I definitely have the triathlon bug. Back in June I took part in my first sprint tri, which was the Mid Sussex Triathlon in Burgess Hill, part of the Mid Sussex Tri Series. The swim was 400 metres in a pool and the bike was 25k. The London Triathlon sprint is slightly different. The swim is open water and 750 metres and the bike ride is a mere 20k.
London Triathlon 2015
I had wanted to sign up for the Worthing Triathlon until I realised I was working, so I plumped for the London Triathlon despite the cost. I figured it would be worth it for the experience. It’s the biggest triathlon in the world with 13000 participants racing over 2 days. I signed up for the sprint on the Saturday, as I’m not ready to up my game just yet.
Unfortunately it wasn’t possible for my wife and children to come up to London with me so I was on my own. Furthermore, I didn’t have use of the car, so had to take the train, with my bike and a full bag of kit. Two pairs of shoes, wet suit, tri suit, change of clothes and my camera equipment too. I decided I would attempt to film the swim as well as the bike and run sections.
Bike on the Train
To that end, I had a wrist strap for my GoPro camera as well as a new mount for the bike, which got bent whilst I was on the train. I set off at 10am leaving me plenty of time to get to the Excel Arena and allowing for train delays, cancellations and general London hassle.
The only difficulty I came across was boarding the Docklands Light Railway at Monument Station. Apparently bikes aren’t allowed at that station. However I was informed of this by the guard on a train as I was about to board. He asked how I managed to get all the way to the platform without being stopped.
Having got all the way down there, I wasn’t about to lug my bike all the way back up the stairs and escalators. So I simply waited until his train departed and got on the next one, making sure to avoid any official looking train personnel.
I arrived at the Excel with hours to spare before my London Triathlon wave set off at 16:30. It was great being so early. I could really take in the atmosphere, check out the transition area and wander round the expo. The place is huge!
First things first. I found a sensible spot to rack my bike. I decided on near to the ‘Bike Out’ exit. Others opt for near the ‘Swim In’ point so they don’t have as far to go after swimming to get to their stuff. I think it’s better to travel that distance without a bike. That’s my reasoning anyway! I laid all my kit out in as organised a way as possible and set off for a wander.
I went to the swim and bike spectator areas. There were waves of different triathletes going off all the time, so I could see how it all worked. It was very useful to watch people exiting the swim and removing their wetsuits. It was also interesting to note that transition was on an upper level so we had to climb stairs after the swim and we had short but steep inclines to negotiate at the start and end of the bike and run sections.
With an hour to go I decided it was time to get changed. There are no official changing facilities at the London Triathlon and nudity in the transition area means instant disqualification. So most people changed in the nearest toilets or came ready to race. I put my trisuit on and got back to my bike to put the wetsuit on. I have only worn it once and on that occasion the shop assistant zipped the back up for me. However, as it turned out it really wasn’t much of a challenge to get it on by myself!
I had one final thing to test before I was ready. WristCam! My option for filming the swim portion of the London Triathlon was to strap the GoPro to my wrist. Unfortunately the design of the wrist strap meant the orientation of the camera was wrong on my arm. I had to fiddle with it for ages and eventually settled with seating the strap the wrong way round but the right way for the camera and twisting the velcro to make it stick. I secured it with a safety pin, but next time I will use something altogether better suited to the task.
Finally the time came. I lined up at the Swim Assembly point with around 200 other triathletes. I was marginally concerned that an official would see my wrist and tell me to take the camera off. So I did keep it a little hidden when collecting my attractive green swim cap and listening to the race briefing. After a short hold in the Swim Assembly area we were directed down the stairs under a sign which read Quayside Cafe, on to the landing stage and straight in to the water.
We seemed to naturally spread ourselves out in the water and I was hopeful there wouldn’t be any of that crazy melee you often see at the beginning of an open water, mass start triathlon. Another brief hold in the Thames and we were off. Two things immediately struck me. One, the guide rope was on my right and I breathe to my left so it was difficult to work out where I was, and two, my goggles were steaming up as I’d forgotten to spit in them beforehand so I couldn’t see where I was going anyway.
