From Couch To Lake: The Finish Line

The Editor-in-Chief's triathlon diary

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Standing barefoot on the edge of the wooden jetty in my BlueSeventy wetsuit, looking out across the historic lake at Blenheim Castle on Saturday 13 June, it finally sank in. The moment was here. We really were about to do a sprint triathlon. We had gone from couch to lake in eight weeks. There was no turning back. There was nothing else for the Team ELLE to do but jump in.

But were we ready? What if the dreaded open-water-swimming panic took hold and we had to climb into that rescue canoe I could see bobbing near the start? Would we be among those people who 'suddenly decide they can’t swim' as one Tri-hard veteran put it during one of our training sessions?

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What if the chain came off the bike? Would we even find our bikes in that mythical place they call 'transition'?  Was it two laps on the run, or three? Should we wear socks and trainers or save time and go sock-free?

So many questions flooded through our minds as we stood there, in the rain, hours of enjoyable and not-so enjoyable tri-training behind us. We’d come a long way since one of us put the wetsuit on the wrong way round and another couldn’t manage a length of crawl in a swimming pool.

But you know what? We did it! Team ELLE’s triathlon adventure had a happy ending. It didn’t run as smoothly as planned, of course, after all we’re not elite athletes or even so-called ‘recreational athletes’. We’re just a group of normal women, aged between 28 and 47, who want to have fun keeping fit. Each and every one crossed that finish line with a smile on her face. 

So if you’re thinking of taking up a new sporting challenge today, be inspired by our triathlon journey. Here’s what happened and how we did it:

‘IF SOMETHING’S HARD TO DO, THEN IT’S NOT WORTH DOING’ – HOMER SIMPSON

There were many wobbles along the way on this triathlon journey. The breathing during front crawl open-water swimming induced inexplicable panic in some of us during training. And at one point, two of us decided to drop down to the super sprint distance so immobilised by fear had we become. ‘This is to hard,’ we complained mid-way through our eight-week fit plan. But the rest of the team were having none of it – their encouraging words and the extra time the more accomplished swimmers spent helping us kept us all in the 750m sprint-distance swim.

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I had hoped I would make the full-distance front crawl, but the chaos of the crowd and the shock of seeing exactly how far I had to swim meant I resorted to breaststroke alongside many other swimmers in our mixed-sex wave. The water was the cleanest of any lake I have swum in and I was proud not to be zigzagging along – I managed a straight line, guided by former-Olympic triathlete Tim Weeks swimming alongside us. A competitor was pulled out after 50m, which was off-putting but I chose to ignore the commotion. And I was relieved not to be in the group that accidentally swam about 100m off course!

The good news? It took me just 22 minutes – not bad considering I hadn’t been in a pool for four years until we started training! The strongest swimmer in our group finished in 18 minutes, so if swimming is your fear, put it to one side now. You WILL do it.

And as I stepped out of the water, the relief swept over me and I couldn’t have been happier. At Blenheim, they unzip your wetsuit for you as you sprint 400m up the hill to transition. Keep your swim cap and goggles on until you reach your bike, is my advice. And look out for family in the crowd – it’s their first chance to see you.

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1. Ready to go on my slick Ridley bike from Sportline UK and Lazer helmet from Madison! 2. Myself and Victoria crossing the finish line - I think it was this photo that encouraged us to sign up for another Tri! 3. Debbie, Natalie and I (Christina and Sophie in the background).

 

‘DON’T STOP ME NOW. I’M HAVING SUCH A GOOD TIME. I’M HAVING A BALL’ – QUEEN

We were so relieved to have finished the swim that we couldn’t stop chatting as we gathered in the transition area. We waited for each other to gather, had a drink, quaffed an energy bar and THEN took off our wetsuits. This leisurely approach is not the usual way. If you want a good time, a quick transition can make up for a slow swim. I didn’t use baby oil but some of the team did to ease off their suits.

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There is no doubt we lost valuable minutes in transition, but our aim was to do this as a team as much as we could. Teamwork had powered us through training and it had proved any pre-triathlon confidence wobbles we had could be soothed by each other. If you are doing this for the first time, try to do it with friends or colleagues to make it fun. This is one of the reasons I think a triathlon is easier to train for and do than a marathon; it is far less grueling for first-timers than a big run, considering you train well.

We set off together on the bikes quite unprepared for the enormous hill we encountered a few minutes later in the now pouring rain! The tri-suits were wet but soon dried and at no point on the three-lap 20K cycle did I feel cold. We powered up that hill slowly, enjoying the slope on the other side, taking it much quicker on the following laps. Only the roaring voices of middle-aged men in Lyrca bellowing, ‘To the right!’ in order to prepare us for them passing at high speed broke our happy attitude.

Here we learnt the valuable lesson of reading all your tri-booklets and checking information on the website before you race – the cycle is three laps and one of the team hopped off after two, luckily a fellow competitor spotted her mistake and she rushed back onto the track.

This is perhaps the most organised transition in triathlon events. There’s ample space and it sits right in front of the beautiful stately home where you can look down and view everyone heading off. Your family can also shout encouragement from the sidelines here, so instruct them to do so as it does keep you focused.

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(Clockwise from top left) 1. At our post-Triathlon BBQ party with our personalised banner by Beauty Director Sophie Beresiner. 2. My tri kit and race number. 3. Heading out the door to my first Tri memorising the positive affirmation 'positive reframer' Marcus Childs sent me (read on to find out what it is). 4. Essential post-Tri nutrition: a vat of Pimms 5. #TriSelfie with Debbie.

