15 June 2015

I am a runner…

…and not a cyclist. And neither any longer a swimmer, somewhat to my surprise. And, I have clearly during the last few years focused on long endurance training for mountain ultramarathons and not shorter distances. So, afterwards, it is almost funny to think that I had quite high expectations before my first triathlon. Uppsala Triathlon was an Olympic distance competition, for those like me who until recently do not know what this is it is 1500 meters swimming, 40 kilometers cycling and 10 kilometers running. Certainly not Ironman distance, but a good beginners distance I thought. The race was in my backyard in central Uppsala where I live and perhaps that was what made me sign up for the race. Or perhaps it was the fact that my wife had tricked me into believing I was a better cyclist than I really am. 

Or perhaps it was the fact that I now in fact finally had a road racing bike for the first time in my life and during the past weeks put in some serious mileage in cycling that made me sign up for the race. If someone had said to me that; ”Hey, I have bagged some serious mileage and vert during the last few weeks and now I am ready for a mountain trail run” I would probably silently, but kindly, have laughed and given the advice to come back next year with at least months instead of weeks in the legs. And swimming; “Hey, I swam a lot in my youth, so I certainly know how to crawl and now I have been to the gym much lately so what could be the problem – I do not need to train at all”. “That it is open water swimming upstream in a freezing cold river? No problems, I just have to get a wetsuit”. What was I thinking?? Well, I guess I this weekend learned that I am still one of those boys who do not learn that the plate is hot until I have been burned. I also learned that my mantra of race specific training is even more true when talking about biking and swimming.


The swim has started. I am still over the surface, but not for long. Picture from UppsalaTriathlon Facebook page

So, starting with the good experiences:

·       The event was excellently organized and for a beginner it felt extremely safe all the time. There were plenty of volunteers out this early Sunday morning in rain and 12°C (53.5°F) to make sure in particular the road crossings were free from cars when cyclists arrived. The race was held in central Uppsala with a lot of logistics and I am really impressed by the organization – hats off!

·       My secret recipe of carbohydrate loading worked extremely well. The fundaments are, among other things like pre-loading gels, blueberry soup and peanut butter sandwiches, and despite cold weather and rain my stomach worked perfectly the whole race.

·       I have switched to liquid drinkable gels and when I in a race like this did not have to carry them over some mountain summits they were perfect. Together with the carbohydrate pre-loading and some sips of sports drink during the running I could not have been better fueled and I am happy my muscles did not complain either.

·       Biking is fun. I felt really strong going uphill and either passed or could keep the same pace as other, much better, cyclists, during the climbing sections. I also got gradually better, or more daring, during the steep downhill sections on the wet slippery asphalt and towards the end of the race during the last two laps out of five I was quite fast there as well. It is fun to go fast.

·       Not considering the swimming where it felt like I struggled to even stay over the surface of the water from my first stroke I am clearly more trained for longer distances as both the bike and cycling events felt way too short and I could have continued in the same pace for much longer.

·       I am a runner. Despite literally not feeling my feet for the first 3.5 kilometers of running as they had frozen cold during the previous events and despite feeling excruciating pain in my feet for 1.5 kilometers after that when the blood returned it felt really good to run. It felt like I was going slowly the whole run, but I passed numerous runners all the distance and looking at my watch I was at my target speed of 4 min/km most of the time. I was surprised it went so fast each time I looked at my watch as it felt that I was going much slower. I am therefore quite happy with my time of 41.50 as it really felt like I had been running conservatively and had much more to give, both in terms of speed and as it felt like I could have continued for at least twice the distance at this still very conservative speed. I had neither done any taper whatsoever for this race as my first “real” race of the season – Mont Blanc 80 km, is less than two weeks ahead.

But there were certainly some bad experiences:

·      The first time you swim in a wetsuit, ever, should never be in your first triathlon race, at least not on an Olympic distance swim of 1500 meters.

·       I do not know anything about wetsuits, but I would not recommend a quite thin wetsuit designed for swimrun when it is 14°C (57°F) in the water and 12°C (53.5°F) in the air. Looking around me at the start I noticed that all other athletes had long and thick suits and some even had extra clothes under and two swimming caps. I guess I was tricked by the word “swimrun” that was on the outside of the suit as it appealed to me as a runner. I also got it cheaply on sale two days before the race.

·       That you were a reasonably good swimmer 20 years ago does not mean that you are a good swimmer today, at least if you have not trained swimming at all during the past 20 years.

·       Training your upper body and core in a gym does not help you in the water.

·       It is different to swim in open water in the form of a dark cold river than in a 50 meter pool. I quickly realized this when looking down to try to orient myself and just saw murky water and occasionally, at least in the beginning of the swim, a foot from a competitor, and occasionally, in particular towards the end of the swim when I was really tired, some slimy water vegetation when I drifted off too close to the riverbank.

·       Surprisingly, despite being a river through central Uppsala, you appear to be able to drink the water of Fyrisån without getting sick as I inadvertently drank plenty of its water during my swim.

·       Your feet risk freezing after spending close to 40 minutes in cold water and, surprisingly, they will stay frozen during over one hour of biking.

·       A short triathlon is different from an ultrarun and it is not OK to spend over 4 minutes at the base station between the swim and bike section. You will never make up that time during 10 kilometers of running.

·       Having owned a road bike for three weeks does not make you a road cyclist – neither in terms of technique nor in terms of physique.

·       Unless you are in the leading group, in a triathlon lap race with 5 bike laps, and with a mix of competitors on different distances, you will never know your position and might be misled to think that you are going fast when you pass other cyclists, but in fact you are still going miserable slow. It is most likely the mind rather than the muscles or lungs that inhibit you.

·       Finally, I now know for sure that I regretfully are not, and newer will be, Peter Oom. Perhaps it is easier for a long-distance triathlete to become a really good ultrarunner than vice versa as it is more difficult to add sports to your training and skill set than focusing on one thing after being good in several sports. Whatever, if I had admired his accomplishments before I understand now even more fully that he is one of the best athletes in Sweden. At the age of 40.

Overall, my first triathlon was however a good experience and the best thing about it is that I have a very good starting position for improvement. It should come quite effortlessly I hope as I only need to swim once before my next race and I will have trained 100% more than I did before this race. Joking aside, will I try this again? Yes, probably, and I am still dreaming to sometime try one of the mountain triathlons like The Norseman, Swissman and Celtman. However, before even having such dreams I realize painfully now that I need to be a swimmer, again, and a cyclist, and not only a runner. And for now it still is so much more fun to run in the mountains than to swim in murky waters.

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