It's racing Jim, but not as we know it.

For someone who doesn't consider themselves particularly competitive, when I look back at my life there seems to be quite a lot of racing.  In my teens it was windsurfing, and latterly (as regular readers will know), it's been motorcycle enduro and rallying.

(photo: Tony Ferrari)

I've loved riding the rallies over the last couple of years, and I'll probably do the odd one in the future, but there's a lot of money, time in the garage, and time away from home involved in doing a full season.  Not really compatible with a new baby, so it's time to find a new challenge a bit closer to home.  I've been toying with cyclocross, and there's probably some of that in the future, but it's a winter sport.  In the meantime, I saw a poster for the Derby City Triathlon in the local pool while taking baby Toby for his first dip, thought "why not", and signed up when we got home.

I've done a lot of cycling this year - 1400 miles and counting - but at the time of signing up, the last time I'd run was a five mile or so jaunt around (the admittedly very hilly) Longleat Centre Parcs with a couple of friends which left me hobbling for a couple of days after.  The last time I swam lengths in a pool was probably at a similar time.  I did manage one go at the distance in each in the intervening weeks.  The run - straight off the bike after cycling home from work - resulted in the usual twinges in my right knee.  The swim - on a busy Sunday morning with no lanes - was fine, but took a minute or two longer than I expected.  We'll call that training then.  It's only Sprint distance (400m swim, 20k cycle, 5k run), how hard can it be?

So the day (last Sunday, 31st August) came around, an early getup, and time for another check of the (surprisingly large) pile of kit I'd collected together before loading it and the bike into the truck and setting off for Moorways sports centre with my father-in-law Alan.  I'd been along to collect my number, timing chip and swim hat the day before, so it was straight to the transition area to drop off the bike and kit for the cycle and run.

We were there pretty early, because I thought it was probably a good idea to go to one of the briefings held on the hour through the morning.  Since I was starting at 1012, that meant it had to be the 0900 one, hence the empty racks around my start number.  With hindsight, it didn't tell me anything that wasn't in the online instructions.  After the briefing, we stood and watched people coming through transition for a while before heading up to the pool.

When I'd collected everything together the day before, Sarah had asked why on earth I had put two pairs of goggles in.  That question was answered when, standing poolside with about ten minutes to go and the first pair pushed up on my head, the strap snapped.  Plenty of time to get Alan to throw the other set down from the viewing area.

Eventually, my wave was called forward, ordered into the pool, and given the starting whistle. I had to pass two people from the earlier waves within the first couple of lengths, then had clear water for the rest to concentrate on keeping count of the required 12 lengths.

Out of the pool, exit through the fire exit at the back, and a barefoot run across the grass to the transition area - reminding myself half way not to sprint and wear myself out.

Out onto the bike, and after a few minutes of feeling a bit wierd (body going "hang on, I thought we were swimming?") I settled into it.  Two laps of a fairly flat out-and-back course, with a leg-burning mile or so stretch into the wind on the way out.  Head down and go for it.

Heading back into transition after two laps, I'd passed a lot of earlier starters, and only been passed by one or two people who weren't on full-on time trial bikes.  Not bad, and I was still feeling fairly good going into the run.  That feeling lasted for about the first hundred adrenaline-fuelled yards before, again, my body noticed that it wasn't cycling any more.  I did get into the swing of it about half way round the first of two laps, but was still being passed by far more people than I was catching.  Back around the stadium bowl for the final time and onto the running track for three-quarters of a lap to the finish, there was still something in my lungs and muscles, but by that time my knee was starting to hurt again.

And then it was over, 1h21:53 after I'd started.  The energy drink they were handing out at the finish was, incidentally, disgusting.

The results came out a day or so later, revealing that I'd finished 190th out of 350 starters.  Satisfyingly for those of a data-nerd persuasion, they are made available as a CSV file of everyone's times, including both transitions as well as the swim, bike and run.  Looking at the three parts individually, I set the 113th fastest time for the swim, 128th for the cycle, and 261st for the run.  So far, not terribly surprising - did I mention I'm no good at running?

More embarrassing were the transition times - 331st through the T1 (swim to cycle) transition, and 344th (out of 350 remember) for T2 (cycle to run).  I worked out that if my transition times were around the average of everyone elses, I would have been more than thirty places higher without actually getting any better at any of the three disciplines themselves.

Something to work on then, and I will be trying to do so next Sunday, having entered the (confusingly similarly named) Derby Sprint Triathlon.  In preparation, I've fitted aero-bars to the bike, and perhaps most importantly, replaced the laces in my shoes with elastic ones.