Oh em gee I did a flipping triathlon!
If you read my you’ll know that eight weeks ago I got offered a place by Chobani on the Jenson Button Trust Triathlon. I couldn’t swim and could barely ride a bike, but not one to turn down a challenge I said yes. The last two months have been a whirlwind of learning lots of frightening amazing new skills and yesterday they all came to one massive terrifying climax!
Top tip: Don’t go to a triathlon by train. It’s a pain in the butt.
Chobani kindly put me up in the beautiful Luton Hoo hotel where the triathlon was being held. On an entirely separate note – go there, it’s amazing! We arrived on Saturday afternoon and spent hours wandering around pinching ourselves that we were staying somewhere quite so fancy. We grabbed some dinner and an early (for me!) night in the comfiest bed before an early start on Sunday – race day!
Exploring at Luton Hoo aka mermaid palace of triathlon royalty
I’d been feeling really really nervous about the day and on the morning of the race I felt beyond terrified. We’d checked out a bit of the course the night before and the swim looked huge and the bike section started with a massive hill. There are no hills in Victoria Park, the only place I’d ever cycled, and I wondered what it would be like to climb it! I met with Jen at 6:50 to cycle down said hill to grab some breakfast and a combination of being half asleep and being rubbish on my bike led to me trying to clip my feet in going far too slowly and falling pretty heavily on my side. It really really hurt, especially the arm I’d fallen on. Having come this far though I wasn’t about to not race so I brushed myself off, pretty shaken, and carried on. How would I complete a triathlon when I can’t even get on my bike?! Rather distressing blow to my confidence.
We met with the Chobani bunch first thing and I took another cycle down the hill, this time much more successfully. After a photo call with Jenson Button himself we set off to rack our bikes in transition. As I set out my shoes, helmet, race number and belt in transition I had a horrible sinking feeling and started to feel pretty tearful. As I walked towards the lake entrance I just burst in to tears, overwhelmed by the lake in front of me and a horrible nagging feeling that I wouldn’t be able to stay on my bike. I hugged Tatum (designated cheerleader for the day!) so hard and chatted to some lovely other competitors by the lake and before I knew it we were wading in, knee deep in lake sludge and then we were off! WAA
Hovering at the back of the field with the other Team CHO ladies! I was crying at this point and had been for several minutes. I feel no shame.
I held back at the start to make sure the mad splashing got out of the way and then went on my way. The water was really warm – 23 degrees – so I went without my wetsuit. I had been dreading being without the buoyancy of the wetsuit but needn’t have worried. Race mode took over and I was straight in, head under, pushing through the lake weeds with the rest of the breast stroke contingent! Most people started to break away but I kept steadily swimming, never catching my breath, never getting too tired, just steadily making progress. First buoy, second buoy and then I was headed towards the exit in what felt like no time! Weeds kept getting caught on my arms and a woman kept swimming in to me (after the fourth collision I may have sent a few profanities her way) but it went better than I could have ever dreamt. Maybe I am a mermaid after that?
Swim: 9:48 Position: 41/43
(Yes, I finished the swim head of two other people. TWO!)
Felt very funny emerging from a lake, sopping wet, whipping my hat and goggles off and running barefoot down a little road in a weird extended leotard! Ran along to my bike where James was waiting to cheer us all on! Sat down, roughly dried off my feet, whipped on my shoes and socks (I strapped my running shoes in to cages on my bike so they went straight on in T1!), popped on my helmet and race belt and off I went! Running down the transition chute with my bike made me feel like a real life triathlete. Out of transition, I hopped on my bike and off I went up the mega hill!
T1: 2:15 Position: 40/43
(Oh yeah, beat someone out of transition, sucker)
Felt nervous going out on the bike after my tumble in the morning and putting pressure on my arm on the handlebars was painful. Anyway, I set off talking to myself (“be brave” and “calm down” being the top two mantras, alongside plain old “fuck”) and immediately overtook a couple of people on the hill. What I lack in confidence I make up in power (these thighs have got to be good for something) and willingness to take pain, so I overtook a fair few people up the hill, including a couple of who had opted to walk the final incline.
On the flat I got my RPM up and started flicking up through the gears, determined to make up some time. There’s some speed bumps on the course and I was pretty cautious approaching these (I didn’t want to fall again) so lost some speed. I also pretty much burnt out my brakes on the descents because I’d never done them before and I really didn’t feel safe. I overtook some more people up the other side of the hill and was overtaken my some team GB athletes from the wave after me. Fair enough.
As I came down the final stretch I built up my confidence enough to ease off the brakes a bit and felt like I flew down the hill! As I ran through transition again with my bike by my side knowing I only had the run to go I knew I could do it. Awesome feeling!
Easy one! Racked the bike, threw off the helmet and ran down the chute feeling like my legs were made of both jelly and lead. Overtook someone else and saw Tatum on the way through shouting “Go Soph – this is your thing now!”.
T2: 53 seconds
This was overtake number 2!
I struggled from the off with the run. I had a huge oxygen deficit from both the exertion and the pure adrenaline and felt like I couldn’t get the air in. It was only about 9:40 in the morning but it had started to get really hot and the first half of the very little 2.5k run felt very very difficult. The run was a loop of a field with no respite from the heat and I just couldn’t catch my breath. It felt like so much longer than 2.5km! I overtook another few people, including one very sweet woman who shouted “Go girl! Nearly there!”. After what seemed like forever I could see the finish chute and picked up the pace as much as I could. I can’t explain how amazing it felt to finish. I’d completed a triathlon!
Final position: 26/43
Post-race smugness with my new fancy Jenson Button cap and my trusty Oakleys. So happy.
My favourite part was the swim. I surpassed all my expectations which was an amazing feeling. The bike was incredible fun but overshadowed by my wobbly confidence after my fall that morning. The run was hard and horrible and I felt like stopping the whole way, definitely the worst part!
Jen and Holly both qualified for the final! I missed out by about a minute, which was a little frustrating but also totally fine because I couldn’t have raced it anyway! Someone slower than me qualified in the second women’s heat, and to me that’s enough to know I didn’t do too badly at all, especially in a race with at least 10 people racing with GBR on their chests!
I went to see the Red Cross after my race and was advised not to race the wooden spoon. I had was given an ice pack and some paracetamol and had my hand, wrist and forearm strapped up. Bit gutting, especially as I’d done it on my way to breakfast and not racing!
Not ideal. Especially as I did it when I wasn’t even racing!
Huge huge thank you to Chobani for giving me the opportunity and being so generous with the kit. I’ve achieved something I never imagined, even in my wildest dreams, and couldn’t have done it without them. Big thank you to Tatum for being there to support me and to the other gers for all their support and camaraderie on the day – I had a brilliant time!
I’d recommend a triathlon to anyone looking for a new challenge. Honestly, if I can do it (learning to swim in 7 weeks and tackling the bike in 3) then anyone can and it’s a brilliant experience! The cross training is amazing for your fitness and it’s pretty fun running about in a big leotard jumping on bikes and splashing in lakes. The Jenson Button Trust Triathlon is also an amazing event for first timers with a brilliant, supportive atmosphere and beautiful surrounding. I can’t recommend it enough – if you’re thinking about it, DO IT!