Consequently I had to keep stopping to clear my goggles and to reorientate myself in the water. I kept recording for most of the swim. It was actually really straightforward to swim with WristCam. The sprint course was one lap of a 750m loop which you can see on the map here. I completed it in 16 minutes which, given the filming and the vision issues, is pretty respectable.
Filming the Bike Section
Obviously filming the London Triathlon had a major impact on my time and that was certainly the case in the first transition. Not only did I have to remove my wetsuit, run from the swim to my bike, put my cycling shoes and race belt on, I also had to fix two cameras to the handlebars. One facing out on to the road and one facing back at me, both on the same mount. I thought I had secured them until I began riding. The vibrations immediately made the mount slip down. So I spent the first 5 minutes of the bike section trying to tighten the camera mount in a decent position.
Eventually I seemed to have sorted it and I actually began to overtake people rather than the other way round. I know I still need lots of work on my cycling. Even if I wasn’t fiddling with video cameras I would only be a middle of the pack cyclist. The bike route for the Sprint was two laps of an undulating 10k course. There was a good view of the O2 Arena over the river in one direction and we passed London City Airport in the other, but in general I would say the course isn’t terribly interesting or exciting. There were a few spectators on the course they were outnumbered by officials and marshals in most areas.
Unfortunately early on in the second lap the camera issue reared its ugly head. I heard a clink as I rode over something. Little did I know it was the nut and bolt holding my smaller camera on the mount. A few seconds later the camera itself hit the floor. Luckily it’s pretty robust so there was no damage. But obviously I had to stop riding, get off and collect the camera from a road full of speeding cyclists. Once I got back on I could hear a race official on a motorbike behind me and I had a terrible feeling I was about to be disqualified for dangerous cycling. Thankfully I wasn’t pulled from the race and I continued to finish the 20k ride in 44 minutes.
Transition number two was a little slicker than the first. Camera off the bike and into the pole mount, helmet and cycling shoes off, running shoes and cap on. Turn race belt around and off we go. The run course was a 2.5k route along the river and was better supported by spectators. The route was a little narrow and winding in places which meant I had to call out to people ahead that I was coming through. I’m an average swimmer, not such a great cyclist, but I can run a bit and I went flying past most runners on the course. I’m by no means a fast runner when compared to actual fast runners. But compared to your average triathlete, I am likely to be one of the faster ones.
That said, my 5k time for the London Triathlon is in fact a little disappointing. I finished in 22:10 which is three minutes slower than my 5k PB. One thing everyone else seems to like but I didn’t think was very good at all, was finishing the run inside the ExCel itself. I crossed the finish line on a red carpet but I didn’t feel that tingling sensation in my spine. It was, if anything, a bit flat. In fairness, it was late in the afternoon and the crowd and announcer on the mic had been trying to be enthusiastic all day. I guess they were all a bit tired!! However, that only marginally takes away from what was a great experience.
Finish Times and Position
My total finish time was 1:34:10. I was 443rd out of 1753 finishers. The winner, Garry Walker, finished in 1:09:44. True to form, I came 530th in the swim section, 716th on the bike and 52nd in the run. I think if I ditch the camera for my next triathlon and just go for it as best I can, I can certainly improve on those positions. I am happy with my second triathlon result and am already looking forward to the next one, which will be an Olympic distance event in Arundel in September 2015.
I will certainly be back to the London Triathlon again but next time I will do the Olympic distance. I’d recommend doing at least one London Triathlon for the experience if nothing else. It is a huge participant event, although spectators are a bit thin on the ground there’s still more than at most triathlons you’re likely to take part in.
If you have enjoyed this race report and the video of my first London Tri, then please do share it with your friends and give it a Facebook like or a Google +1. Thanks!