I’ve never thought of myself as a triathlete.

In fact, until about five years ago I didn’t consider myself any kind of athlete, having been pretty isolated from any form of exercise or sport for the previous 50 years.

However, with a few years of fitness experience under the belt, I felt it’s time to try a few a new challenges -and one of those was that my plans for a triathlon.

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I had substantial domestic encouragement.

My wife, Jenny, has been undertaking triathlons for about five years, gradually building up distance and culminating in her recent success at the Ironman Wales. Well, even Jenny was a triathlon beginner once, which was now my position, and I had to start somewhere.

For me, that somewhere was Nantwich in Cheshire, the location of a Sprint Triathlon early in September. 

Encouraged by my local support crew of friends Mark and Gill, I entered this without having done any specific training.

I wasn’t after an impressive time, and to have added some triathlon training would have taken time away from my main sport of weights in the gym – and after all, do I need to train for it?

How hard can it be?

The answer proved to be ‘very.’

Not the 20km of cycling, which is a distance that I often do on my cycling pub crawls, nor the 5k of running – again, that’s a length I do a couple of times a month anyway in our local Park Run.

I expected to have no problems in making the distance on these two disciplines – and so it proved. beginner triathlete_4But I seriously underestimated the swim – or to be more precise, massively overestimated my ability just to ‘wing it’. I don’t do much swimming, and 16 lengths of the Nantwich open-air pool proved harder than I expected.

Half way through the second length I had already retreated into breast-stroke and worked out that, quite possibly, I had never swam as far as the 500m required in one go ever before.

Don’t give up!

There was no doubt I would finish it, but my lack of swim training was obvious, as I retreated further into a dodgy version of side-stroke.

I left the pool pretty much in last position after around 23 minutes, time which included having taken 10 seconds as a breather every time I reached the shallow end.

The cycling and running gave me opportunities to improve my position, and in both of these I overtook more people than overtook me – always a good sign, I decided – but that didn’t make a massive improvement on my overall performance and I ended the event about 80% of the way down the field.

I wasn’t attempting a stellar time, but even so, unimpressive.

So why not one more?

Reflecting over a couple of pints (thanks Mark) and some great lunch (thanks Gill), I decided I had to do one more triathlon – and soon – and with some swim training and coaching in advance.

beginner triathlete_5So I booked myself into a triathlon event at Eton Dorney lake (yes, the Olympics rowing venue) taking place three weeks later.

I considered a longer distance – Olympic venue, maybe Olympic distance? – but concluded that my swimming wouldn’t be up to it so finally decided in favour of a shorter one with the swim at just 400m.

This was less swim distance than in the Nantwich event, but I expected it to be more challenging as it would be my first experience of open water for this length, first time in a swimming wet suit (borrowed) and of course there is no shallow end – once in, there’s no putting feet down until exiting for transition.

So I considered this event would be an appropriate progression for my amateurish swimming skills.

Click here for Part 2 of the article where Chris will tell all about the improvement of his swimming skills, and the possibility of heading for that elusive distance triathlon at next years Olympics.

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