June 14th 2015 was the 6th staging of the Bristol Harbourside Triathlon run by TriBristol. Bristol Harbourside Triathlon is established as a premier event on the Triathlon racing calendar in the South West.
A triathlon is a multi stage competition involving the completion of three continuous and sequential endurance disciplines. There are many variations but triathlon in its popular form consists of swimming cycling and running in immediate succession over varying distances. Triathletes compete for overall fastest course completion times including timed ‘transitions’ between the individual swim cycle and run components.
Triathlon race lengths vary and at the TriBristol event there was a Sprint race consisting of a 750m swim, 20k cycle and a 5k run. I competed in the Standard distance also popularly known as the Olympic distance which is a 1500m swim 40km cycle and a 10km run. My daughter Kathryn was also competing in the standard distance event.
A transition area is set up where athletes change gear for different segments of the race. At Bristol the women were numbered 1 – 54 and the places in transition were allocated consecutively. There were only 4 of us so called female Supervets aged over 50 and we met up before the race as we were setting up in transition.
The start time of the Harbourside triathlon varies from year to year as the tide times differ. The swim takes place in the Cumberland Basin, part of Bristol’s historic Harbour and adjacent to the Brunel Lock.
The swim takes place in waves based on age groups but all the women went in the first ‘Red’ wave of about 100 athletes. Wetsuits are compulsory. After a briefing we all had to get into the water – it wasn’t warm – and then bobbed around for a couple of minutes until the hooter sounded and off we went.
The swim consisted of 2 laps around a course marked by big red buoys. There are no separation lanes in the swim and there is an element of physical contact from time to time especially at the buoys when everyone comes together. It is important to ‘sight’ the next buoy on the course but finding the way is made easier by the fleet of kayakers whose role is principally to keep the swimmers safe and rescue anyone in trouble. The kayakers also assist in keeping everyone more or less on course.
The second lap was less physical as the field became more strung out.
I was very pleased when I finally finished the swim and exited the water up a ramp with the welcome assistance of a marshal. I was quite cold and not very coordinated as I ran barefoot down the side of the Cumberland Basin and into transition. I had managed to remove the top half of my wetsuit with goggles and hats in the sleeve. I located my place in the transition and then removed the rest of my wetsuit. Sunglasses on next and then helmet on and fastened. A strict rule is that you must not touch your bike until your helmet is fastened. Next I put on my cycling shoes and race belt with my number. I had practiced leaving my shoes loose to save precious seconds.
I took my bike off the rack and ran through the transition area to the mount line. You must be over this line before you get on the bike! It’s all very frantic and a mad rush and I was relieved to be underway. I went around the first curve and got a bit of speed up before starting to tighten the ratchet fastening on my shoes. Bang! The next thing I knew is I was hitting the road and hurting. My bike was a twisted mess behind me. I jumped up – nothing hurt too much and I just wanted to get back on the bike and get going as I could see women who I had worked so hard to beat on the swim component whizzing past me. Fortunately husband Ian was close by and he straightened my bike out and quickly checked it over – brakes still worked – and I jumped back on and rather hesitantly continued. The results show that this first lap was only about a minute slower than the 3 subsequent laps so although it felt like a long time in reality I didn’t lose that much in the crash.
The cycle routes for both distances take place on closed roads, under the shadow of the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge.
The bike routes are principally flat with some technical turns. The straight closed roads gave me the opportunity to get down on my Aero bars and really get going. I was pleased with my average speed which was just on 30kph.
I managed to overtake a lot of women who were in front of me and critically I overtook the other women in my age category. I also saw that Kathryn, my daughter, was riding extremely well and on each lap was just pulling a little more away from me. Kathryn actually cycled 4 minutes quicker than I did. After 1 hour and 20 minutes of flat out cycling I came into transition again and got off my bike at the dismount line and ran to my place in transition and put my bike on the rack.
After racking my bike securely I removed my helmet and changed my cycling shoes for running shoes. Then – and this is the really dodgy bit – I attempted to get my jelly legs to run! After cycling it takes a while to adjust to running. I had practiced this quite a lot in training in so called ‘brick’ sessions.
The start of the run is straight through transition with other athletes all milling around doing their thing. Then it’s out along the tow path on the opposite side of the River Avon to the cycle route. The route is not entirely flat but much flatter than I am used to in training, so the little upward slopes were not too bad. The sprint route goes out for 2.5km before returning but the standard distance competitors had to run along the side of the River Avon for 5 kilometres before turning round to run back again. Once again the Clifton Suspension Bridge is a wonderful, iconic landmark visible throughout a lot of the run. On an out and back course it’s easy to see where everyone is. So I was delighted to see Kathryn my daughter doing very well in 5th position about 15 minutes ahead of me and equally pleased to note that there were a lot of women, including the other ‘supervets’ behind me. I still felt OK and managed to maintain a consistent running speed all the way to the finish.
Finishing was great. My timing chip was removed from my ankle and my medal was put around my neck. I did feel I deserved a medal after all that effort.
The pain from the impact of my fall at the beginning of the cycle component kicked in after I finished. The British Red Cross were present at the event to provide first aid.
The British Red Cross personnel carefully cleaned the grit and debris from the cuts with a saline solution and then covered them with bandages.
Individual results are available almost immediately from a computer and it was really good to be able to find out times and even splits for each lap of the cycle ride almost immediately.
It was only 11:00 and the day’s work was done. So plenty of time a for a beer – or two.