New Years Eve is always a bit of an anti-climax I feel. You spend all evening looking for a suitable location to watch the fireworks, spend a huge amount of money in the process, and invariably end up soaking wet watching through the gap in two buildings. That is if they haven’t been cancelled. So what better way is there to celebrate the beginning of a new Annus? Of course! The Edinburgh New Years Day triathlon. Probably.
The Edinburgh New Years Day triathlon entry process began back in the autumn. Two friends from school told me they were entering and given my penchant for the triumvirate of swimming, cycling and running, thought I might like to too. Sadly, the actual vagaries of entering rather passed them by and when I eventually saw them in person on the 23rd December they revealed that they had not, in fact, entered. Classic.
I had made sure to ask for lots of nice warm gear for Christmas as it was sure to be cold. However, this raised more questions. What was to be done in T1? Should I stop and take the time to put on some nice warm leggings? Socks? Gloves? A warm beverage? Should I, in fact, be competing at all? These doubts however, are part and parcel of every triathlon. I put them to one side and thought instead of Haddock. How would he be feeling right now? His triathlon freak-outs are well documented and he recently penned a self-help guide for those in similar circumstances.
The organisers had made sure to start the race nice and late, to account for those who perhaps had gone too hard the night before. I didn’t plan on drinking too much, but sadly a few games of beer pong meant that my ‘allergies’ were playing up a little the following morning. Bloodshot eyes, a dry throat and a mild headache. Nothing a quick blast round Arthurs Seat wouldn’t cure. I made my way to the Commonwealth Pool and registered, racked and generally scouted out the competition.
This was to be a 400m pool swim and therefore a staggered start. Athletes were to go off one at time, from slowest to fastest by a pre-submitted estimate of swim time. I had a look at the estimates of swim time and was astounded to see a 4:40 down there. This was a good minute faster than the next fastest estimate and a full 1:20 faster than my estimate of 6:00. Holy mackerel! This man must be a veritable fish. I looked around for any Michael Phelps lookalikes but none were to be seen. I moved on, resounded to the hope that this person had a rubbish bike or run and I might catch them there.
The race began. There were around 400 athletes going off on 10 second intervals. I was about 8th from last so had slightly over an hour to wait. Mingling was interspersed with the inevitable need to go to the bathroom every 15 minutes so the time passed quickly. The last few numbers were called and I joined the queue. “Sexy Walrus” got the usual nod of surprise from the announcer, but I was too busy focussing on how to enter the pool. We weren’t starting directly behind the lanes, but rather had to enter from the side. Should I dive in from the side of the pool and do some funky redirecting in the water? Might I not cross into the next lane? Would I lose too much time if I just jumped in and started swimming? Such questions! I copied the man in front in the end and dove from the side. It was fine.
A 50m pool. 400m swim total swim. 8 lengths were to be done, one in each lane, starting at one side and exiting at the other. I had practiced tumble turning from lane to lane the previous day so knew what had to be done and overtook several other athletes during the swim. I clocked 5:40 for the actual swim, but due to the timing mat being at the entrance to T1 my total swim time read 6:13 in the post match analysis. Nevertheless, rather incredibly, that was the fastest swim time of the day which, given my proficiency at swimming even a year ago, was remarkable.
However, this knowledge was still unknown to me at this stage of the race. I was now at the most important part of the race – T1 – and had to finally make the decision of what extra layers to put on. In the end it was moot. My hands were already wet and cold, and I couldn’t manage to put my gloves on. I stuck with socks and a gilet and hoping that would be enough, I ran out with the bike to begin cycling.
It was cold. The first part of the loop was a fast downhill, and the windchill factor quickly sapped any residual heat. I pedalled hard, trying to motivate the metabolism to generate some heat. This brought me rather quickly to the meat of the cycle – the first of the 3 Arthurs Seat climbs. The first was good, the hill slowed the windchill factor and the climbing warmed me considerably. Due to the staggered start it meant many of the preceding athletes were still on the course, most 1 or 2 laps ahead. There were some hefty bikes on the course and, despite not having the TT bike, I made full use of the opportunities and overtook as many as possible.
After 1 lap I caught two athletes who looked like they knew what they were doing. Both on TT bikes, it became immediately obvious that one was called Neil, such was the volume of his support. Hardly a corner would be turned without someone bellowing enthusiastically their encouragement. In the end I joined in, and during our flip flopping of positions I would shout out my own regards. He pulled off after I had finished 2 laps and so I was left with Joe – the other of the TT bikes. I had caught him on the climbs, but he had come past me on each of the downhill and flat sections. He grinned with a expectant smile as I came past him on the final climb. Depending on his swim advantage it would now all come down to the run. I knew that in order to at least guarantee a chance of victory I would have to stay ahead of him.
I parked my bike, and put on my brand new, unused running shoes. If there is one piece of advice I always give to newbies it is this:
“Always, always, always try something new on race day.”
It is a piece of advice I hold dear, and always follow. Be it a gel, new goggles or trainers, there is nothing that livens up race day like the constant threat that a vital piece of equipment will fail.
The trainers seemed comfortable however, and I started off at a steady pace. Most of the
first half of the run would be on the same downhill that the bike began. Knowing that this might encourage some athletes to go off like the clappers, and knowing my own tendency to follow suit, I focussed hard on staying relatively consistent. Sure enough two chaps who had started the run ahead of me extended their leads on the first kilometer, but after that slowed and I reeled them in. The climb was good, and I ground out a steady pace. There were still some cyclists on the course and I felt a mixture of emotions passing them whilst running. Personally, it always feels good to pass a cyclist whilst running, but I imagined it must have been quite demoralising to be passed by runners whilst still on the bike. I shouted some encouragement to them nevertheless, and hoped it wasn’t received patronisingly. The last of the run was downhill and I finished with as much of a sprint as I could manage. Joe had not come past me, although he came close with the fastest run of the day, so at the very least I knew I was in with a shout of victory.
Sadly however, I was bumped into 2nd by a chap called Stephen Clark, who turned out to be an ex-pro. Despite this, I could not be too disappointed. Only 50 seconds down on someone of his calibre was an achievement in itself and had I had the TT bike … well. It could have been closer. Sensationalist journalism in the papers the next day rubbed salt in the wound. It also turned out Clark had put down the 4:40 swim estimate, I presume, to ensure that he was the last to go and could chase down the field. What tactics! A shrewd competitor to say the least. I hope he is racing next year …
All in all, it was a fantastic day. I ended with the fastest swim, the 2nd fastest bike and the 5th fastest run. A reversal in the way I would normally expect my rankings to go, but a nice change. The event itself was extremely well run, and staffed with enthusiastic volunteers throughout. I would recommend it wholeheartedly. I would advise keeping ‘off the sauce’ the night before however, regardless of the slightly later start time. Also put in an outrageous estimate for swim time should you be going for the win…