As many of you have seen from my social media, I successfully completed my first Olympic distance triathlon yesterday at Thorpe Park in 3:46, beating my target of sub 4 hours. Happy days!
Its definitely not fast by any standard but speed is relative – plenty of room for improvement, especially on the bike.
Now that I have done my A race for the season and multiple races leading up to it (6 in 10 weeks), I’m planning to rest for a few weeks. I’m already thinking of booking my next Olympic triathlon for this September or October so now is a good time for me to recap on what I’ve learnt over this period, so here goes:
1) a little bit of specific practice can go a long way
Thorpe Park was my first open water triathlon. For the past month, I’ve been swimming at least once a week in the Royal Docks in London but I felt like I needed swim-only race experience so that I would know what to expect.
I thought if I’m going to have a panic attack, at least it can be in a test race and not my A race. On 1st July, I did the Great Swim 1mile loop also at Royal Docks and asked my swimming coach for some tips: stay at the back, focus on getting a rhythm and not panicking for the first few hundred metres.
I finished the race in 47:15 and it was much slower than I had hoped. My GPS showed that I swam 1730m, an extra 130m than the course. This wasn’t something new- I had noticed that every time I went swimming outdoors, I was zig zagging everywhere! I calculated that just by swimming straight, I could’ve been around 3 minutes faster. I also knew that my pacing was off.
I therefore looked up tips on sighting online and spent my last pre-race swimming session at Royal Docks working only that.
For race day, my initial goal had been under 40 minutes but given the Great Swim I thought 45minutes was more realistic. I focused on sighting every three strokes and keep my pace consistent with long stretching strokes.
I still can’t quite believe it but I did the swim in 38:39 and my GPS said I only swam 1488m! Result!
These two specific sessions really helped hone my swimming and sometimes it’s the key skills-based sessions that give you that edge.
2) I need to work on my mental strength and how I view and talk to myself
I am not competitive with anyone except myself but recently I find myself comparing myself to other people. And, I know that there will always be ordinary people better than me and, that unless I am taking inspiration from others to work harder or smarter, there is nothing good to be had from comparing. But, but, the mind isn’t very rational at times. Even typing this I feel stupid, because rationally I know that I should not compare myself, but I do and its harmful. For days before the race, I asked my family and partner, “what if I am last?” And they responded, “who cares? Run your own race!” I myself already had the answer to this, written in a blog post that I drafted but didn’t get around to publishing. I wrote:
“But, so what? What if you finished last? What would that mean to you? That you failed? Training for a triathlon and racing are great achievements. If you finish last, which you probably won’t, you’ll still be amazed at your body and what you are capable of doing, beating everyone sitting in the couch. As for those people you think are judging you, forget about them; they’re not important and should not be why you sign up in the first place.
And if you don’t finish, it will be disappointing. Yes, that’s true. I have to admit every time I have raced, that was what I was scared about – some malfunction on the bike or crashing. But that’s not yet happened and I suppose it will probably happen one day (hopefully not soon!). And when it does happen, I’ll be upset for half a day and sulk a bit but I’ll get over it and sign up for another race. And if that happened to you, I’m sure you’ll do that same. So, don’t be scared and go on sign up for a race today.”
I wish I had read that advice, but instead I went to the race dreading that I would be last. The only thing that shook me from my insular self-defeating thoughts was my mother. She was so proud as I stood ready by the swim start in my wetsuit with everyone else to start. At that moment, I knew that whatever happened she thought that I was winner.
3) race nutrition and hydration are personal
My day to day nutrition is relatively good but I suffer from digestive issues and post-race dehydration. To work out what is causing my digestive issues, I am currently doing Whole30 which is a diet based on medical elimination diet.
I am not allowed eat any processed or added sugars (amongst other things) which is hard for racing when I take one or two gels. I had planned to take soft figs instead of gels but I completely forgot – that cant have helped me on the run where I fell apart. Lesson learnt: don’t forget your sugars, gel or otherwise.
In terms of day to day nutrition, regardless of the results of Whole30, I have already noticed that perhaps I overdo the carbs and post-exercise snacks and they could do with scaling back.
I am still working out what I need to take before and after races to prevent dehydration and the horrible symptoms that go with it. The conventional advice doesn’t work for me and probably doesn’t for a lot of (unlucky) people. From the 6 races I have done this year, only two have been dehydration free.
It seems that I need an abnormally complex regimen of during: salt tables (3), precision hydration max strength tabs (1 or 2), nuun tablets (2) and plenty of water, and post-race: beer, chips with salt+mayo post-race, more water and paracetamol.
10 May 2017, LR