Swim, bike, hypothermia

Well, this isn’t exactly how I wanted to start this blog, with the story of how I failed to complete my first half ironman-distance triathlon – the Sundowner Triathlon just south of York. And in the immediate aftermath that was how I came to see myself. A failure. I’d let down the people who’d come to support me, and would be going off on my travels having missed one of my key goals for the year.

But in the days that have passed, I’ve reassessed the situation. I’m taking the positives.

e3s_8400Having set myself the target of 5 hours 30 minutes (30 min swim, 3 hour bike, 1:50 run, plus change for transitions) it all started pretty well, despite the consistent rain. After four laps of the swim, I came out of the water fourth for my heat in 31:25. On track

The bike was two laps of 45km on flat roads south of York. To hit my target, I needed to average 30kmph, which was certainly achievable, in spite of the wind and rain. After getting an extra layer and some gloves on, I set out. For 60km I was on track (as you can see from the Strava stats below). After that, it all went a bit pear shaped.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-18-33-43

To start with the legs just went to get a bit heavy, the pace dropped and I felt a bit chilly. Then suddenly at 70km, I suddenly felt awful. I began to shiver uncontrollable, focusing on the road became difficult, and I ground to want felt like a standstill. At that point, I knew I was in trouble. The focus now was just on getting back to the transition zone, as stopping anywhere out on course would’ve taken longer to get back to safety.

The worst experience was when my vision started to tunnel, just as I turned onto a major road. The noise of every vehicle going past brought a shudder, and the spray that was flying up just added to the misery.

I knew by now that I wasn’t going to complete the race. And I really hate quitting. I was letting people down – my family who had come along to cheer me on, and my friends at running club who’d been so supportive. I fell off the bike at the dismount line, and was almost carried to the recovery tent wrapped in foil blankets. The next hour was spent shivering, drinking tea, and layering up with every item I’d brought with me. I’d failed.

But looking back, I didn’t have a choice but stop. After the race I checked out my stats and at almost the exact point where I fell to pieces, I experienced a 20bpm drop in heart rate. My body was telling me to stop – and there was nothing else I could do. I was also more susceptible to hypothermia due to my low body fat percentage – when it all started going wrong, there was nothing extra to keep me warm in the horrid conditions. And I wasn’t the only casualty of the conditions. Huddled round the heater were many much more experienced triathletes with the m-dot on their calves. There’s no shame in stopping when carrying on would just be dangerous.

So what can I take from this moving forward?

I hadn’t trained in conditions anywhere near that bad. So I’d not experienced just how tough it was going to be. Being a rookie cyclist (as someone who swims and runs THEN took up triathlon) I looked at conditions like we had on race day and saw it as an excuse to go to the gym or get in the pool. But I know I need to get out in the wind and the rain more. Prepare myself for the worst. Learn how to push through it. Acclimatise to the cold as well as the hot.

But the plan is to be back in time for (and hopefully complete) Sundowner Triathlon 2017.

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