Llandudno Olympic Distance Triathlon 2010

Lining up on the pebble beach for this one I was nervous, as ever, of the idea of swimming in the sea. My previous sea swims were all fine, but ideas that the water here was colder had been planted in my mind by various people. Added to that, I was in the second wave of starters, so I had the chance to see 180 swimmers get in and start lurching around in the swell as they formed some semblance of a line between two buoys. Once they had all got away without incident there was an agonising wait of several minutes before the rest of us could brave the Irish Sea. Tide was apparently running in our favour, giving us half a knot of assistance, but the wind was blowing against the direction of the swim, creating some chop. I was third or fourth of wave two to get in, as I was keen to warm up and get my face in the water to get used to it. As usual, there was an instant sense of relief - water was cool but not polar, and I knew I'd be fine with the temperature. The chop was certainly significant, and I knew that would make life difficult. The whistle blew and it was time to get my head down and go for it!

Instantly I realised this was going to be a tough swim - the waves were throwing me around and as I had to roll much more than normal to breathe, bringing my arm up high, each re-entry seemed to bring my arm crashing down into a trough, pulling me under the next wave. My stroke was all over the place and I was drinking too much salt water for comfort. That was my surface experience but inside I was calm and enjoying the challenge - the scared part of me was sure I'd get seasick or nauseous from the intake of salt water - or that I would fatigue really soon from wrestling with this churning green monster. The calm part of me won out though, as for some reason none of these things happened and I could see the seafront buildings getting nearer. I had started quite far out from the beach and the line I was swimming was nowhere near the buoys. I had picked the southern slope of Great Orme as my sighting line and as this was way above the water's surface I could see it easily without having to haul myself up out of the water. That was one of my better decisions as I kept to a near perfect course, joining the main pack at the second-last buoy. Not sure how long the swim took (results not up at time of writing) but it seemed strangely short, and the second half was in much flatter water than the first (more sheltered by the headland I guess, and that half knot current was certainly helping).

Out of the water I had a smile on my face as the swim had felt good and I had nothing to fear from the bike and run as far as I was concerned - just a case of pacing it right. My wetsuit was tricky to get off as usual despite my having shortened the legs, and I also had to put socks on to protect my tender achilles, so T1 was not the fastest. It was a very short jog to the mount line then I was off to tackle four laps of the climb and descent of Great Orme. The course is around a headland with rocky bluffs like a wall on your left and the land falling sharply into the sea behind stone walls on your right - the views are awe inspiring and the sea was every shade from a greenish aquamarine to deep indigo and bright mediterranean blue. Climbing felt good and I was passing a few riders on the way up - down hill I am not so fast as I ride cautiously / nervously on steep descents but the riders that passed me coming down were usually those I caught on the next ascent.

Lap 1 was around 22 minutes, which gives you some idea of how much climbing there is. Lap 2 I still felt strong, and managed a faster time. Through Llandudno itself, on the section that was not closed off to traffic, lots of spectators lined the road and cheered us on which was great. There were even Tour-de-France style supporters on the Orme itself, clapping and ringing bells as we climbed past. Lap three was interesting - on the descent I found myself coming down a bit quicker, my nerves having settled from two trouble-free laps, and I suddenly had a thought that I shouldn't get complacent and go faster than my handling skills can cope with. So I feathered the brakes and slowed down a touch - just as well I did, for at that moment, as I passed the marshal with the blue flag (they wave it if someone is about to overtake you so you know to keep tight to the left) a mountain goat leapt over the wall on the seaward side of the road. This goat had the power of flight, seeming to hang in the air above the road for long moments, his splendid coat hanging down as long as his legs above the tarmac. Mystic Goat seemed destined to make landfall right in my path so I eased harder on to the brakes - a kind of "wo wo wo!" was coming out of my mouth involuntarily. Just as goat 1 was across the road, just feet in front of me, along came - and I couldn't believe this was happening - Mystic Goat Two! Again, he flew in a perfect parabola through the clear sky, showing off his equally magnificent coat like a woman in a shampoo advert shaking her hair for the camera in slow motion. Goat Two was certain to land right ahead of me and man v goat v bike carnage was imminent. I knew if I braked harder I would lose it, and swerving at that speed was not a great idea, so I squeezed a little more - as much as I dared - out of my brakes and miraculously Goat Two vanished from my path using the same mystic power of time/space distortion that allowed him to fly in slow motion over the roads of Llandudno. Danger past, I carried on, wondering what had put the "slow down" thought into my mind at the crucial moment. Mmmm.

Towards the end of lap three I downed some gel, and lap four saw more overtaking on the climb so my legs were still strong. Coming down round goat corner for the last time I was glad there were no more aerial mammal incidents, and I managed to get a few leg stretches in and extract my feet from my shoes ready for a nice, swift T2 and I was out on the run. Started steady and picked up as the kilometres unwound - we parted company with the sprint triathletes quite soon - though allegedly that was the 2.5k mark - and I kept passing other runners as far as the turnaround.

Coming back I felt pretty spent, cramp was threatening in one hamstring but I had a gel stashed in my back pocket with electrolytes to I took that, grabbed water from the drink station and shortened my stride until it went. Back on the promenade in the hot sun I managed to catch a couple more who were wilting in the heat and from fatigue, just like I was, then I was able to push just a little for the line - where I was greeted with a bottle of For Goodness Shakes that kept me conscious as I staggered back to the swim centre for a shower.

A great race that I really enjoyed - I guess my time was close to three hours as I only timed the bike bit which I made around 83 minutes. I was glad to have survived the sea and not aggravated my achilles which gave me no gyp at all during the run. Pleased with my form on the bike, I als realise my endurance fitness is not what it could be and more long events are what I need through the rest of the year (once the achilles is totally sorted).

Thanks to Xtra Mile for giving me a place in return for some publicity work, and to the Divine Force that protected me from the mystic flying goats.

PS results now in - 79th man of 286 (I'll take that!) Swim 28.05 (great) , T1 2.53 (not great), Bike 85.10 (ok), T2 59s (felt faster than that - icludes run-in with bike), Run 46.33 (fair). I was 129th in swim (still top half amazingly), 115th on bike (thought I'd done better than that) and 41st on run (not bad). Total time 2.43.43 so 8 mins slower than Weymouth which is fine with a hilly bike course.

The email they sent me said: Your time for the race was 02:43:43 Your overall position is 88 Your gender position is 79 Your Age Category Position is 22

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