Thursday, 1 August 2013

Blood, Sweat and Dysentry

Bristol Harbourside Triathlon, 23/06/13

Bristol was my first attempt at qualifying for the World Championships in London this year. To say I was feeling unfit was an understatement. I'd done about as much running as my obese cat in the past two months, I’d spent very few hours on the bike, and even my pool sessions had been shortened because of my knee injury. I’d felt shocking on the run in Turkey, so a couple of weeks later and with even less fitness, I think it would be fair to say that I didn’t have high hopes.

Prior to race week, all competitors had been sent a race info pack. Normally, a triathlete competitor information pack has a couple of lines saying how open water swimming is dangerous, you can drown, you’re competing at your own risk etc etc. This booklet had a whole A4 side dedicated to the dangers of swimming in the Cumberland Basin. “You need to be vaccinated against every kind of infectious disease possible. You should not go near the water if you have a papercut. If you’ve had a runny nose this week STAY AWAY! Don’t even think about eating until you’ve drowned in bleach after the race”.

My friend Judith who was also racing tomorrow met me at the station. I almost coughed up a lung cycling up the hill to her house, while she glided up effortlessly. Wow, I was unfit. It'd be rude to visit a new city and not sample its chocolaterie, so we stocked up on calories then experienced the 'gale of the gorge' that we would be cycling into tomorrow, just so it wasn't such a big shock when I couldn't actually pedal into it on the day. We spent the evening taping up Judith's open blisters on her fingers that she had acquired from threading her elastic laces #triathleteproblems

The only thing I was looking forwards to the next day was the lie-in. As our wave was at 11am and Judith lived 5 minutes from race HQ, we didn’t need to get up until 8am. Luxury. Racking our bikes was a ‘mare as the railings were on a slope, so my bike was levitating, smacking into the ones next to it every time the wind blew. Their bikes were worth more than mine so I didn’t feel too worried.

On the way down to the swim start I cut my finger on the railings. Dammit. There goes the ‘no open wounds in the water’ rule. The first aider gave me a plaster that was about as waterproof as my eyeliner and came off as soon as it came into contact with the water. The start was vicious as ever and the pace insane. I was in the front bunch with another five or six girls, but it was hard to keep track of everyone as we were overtaking the OAPs who were on the second lap of their Olympic-distance swim. I just wanted to get out of the water ASAP to minimise the chances of losing my thumb.

I had a quick transition, great mount (for someone who has the coordination of a baby giraffe) and was out on the bike. Within the first couple of kilometres, I overtook an elite from my age group. Wait a second…. There’s someone who swims faster, but cycles slower than me? That’s a first. Within 5km, I noticed my hand sticking to my aerobars, but I hadn’t had my gel yet… strange. I looked down and found my whole left hand and aerobar covered in blood from my thumb. I did my best to work this look for the rest of the bike course, but I'm not sure it'll tag on.

My balance is normally on par with this baby giraffe.

Out on the run course, and I was feeling surprisingly ok. At the turn point I realised I was in 3rd place in my age group, behind an elite and another pretty speedy girl who had pre-qualified for London at last year’s worlds. The other elite behind me was closing the gap so I had to keep pushing and hope the finish line came before she did. The only problem was I wasn’t sure exactly where I was relative to the finish line, so didn't know how long I had left (the last marshall I'd past had said 1km to go, when my garmin was saying I'd already done 4.8km). Not wanting to bonk big-style, I stayed at my pace. Unfortunately, with less than 200m to go, she (the elite, not the marshal) came flying past me like roadrunner and crossed the finish line 9sec ahead of me. Had I known exactly how long I had left, I would’ve started my sprint earlier and I may have crossed the line before her. Lessons for next time…

Overall, I finished in a time of 1:13:24, placing me 4th in my age group behind two elites and the girl who had pre-qualified for the worlds. Therefore, I had the first qualification spot for the Worlds! I guess it wasn’t such a bad race after all, although I did miss Chrissie Wellington greeting people at the finish line because I was getting mopped up in the medical tent, dammit!

Did someone mention swimmer's shoulders?
Photo credits - The Triathlon Shop

I returned home to find a health and safety questionnaire from Bristol Triathlon in my inbox. It had been sent on the morning of the race asking about my symptoms 48hours after going in the Cumberland Basin. I’m just glad I didn’t see this on race morning - it would have freaked out even the most confident of swimmers. Now the waiting game for the symptoms to occur… would anyone like to take a bet on what I’ll get? Smallpox? Dysentry? Malaria? I'm sure anything is possible with the state of that water.

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