When what was supposed to have been my first ever triathlon was cancelled just two weeks prior to the race I created the Luke-athon. I set up a transition area in my back garden, baked all my own nutrition for this roughly 3/4 Ironman distance triathlon, and was ready to do this; all I needed a good nights sleep before I started the first of my 100 laps in the pool.
My plan was to swim 2.5kms in the pool, cycle between 100-130kms, and then finish it all off with a 25km run, entirely alone, without any support, other competitors, fans lining the streets, or buzzing transitional area… Just me swimming, biking, running, alone on a random autumn Saturday.
The pool opened at 8am, but I think I should start my recap at 4am when I was still wide-awake, having failed to really sleep. Whether it was pre-event nerves, or the fact that I’ve struggled with insomnia for the previous three months, it didn’t really matter, but it was 4am and I was still awake. Not the best start to my triathlon debut. My alarm sounded, I dragged myself out of bed after probably 90-minutes of sleep, the thought did cross my mind to delay the Luke-athon a week and go back to bed. There was no one depending on me starting the event, it made no difference to anyone if I did it today or the following weekend, but I quickly told myself to ‘Suck it up, it’s Race day!’
I had a banana, glass of coconut water, a shower, then grabbed the small bag I took with me to the pool, I had a mile walk, I used this time to get focused, warm up for the swim wind-milling my arms as I talked to myself. If you saw a guy on Saturday morning just before 8am doing this and thought he was crazy, well you were right.
I set my shoes by the entrance to the pool, all ready to put on and run out to my first transition onto the bike. Into the pool, goggles on, I took a deep breath and waited for a bit of space in the lane between the six other swimmers already starting their Saturday morning swim. I counted down in my head: ‘three, two, one, GO-GO-GO…’
Although I pushed and pushed (and pushed), I just had no energy, it was a slog from lap one, no easier at lap 50, 70, or 90 (especially as the pool got busier every 10 minutes). I was extremely glad to push off the wall on lap 99, as I knew this was it… I tried to increase the pace, but still felt flat and actually think I was going slower with the increased exertion. Stopping my watch at 50:14 minutes, I was a little disappointed with the time. I’d worked quite hard with my awesome swim coach, Fiona Ford (Coach Fi) at the Swim Smooth squad in Richmond over the past few months, and did feel I should have finished quite a few minutes quicker.
Pushing that disappointment almost immediately out of my head, I quickly slipped my shoes on, and headed out of the door and through the reception area still putting my shirt on. I sprinted home to grab my bike… (Ed: that’s quite a transition).
Glasses, helmet, shoes, and go (just like the pro’s) well I put on some cycling kit to start with, had half a sweet potato, then I replicated the sequence of a professionals ultra quick transition! Heading out of London and into Surrey, it was perfect cycling weather, minimal wind, 20degrees, but unlike many races around the world, I had cars, traffic lights, and not an exact planned route, but I do love a bit of adventure.
Leaving Chiswick, I made a quick pass through Richmond Park, head down, elbows on the drop bars, pumping the legs as hard as I could, passing through Kingston, and then Epsom. For unknown reasons, I decided to do a few hill repeats up and down the Epsom downs. These gradual climbs are just steep enough to put a sting in your legs if you are trying to go flat out up them. After four repeats, I headed to the famous Box Hill ‘corkscrew’ – the area in Surrey where the Olympic road races were. The plan was to go down this winding, beautifully smooth road once, then head back home, but after the first time I decided to put myself through another painful ascent out of the saddle; a stupid idea (which my legs were clearly telling me) as I continued to push back to the final transition area.
After 122kms and just over 4 hours I was ‘racking’ my bike with slightly wobbly legs that were hurting everywhere and unhappy with what I had just done to them; I told them (out load) to be quiet!
