body style with smaller power output I wasn’t overtaken at all on course. I finished the bike, taking the 11th fastest split (43:35), around 3 minutes down on the fastest rider. Back into transition and again my shoes slowed things down a bit, having to undo the double boa dials and probably loosing another 30 seconds on so before I put my Inov-8 trailrocs on. I don’t own a pair of road shoes, so I was using a set of intermediate off-road shoes, albeit with elastic laces fitted.
At the start my legs felt a bit funny, but I decided to give it everything and push on regardless. I was pleased to see my first KM run split come up as 4:05, not that far off my best 1km effort when fresh. The course was again pretty flat, just a few smaller rises and falls on the out and back run. Just like the bike I was passing others, rather than being passed but I could feel that someone was just behind me and I was keen to stay ahead. My splits stayed pretty similar, hovering around 4 minutes per kilometre. Towards the end I knew that a sub 20 minute 5km might be possible, something I had not achieved before so I gave it everything in the last kilometre, clocking my fastest split to finish the 5km in 19:55 and finish the race overall. My run was 36th fastest, which was reasonable but shows I have lots of work to do there, but overall I was 15th. I think I have a pretty rounded race compared to others, with the bike being my strong point, but the swim, transitions and run are the places to work on. To finish 15th in my first race, which was also a Welsh Championship event is very encouraging and I am hoping that longer races will suit me better.