Last weekend, I took part in my first ever triathlon, urged on by my lovely (and infinitely tougher) colleague Charlie. To clarify, it was a mini triathlon: At 400m swim, 10km cycle, and a 5km run, it doesn’t even qualify as a Sprint. On top of that, it was an indoor event – we did the track in the comfort of The Third Space gym, using the pool, stationary bikes, and treadmills, in sets of 4 racers. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call hardcore, but as I learned, it was a challenge in itself.

I’d seen the signs up around the gym advertising the event… and lightly considered it. However, having practically no formal swimming practice (grew up on lakes and with a pool in my backyard, and so am well enough versed in swimming, but never took to grinding out lengths of front crawl fro fun), the idea of signing up scared me. How far is 400m when you swim it? Will I be able to keep up, or will I need to stop for my breath after each length? How, exactly, is one supposed to breath, and turn, and everything else, without looking like a complete newbie?

The other reason I had holding me back from signing up on the spot was the date. Falling on the morning of March 17th, this meant I’d be competing just a couple days after my trip to Austin for SXSW. SXSW was a huge inspiration but an absolute overload. Plenty of walking, but nothing that I’d call part of a fitness routine that’d get me prepped for a triathlon the following week. Certainly not after those ribs and the rest of the grub I chowed down on out in Texas!

However, given a light prod, I find it hard not to accept a challenge. I got in touch with the girl in charge, a very sweet but obviously very hardcore athlete under the pseudonym Hurry Harry, and found that there were just a few spots left. Harriet was kind enough to warn me that the slots left for the 10:00 and 10:30 start times would be up against a group of particularly competitive guys. I opted for the 9:30, but later secretly wished I’d taken on the larger challenge.

That said, as much as I told myself I was going to push myself and that I’d be okay… I was nervous come race day, not knowing what to expect. And recovering from a poorly timed cold at the time, I didn’t feel like moving much at all that morning. But I got up, dragged my butt to the gym, and got through the course.

So, how’d I do? Terribly, if you’re counting by time. Of the 30 or so competitors, I lagged behind, quite badly. Here’s what I clocked:

400m swim: 11.21
10km cycle: 20.17
5km run: 39.00
Total time: 1:10.38

I started off shakily, more nervous about my swimming form and the fact that I was being watched and timed than about how fast I was going to be able to go. But once I finished a length and realised I was already losing ground, my concentration was shot for good. Over the last few months, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying heading for a swim, getting lost in the rhythm. Something about having 3 others splashing alongside me though, clearly lapping me, was unnerving. And as you’re swimming and trying to time your breath, being unnerved is unpleasant. So is a mouthful of water, as I learned about 80 metres in. By the time I was finishing my last laps, the others had finished and moved to the change rooms to get ready for their cycle. I caught my breath, and completed the rest, at my own pace. By the time I was done, my arms were shattered and my lungs were tight. I was dying to get on to the cycle where I feel a little more grounded.

The problem with estimating your ability for your first triathlon is getting a feel for not only what each individual leg of the race will take out of you, but what combining the three means to your performance. I took it easy on the bike, not pushing the gears way up to shave a couple minutes off my time – I realised, probably a little too late, that I was going to need my legs as fresh as possible for the run. I hadn’t hit the pavement for months at this stage, and the 5km I once would have laughed at was now feeling daunting.

I closed in on the 10th kilometre, and took the 2 minute change-over period to refill my water bottle, only to realise my legs were weak and wobbly. My competitors had already taken off on their runs, and looked to be comfortably in stride on the treadmills.

Now, I hate treadmills. I’m sure it’s just a personal psychosis, but I can’t help feeling at peril, my legs always a tiny slip away from being tossed off the back of the machine. The feeling-like-a-hamster sensation plays a part too, and I didn’t start to feel like I was in the ‘zone’ until about the 4th kilometre. By this point, my shin splints were acting up badly, and my calves felt as if they were just going to seize up. I took it slowly, and punched the machine into a walk when needed. That’s the worst part about a treadmill, in my opinion. Unlike running on a pavement, where if you slow down or speed up, you just do so, on a treadmill, you’re forced to coax the machine into suiting your pace, desperately mashing on buttons that have woefully bad touch-sensitivity. This isn’t so bad when you’re starting, but by the time you’re exhausted, kicking the machine up or down in speed is more effort than it’s worth, but leaves your running pace feeling quite unnatural.

In the end, I got there. I finished. And I got a half decent grab bag to show for it (I wasn’t exactly going for the prizes!).

And now that I’ve got my first measurements, I know what times I’ve got to beat, and what to expect in order to beat them. Looking forward to the next one!