As the date of The AJ Bell London Triathlon approaches (8-9 August), so do my feelings of fear, I’m fully committed to it as I’ve told all my friends and family and my Twitter and Facebook followers, plus I’ve spent a fortune on kit, but the prospect of swimming 1.5km through the Docklands water before cycling 40km and running 10km still makes me nervous.
What if I get hit or kicked on the swim? What if I can’t get my wetsuit off? What if I fall off my bike? What if I get cramp?
It was safe to say I was quite nervous when I arrived at the Virgin Active gym in Canary Wharf for the first of three Triathlon Thursdays sessions, held each month in the build up to August. This one was hosted by Ray Gibbs from Swim Canary Wharf, who is one of the fastest swimmers in his age group, despite only learning how to swim properly in his 20s.
Ray started off my giving us some tips about the London triathlon swim course. Helpful tips include:
(1) Take a large water bottle to hydrate yourself and pour down your wetsuit before starting the swim. You could be waiting in your wetsuit for a while.
(2) When you enter the water, tread water gently. Don’t use up too much energy. Try the egg beater kick as opposed to the breast stroke kick for treading water.
(3) Breathe slowly and calm down as you wait for the klaxon to sound, You want to start the race slow.
(4) When you finish your swim you need to take your wetsuit off and put it in a plastic bag. Wear you swimsuit under the wetsuit. Don’t head to the first plastic bag – there are several people helping you do this.
(5) There are a lot of stairs to go up from the water to the transition area. Pace yourself going up them or it will make you dizzy!
Then it was time for me and another triathlete trainee to enter the water. How gorgeous is the Virgin Active pool? Ray bought another swim coach so the other trainee and I had 1-to-1 tuition.
We started with a gentle warm up and then went through a variety of drills to prepare ourselves for what would happen in the open water. First, we practised sighting.
In the open water there are no lane lines. Athletes swim to a buoy and then turn round but this relies on keeping the boy in your eyeline. It’s a lot easier than you think to go off in one direction and find yourself swimming extra to get back on course. We practised lifting the head up once every two strokes to check where we were going. The more we practised, the smoother it got. I don’t know what I’m doing with my arm in the photo below, but I really got into it!
Then it was time for some combat work. The London Triathlon attracts 13,000 entrants, which means a never ending stream of athletes entering the water. Some will swim to the side of you, some may stop in front of you and some may even try to swim over you. The way to get past this is to stick to your own pace. Don’t panic and don’t slip into breast stroke as your body will go down and people will swim over you. Ray and his assistant helped us practise staying focused by swimming after us and trying to grab us mid-stroke. At first, it was frightening but then I realised the only way I was going to get to the end was to continue what I started – I had to keep swimming and not let anything phase me.
The session ended with some stroke analysis. I was told I needed to increase my stroke length to reach out in front of me then pull back all the way to my legs. I’m going to practice this…
After 2 hours in the water, I felt a million times more confident. Preparation is key! I’ll keep blogging about how I’m getting on with my triathlon training and I’ll definitely be goin to the next Triathlon Thursdays session on 25 June to get some cycling tips that I can share with you.
Visit The AJ Bell London Triathlon website for more details about the race. If I can do it, anyone can.