I was given some running advice from a close friend of mine who has competed at the pinnacle of the sport, Kona (10:14hrs if I remember correctly) to find my running pace early, a very comfortable pace, and stick with it. These words were ringing through my head as I begun my run down towards the River Thames at Chiswick Bridge, then along the tow path to Richmond. My markers for a very comfortable pace had to be: it didn’t feel like I was working to maintain the pace, and I could constantly talk (yes talk to myself) as I was running, without being out of breath!
Well I thought I had found this pace, although I felt it was a little fast, but as kilometres 7, 8, 9, and 10 ticked over I was maintaining a constant pace, while feeling at ease despite running 4:15min/kms. I continued to chat to myself, was in a good mood, ate a chunk of chia seed and banana energy bar, and as kilometres 13, 14, and even 15 went by, things didn’t change, except that my knee was starting to give me some pain (an old injury from an Ultra Marathon in July.
Then there was an explosion, well that’s what it felt like, my muscles felt like they had dissolved, and there was nothing left in the engine room, my energy was gone! I continually slowed until I hit rock bottom at 21k, where I did a 6:27min/km, and it hurt. At that point I changed the screen of my watch only to receive no data at all except for the time of day; I didn’t care about anything, except getting through these next 4 kilometres and finishing.
I knuckled down mentally, I told myself it was only pain, and it will go away when I stop, but I will only stop when I’m finished. I had one incline before I was home, as the path slowly changed its gradient from flat to what felt like vertical, I begun to slow, I thought to myself if I go any slower I will be walking. Then, at the top of my lungs, I yelled, ‘DON’T YOU WALK LUKE,’ startling a woman who was coming towards me (which I’m very sorry for, whoever that was.)
I reached the top of the incline, and onto the final stretch – I was so close to finishing. As I switched my watch back to being able to see my data, I was getting very close to being home, but when I came level to my house (and the invisible finishing line I had imagined) I was only at 24.3kms, I couldn’t stop there, I had to go to 25.
I ran onto Chiswick High street to finish the Luke-athon, it was 4pm on a Saturday, the street was packed. I weaved my way in and out of people, and I must admit I was getting quite a few strange looks; I don’t blame them, everything I did felt like slow motion. I had only 200m to go, this was it, I was about to finish my first triathlon.
Then I had a ‘light bulb’ moment (not my best, I must admit.) There was a fun fair (a carnival-type thing with rides, and games to win soft toys), I thought, ‘why don’t I run through there to finish.’ It would be like a finishing chute at a big triathlon, music, people, it’ll be awesome… what an idiot.
The place was full of kids running around, baby buggies, and people casually walking around, I struggled to not bounce off people, and had to dodge my way through the crowds to get those final 200 metres completed. I came to the end of the fair and felt like I had been spat out the other end; my wrist vibrated with a buzz for another kilometer completed, number 25; I had finished.
As I hunched over with hands on my knees for just I second, I thought about what I had achieved, then, as I stood up, I burst into laughter. Why? I’m not sure, maybe even my subconscious thought I was crazy for what I had just done to myself ‘for fun.’
I did enjoy my experience; I pushed as hard as I possibly could have in all three disciplines, although it was tough having had no sleep before the swim, and the numerous people in the pool, the traffic lights, cars, and at times other cyclists on the roads. And the run? I just made that difficult by running the first 10k in 42 minutes. But, I wouldn’t have changed anything (okay, maybe my pacing on the run) – I really loved the swim/bike/run experience, I wasn’t trying to finish in any specific time, just finishing as quickly as I could, and that was a combined total of 7:01hrs.
What’s next? Well there is a three-day adventure coming up, but I will fill you in very shortly about that, until then, it’s all about The Adventure, The Travel, The Challenge.
Pool Swim: 2.5km (1.55mile) – 50:14min at 3km/h average speed
Bike: 122km (76miles, with 1100m/3600ft of climbing) – 4:08hrs at 29.5km/h average
Run: 25km run (15.5 miles) – 2:02hrs at 12.3km/h average (4:53min/km)
For more information about Luke visit: luketyburski.com
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