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London Triathlon 2005 (Part 1)

London Triathlon
ExCel, Royal Victoria Dock, London – 7th August 2005

After six months of very hard work the race that everyone (well just me) was calling THE BIG ONE had finally arrived. I arrived at the ExCel centre at about 10am on Sunday knowing that my destiny was fast approaching. I was ready to do battle and I had racked my bike on the Saturday so I knew that my steed would already be in position in the transition area.

I was feeling pretty relaxed about it all but there was always a nagging doubt in my mind that something could go wrong. There are so many variables in triathlon that I think it’s probably only natural to think like that. The thought of me not finishing and having to wait a whole year to put things right as it were, didn’t bear thinking about. Despite the doubts I was feeling so positive that my infantile grin made me look like a Spitting Image puppet of Tony Blair. I knew I was in pretty decent shape and should be able to go the distance.

Due to the excellent limousine service I received from DC Cars I arrived in a relaxed mood on the day.

After the debacle at Blenheim Triathlon earlier in the year there was no way that I was going to mess up the course again. I didn’t want to get a reputation as the Homer Simpson of triathlon so I attended the very handy course briefing which gave very detailed, simple instructions that even I could grasp.

After this I set off for the transition area. To my surprise it was closed as they were letting the elite professional athletes pass through transition without the peasant age-groupers like myself getting in their way. I think the organisers could have worked this a lot better and in the end it meant hundreds of us standing there waiting for a few professionals. Eventually I got in but I had less that thirty minutes before my start time which was not ideal.

Now they tell me!

Now they tell me!

Twenty minutes before the off I lined up in the swim assembly area with the other 334 crazy people. It was a mixed band of first timers like myself and quite a few who were obviously more seasoned. I wasn’t feeling nervous but I knew that the next few hours were probably going to be reasonably tough.

This gives you an idea of the swim course.

This gives you an idea of the swim course.

Having dived into the water I swam to the far side of the start line. The course was a simple out and back, anti-clockwise affair so the theory was that the faster guys would go for the inside so they could get to the turn first at around half distance. I would be well out of the way and unlikely to suffer a repeat of the pounding I took from some hairy foot slowcoaches at Blenheim. I wasn’t too worried about any rough stuff this time as I had been working hard at Hampstead Heath Pond with my coach on swimming in open water. This time I was going to give as good as I got.

335 of the craziest 25-29 males in the world prepare to risk all in the name of sport - and Im one of them!

335 of the craziest 25-29 males in the world prepare to risk all in the name of 'sport' - and I'm one of them!

The hooter sounded and we were off. I was the furthest on the outside of all the 335 guys in my wave and so I avoided any other swimmers as they all set off like the clappers and immediately went for the inside of the course. I was absolutely left for dead at the start. I had been practicing my 1500m in the pool and was regularly clocking in at around the 35 minute mark. As I saw the majority of the field disappear into the sunset I was actually very relaxed. I was sure they had gone off too quickly and I would start to catch them up when I made the turn at 750m. In any event I was sure if I stuck to my pace I would do the swim in around 35 minutes which I would have been very happy with.

I swam to the far side at the start where I hoped it would be safer. I started right next to that boat.

I swam to the far side at the start where I hoped it would be safer. I started right next to that boat.

I realise now that 1500m is actually quite a long way. It seemed to go on forever. When I was treading water at the start I remember thinking that that I couldn’t see the half distance buoy where we turn to come back towards Excel – it was that far away. Eventually I got there and started to swim back towards Excel I felt pretty comfortable so I decided I would try and up the pace. Try as I might though the arms and legs refused to move any quicker than the steady pace they had been knocking out for the first half of the swim. The majority of the swim field still seemed miles ahead so my rather smug little plan looked like it could be up the creek.

I couldnt find my zip after I came out of the water.

I couldn't find my zip after I came out of the water.

Eventually I stumbled out of the water and looking at my watch, I could see I had pulled of a rather uninspiring 46 minutes for 1500m. Obviously I was tired but I wasn’t in tatters like I could have been which suggests to me that my technique can’t be all that bad. I was fit, my technique was OK, but I just wasn’t fast. Two out of three isn’t bad. That swim coaching paid of!

