2014 Dubai International Triathlon 70.3 – Sarah’s story

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Sarah1Notes from a non swimming newbie…. Paul asked me to do a report in conjunction with my husband, Stef, so I thought that I would write about my progress to this point and Stef will do a race report. A month ago I had never done a triathlon. Now I’ve done 3. Week 1 was a Sprint, week 2, an Olympic, week 3 no race and week 4 a 70.3 distance. Can I have a rest now please Coach? A few years ago the idea of me ever doing a triathlon wasn’t even on the radar because I really couldn’t swim. I think there were two main reasons for this. The first one being that I just could not grasp the concept of breathing while simultaneously trying to propel myself forward in the water. This was borne out by a trip to the local pool with Stef, when we were still living in the UK. He patiently explained and demonstrated the basics of inhaling above the water and exhaling in the water. “In the water? What do you mean IN THE WATER?” After several flailing, spluttering and frankly awful attempts, it quickly became apparent that the possibility of me drowning was, indeed, very real. As for actually propelling myself forward in the water – well, we never even started on that. The second reason is that I am quite afraid of open water. I am convinced that something is going to eat me. Whether it’s in a vast expanse of crystal blue sea or a dark sparkly lake, it’s going to approach from where I can’t see the damn thing and it’s going to bite a bloody great big chunk out of me or swallow me up whole. Then we moved to Dubai at the start of this year. Sunshine, lots and lots of sunshine, lots of sand and sea, lots of swimming pools, lots of triathlons, triathletes and swimming coaches. If you can’t learn to swim in Dubai then there really is no hope. So, I had my first swimming lesson in February and after a couple of months when I could string a few lengths of front crawl together, Stef suggested training for triathlon. I signed up with F4L and my training started in May with the goal of doing IM Austria in June 2015. I decided to train for that distance purely because I have a reasonable background in marathon running and enjoy endurance. I find short distances painful and difficult and I can’t seem to settle into them before it’s all over. I had reached a plateau with marathons though and was considering going for ultra distance when the triathlon idea kind of took over. Biking? Well, I could ride one and I had a very basic alluminium road bike and a mountain bike that I used to occasionally venture out on with friends for a social. No experience of long distance or racing though. I quickly got into the biking here in Dubai when I started the training. I really enjoy the long rides and meeting up with other folk in the small hours to avoid the blistering desert heat. Then, as is the way in this sport, I ended up spending ALL my pocket money on a new triathlon specific bike. Now, that was a revelation – it really was like going from an old banger to a Ferrari. I was so used to slogging it out on my old road bike that the first time I got on the new one I nearly fell off, it just took off with me at a vast rate of knots. I was sat on this bike wondering what the hell to do – pedal? Brake? Aero position? Aero position - how the hell do I get into that without falling of and giving myself a nosebleed? Anyway, while my bike handling skills still leave a lot to be desired, time and practice has given me some confidence and I think I will be okay in this discipline so long as I stick to the plan and keep up the training. Same with the running I think. I hope. Which leaves the swimming…….my awfully slow, flailing swimming…….. So, 4 weeks ago I find myself at the start of my very first triathlon in Dubai, a sprint distance involving a 750m swim in the sea. IN THE SEA! Oh my goodness, I’d never swam in the sea before. I’d never swam in any open water before (things eating me and all that). “Madness” I hear you all cry! Rule number one – practice in open water before an open water race. Yep, makes sense. But to be fair, I think my excuses (apart from fear and cowardice) are valid: shift work prevented me from joining the regular sea swim groups and I definitely wasn’t going in alone; the sea here is just too hot to train in over the summer months and then when it did cool down it was FULL of swarms of jelly fish that sting really badly……like that was going to do my confidence any good! Back to the 750m swim start….I had two choices; to start or not to start. So I started and by some miracle managed to slowly flail my way round, bearing absolutely no resemblance to front crawl whatsoever. Happily enough, the mass start didn’t seem to freak me out and more importantly, I didn’t get gobbled up by lurking sea monsters. The bike was fine and the run hurt as it was a short distance for me. I think I was last in my age group but that’s okay. The following weekend I found myself at the start of an Olympic distance 1500m swim. This time I managed to give myself a talking to halfway round and actually settled into it, albeit slowly. Again, the bike was okay and run a bit better. Still last in my age group, but that’s still okay. Then last weekend, double the distance again and find myself at the start of a 70.3. For goodness sakes – how did I let that happen?! I won’t deny that I was very nervous before this one. The worry of not being able to finish the 1900m swim before the cut off time (or being eaten) had been bothering me for some time, especially as my usual swim instructor had been away and I hadn’t had a lesson for weeks and bad habits had rapidly marched in. However, after a video analysis from Paul, several remedial measures and a 1900m time trial in a 50m pool, I did feel a bit better about it. And I was fine on the 1900m swim on race day. Sarah and KateWell, fine for me with the now familiar faffing around for the first half followed by selfie pep talk in the water and then actually relaxing into the second half. Much to my delight, I got out of the water within the time limit. I got onto the bike (which was looking very lonely in the transition area!) in a good mood and I honestly think this set me up mentally for the rest of the race. I was happy and relaxed on the bike, sticking at my usual steady pace which was slightly hampered by strong winds, practicing the water bottle change overs at the aid stations, sticking to my nutrition plan and generally just enjoying myself. I was still in a good mood at the start of the run, probably because I was now getting into my comfort zone – I’ve run 21km plenty of times before and barring injury on the course, knew I should be okay. It normally takes me about 20 - 25 minutes to settle into any run but this time I knew within 5 minutes of coming off the bike that it was all going to be okay. In fact, I was really surprised at just how strong I felt considering I had just done the swim and bike but I’m guessing that has something to do with sticking to the training plan! I loved that run. Not quite last in my age group anymore... So there you have it. From non swimmer to 70.3 in about 7 months. I managed it, if somewhat slowly at times and I finished feeling strong and happy. 7 more months and double the distance again. Crikey. If I was to give advice to another newbie with a disproportionately weak discipline? Concentrate physically and mentally on the weakest discipline and make sure you appreciate and congratulate yourself on your improvements, follow the plan and your strengths will carry you through. Thanks for getting me to this point Coach.
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