At the end of March I nervously and excitedly returned to triathlon competition with the sprint event at Ribby Hall in Lancashire. It had been twenty odd long and sometimes dark months since I mounted the Roo for the short lived ride at Ironman UK. My last taste of triathlon.
I was worried that I’d forget what to do, I’d have a panic attack when someone passed me on the bike or my greatest fear was crashing and ending up back at square one. All irrational fears but all very real in my head. After arriving at the venue and talking to friends, watching the first competitors coming out of the pool it felt very real but the fog in my head started to lift as the excitement cut through the fear and uncertainty. A few minutes later I racked my bike and carefully laid out my gear in transition.
I smiled. I was back where I belonged.
In no time at all I joined the long queue of athletes poolside as we prepared for our turn to swim 400m in the warm, clear pool. Talking to the other two guys that I would be sharing a lane with it transpired that although they were fairly new ( one was losing his triathlon virginity ) both of them were stronger swimmers than me. Our estimated swim time was 8.20, yet these two were hoping for sub 7.30.
So into the pool, I felt relatively calm. My coach and I had discussed this moment and he wanted me to swim conservatively to not stress the shoulder – and I was quite happy with that. We were set off at 10 second intervals, I held a steady pace and came out of the water in 8 minutes, about 2 seconds behind my pb. And I just managed to not get lapped which was a bonus.
Running barefoot on the rough tarmac towards transition I was aware of the shouts of encouragement from clubmates and supporters and I just grinned even though I’d reached the point of the day that I was most nervous about. In the months that I spent not riding my bike I imagined what it would feel like to be back on it, cutting through the wind like an elephant on a unicycle. I was about to find out.
I placed my new unofficial custom COLT jersey over my head. Nicknamed by my good mate Andy Holme as ‘The Liquorice Allsort’. Stepped through my number belt, pulled it up to my waist, added my helmet and shoes and started teetering towards the mount line, clip clopping in my cleats like a high heel wearing gorilla. Not that I have ever seen one of them, although I’m sure it exists on the internet somewhere. My combined time for the swim and T1 was 10:31.
Ironically there are three speed bumps after the mount line just as you come out of the Ribby Hall complex and hit the pot hole fest that are our Lancashire roads. Unlike Bolton in 2014 I made it over them all in one safe piece. I was on my way.
All the worry had been for nothing, it felt like I had never been away. It stayed dry but the wind was something else, this wasn’t going to be fast. I battled hard against it and I guess the only negative was that I didn’t have the confidence to get tucked in the aero-position on my tri bars, which made me look a bit of a twat in my aero helmet. Again discussing race tactics before hand with my coach GOBI we decided to turn all the power data off on my garmin and just ride to feel. The idea being he didn’t want me hung up on numbers, I would just go out enjoy it and ride hard. That’s what I did – we have since analysed the data and I know what I need to do next time to improve. Only one other competitor came past me on the bike which pleased me. Unfortunately I got stopped by a train at a level crossing, we had been warned that this might happen. We were reassured that a marshal there would take our number and times would be adjusted in the results. This is where I made a rookie mistake of seeing the flashing lights of the crossing and slowing down on the approach instead of stopping dead at the lights. Doing so probably cost me more time. But hey ho.
It was such a relief to get off the bike, a small personal victory on my road back. I grinned again at the support shouting abuse as I hit the dismount line and tottered back into transition. Now it was time for the best part of the day the run. The bike and t2 took me 32:29
My coaches advice had been “bury yourself on the run” so that’s basically what I did. I shot out of transition like a bullet, it must have looked very unsustainable to those watching me but I knew different. It’s a technical run course with a few 90 degree turns to slow you down but it’s out and back passage through the holiday homes allows you to gauge your pace and progress as you pass competitors on the other side of the road. I was going a lot of love from my fellow runners “Great to see you back Holgs”, “It’s all your fault” and it felt fantastic. I focussed on a runner two ahead of me and picked him off, then repeated it. I was only passed on the second lap by one other. It felt amazing to be pushing myself. I love running. High fives with my fellow COLT Sammo and then the finish was in sight through a huge crowd. What a feeling. This is why I race triathlon. A 23:51 5k run saw me cross the line in 1:06:51.
It sounds corny and slightly ironic given the nature of my injury but a huge weight was instantly lifted off my pink coloured shoulders. It was amazing to be back.
The Liquorice Allsort had made a successful debut. The shirt got a lot of comments on the run course, and later on social media. The whole thing had started as a bit of a joke. Several years ago some COLTS started wearing pink calf guards when racing to make them easy to spot with their black and white kit. I did so at Bolton where my COLT shirt was cut off me in an ambulance. Being a fat lad when the new club kit arrived it would never fit me so I thought I’d order a custom shirt and through a painkiller haze I decided to make it bright pink to compliment the calf guards and make me easy to spot. Those NHS drugs have a lot to answer for. Whilst not standard issue I really like the shirt, and it even has the pirate skull and cross bones to remind me of my triathlon origins.
You’ll see more of it in the months to come. Hopefully building on its performance at Ribby Hall.
Thanks to Jason Clarke for the photos 🙂