I had a bit of a problem with my wetsuit zip as the zip cord got tangled up in my collar. I had my race gear underneath and it then started to occur to me that I had never got it wet before and that I could be about to have a rather embarrassing see-thru lycra moment in front of my friends, family and BBC TV cameras. As the wetsuit came off I looked down at my nipples and saw that they were not obviously visible and my modesty was safe.

46 minutes of swimming later Ive bagged up my wetsuit and Im off to find my bike.

46 minutes of swimming later I've bagged up my wetsuit and I'm off to find my bike.

After bagging up my wetsuit I ran up the steps towards the transition area. I passed a couple of chaps who looked absolutely spent already and they still had two disciplines to go! On the way to my rack position I hit a wet patch and fell very hard onto my buttocks with TV cameras and several spectators looking on. I fell backwards and knocked my head (only very slightly) but all I was worried about was looking like a total plonker! Fortunately nobody I knew saw it and the BBC did the honourable thing and didn’t edit it into the highlights.

Part 2

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London Triathlon 2005 (Part 2)

London Triathlon
ExCel, Royal Victoria Dock – 7th August 2005

I was quickly off on the bike course feeling slightly disorientated from having my head in pitch dark water and the comedy tumble. The first 20km lap of the bike course was easily the hardest part of the race. The course was very flat and fast and I was was concerned about how hard I was finding it. I couldn’t get comfortable on the bike and couldn’t find any rhythm. I had a crashing headache and I wasn’t sure if it was dehydration or from the fall but I kept sipping my drinks as I didn’t want to be desperate for the toilet later on. I was particularly thinking of the run as running puts a lot of pressure on your bladder and I was not in the mood for doing a Paula Ratcliffe in front of several thousand spectators.

Keep up boys I havent got all day!

Keep up boys I haven’t got all day!

I’ve never been a talented cyclist but it was probably my strongest of the three disciplines before I started training for this event. Unfortunately, due to my relative weakness in swimming and running the cycling took a bit of a back seat and now I was paying the price for it.

By the second lap I was feeling better and the headache had disappeared. I felt OK but my legs were calling the shots now and I had to carry on at the pace they set as they had made it clear that going faster was not part of the plan. I passed several friends and family on the bike course but didn’t have time to wave or stop and have a chat – sorry!

Sticking out your tongue on the corners is crucial for balance.

Sticking out your tongue on the corners is crucial for balance.

I arrived back at the transition area for the second time feeling much better than I had first time around especially as I managed to avoid falling over. The running shoes were slipped on and I was quickly into part three of this sporting trilogy. As part of my training I had done quite a few brick sessions which involves cycling and then running immediately afterwards. This prepares you body for the shock of changing discipline as when you start running your legs want to cycle and you can often look like you have a bad case of rickets. These sessions really paid off and I was quickly into my rhythm.

I desperately tried to get the legs to move faster on the run but they had other ideas.

I desperately tried to get the legs to move faster on the run but they had other ideas.

I was running fairly comfortably but every time I tried to go faster my legs wouldn’t respond. I’d love to tell you that I threw the kitchen sink in at this point and started to perform heroics but sadly, it had already sunk to the bottom of the Royal Victoria Dock.

I managed to keep it together on the run as I knew the finish wasnt too far away.

I managed to keep it together on the run as I knew the finish wasn’t too far away.

One of my fellow competitors  was dressed as Batman and I later discovered that he had completed Ironman Lanzarote (2.4 mile sea swim, 112 mile bike and 26 mile run) in the same outfit! Clutching his charity collection tin, Batman showed me a clean pair of heels and even had time to stop and collect donations from spectators before I caught him up!

Just crossed the finish line.

Just crossed the finish line.

Three hours and sixteen minutes (and several months of training) later, I crossed the finish line. The finish line was actually indoors which made the whole experience more surreal. It was great to see so many familiar faces as I showed off my medal.

My first feeling was of disappointment as I really wanted to try and get under three hours. I was already telling anyone who would listen that I planned to be back in 2006 in my best ever shape as I had “unfinished business”. I wasn’t to upset though as my main aim was just to complete the race and anything on top of that was a bonus.

The whole thing took a couple of days to sink in. In six months I had gone from being a non swimming, beer swilling sloth to completing a 1500m open water swim and an Olympic distance triathlon. I think I am quite right to feel proud of this achievement.

