No more bikemares please!

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There are just 4 days to go until my first half ironman. I’m feeling as excited as I am nervous.  I know I can do the distance in the swim, bike and run. It’s the whole matter of hoping that everything will come together on the day and questioning whether my legs will have enough left in them to run a half marathon on Sunday afternoon. Training has been going really well. I feel as ready as I can be and I know I’ve done everything possible to get me to that start line feeling positive and up for the challenge ahead.

I’ve done two practice triathlons.  But unfortunately I had a bikemare in both.  In Harlech at the end of April, after a strong pool swim, the bike leg was pure and utter hell. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&v=CYch1dNH7rk] It was freezing cold, the rain was relentless and the winds were horrific.  On the way back into Harlech, I was blown off my bike and into a ditch.  It totally smashed my confidence and all I could think about was getting back to T2 in one piece.  By the time I got there, the organisers announced they had abandoned the race on police advice.  I completely understood the decision but having completed the ride, I was disappointed not to be able to finish the race.

Looking back on Harlech, it did me the world of good. It was a case of bank the memory and learn from it.  I gained some a valuable insight into dealing with bad weather; what to wear and how to handle the bike (or not) and I knew it could never be any worse.

Next up was the Snowdonia Slateman triathlon in May.  It’s a 1000m swim in Llyn Padarn, a 50km bike up the Llanberis Pass followed by an 11km off-road run, up through the slate mines. I chose it because I knew it would be test me and it would be tough. I knew if I could complete Slateman, it would set me up mentally and physically for Switzerland 70.3.

And it did; the lake was freezing and they reduced the swim to 750m because the water temperature was less than 12 degrees.  But it was my first experience of a mass start and swimming in a bunch.  After taking a few blows, I got into my stride and I was out of the water after 18minutes.  I put a long sleeve top on in transition and before I knew it I was heading out of Llanberis and the Snowdonia foothills enveloped the road around of me.

Within minutes on the bike, I felt like I was really struggling, even more than I normally do up hills.  But I just thought I must have been feeling sluggish and tired. Then came a voice behind me, “I think you’ve got a flat tyre.” Words I just didn’t want to hear.

But sure enough, my back tyre had a puncture.  It took me far too long to think straight and remove my wheel.  I think I had enough panic across my face to make people want to stop and help me. Thankfully two lovely ladies did and the three of us worked on fixing it. Then a guy called Andrew joined in the effort, but by the time I was on my bike again, I was at the very back. Even the sprint competitors had all passed.

The only other time I’ve been right at the back of a race was a 10km disaster in Mexico. The top three were Africans and it was ridiculously hot. But this was Snowdonia, almost my backyard. It was cold and it wasn’t an elite field. So it was an odd feeling. But I carried on and did my best to catch up with the stragglers. I passed two and thought I might be able to reach a few more before the run.

But then disaster struck! Another flat tyre at mile 17.  This time there was nobody going past asking “can I help?” “Have you got everything?” And sadly, I didn’t.  I had already used my spare inner.  The two people I passed were pretty far back but I had no choice – I had to wait for them.

To my amazement a local cyclist came past and asked if I needed any help. He had a spare inner and got me on my way again. I was so grateful to him. But by this point, I had lost precious time, I was right at the back again. Even the sweep-up vehicle was in front of me.  I feared I’d get back to T2 and the organisers would force me to do a 5km run. Having already had the swim cut short, I really didn’t want the run to be reduced too; I needed the practice and I wanted to know I could do a tough run off the back of a strenuous bike course.

I caught up with one woman two miles out of Llanberis.  She was about twice my age but seemed delighted that she was in last place again. I was happy because it meant I was now second to last.  But most importantly I was back at T2 before the cut off time, which meant I could run the whole of the 11km.

I left T2 behind, sunk some gels and put my head down. I caught a few more stragglers heading up hill and moved up to 5th from last, completing the run in 1:07. I was chuffed just to cross the line and I didn’t feel as disappointed as I did after Harlech.  I was a little embarrassed that I had been so slow, but more annoyed with my lack of bike expertise.

So I go into Switzerland praying it’ll be third time lucky on the bike and willing the cycle gods to be on my side.  I hear the weather might not be, but I will remind myself when the doubt creeps in and the nerves start jangling that nothing can be worse than Harlech.  Bring. It. On.

This is part of a series of challenges I'm doing to raise £3,000 for charity before I'm 30.