There’s nothing ‘standard’ about an Olympic Distance Triathlon: The power of adaptability (part 1)

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

Whilst the title of this post might seem a bit philosophical, this blog is actually a race report. Special for the fact that it documents my first attempts at something, I learnt a lot – as you can probably imagine. As some of my frequent readers might remember, I did a solo Olympic Distance Triathlon during the summer of 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Joined by two teammates, I completed the 1500m swim, 40km bike and 10km. Yep, we’ll stick with the word ‘completed’ because the bike became a grit-teeth-and-bare-it type ride, and the run was a case of blowing up at 5km and run walking the rest. And so, my Leeds Triathlon entry for that year was deferred…

I only realised the latter in about March this year! Equipped with a 6-week training plan up to Leeds Standard Distance Triathlon from Adam (trusty coach at Greenlight PT who knows his sh*t!), I started building on what I’d already been doing. I’d been working with Oscar from Podium Potential TC since November; setting my weekly interval run sessions as part of my goal to actually enjoy running, to be more confidence in it (and myself), and actually develop some speed. I can honestly say it worked! And here my self-recognition started. At first, the achievement of recognising that when my body hurt, that didn’t mean I was going to die, or that I couldn’t sustain that pace, but just that it wasn’t easy – which is fine. The next step of confidence building was actually our group cycle sessions on a Thursday night, aptly named ‘Chain gang’. After three weeks in a row of, not only sticking comfortably with the pack of girls I rode with, but actually dropping then and creating a gap on the ‘max effort’ laps on the end of each interval, I began to realise my run fitness, speed and power weren’t the only things to have improved since September.

And so rolled around my first Olympic Distance Triathlon event – BUCS Standard Tri – and my first chance to improve my adaptability; something I’d recently struggled with due to my ‘steadfast’ personality (my mentor says ‘control freak’ has more negative connotations when it isn’t always a bad thing!). I was in fact supposed to be doing St Neots Standard Tri as my first race. Chosen for its small field of competitors that didn’t know who I was, it was a chance to have a warm-up race and make all the mistakes necessary, before the big race in Leeds a few weeks later. BUCS presented an entirely different atmosphere, with the competitors being of a higher standard, and out to race not just ‘have a go’. Despite this being my impression of the BUCS races, on the day it was perfect. Chatting to a few girls beforehand, everyone was in the same boat, either having not raced in over a year or (like me) using this race as a chilled attempt at a standard distance triathlon.

The race itself went perfectly, yet not to plan at all. To start with, I absolutely beasted the swim, coming out of the water with the 7th fastest swim time of the girls. Swimming through and past at least four packs of athletes, I was confused at the time as to why everyone was going so slowly! On reflection, I had been lucky enough to have been swim training with the uni squad for at least a month prior and perhaps with the longer swim leg of a standard distance triathlon, us swimmers extend our natural advantage a little longer over the cyclists and runners.

The ‘dead’ transition meant a focused T1, including stuffing jelly squares in my pockets and putting white socks on to run through the mud bath that was now transition. The latter seems counter intuitive when considering how best to keep your feet warm in a spring triathlon, however those that decided to run in cleats then spend about 5 minutes digging the mud out of them just to be able to clip into their pedals. Success number 2 of the day! The bike leg was an odd one, avoiding rain until about 30 minutes into the route, failing to get the mush of my rice squares into my mouth, and not really being sure how pace it. But that was what I enjoyed about it. I learnt that the consistency of my high-in-protein coconut and banana rice cubes had to be solid enough to not get squashed to my back and wrapped easy enough to open with one hand whilst going at 35kph. I adapted by using more of a scooping action and smashing it on my face, in the hope to score at least some of the much-needed fuel into my mouth. Unsure about the pacing, I figured that I didn’t need to have my foot on the gas the whole time to the point where the whole thing hurt even before I began the 10km run, so I settled into an average pace of 30.1kph, bringing me into T2 in 1:19:13 – a whole 47 seconds faster than what I’d predicted myself to be!

As you can probably tell, I’d been working hard on my running for the 8 months prior to this race. Oscar and I had sat down, talked through different scenarios and paces, and come up with a plan. The whole try-find-someone-to-draft plan for the swim had not been implemented (for the right reasons), my fuelling plan hadn’t quite worked but I’d managed, and then the run plan suitably went out the window the second I went into T2. As feared, I really needed the loo after almost 2 hours of racing – how other people don’t, I’ll never know. Heading out onto the course, I realised that the 5:00 / 5:10 minute pace I had planned was not really going to work today. But not because of my body (insert the happiest looking emoji you can picture!)!!! The triple lapped route around the lakes was less gravel paths, and more XC running, equipped with sloped paths and mud baths alike. Either way, I soon accepted the pace number on my Garmin was not one to watch today, and instead I focused on form, consistent lap times (18:30, 18:24, 19:12 – call me consistent!) and smiling for the camera! I rolled across the line in a total time of 2:39:42, and a run time of 56:08, which, considering my 10km XC pb is 52 minutes, I was absolutely chuffed with!

And so, I realised the importance of adaptability, especially when it’s the external, uncontrollable conditions that cause the need for this. I adapted nothing on my plan, bar my confidence and can-do attitude levels that I approached the sessions with… oh and my rice square recipe!

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