I’m planning to go for it again in 2006 – this time it’s personal!

Looking pretty smug after I finished.

Looking pretty smug after I finished.

Results

Total03:16:19
1.5 km swim00:46:48
T100:04:21
40 km bike01:32:55
T200:01:40
10 km run00:50:37

Final Position in wave: 313th of 335 (Male Olympic 25-29 Group 2)

Thanks:
Special thanks to Dawn and Tom for the logistical support.
Thanks to the cheer squad: Mum, Maria, Sean, David, Jen, Sharon, Diane, Laurence, Jess, Nasmin, Bruce, Barry, Ros, Tim and Charlie.

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Pumping Iron? Training for the London Triathlon 2005

Training for an event like the London Triathlon is no easy task. I spent November and December 2004 deciding if it was a good move for me. The key factors I had to take into account were my laughable state of nonexistent fitness and my complete lack of swimming ability. I’m not in the habit of quitting once I’ve started something so I knew if I started there was no turning back.

By the end of 2004 I was stuck in a bit of a rut. I was starting to become disillusioned with the weekend binge drinking culture to which most young people in this country indulge. I couldn’t put the pints away like I used to (a sign of getting old?) and the hangovers were taking days to recover from. I was beginning to question the wisdom of it as it just wasn’t making me happy anymore.

I woke up with a hangover one morning in December 2004 and saw a cycling magazine next to my bed. A cyclist called Lance Armstrong (recovered from testicular cancer to win the Tour de France seven times) was one the front cover. Suddenly I was very aware of every ripped muscle and veiny sinue on his arms and legs. He didn’t have an ounce of fat anywhere and every part of his body was honed to perfection in order to make him a ride his bike faster and for longer than anyone else.

December 2004 - too many chins to mention.

December 2004 - too many chins to mention.

My own physique didn’t in anyway compare to Lance Armstrong. I had very thin arms and legs and had acquired a rather nasty case of l’gizzard beaucoup – that’s a beer gut to you and me. I had dark patches under my eyes and a few (well lots) of chins too many. It was at this stage it began to occur to me that if I didn’t get into to shape now then when was I going to?

I was 26 years old not 86 for goodness sake! I’m still young so I thought I should try and take advantage of the fact I can still move my limbs without fear or arthritic pains. In short I didn’t want to be 55 sitting in a rocking chair somewhere wishing I had done something like the London Triathlon.

At that point I knew I was going to have to go for it. I was going to have to change my lifestyle and work like a demon if I was going to have any chance of pulling it off. I took a deep breath, switched on my PC, navigated to the London Triathlon site and signed myself up for the Olympic Distance. I then pressed on to the kitchen for a full English breakfast – this sport lark is hard work I’ll have you know!

I needed to keep the pressure on myself so I decided I would tell anyone who would listen about my plan. People generally reacted in a congratulatory manner as if I already had the medal in my back pocket. I took all this with a pinch of salt. To up the pressure even further I decided I was going to raise money for charity as well. That way if I bottled it I wouldn’t just be letting myself down but also those sick kiddies at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

A bit of local press coverage helped the sponsorship no end.

A bit of local press coverage helped the sponsorship no end.

I hit the pool full of enthusiasm. It only took one visit to realise I was in massive trouble. After announcing that I was going to wow the world of triathlon in six months time, I forgot that I couldn’t really swim. I had no form in cycling or running either but if you’re no good at swimming you can end up dead – or worse. It all seems so easy when your a little kid. I had all the swimming badges but as I was completing the distances, nobody seemed too bothered if I had actually mastered the strokes or not. My body was a good deal bigger and heavier now and no amount of smarties and orange squash was going to give me the head rush it used to. It was back to the drawing board and I was thinking that I might well have bitten off more than I could chew.

At this point I made a really good decision by finding myself a triathlon swimming coach through a company called swimfortri. I chose one on one tutouring with one of their coaches called Terence who described himself as “local to your area”. Terence or TC as he became known, looked like a cross between David Ginola and Superman which made me think he knew what he was doing with all this triathlon malarkey.

