Come Together: My 2011 London Triathlon

Sunday was the London Triathlon.  It was my second ever Olympic distance triathlon.  I honestly had no idea what the race would be like.  I decided to just show up, jump in, and see how it would all Come Together.

Come Together it did!  3:30:24, achieving my aim of breaking the 4 hour barrier, smashing my 2010 London Triathlon time by nearly 35 minutes, hitting national paratriathlon standards, and a fantastic day!

“One and One and One Is Three”

Triathlon is one sport made up of three separate sporting elements – swim, bike, and run.  The fourth element is transition – the time you take to move between the sports.  And the fifth?  Nutrition – how you fuel your body to meet your energy and performance needs.

This year my training has felt schizophrenic.

Shizophrenia: A mental disorder characterised by a disintegration of thought processes.  It commonly manifests as paranoid or bizarre delusions, and disorganised thinking.

What do I mean?  I’ve felt disorganised, chaotic.  Jumping from a bike focus, to a swim focus, to a run focus.  Rather than balancing three sports into one, I’ve focused on each sport, in succession, throughout the spring and summer training period.  When I left my bike focus after April’s MS150 to prep for my big swim, I mourned not spending time on running.  I feel like I’ve been neglecting elements of my training, like I’ve been choosing favourites.  I’ve wondered if my lack of equally divided attention would simply perpetuate a status quo performance for each of the elements of triathlon.

On Saturday I accepted my reality.  There was nothing that I could do – that was the way my training was, I had done what I had done.  All I could do was show up and see how it would all COME TOGETHER.

“He Got Muddy Water”


Swim: 32:14

Comparison with 2010:  A decline of 2 minutes 22 seconds.

Muddy water. And a slow swim. 

This was my slowest 1500m swim EVER.  BUT. I executed according to my plan.

My plan was to SWIM HARD THE WHOLE TIME.  And although my time was much slower than I had hoped, I never gave up or eased off my effort.  I had clear water most of the swim (after getting kicked hard in the eye at the start), but I didn’t find fast feet to stick to.  Maybe that was the reason for my slower time.  But I am not disappointed with my efforts on the day.  I earned my time, I worked hard.  I told myself to stay focused, and I did.

But that said…  For me, this was NOT GOOD.  I do not want to swim this slowly.

Perhaps I was slower because I have been neglecting fast swimming.  I haven’t been at many club swim sets this year (my fast sessions) because I have travelled so much for work and was gone for most Tuesdays in June and July.  Let’s face it – I swim faster when surrounded by my very competitive club mates.  And when you swim faster, you get faster.  Simple, right?

Also, when I finished with the Bay Swim, I pretty much was sick of swimming.  It happens.  In the six weeks from May to 12 June I swam over 50,000m.  Frankly, I was just sick of being in the water.  When I finally got my swim mojo back, it was already July.  A bit late in the game to overnight snap back to speedy form.

Excuses?  No, there are no excuses.  My performance is what it is, a reflection of my choices and the reality I created.  So, to get my fast back, it’s time for me to get back to the pool.

“He Roller Coaster”


Bike: 1:22:18

Comparison with 2010: An improvement of 7 minutes 28 seconds.

My goal on the bike was to ride focused and ride hard for 40k.

And I did.

One thing that Strong Like Bull taught me in February is that I need to embrace the fact that I can do more than I think possible.  So I went into Sunday knowing that I would embrace WORKING HARD.  That I would embrace the BURN.  That I would keep my cadence high, my speed up, my effort strong.

And I did.

I still got passed more than I wanted to.  But I didn’t get passed without a fight.  I did my best on the day.  I survived the “breezy” conditions.  I picked people off going up the flyovers and hills out of the Limehouse Link tunnel.  I pushed myself to be my best – to work hard and to enjoy the rollercoaster. 

Make no mistake, this is not a smile.  This is what I look like when I grit my teeth together and give it my all.

“He Come Grooving Up Slowly”


Run 1:24:14

Comparison with 2010: An improvement of 24 minutes 51 seconds.

Snoopy Dance!  Jump in the air with a click of the heels!  Over. The. Moon.  Just WOW! 

Where do I even begin?!

I have known that to improve my running, I need to go deep into my running form.  I need to break my hip flexor dominance.  To learn to run using my glutes and hamstrings and calves.  To develop muscles that have laid dormant for a long time.

I started the process at the end of 2010, when I visited my neurophysiotherapist Gita (who is an expert in the body mechanics and compensations of people with my nerve disease, CMT).  I knew Gita would be able to suggest exercises to help me to begin to strengthen my other muscle groups.  But I needed HELP.  I needed someone who could physically show me HOW TO RUN.

Thanks to Twitter and the recommendation of pro-triathlete Tamsin Lewis, I have been working with James Dunne of Kinetic Revolution since June, to take my running back to biomechanics 101. 

I feel like I have won the lottery – that I have found the golden ticket.  I AM FINALLY LEARNING TO RUN.

On Sunday I knew that the run would be a challenge – my body is still adapting to the changes.  My muscles are still adjusting.  I’m no where near to “there”.  We still have heaps of work to do.  So to help me manage Sunday’s challenge of 10k after the swim and bike, we discussed breaking up the run into a series of intervals.  The intervals themselves would depend on how I felt.

