Sunday 6 August 2023

Another weekend another triathlon - Eton Dorney

I can't believe I signed myself up for another triathlon. It's like buses. I don't do one for 10 years and then I do two in 10 weeks. I seem to have gotten a bug.

It's not that I have become a triathlete again; it's just part of my overall plan to stay fit in my 6th decade of life.

I had a phase around 20 years ago when I raced triathlons and duathlons regularly and was even part of different clubs. That feels like a different life. I trained regularly and intensely, planning my daily schedule around it, and even planning life around "the season". Everyone I socialised with was a triathlete and conversations, whether it was during training sessions, racing, or at the pub were "what races are you doing? Are you doing the Nationals? How was your bike splt? How long were you in transition? Did you use a Polar heart rate monitor or another one?"

There was so much triathlon talk, and without realising it I began to lose interest in it as I wasn't enjoying that feeling of being trapped in a triathlon bubble. Sure, I was probably a lot fitter than I am now, but life felt one-dimensional, and even when racing I dreaded it so much because I began to worry about not performing to my potential, what others would think if I was slower than expected, or if so and so beat me! I had to make sure I wasn't the slowest in the club. Many times I was though, and then I would feel a little bit embarrassed because I took 35 minutes to swim 1500m, or because I did 30 minutes for my 5km run. 

Then I got into cycle racing, which seemed to have more "balanced" people who largely had a healthy relationship with their sport. It has to be said that back then triathlon was a bit of a niche sport, with only hardy obsessives doing it. 

I gradually phased myself out of triathlon and didn't actually miss doing it. I had done it and got lots of T-shirts, literally! So it was time to move on.

Finishing the swim at Eton 
Photo: Maggie Easton
In recent times I have started doing a multi-sport discipline called SwimRun. It involves, you've guessed it, swimming and running. Unlike say, an aquathlon, SwimRun, which originated in Sweden, is about repeatedly swimming, then running, then swimming, then running, usually across a large lake with islands or promontories, or even crossing different bodies of water, rather like an archipelago around Stockholm. You do the whole thing wearing the same gear, so you end up running in your wetsuit and swimming with your running shoes on. 

I have done a few of these events and enjoyed them, especially the laid back atmosphere. I think the fact that there's no proper federation or national championships etc may be a reason why a lot 9f competitors aren't hard core. 

When training for this in my local area I get funny looks from people as they see me running around Brockwell Park in South London, with my wetsuit, swimming hat and goggles on my head. London is generally an "anything goes" kind of place. But even here, there are limits between stylish and ridiculous! But I just smile and enjoy myself.

So nowadays a triathlon takes a very back seat, and on those occasional forays into swim/bike/run it is pretty much for fun, with only one objective, to get to the finish line still smiling.

It is with this frame of mind that I entered the Eton Dorney Sprint triathlon - less than a week before the event, and after I'd seen that the weather forecast that day would be fair. 

On my arrival at the venue the scene for the 2012 Olympics rowing competitions, 30 minutes beforey start time, lots of athletes were already in transition or doing warm-up strides ready for the 7.45am whistle. I calmly cycled across the field to the registration desk, already in my wetsuit and then roughly arranged my gear in transition. 

Eton Dorney bike leg
Photo: Mark Easton

Within minutes I had attended a lakeside race briefing and was swimming along with around 100 other athletes in my wave. The water was a pleasant temperature - around 19°C, and was very clear. Sighting was not an issue, as I could just follow people's legs in the water. For me, it was just about staying relaxed in the water and saving energy for the bike and the run.

It seems I was a bit too relaxed as my 750m swim took almost 25 minutes, and I was one of the last out of the water. I was then the last out of transition, as I took my time towelling myself down, putting on my shorts and cycling top, and making sure everything on the bike was wear I wanted it. I was in no rush!

My bike leg was a matter of pacing myself on the flat 4-lap course. The outward bike ride was straight into a headwind, while the return was a wind-assisted blast back towards the crowds. I past various riders at this point, including others on road bikes. Some of them were a lap ahead of me though, so unless they were weak runners they'd finish ahead of me.

So the 5km run leg, like that of the Paris triathlon, was an out and back along a dead straight, flat path beside a body of water. Where previously I was going along the Ourcq Canal, this time it was Dorney Lake. Similarly, it was all about focusing and not feeling demoralised or demotivated. One woman I passed had not been able to avoid those feelings. "Are you okay?" I asked, as I passed her. "I'm fine," she replied. "I'm just bored and don't want to run anymore!" Trying to motivate her, I said, "Keep it steady, you've nearly finished." I don't know if that was much help.

I overtook a few people along the way, which helped with my motivation. On the return, I picked up my pace a little, and managed to cross the line still smiling, even as a young girl shot past me in the last 50 metres. 

It had been a fun event in the early Sunday morning sunshine, and I savoured my medal. I must say, at my age you always celebrate finishing a race without feeling any pain or injury! So it was a bonus to see that I had done 27 minutes for my run - quicker than my Park Run times, which don't involve swimming and cycling beforehand.

I don't know when next I will do a triathlon, but if I don't do another one this year, I can say that I have had a good season.

Related posts

Wanna do the Paris Triathlon? What you need to know

How I got on in the Paris Triathlon 

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