He was very insistent that I couldn’t learn to swim in my beach shorts suggesting “Speedos” as a replacement. At which point I nearly called the whole thing off. I had horrible flashbacks to my youth and being made to wear hand me down speedos that were three sizes too small and had a hideous seventies floral pattern that made them look like pants. The taunts from the other children as I stood on the side of the pool are enough to send shivers down my spine even now. “Oi Mullarkey are they your Dads pants?” are words that I hope are never etched on my grave stone. There was no way I was wearing them – nothing was worth that. Fortunately, we compromised on jammer shorts which are a bit like cycling shorts and the whole thing was back on.

Not even a young Harrison Ford could make Speedos look cool.

Not even a young Harrison Ford could make Speedos look cool.

Under the watchful eye of TC my swimming was coming on in leaps and bounds. It certainly wasn’t easy though. When I started in January it is no exaggeration to say that I was struggling to swim 50m of freestyle. Within half a dozen lessons I was able to breath on both sides (bilateral breathing) but I was still finding distances a struggle. I was desperately trying to add one more length and I would start to feel like my chest is about to explode and end up with a mouth full of pool. Although I was progressing really well the swimming was a really hard slog and I would often spend many hours at the pool feeling like I hadn’t improved at all. Of course I was improving as I had become a “fast lane” swimmer rather than a “slow lane” swimmer.

The other disciplines were also coming along. I was getting used to being back in a gym for the first time since I was a teenager and I found it wasn’t quite as intimidating as I remembered it. I was putting in a lot of hours between the pool and gym and I was generally training for one to two hours a day (often more) six days a week. I had become pretty much obsessed. I was eating really healthily, rarely drinking alcohol and generally living the dream. I felt absolutely amazing especially when I was going into work on Monday morning without a hangover.

Terence Collins aka TC - the man with a plan.

Terence Collins aka TC - the man with a plan.

TC suggested that I needed to build up my speed and the best way to do this was to go to a livestock market and buy a chicken. “Chicken is full of protein isn’t it?” I remember saying eager to impress my new mentor. To my amazement he replied “No mate the chicken is for chasing in your back yard – you need speed like grease lightning if you want to get any good at tri”. The next weekend Clive became the newest member of the Mullarkey clan. Every couple of days I would play Eye of the Tiger on my MP3 player and chase the little blighter round the back yard until I was dead on my feet. Chicken chasing is the new skipping, so I’m told.

Clive the chicken - I spent many an hour chasing him around my back yard.

Clive the chicken - I spent many an hour chasing him around my back yard.

After I did the Blenheim Triathlon at the end of May I started to feel the pressure a little bit. The race had not gone as well as I’d hoped and it was a huge wake up call. I’d struggled in the swim in particular and the race was a quarter of the distance of the Olympic distance at London in early August. I started to panic as I knew London would be a lot harder and more competitive.

I had told everybody about how I was going for the London Triathlon and I knew a fair few people would turn up on the day to cheer me on. My ultimate fear was looking like a total fool in front of them all and I having to confess to all the people who had promised to sponsor me that I had failed in my quest. Not having ever done anything like this before I really wasn’t sure if I was on schedule or not and things seemed to be in the balance during most of my training. Fear is a powerful motivator and the fear of failure was what was getting me up early in the morning to train before work and putting in the extra effort. Fortunately, TC was very reassuring in this department by telling me that everything would be OK as long as I continued to work hard.

All of a sudden I nailed my first 1,500m swim in the pool – and I still had four weeks to go. I was over the moon and started to feel really confident. I was training pretty hard at this point and was doing brick sessions (bike ride and then run immediately afterwards) regularly to prepare myself for transition between bike and run.

By the time the race came around I knew I was going to go the distance. I was swimming in my wetsuit at Hampstead Heath Pond on a regular basis where TC would do his best to drown me in an attempt to prepare me for the mayhem that is a mass deep water swim start in a triathlon. The hardest thing was trying not to laugh as he pulled on my ankle or swam across my path in an attempt to put me off my game.

With a week to go I started to taper off my training and I knew that I should be able to go the distance with a bit to spare. I felt well prepared for THE BIG ONE which made me feel relaxed.

The rest as they say, is history. See how I got on.

Thanks: Terence Collins, The General for making my race bike roadworthy, all those who sponsored me and put up with me while I was busy putting triathlon first.