On a mid-September Sunday, 25 or so HTC members descended on Redricks Lakes, off the A414 in rural Essex. Through some hedges on a pot-holed road, past a rather uninviting field, edged with matting and scaffolding poles that would serve as transition. Down a stone-strewn track to another field where I had to flatten the waist-high thistles to create my own parking space.
It wasn’t a great first impression of the venue for the race designated as Hampstead Triathlon Club’s Championship race, but the lake itself looked pretty and there were decent loos and a cafe for a cuppa, so not much to complain about really.
Things got better again as the HTC posse convened. We were getting on for a quarter of the field doing sprint and standard distance races. Bragging rights were up for grabs. Richard, crocked with a leg injury as he was, made the journey too and became official cheerleader and photographer for the day. (He took hundreds of cracking photos, some of which are here).
Registration, racking and race-briefing all happened. Pretty standard stuff apart from T1 which included a run up that stony track to the lonely bikes; leave a pair of shoes by the lake because you won’t want to be running that section barefoot! I figured I’d just use my run shoes as they would end up in transition anyway.
Go go go – The Swim
Time to get on with it. Into the lake via a darling little sandy beach. A quick flush of the wetsuit with 15.5 degree water. A few strokes to acclimatise and get the heart working and a tender fondle of the weeds to get over the yuk factor.
For some reason I was placed in the first wave of the standard distance. I’m not much of a swimmer so while I accepted that I’d be near the back, I was worried I’d get swum over by the second wave.
I was mostly right: the next 28 minutes were a ding dong battle between me and another guy for second-to-last place in our wave. I won it, just, mostly by lulling him into a false sense of security by aiming at the wrong buoy, then at the last minute changing tack and swimming right into the poor fellow. That’s not the approach that had been drummed into us during Summer’s open-water technique sessions.
I surprised myself by quite enjoying the swim and didn’t get beaten up, run out of puff or get caught by the next lot. Neither was there a nasty dizzy moment as I hauled myself vertical and found my shoes for that disconcerting 500-metre run up to transition.
A right turn onto a busy road was a bit of a nervy way to start the bike leg, but it was easy enough to get into a rhythm. The roads were good, gently undulating with no great climbs or drops and pretty quiet (apart from a frankly terrifying mile down the A-road). This was good. The weather was reasonable and my tri-suit was doing a remarkable job of keeping me warm.
I was experimenting with Hornet Juice for the day, which I’d heard about on a hippyish triathlon podcast. Take Hornet Juice and make like the hornets, unleashing the power of the 100,000 calories locked inside your body for super-charged endurance. Or some nonsense like that. Anyway I had some of that then screwed a gel into my face and kept pedalling.
And then, all of a sudden, halfway round the first lap, I was lost. I wouldn’t even have known I was lost except that Nick Roseborne, with some others, was suddenly in my face saying “we’re lost”. He decided to go back, I decided to go on, contending that I wasn’t in fact lost and we couldn’t all be wrong. There were no signs, which was a bad sign. I just kept going and kept turning left.
I flashed past a junction. Did I just see Hannah there? Nick was right: I had been lost, and now I was confused!
By the time I saw a proper big sign for a right turn I thought it would be rude not to take it. Suddenly, I could hear Richard’s disembodied voice saying “do another lap, Oliver”. I felt like Luke Skywalker receiving instruction from Alec Guinness (except Richard was actually standing there somewhere and not using the Force). So I aborted the turn, somehow not causing a major pile-up, and set off for lap two instead. This time round, at the fatefully unmarked junction, a random bloke doing a good turn was helpfully pointing the way.
It turns out that dozens of signs had been removed from the route by persons unknown. But I wasn’t to know that and I wasn’t the only one cursing as I came into T2. I’d cycled 50km, actually only 4km over the course distance.
Get Up On Your Feet
You may remember that I’d worn my running shoes from the lake to T1; it turns out this wasn’t too smart a plan as they were still soaking wet, and cold, and I was sockless. But since my central nervous system and my feet weren’t on speaking terms at this point, I couldn’t care less.
My energy levels were good, so maybe that Hornet Juice was doing something good. I drank some more just in case, and set off down the stony track. I was running on stumps, doing untold damage to myself in my sodden, zero-support “barefoot”, severely-punctured trainers.
At the start of the run loop proper, HTC’s Captain Dan appeared in front of me with a hearty cheer, already finished with his race (the same one I was doing) and looking like he’d had time for a shower and a massage. God he looked fresh, but in a completely non-demoralising way. Inspiring, genuine support from Mr HTC!
Thankfully the run course was a lovely trail along a river: easy on the eye, flat and after about 6km, my feet started sending reports back that it was soft and nice to run on. My legs did whatever it was they did, I ignored the terrible huffing and puffing noises, I even overtook a few people for a pretty encouraging run split.
Where’s the Erdinger Alkoholfrei?
Medal and celebratory bottle water well-deserved! Some of the HTC-ers got better medals for coming in the top echelons. How cool to have the post-race endorphins rushing in, feeling like a hero, swapping war-stories with your club-mates, scoffing Helena’s Great Baltic Bake-Off cake. No chip-timing so we wouldn’t know our club champion officially until later in the week. No-one seemed to mind that much.
Reflecting on my personal experience, I think that before I joined HTC, even an intimate event like this one might have felt a bit imposing as a lone competitor. Triathlon is necessarily a selfish kind of sport where everyone has to find their own limits, but it’s way more fun pushing yourself as hard as you can when you know there’s a club-mate around, even if they’re only on WhatsApp!