We catch up with Clare, who extends her Issue 2 journey from novice to triathlete one step further, to Ironman.
It’s 8am on Sunday 18 June 2017 and I’ve already been awake for 4 hours and been to the toilet 5 times. I am ankle deep in Staffordshire’s Chasewater reservoir wearing an unflattering neoprene wetsuit and a bright pink hat – looking identical to the hundreds of other people around me. I fiddle with my goggles for the last time and nervously play with my Garmin making sure it’s definitely set to ‘triathlon mode’ (just in case it had changed from the 14th time I had checked 30 seconds previously). After all, we all know if it’s not on Strava then you didn’t actually do it. Before I plunge into the murky looking waters I try to remember why I’m doing this and how on earth I ended up here.
The 70.3 Chapter
My journey to this bobbing jetty in the middle of Staffordshire at an ungodly hour on a Sunday started back in October 2016. Having finished my first full season as a triathlete (culminating in two Olympic distance triathlons as part of the Serpentine Novice Squad), I decided it was time to step it up a gear and get the Ironman (cough 70.3) t-shirt and medal. The 70.3 iron distance is a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run.
I had trained hard with the Serpentine Tri Squads from November through June with a particular highlight being the week long training camp at Club La Santa in Lanzarote (although the less said about my melt down on the time trial on day 1 the better). Under the watchful eye of my mentor and previous novice squad coach Rosh, I was standing in Chasewater reservoir feeling race-fit and without injury.
It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed when you think of the task (and day) ahead of you, but as we stepped into the water I was full of excitement. I knew that, provided I took it steady and stuck to my strategy then short of uncontrollable elements like a bike mechanical issue, I should finish. The weather reporters were predicting the hottest day of 2017 and at 8am standing in a reservoir I wasn’t the slightest bit chilly. Rosh had drilled into me the need to ignore any time goal – this was my first attempt at the 70.3 distance and if it was as hot as predicted I needed to make sure I stopped at every water station. The extra minutes taking on fluids wouldn’t matter as I was getting a PB regardless.
I started the race and was swimming merrily along until a swarm of red hats started to attack me. The wave behind me had started and the faster swimmers had caught me up. I was stuck between Betty doing breaststroke and Michael Phelps, who only had me and Betty between him and Staffordshire 70.3 swim glory. Determined not to be bullied I’m ashamed to say my kick got slightly more aggressive. There was enough reservoir to go around and I certainly wasn’t in the ‘racing’ line. For those of you that may be put off triathlon because of the swim element I would urge you to attend the Monday and/or Thursday night club swim sessions. With supportive coaches and exclusive use of the pools you may surprise yourself. If it’s the open water element that scares you then the club also runs sessions during the summer at Shepperton Lake, which will settle any nerves in a beautiful, friendly setting.
With caffeine fuelled spectators cheering the way into T1 (transition 1 from the swim to the bike) I decided to jog into the tent in an effort to look like I knew what I was doing. Any illusion I created was promptly lost when I sat on the floor to dry my feet and put my socks on. I’ve learnt the hard way that falling off your bike whilst trying to ‘flying mount’ and falling over standing up whilst trying to put bike shoes on are both less dignified than a 60 second sit down. Annoyingly I had missed the squad bike handling/transition practice sessions at the Olympic Velopark and instead I scowled enviously at those who effortlessly hopped onto their bikes. I also took valuable seconds asking a volunteer to cover my back in Factor 50 P20 suncream. Those seconds I certainly didn’t regret.
After a technical start to the bike leg I was extremely surprised to see my average speed hovering around the 18.5mph mark. ‘It’s the closed roads,’ I told myself, ‘You don’t have to stop at traffic lights.’ I knew full well that I was a 16/17mph cyclist on a good day (and by good day I mean when I am hanging onto a wheel on the Serpie Sunday rides). Despite having flies stuck to my suncream and sweat dropping in my eyes, I was in excellent spirits. With only a few miles left on the bike I was still feeling strong, albeit ready to get out of the saddle. I eventually rolled over the mat into T2 (transition 2 from the bike to the run) – now if my legs could get me around the run that medal would be mine. I pulled my trainers on and set off. There was only one problem, it was hot. Really hot.
The Staffordshire run course is three laps and after only half a mile you agonisingly pass the finish line and see the stream of quicker athletes ‘turning left’ to claim their medal, free food and glory. A particular boost was seeing and high-fiving Rosh, who was also taking part and on the run. Seeing the distinctive red and gold Serpentine colours gave me a real sense of being part a much bigger team in this very solo sport and spurred me on.
My slow plod turned into a prolonged walk at every water station with the heat of the early afternoon sun now utterly relentless. Someone in the crowd told me I was doing so well in the 30 degree heat. 30 degrees! It was getting tougher and tougher and I was now walking with the odd energetic burst whenever I saw a photographer (having pre-paid for my photos I wanted to get at least one that was Facebook profile worthy). The majority of the athletes had now finished but the spectators that remained were still cheering loudly as the miles slowly ticked down. By mile 10 I had given up running, even for the photographers.
Eventually I rounded the last corner and began to run again. It was finally my time to ‘turn left’ and enter the finish funnel. It was only when I saw the finish line that I knew I had done it. For all those times I had been up way too early, that I had ordered orange juice instead of gin and wondered why on earth I thought I could do a ‘70.3’ triathlon ….. I had done it. Anything really is possible and what’s more I crossed the finish line as I had started the race – with a huge smile on my face. What was my final time? I didn’t actually care.
From my first foray into the sport with a sprint distance triathlon in late 2015 to the full iron distance (yes, double the 70.3 distance) that I am going to attempt in February 2018, there is no doubt that triathlon now shapes every aspect of my life. I am immensely proud of how far my legs have already taken me, and whilst my bank balance may have suffered and I now consider 8am a lie-in, the enjoyment I get from racing and the sense of achievement I feel at every finish line makes all the sacrifice worth it. Oh, and I guess it also helps that along the way I found a triathlon loving boyfriend who happily joins me in all the swim/bike/run madness.
Clare Freshwater joined the Serpies in January 2015 after her second cousin (a former member himself) recommended the club.