In all honesty I have dodged giving a triathlon a go for years.  Largely because I felt I would be unable to swim well enough.  After some consistent encouragement from my good friend Steve, I signed up for Gullane.  It was only fair after he had joined me in a marathon plan for Paris in April.  So, after venturing into the pool to see whether it was even a possibility, and getting the thumbs up from Gill (top swim coach) to say I would get the job done, I knuckled down to the training. 

One or two swims a week, working on some small technical points that Gill had helped with, I soon surprised myself that I could swim ok for prolonged distances.  1500m, at least in the pool was quite doable, so I had the confidence I would get through it.  Those in the know kept mentioning “open water” and I knew I needed to get some experience.  It was not until 10 days before that I managed to get chance to swim at Fox Lake in East Lothian, a wonderful facility with open water swimming on a Tuesday evening.  And what a shock I got.  I spent a bit of time wrestling into my new wetsuit, and then into the water.  It was a lovely evening but visibility in the water was poor.  Combine that with not hitting a wall every 25m and to be honest I found the first 10 minutes or so quite unsettling.  I stuck at it and started to feel more comfortable in the water as the session went on.  Siting was a real challenge and something I am going to need to work on.  Thank heavens I got myself into the water before race day.  I left that evening thinking I could do it, but also hoping for calm conditions on race day.  A sea swim was no doubt going to be a different challenge.

And so on to race day on Saturday 21st July.  I woke up and checked the weather conditions.  A lovely calm morning which meant two things; firstly, sea conditions were the best that I could hope for; and, secondly, the swim would go the full 1500m distance.

When I arrived at Gullane it was a lovely atmosphere.  Very inclusive with people of all ability levels taking on the challenge.  It was nice for a novice and debutant such as myself to feel at ease with people chatting away and being very welcoming.  The Edinburgh Triathlon Club were great at making sure the instructions made things clear to first timers which was a real help.

So down to the beach to start and brief warm up in the water for about 10 minutes.  I was delighted to find the visibility in the water was great.  Far better than my lake swim.  I could see a reasonable distance, spot other swimmers quite clearly, which again made me feel a little better.  That said, I was pretty nervous, taking a step into the unknown with a completely new event. 

We were called onto the beach and lined up for the start.  My plan was clear.  Stay to the outside and avoid the middle area with people fighting for space.  I went cautiously into the water to begin with letting the top swimmers and experienced triathletes charge ahead.  It worked pretty well with me not feeling crowded at any point and being able to swim at my own pace.  In hindsight I was probably a little defensive as I found myself behind a wall of swimmers for at least the first few hundred metres, and I could probably have gone faster by getting ahead of them rather than hanging back.  It all goes into the experience bank for the next time.  Whether I was cautious or not, I felt comfortable in the water and got into a good rhythm.  The swim was a two lap course in the bay, starting from when you reached the first buoy.  When I reached the end of the first lap I had to make my way out of the water, run around a marker on the beach and back into the water.  I put my feet down too soon making it hard to wade through the water.  Another lesson banked.  Lap two was uneventful, making my way through the 750m in reasonable time and back to the beach.  I swam closer to shore on lap two which helped and back onto land. 34:34 for the swim, including the mid swim run and the run up the dunes to T1.  I’ll take that for a first timer.

Before reaching the transition there was a run up the beach, through the paths in the dunes, to reach the bike.  That was tough.  The heart rate jumped but at least there was a form of enforced rest when picking up my bike.  I was slow through T1 (more ground to pick up next time), but did manage to get all of the rules right and pick up the essentials, then onto the bike.  An energy gel down the hatch and I was good to go and off on the bike.

What a beautiful cycle through the East Lothian countryside and mostly good surfaces.  I really enjoyed the challenge of the bike, getting onto the drops and working hard.  A couple of seasoned triathletes came scorching past me in the initial stages, but I was able to pick up a significant number of places on the cycle.  I do not yet have a specific time trial bike and many people did.  However, I was delighted by how I was cycling, gaining ground on the flats down wind and on up hills, losing distance to some around me into the light winds and on the downhill sections where a more aerodynamic position seemed an advantage.  But all in all I was really pleased with how I held my own, completing the 42km in 1:18 at an average speed of just over 32km per hour.

T2 can be cleaned up as well, but I did make it out in reasonable time.  In typical disorganised fashion I could find my triathlon laces the evening before the race.  Lacing up cost me a few seconds but that was all my fault.  Out onto the run and my undoubted area of strength.  I had survived the swim, had a successful and pleasing cycle, and now it was time to go!  What I was not ready for were the two hills.  100m in and it ramped steeply uphill for a couple of hundred metres.  A brutal start, the lungs were feeling it, and the quads were starting to ask questions.  Thankfully onto tarmac and downhill for the next stretch through the streets of Gullane.  Round a couple of corners and then I saw it.  The hill!  I don’t run hills much at the best of times and this was after 1.5km of the running leg of my first triathlon.  It ramped up for several hundred metres.  Others were starting to walk to give you an indication of just how brutal this stretch was.  My quads were on the verge of cramp when I reached the top and I was forced to manage my effort on the next section.  It was probably after roughly 3km and after a nice downhill section that I started to feel quite comfortable and get into a nice rhythm, while all the time thinking…” THERE IS ANOTHER LAP TO COME.”  The final 2km of lap one was pretty flat, and I was gaining places consistently.  On lap two I made it up both hills ok albeit about 10s slower on both to manage my effort.  What I should then have done is let rip after “HILL 2” because I was feeling good.  I was running well but I think because I was already passing people, I was content to keep going at the same effort level.  Another lesson to be learnt, I could have pushed harder.  But as a novice, I didn’t know how difficult it was going to get in the latter stages.  Marathon running had told me to resist the temptation to go too fast too soon, because the last 6 miles can be brutal.  Part of me expected a similar experience here, which never ultimately materialised.  But that’s something to consider for next time.  I finished the course in a respectable 2:38:22.

The whole atmosphere was very positive with nice crowds cheering everyone on.  It was great to have my family there and it was a real lift each time I passed them at the transitions and on the run.  I should give a huge thumbs up to Edinburgh Triathletes for was a really well organised event with a lovely inclusive atmosphere, and especially for the direction given to less experienced campaigners like myself.  And now for something cool…I do love collecting medals from the different races I have been lucky enough to be part of.  No medal here…instead a branded set of Bluetooth headphones. 

What a cool way to remember my first triathlon.  You have probably guessed from reading this that I would like to do more!