Monday, 22 June 2015

Event review - Henley-on-Thames Triathlon


There's a first time for everything, and this weekend saw me tackle the rite of passage that is the mark of many a middle-aged mum these days - the Triathlon. For those that don't know (do you live under a rock or something?), a triathlon is a 'multiple-stage competition involving the completion of three continuous and sequential endurance disciplines'. In practice this usually means a swim, followed by a cycle and then a run - changing clothes and equipment in a crazy we're-late-for-school-type panic in between. With no desire to get up at the crack of dawn on a weekend - and being the sort that likes to check out the route properly beforehand - I like to 'go local' for events and thought the Henley-on-Thames Triathlon was perfect. So what went down on the day?

This was the sixth year for the event, organised by UK Triathlon. I suspect the reason that this triathlon is popular for newbies like me - and others just going along for fun (albeit, not everyone's definition of fun), is that the swim is in a pool - and not in open water. Certainly you don't need the upfront investment of a swimming wetsuit - and training is far more accessible (let alone the whole concept of getting into water when you can't see the bottom). I'm sure for serious cyclists the cycle course is pretty easy - the organisers describe it as 'flat with some undulations'  - and it's a rather pretty rural route through the Oxfordshire countryside. At the end, the run is on the grass grounds of a local school (so easier on the legs than pavement pounding). All-in-all a good place to try out a triathlon!

What did I need?

On the day, I used my swimsuit (with my trusty shock absorber bra underneath) that has a looser fit for a 'quick' change, goggles, my hybrid bike, my regular workout gear and my trainers. I also took a water bottle with rehydration tablets mixed in, a towel, my glasses, my very basic cycling helmet (I may have inadvertently bought a child's helmet) - and packed a pre-race blast of energy (and then promptly forgot to use it while I was nervously waiting to rack my bike). Although wearing a trisuit and having a decent road bike would have made things simpler, the event and it's participants are not snobby about gear and equipment and I wasn't alone hanging about outside the pool building in just my cossie. 

How does it work?

The Henley Triathlon has loads of options - including the Sprint (400m swim/25km cycle/5km run), the option I took - the Super Sprint: (200m swim/12.5km cycle/2.5km run), a Fun race (same distance as the Super Sprint) and a Team Relay with one competitor for each leg (400m swim/25km cycle/5km run). Before the event I was emailed with a start time and my race number. When I arrived (an hour before my start time) with my number memorised (ok, written on my hand), I was given a race envelope. It contained two paper race numbers (and pins) to put on the top I would be cycling and running in (I had a race belt actually), a sticker for my bike handlebars and a timing chip for my ankle. I was also given a carrier bag with my race number on it, and had my number written on an arm and leg. For this event there is a 'split transition', which just means that you rack you bike for after your swim in a different place to where you leave it before the run. This means the wet swimsuit (if you don't have a trisuit), goggles and towel you leave behind after you swim must go into the numbered bag and are collected by the organisers for you to pick up from the finish area.

I was able to rack my bike and layout my cycle gear about 20 minutes before my official start time. Then I headed off to the poolside for a 'race briefing', where an organiser tells you about the course and goes through certain rules - like putting your cycle helmet on before lifting your bike off the rack (many of these rules are common across all triathlons). You also get a bright swim hat, which you need to wear for safety (if you drown, the lifeguard can see you better!). Then I queued up in number order for my swim start. I did two lengths of the pool in each lane, before moving across to the next lane (four lanes in total as I needed to do eight lengths). If you have to overtake you swim into the centre of your lane. The water was quite splashy as there was a lot of people swimming (some furiously) at the same time. Some competitors were fantastic swimmers, others average. Again there was a mixture of levels - some people wore goggles, others didn't, some used front crawl, others breast stroke, one person even stopped intermittently and walked for a bit.

After my swim, I had to walk/run from the pool area along a carpet to the outside area where my bike was racked. I then had to pop on a long jumper while I tried to remove my swimsuit as quickly as I could and change into dry gear (I did not want chaffing for my trouble!). I bundled all my wet stuff into my bag, gathered my glasses and gloves and clicked on my helmet. Then I got my bike and headed off to the 'mount line' to start the cycle. At the mount line you are filtering in with those already on the course (those doing two laps in Sprint distance and Team Relay, who started earlier) - and soon come up to a more trafficked road. Marshals in high-viz jackets - and easy-to-spot signs guide you around the course - letting you know where to turn (mostly left turns) and will tell you if the way is clear (you still have to ride according to the Highway Code - traffic may be aware of a race but are not under any obligation to stop and let you pass). At the end of the cycle, you follow signs and marshals to the dismount line and the second transition. Here you rack your bike again and then (and only then) take off your helmet. If you have specific cycling shoes you change to trainers here (having left them in Transition 2 before the race) - otherwise it's straight off onto the run. My distance meant twice around the run course - and this part was one of the hardest as your legs feel very heavy once you get off the bike! There's two water stations on the run course, but I found it impossible to run and drink from an open cup!

And then it was over!

It was certainly a great feeling to get across the finish line! Not least because I'm a sucker for a medal - and I can say I've actually completed a triathlon now (even though this distance is very small and I spent far too long in transition!). Originally I started swimming and cycling as a way to 'rest' during the Achilles injury that prevented me from running in events, although I've come to enjoy them individually too (that said, hills are a pain on the way up - and a fright on the way down!). This event and distance was a great triathlon taster too - and very 'do-able' in terms of dates, times and location. 

I fancy the idea of next year already!!




Pleased to be part of the #BloggingToJogging and #Fitness Tuesday links



9 comments:

  1. Well done Vanessa - I am in awe of you! You do make it sound fractionally more manageable than I thought it would be. Before reading this, I would never have entertained the possibility of taking part in a triathlon, and I still don't think I ever will, but I am not as deadset against the idea as I was! Congrats! x

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    1. It's a great one - easy distances and swim in a pool. And so close to you...!

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  2. Well done, this looks brilliant! What a fab achievement #fitnesstuesday

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    1. Thank you! If you'd told me I was doing a triathlon 2 years ago I wouldn't have believed you!!!

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  3. Wonderful! Great achievement! I've just commented on Mirkas post too saying that I am slightly in awe of everyone who has taken on triathlon. I love running but I'm not a very confident swimmer. I do like the fact that this event has been organised to take into account the needs of novices too... Even I might be able to manage a relay one! #fitnessruesday

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    1. I have been part of a of relay in a duathlon - as cycling was putting me off. Having the swim in a pool makes it far less intimidating,

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  4. Huge congratulations vanessa! You might have read my announcement that I am about to do my first one... still have not decided which one to go for. These tips will be very useful to me. Thank you! #FitnessTuesday

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  5. Wow Vanessa you're amazing! I'm a terrible swimmer but doing that part in a pool might encourage me one day! Well done lovely, fantastic achievement. Thanks for linking with #BloggingToJogging xx

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  6. excellent post. Thanks for sharing this blog. I did a search and found your blog and glowing review. It's been a big help! Thanx!

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