Galway 70.3, 2nd Sept 2012: My first triathlon, and the most positive sporting experience I had in 2012 by a factor of lots
I entered this race to give me something to pull myself out of the pit of sadness I’d found myself stuck in after my body and mind forced me to take a break from rowing. The challenge of mastering three new sports certainly took my mind off the situation, and provided an outlet for the stress, anger and misery that I otherwise turned in on myself.
The three months before the race must have been entertaining for the few people who I’d confided in that I had entered. At first I could barely swim or run, and my handling on a bike would have been funny had it not been so dangerous. However, I worked hard and arrived in Galway reasonably confident that I could at least get round without drowning, crashing or breaking a leg!
One of the most striking differences between triathlon and rowing was how friendly everyone seemed – Ed and I quickly made friends, whereas at rowing races everyone had stalked around, sizing up the opposition and avoiding eye contact. In fairness, it may also have helped that we were going from the tiny world of rowing, where I’d been seen by many as a serious threat, to the anonymity of a random race in a sport I’d never done before.
Everything was new, and even going to register was exciting: rowing regattas, even international ones, have at most somewhere to buy coffee and, if you’re lucky, a couple of kit shops for spares. At the circus that is the Ironman expo I was far worse than any kid in a sweetshop has ever been!
All that remained other than eating, resting and racking our bikes and bags was the practice swim, the day before race day. I’d been in open water a few times at the excellent Shepperton Lake but that in no way replicated the conditions in the North Atlantic. The waves were several feet high and left me more than a little nervous about the following morning.
Race day finally came; to my surprised I woke up at 4am having had a reasonable sleep!
At this point I can’t praise the B&B we stayed at, Ard Mhuire, highly enough. Not only had they let us bring bikes into the B&B, which I’d thought would be a problem given the lovely cream carpets you can see in the photos above, but to make it easier for us to do so they’d given us a larger room free of charge and made sure we had a ground floor room.
On race day, as well as leaving out a delicious breakfast for us (the existence of Irish soda bread being perhaps the most important learning from this race), they had left these:
My logic here is that I have given up drinking, partying and many types of really very tasty food in the pursuit of sporting excellence, therefore I will damn well drink as much caffeine as I want. When I’d had to get up at a time that even in the rowing world still counted as the middle of the night, being able to take coffee down to the start made things seem far more civilised!
Having seen Ed off in an earlier wave, I waited impatiently until it was my turn to get into the water. I put myself rather ambitiously close to the front of the group for someone of my swimming experience, and waited…
I never heard the start, but suddenly everyone around me was swimming. As I started the swell didn’t seem to be too bad, but as we went on it became steadily worse. I discovered that when you’re not in a pool, can’t see any buoys and have no sense of time, the swim seems to last forever.
As we continued I was swallowing more and more water, and started to feel really quite unwell. Eventually I was sick, almost before I’d realised what was going on, and felt instantly better. I wondered, fleetingly, what to do next: did I have to stop racing? How stupid would I feel if I didn’t finish my first race? I’d heard how important nutrition was for long-distance racing, and was sure throwing up your breakfast before you’d even got onto the bike wasn’t part of a successful day out.
I decided that I might as well keep going and see what happened: unless my body broke down and gave me no choice, I would plough on regardless. It seemed like an age until I came out onto the beach, pulling off my hat and goggles and stripping my wetsuit to the waist, just like I’d practised. I found some Shot Bloks in my trisuit pocket that I’d forgotten to eat before the race and stuffed them in – they took the sicky taste away and I didn’t think any more about it until after I’d finished.
Out of T1 and onto the out-and-back bike course, I started eating and drinking, sticking exactly to the plan I’d gone through with Ed before the race. This is the only time I’ve ever fully managed to do so, and is probably one of my better races relative to my fitness and technical ability… draw your own conclusions!
I don’t remember a huge amount about the bike, except that I was going faster than I’d thought I could before the race: I was hoping to average over 30kph and my bike computer said 32.7kph as I came into T2.
Having already sustained my first running injury, I’d done very little running in the weeks before the race. I was hoping to run under 2 hours but as my legs stiffened up I wasn’t left with much choice but to slow down. I did see Ed, out on the 3-lap course, which gave me a boost – I’m always relieved when I know he’s safely off the bike.
I crossed the line in 5 hours 44 minutes, with a frustrating run time of 2:02. Still, not too bad overall, and I’d hoped to come in the right side of 6 hours so I was as happy with it as I’ve ever been with a time!
Ed was there waiting for me at the finish line, which was lovely. We hobbled off to get some food and drink, then back to the B&B to clean up. A few hours later we dragged ourselves back into town for the awards ceremony and rolldown, just in case there was any chance of me bagging a spot to 70.3 World Championships in Vegas the following September.
We looked at the results board. I’d come 6th in my age group. The chance of the one slot rolling down to me was vanishingly small. We ummed and ahhed over whether it was worth sticking around on the off-chance, keen to go to dinner and celebrate what we had achieved rather than waiting for an indefinite amount of time for something that was almost certain not to happen.
I mentioned this train of thought to a friend we’d made earlier in the week; she looked at me and said sternly, “Frankie, the slot might roll down, or even if it’s taken, one might roll down from another age group. If you want to go to worlds, always go to rolldown!” And so we did.
We’d thought the slot in my age group had been taken by the winner. We’d even seen her holding the envelope with the details in it. She must have picked it up to have a look, decided not to accept it and given it back. When Paul Kaye, the announcer, got to the F25-29 age group, I started hearing the magic words “We roll down”. As it got to third, fourth, fifth place and hadn’t been taken, I could feel my heart thudding through my chest.
I’d met Paul before the race and he’d told me that as a former rower he thought I’d do well, but still nothing can excuse the screaming, the mad dash to the stage, the poor bloke in the aisle who I sent flying in my hurry to accept the slot or the overenthusiastic hugs I gave both to Paul and to the guy handing out the 70.3 casino tokens that function both as proof of qualification and as a keepsake.
After another excellent breakfast, we returned home the next day – I can highly recommend not driving from Galway to London the day after a half ironman – with my battered self-esteem finally on the mend and the spark that had so nearly gone out reignited.