Burnham-on-sea Super Sprint Triathlon

Sun 21 April

I had set the alarm for quarter to six. As always when you set the alarm so early you wake up at least an hour before it goes off and you lie there waiting for it. I was really looking forward to the day ahead. I’d joined the West Country Triathletes in September 2012 and spent the winter training at the Burnham on Sea pool. The first triathlon of the season (and my first ever triathlon) had been a long time coming. I love the anticipation before a race; the butterflies in the stomach. The sense that you’re about to do something you will really enjoy but also the nervousness about the test ahead. I’d done a good deal of running over the last few years but before joining the club I hadn’t swum anything more than a few lengths in 25 years.  Reaching 40 had spurred me on to try a new challenge and the main goal of the year was to finish a standard distance triathlon. This was the first step towards that.

It was beautiful bright spring morning but with a cold bite in the air. My start time for the Burnham Super Sprint Triathlon was 8.05am. Ahead of me was a 250m swim, followed by a 10km cycle and a 2.5km run. Before leaving I ate the porridge I had prepared the night before which, for some reason, had not aged well and was almost inedible. I must have over-or-under done something quite badly. Cursing my culinary skills (the lack of) I put the bike in the car and headed off.

Once in Burnham I realised that instead of lying in bed waiting for the alarm my time would have been better spent securing a spot in the BOS Swim and Sports Academy car pack. It was completely full so I had to park some distance away and walk. Suppressing the urge to panic as I hadn’t registered yet I tried to relax. There was still about 45 minutes to go, plenty of time to register and get ready.

Having registered I fretted for a while about whether my rear tyre had a slow puncture; it seemed to have dropped to around 80 psi from 110 psi. I was sure I had pumped it up the night before.  I realised I hadn’t got the time to replace the tube so I pumped in some more air and racked it up in T1. Hopefully it would hold out for the next hour as I headed off to the pool.

The lobby was full of people; competitors, their families and supporters. A buzz of expectancy was in the air. Although unlike most running events the whiff of Deep Heat was noticeably absent! The early starters were already well into their swim. My race plan was to finish in about 35 minutes; 5 minute swim, 20 minutes cycle and 10 minute run. I didn’t want to head off too fast. You wouldn’t sprint off too fast in a 10km run so I aimed to employ the same philosophy for this race.

Being very short-sighted I normally wear contact lenses when I run and cycle but my optician had always advised me against wearing them when swimming. But he obviously hasn’t considered the practicalities of T1. It would take far too long putting them in after the swim so as a compromise I had been training with prescription goggles and decided only to wear contact lenses during races. Unfortunately as Martin counted me down to start my swim I realised I couldn’t see properly. Either my contact lenses were in the wrong place or there was some weird light refraction going on. Without wanting to waste time sorting it out I pushed off and got going. My 10 lengths were a complete mess. I was getting tangled in the lane ropes, veering all over the place and was totally distracted. My thoughts of trying to focus on a long smooth stroke and bilateral breathing were long gone. All I was focused on was trying to stay in my half of the lane.

At the end of the swim I made my way out of the pool to T1. As I removed my goggles I was relieved to find that my contact lenses settled better and my vision cleared. Despite the chill of the early morning air I noticed no one was complaining about it being a ‘bit chilly’ – they’re a hardy lot these triathletes. What other sport would have you running down the road at 8am on a cold morning dripping wet with virtually nothing on.

The cycle went pretty smoothly. Soon after the start I tucked down onto the aero bars and headed off to the marina; the tuck into the slight headwind seemed to be a real advantage. I tried to keep the cadence up to avoid the build up of lactic acid. There was good crowd support especially at the end of each lap which was adjacent to the finish of the run. This got some extra adrenalin flowing and spurred you on. With a little imagination you got a sense of what the Brownlee’s must have experienced in Hyde Park in London last year with that HUGE crowd cheering them. It must have been an unbelievable feeling for them. I’d been in London for both the test event and the Olympic triathlon; the atmosphere was tremendous.

I’d been making steady progress on the bike and luckily the rear tyre pressure seemed to be holding out. I’d overtaken a number of people and moved up from 36th to 24th during T1 and the cycle phase but on the third and last lap I was overtaken by some competitors on those ‘whooshing bikes’.  You know, the bikes being ridden by those people with silly hats on (just jealous!) As I approached T2 I backed off the pace a little to get the heart rate down and took a glug of water in preparation for the run.

T2 went well. Having ridden in my running shoes there was no mucking about with Velcro or falling off by leaning over onto the unclipped foot (I’m expert at this). I racked the bike and started running. I immediately realised my feet and lower legs felt numb. This made running a slightly odd feeling, almost like I’d got wooden feet. It’s a very different feel to running fresh but gradually the numbness eased as I headed down to the dunes.

It was hard work, especially on the dry sand near the top of the beach, and 2.5km suddenly didn’t feel quite as easy as it should have been. I concentrated on trying to catch up with the two competitors ahead. After a few hundred metres we rounded a flag and headed back along the beach towards the jetty.  I passed one of the athletes but the other one kicked on and we stayed close together along the beach.

As we reached the esplanade my companion kicked on again and I couldn’t stay with him. But, I knew I was running well and with the slight following breeze it was just a case of running hard through the last 800m to the finish line. Then it was over and I’d REALLY enjoyed it. The results showed I had finished in 35 minutes 13 seconds, more or less the time I had got in mind. My run split was 4th which had moved me up to 12th overall.  The results were available via a computer in reception. A steady stream of competitors tapped in their race numbers and conferred and analysed their performance. What a great system.  I noticed my cycle phase time was some way slower than the people ahead of me so from next week I’ll be including a ride to work in my training plan.

There were some great results from the club with Matt Cooke in 3rd, Scott Jenkins 5th and James Kyffin 10th.  But everyone who finished was a winner – everyone who set their alarm clocks for silly o’clock and experienced the crisp air as they ran down Berrow Road in their undies. We’d also been in the presence of a world record holder; ‘young’ Arthur Gilbert who at 92 still reigns strong as the world’s oldest triathlete. Now that’s amazing!

I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone at the Swim and Sports Academy and all the Marshalls for putting on such a well organised event. It’s obvious that the organisers are passionate about their sport and it reflects in everything that they do. We’re incredibly lucky to have their enthusiasm and know-how to put on a complex event like this. I’m really looking forward to June’s sprint and July’s standard distance event.  If there’s any other single-eventers out there just thinking about doing something else. Give it a try… you might just get hooked.

Nick Ryle