London Triathlon

July 31st, 2004

Location: Excel Center, Royal Albert Docks

After months of training, the big day has finally arrived!

Since this was our first time, Dave and I entered in the Sprint Distance for the triathlon. That means we did a 750 meter swim (0.5 mile), followed by a 20k bicycle ride (12.4 mile), and then 5k run (3.1 mile).

bicycle CYCLING...

Over the years, Dave and I have enjoyed cycling long distances. It wasn't unusual for us to enter a 30 or 40 mile ride...not to mention Dave entering in the 2 day MS150 ride every year. So we weren't really worried about that part of the triathlon.

runner RUNNING...

I've spent plenty of time jogging at lunch during the work week or in the park on the weekends. I would usually jog 3 miles at least three times a week, so I new this wouldn't be a problem. Dave on the other hand never liked jogging much because he would get shin splints.

swimmer SWIMMING...

Neither one of us were very strong on the swimming, so that's what we tackled first. We started out going to the pool, thrashing down the lane, gulping for air before reaching the end of the pool. It was very humbling and made us feel like we were totally out of shape. I couldn't figure out why running three miles was a piece of cake, but swimming in a 20 meter pool impossible.

After spending a month at the pool making little improvement and just three months left until the triathlon, we decided to enlist the help of a swim instructor. We signed up for 5 one-on-one lessons on the weekends.

The first lesson our instructor watched us swim the front crawl a few laps and then started giving guidance. Little things like head down, body straight, hands dive straight in and pull all the way back made all the difference. By the second lesson he gave us some hand paddles to help improve hand stroke. Basically, if you don't do the hand movement correctly, then the paddle comes off. Also helpful was to do laps swimming with one hand only. By the third lesson (and much individual practice) it started to become obvious where I was rushing through a stroke and which arm was being lazy, especially when I wasn't allowed to kick at the same time. Finally by the fourth lesson I started to settle into a rhythm of arms, legs, and breathing. It was amazing! Once I found a rhythm then the distance was no longer a problem.

As the weeks went by, I thought no problem... until the day of the open water practice swim. With just half a month left until the triathlon, we signed up for the practice swim which was in the same waters as on triathlon day. True to London summer, it was rainy with a high of 68 or so. The Royal Albert Docks are an offshoot of the Thames River and thus pretty cool, averaging around 62 degrees in the summer. Even though we had on wetsuits, I was freezing! Every time I tried to stick my head in the water I came up gasping and teeth chattering, so I swam the whole time head above water. After an hour I was so worn out, cold, and miserable I was ready to throw in the towel. I talked to the person coaching the swim and he suggested I practice more open water swimming.

Not looking forward to more cold water, we signed up with the Serpentine Swim Club and went open water swimming at least three times a week. I learned to better handle the cold water by swimming a breaststroke with my head above the water for the first 100 meters. That way I was acclimated to the water before I stuck my head in. This was really important because it's hard to regulate your breathing for front crawl when you're cold. Of course, the people in the swim club thought we were silly wearing wetsuits since they swim outside year round without wetsuits.


I didn't sleep well at all the night before the triathlon. I had already packed my bags, filled my water bottle, and attached my race numbers but that didn't help calm my nerves. When the alarm went off in the morning, we got dressed and forced down a little food. Since so many people enter the London Triathlon, they split the start times by sex and age group. For the sprint distance there were four male groups and two female groups with about 300 contestants in each group. Luckily the male groups went first so I had a little time to relax and watch. Dave went in the second men's group and I went in the first women's group, so I actually got to watch Dave for the swim and half of bicycle before going to get ready.

Ten minutes before the start of the group, the participants congregate in a meeting area fully outfitted in wetsuits and race swim caps. Amazingly it was 80 degrees that day with bright sun so we were melting in the wetsuits. I was talking to another lady who was also participating for the first time. It seemed most of the others were just as nervous as me. They lead the whole group down some stairs and out into the water. The coolness of the water felt great after standing in the sun and we ended up treading water for 5 minutes or so until they fired the starting gun. At the swim practice they tell you about starting the swim with 300 other people, but none of that can prepare you for what it's really like. There are so many people that it's impossible to swim more then 5 strokes without running into somebody. And hesitating for a second means somebody is running into you. In the first 200 meters I was kicked or hit in the head (not sure which), my feet grabbed or grazed tons of times, and a few people swam into my side. After swimming down the dock and around the corner it starts to thin out a little, but still quite congested. If I were to do it all over again I would have tried to start first and swim on the far side of the group instead of in the thick of it.

Overall though, I was amazed at how well I swam. I finished the swim ahead of many, but by no means first. I was relieved how beautiful the weather turned out to be and the practice paid off.

Dave Time: 18 min 42 seconds (transition after swim 7 min 16 sec)

Vareen Time: 15 min 50 seconds (transition after swim 6 min 10 sec)

waiting to swim swimming started

dave after swim me after swim me sprayed with water after swim

All parts of the triathlon are timed, even the time it takes for you to transition from one part of the race to the next. In the beginning you're assigned a number spot to keep all your stuff. After the swim, you run into the building transition area to grab your bicycle and helmet and leave behind the wetsuit. As I was pedaling out on my bicycle I realized that I left behind my gloves. Then as I pedaled into the bright sun I realized I left behind my sunglasses! Then as I pedaled into the second mile I realized I left behind my water bottle!! Oh well, I couldn't go back so I sang a song in my head and pedaled to the beat. Good thing I'm used to exercising in hot weather!

The bicycle section was two laps on the road and I found that the second lap seemed to go much faster when I recognized what was coming up next. In the grand scheme of things, I knew my cycling would be the weaker part of the race since I usually don't cycle fast, but instead plod along consistently.

Dave Time: 46 min 28 seconds (transition after bike 5 min 22 sec)

Vareen Time: 55 min 34 seconds (transition after bike 4 min 2 sec)

group of cyclists

dave bicycle v bicycle

The final part of the triathlon is the running. Really thirsty after the waterless bike ride, I drank like a camel in transition. As I was putting on my sunglasses, the girl next to me was about to leave and so we headed out together. She ran about the same pace as myself (maybe a little faster), so we were a great pair together. We talked the whole time and encouraged each other through the hard parts (up hill). This was where I felt the heat the most, but thankfully there were drink stations setup. I drank half and poured the other half over my head! Dave had a little drama in the end because his timing belt didn't record the last lap of his run. So we took the time of the first lap and doubled it.

Dave Estimated Time: 29 min 50 seconds

Vareen Time: 27 min 18 seconds

v running

dave at finish line v at finish line

*** Dave Total Estimated Time: 1 hour 47 min 38 seconds ***

*** Vareen Total Time: 1 hour 48 min 52 seconds ***

v with medal

Words of Wisdom by Dave...
We signed up for the Triathlon to challenge ourselves and it certainly worked. We learned competitive swimming and got into pretty good shape overall. It was hard to improve in three sports at once, but it made us realize how being good at one sport didnít mean we could be ready for anything. Vareen turned out to be a great swimmer, while I had to rely on my faster biking to beat her. I better keep training!

The Star End

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