 

‘THE FIRST TIME I SEE A JOGGER SMILING, I’LL CONSIDER IT’ – JOAN RIVERS

The run was my favourite bit of the race – a two-lap 5K from the house through the grounds. It starts on a sweeping slope and ends with you running up the majestic drive. It’s one of the most pleasant 5Ks I have ever run. We kept the pace reasonable, glimpsed the ducklings on the grass verge and smiled as we were handed gels and water by ever so encouraging race officials.

Often I find the first 20 minutes of a run tiresome and painful – all the old injuries kick in and I fight a mental ‘shall I, shan’t I’ battle – but given the cycle had warmed up our limbs, and everyone in the crowd seemed delighted to see us, we had nothing to lose but brace ourselves for the final 30 minutes of our wonderful triathlon challenge. Those last 100m to the finish line are the best I have ever run – and all the hard work was worth it for that moment of elation. We all crossed the line within 10 minutes of each other and stepped onto the podium for our ‘moment’. 

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(Clockwise from top left) 1. Kirsty, Victoria, Sophie and I rocking our medals (Tim 'The Trainer' Weeks behind us). 2. Atop the podium with Team #ELLEFit 3. I couldnt have done it without good kit (much better than Boris bikes and a borrowed helmet from my eldest!). 3. The UPHILL run to my bike from the lake 4. I found the message below the temperature a little ominous! 

 

‘DON’T COUNT THE DAYS, MAKE THE DAYS COUNT’ – MOHAMMED ALI

The night before the triathlon I had emailed my friend Marcus Child for some empowering advice. Marcus is a ‘positive reframer'. He’s helped some of the world’s biggest businesses change their fortunes to achieve unparalleled success.

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And I was having a HUGE confidence wobble that Friday evening. I mean, A TRIATHLON! What was I thinking? I’m a sofa-based, office-bound mum of four who likes the occasional jog (and I hadn’t run for 10 weeks due to a stress fracture).

I had ridden a bike just four times in 10 years before I started training on one of London’s Boris Bikes. And, as I hadn’t been in a swimming pool for four years, I could only manage three quarters of a length of front crawl before gasping for breath and hurling myself to the side. ‘I am doomed,’ I thought, as I emailed Marcus.

He gave me a mantra for Team ELLE: ‘Strong to the finish’. I kept it forefront of my mind during the event. And when I look at pictures of the day, I see that mantra come to life: a strong team of happy women who took on a new challenge and conquered it with confidence and enthusiasm. And every single one of us would do it again. And if we can, you can too.

Yep, conquered it in 02:06:15.

 

Team ELLE would like to thank the people behind our challenge:

Tim 'The Trainer' Weeks @tim_weeks  www.timweeks.com

SwimforTri @SwimForTri www.swimfortri.co.uk

RGActive @RGActive www.rgactive.com

Marsha el-Hage @Marsha_RGA www.marshaelhage.com

Ridley Bikes @Ridley_Bikes www.ridley-bikes.com

Sportline UK @sportlineUK  www.sportline.co.uk

Lazer Helmets @lazerhelmets  www.lazersport.co.uk

Madison @UKmadison www.madison.co.uk

The Cycle Centre @thecyclecentre www.cyclecentreuk.co.uk

Wiggle @wigglebikeshop www.wiggle.co.uk

Barrecore @barrecore www.barrecore.co.uk

 Jo Scott-Dalgleish, @jsdnutrition www.nutritionsolutions4health.co.uk

 

THE TEAM ELLE TRI TEAM ARE

Lorraine Candy, Editor-in-Chief @LorraineELLE Facebook

Kirsty Dale, Executive Fashion & Beauty Director @kirstyldale

Debbie Morgan, Managing Editor @Deb_ELLE

Natalie Lukaitis, Beauty & Health Freelancer @nlukaitis 

Christina Simone, Workflow Director @ChrissyJSimone 

Victoria White, Commercial Content Director @vicawhite 

Sophie Wilkinson, HR Business Partner @soppylil79

And here are their favourite tri memories:

Kirsty: 'Coming out of the lake and thinking, "I've done the worst bit now," and high fiveing my family. Although, flying down the first hill  (past the Editor-in-Chief) was pretty thrilling, until I hit the next incline and my chain fell off!' 

Natalie: 'Running through the finish line to waiting hugs from the #ELLEFit team. I couldn’t breathe, but the camaraderie made it all worth it.' 

Victoria: 'Seeing my family’s frankly astonished faces as I emerged, smiling, from the lake, knowing that the WORST bit was behind me now.'

Christina: 'Doing one less bike lap than I should have and having to get back on the damn thing! Seeing my family on the sidelines. Crossing the finish line with Debbie Morgan and seeing our whole team at the end. Drinking two beers then eating a burger, two sausages, and a full cheese board!'

Sophie: 'The finish line when everyone finished and there was tonnes of hugging! That and the bit when a man commented on my running technique – that definitely kept me going!'

Debbie: 'Crossing the finish line and hugging Christina to more awaiting huggers from the #ELLEFit team! It was such a happy moment.'

 

See all the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Blenheim Palace Triathlon 2015 action here:

Channel 4: 27th June – 6am

Channel 4 +1: 27th June – 7am

British Eurosport: 7th July – 6.30pm

British Eurosport 2: 9th July – 12.30am

Sky Sports 3: 14th July – 7.30pm

British Eurosport: 23rd July – 11am

Photos courtesy of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Blenheim Palace Triathlon and team ELLE.

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