I reckon I wound up walking about 30-40% of the run course.  I ripped up the interval plans I had made – it was hot, I hit the bike hard, I knew I needed to be flexible to finish strong.  Instead I gave myself new interval rules as I got to the first water stations – run for not less than 3 minutes a stretch, and walk for not more than 2 minutes.  I also told myself that given the heat on the day, that I would walk through and take WATER at each water station (twice on each 2.5k loop). 

When I ran, I felt strong.  The laps ticked by, I was looking at my watch, and I thought that I had missed a lap in my counting.  DH was there counting my laps – he told me I hadn’t.  But it was not until I went online on Monday morning that I had confirmation that I actually completed the run – that I indeed ran 10k in less than an hour and a half.

I surpassed even my own wildest expectations.

“He Wear No Shoe Shine”


Transition:  11:49

Comparison with 2010: An improvement of 4 minutes 57 seconds.

The London Triathlon has REALLY LONG transitions – the distance and time between elements of the triathlon.  The transition area is the length of half of the Excel Centre – a huge exhibition hall.  I swear each way out and in is about 400m, easily.

This year I changed up some things to enable quicker transitions. 

First, I stopped wearing socks with my bike shoes.  Following my excellent shoe build and fit in February of this year, my cycle shoes are so comfy I just don’t need socks on a 40k ride.

Next, for the first time during this triathlon, I ditched the compression socks I usually wear with my ankle braces and wore just normal running socks.  THIS IS A BIG DEAL FOR ME.  I am extremely paranoid of blisters on my feet.  My braces rub in unexpected places.  I get blisters on my instep.  Where the brace meets my shin.  The just below my ankle bones.  I was worried.  But frankly – I was blistering anyway even wearing compression.  And it was TAKING FOREVER to get the socks on in transition – eating up valuable race time.  So I just went for it.  And it worked!

I still need to work on my transitions.  I need socks that are super comfy and easy to put on.  But so far, so good.  We may have found the winning approach.  Finally!

“He Shoot Coca Cola”

Ah. Coca Cola.  I really really wanted an ice cold coca cola on the run course.  But it wasn’t there – and it wasn’t in my nutrition plan.

Finally I seem to have gotten my nutrition right.  I chalk it down to this:

* Do nothing new on race day.
* Use training to experiment with nutrition.
* Learn from each event to improve the approach to nutrition at the next event.

Here’s how I kept my energy up, my hydration good, and my electrolytes balanced.

* Swim: one cup of Gatorade and water before swim (both available at race venue, normally I avoid Gatorade as it cramps me, but pre-swim it would be ok)
* Bike: one water bottle, one bottle EFS grape (one scoop), 2 and a half Hammergel Montana Huckleberry (dropped one gel midway through eating!)
* Run: water twice on each run lap, 2 Endurolyte tablets start of lap 2, 1 Hammergel start of lap 3
* Post Race: one bottle First Endurance Ultragen (two scoops) – YUMMY!

I tried everything above before race day.  I knew my nutrition plan, I stuck to it (except for dropping a hammergel).  I felt sick of sweet, but I sucked it up and drank and ate to keep my energy levels strong.  And it worked.  All of it.

A huge thanks to Michelle Ford, who had a great tip on her blog – on the back of my race number I taped a plastic bag with electrolyte tablets.  Thanks to this I was able to get to my Endurolytes quickly and easily without searching or fiddling around in my tri suit.  I didn’t have to remember anything while in transition – the tablets were on my race number, ready for me when I was ready for them.  I think the aid station guys freaked out as I ripped the plastic off my bib and popped two pills – but it worked.  Thanks Michelle for the great tip!

One Thing I Can Tell You Is You Got To Be Free!

It all just seemed to work on Sunday.  It CAME TOGETHER.  I had the best race I could.  I completely ripped up my previous olympic distance triathlon time.  I totally exceeded my expectations. 

I met the minimum requirement for participating in national paratriathlon events – either US or UK.

I totally redefined my own limits.

So. Freaking. Happy.

And to think, I get one more chance this season! One more olympic distance triathlon, to see how things feel and to gauge how things are progressing.  The course will be totally different – rolling hills, running on hills. But I am hoping I can manage to nip under that four hour mark one more time.

Next up: the Fireman Triathlon in Kennebunk Maine.  August 28th. 

Special credit to the Beatles, for being my 2011 London Triathlon theme song.

6 responses to “Come Together: My 2011 London Triathlon”

  1. Dear Donna,
    Wow! Congratulations for this wonderful achievement…still an inspiration to me. I’ve watch you train, travel, share good times with friends and family with that great smile of yours. You never gave up!!!

    Thank you for sharing all of it!

  2. Hi Donna,

    What an awesome day you had. Congratulations & thanks for sharing your race report. The nutrition information is helpful.


  3. Come Together Right Now……Over Me!!!  Woot Woot!  Great race and not a bad theme song either. Well Done girl!!

  4. Absolutely flippin brilliant Donna, what an inspiration. As for the smile really being a grimace, I wish I could look that happy when I was grimacing haha.

    Onwards and upwards. I say this is a huge step towards your bigger goals ay?!


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