Tempted to give triathlon a go but not quite ready to hit that big, shiny ‘enter now’ button yet? This blog might just spur you on to take the plunge! Our Senior Product Developer, Mark, shares his experience of taking on his first triathlon at Tri Cheddar earlier this year. From the first seed of an idea, to getting on that start line – read on to find out more about Mark’s journey to becoming an official triathlete!
Mark gives tri a try
Dipping a toe in the water
The journey to the start line of Tri Cheddar began back in the summer of 2022, when I started an open water swimming course in the Solent – down in sunny Southsea. It was during this course that an idea started to take root in my mind: could I do a triathlon? I already cycled, and I was running occasionally (… once a year counts as ‘occasional’, right?). I could also swim… but the thought of being able to do what the Brownlee brothers do just seemed impossible. Or was it? A seed had been planted.
The Goat was out of the bag!
Around the same time that I was doing the open water swimming course and mulling over the idea of doing a triathlon, I started speaking with the organiser of Tri Cheddar to discuss how Stolen Goat might be able to support them. This would be the first year that the event would take place, and their main aim was to put on an event that would be first-timer friendly and encourage those just getting into the sport to take part. These conversations only added to that seedling of a thought that had been germinating in my mind. I soon found myself going from ‘I wonder if I could do a triathlon?’ to, ‘Yes, I can do this.’ Soon enough, Stolen Goat were on board to support the event and I signed up to take part. Naturally, I roped my brother Mike in as well – we all know adventures are better with your Herd! A huge thank you to Mike for his support, getting to do our first tri together made it all the more fun. Incidentally, out of the 250 entrants to Tri Cheddar over half were first-timers, which just goes to show how beginner-friendly the event is.
A short while later, after a hot summer’s day down at Stolen Goat HQ myself and the rest of the SG team were enjoying a well earned pint of the good stuff. I let slip* that I was going to take part in a triathlon at Cheddar the following year. And that was it: the goat was out of the bag and there was no backing out now!
*Editors note: I think in reality, Mark told me (Jenny, resident tri-nerd at Stolen Goat HQ) in confidence that he was doing a triathlon and I got so excited I was the one who accidentally let the Goat out of the bag. Sorry Mark!
The training journey
So, the countdown was on! I had roughly 7 months until the event. At the time that felt like plenty of time to get ready. After all, the race was “only” going to be a 400m swim in a 25m pool, a 20km cycle up through the famous Cheddar Gorge with a little 5km trot at the end. No problem, right!? Well, there were actually several problems here. First – the pool I was hoping to use for my training hadn’t opened up yet. Southsea isn’t the hilliest of places to get my mountain goat legs ready for the Gorge. And at 46 years of age, while I mentally still felt young – I had to accept that the body had a few more miles on the clock that would make running feel that bit harder. Still – I persevered.
I’d just completed the Prostate Cancer UK London to Amsterdam ride, so bike-wise I was in pretty good nick. This meant I could focus a little more on the other elements of a triathlon: the swim and the run. But first, I had a few decisions to make: how much was I going to train? Was I going to follow a strict training plan, or could I just do my own thing? Ultimately I decided to do my own thing. I wanted to be able to fit training around my life, and I also didn’t want the pressure to train every day. This event was all about the fun factor for me, so I wanted to make sure it never felt like a chore. This is the beauty of the shorter distance triathlon events, and choosing a race that’s so first-timer friendly. I’m sure if I’d decided to jump straight into the longer distance races I’d have to sacrifice a bit more, but this shorter distance is extremely accessible.
Over the coming months I attempted to hit the pool at least once or twice a week, run once a week and continue to get out on the bike at the weekends. I also made sure to keep up with Pilates, which I have been doing for several years. I’d highly recommend it to anyone looking to work on their core strength and their flexibility – things we can often neglect when we’re busy focusing on the swim, bike and run, but make a huge difference to being able to train consistently and stay resilient to injury.
The days, weeks and months passed quickly. Training was going well and thankfully I managed to avoid picking up any injuries. Suddenly the event was on the horizon and it was all start to feel very real!
As part of the training, my brother and I had organised a trip out to Mallorca in March, just a couple of weeks before the event. This gave us the chance to get some warmer weather rides in… naturally, the week before we were due to head out there was snow and terrible weather on the island and all the routes we were planning to ride were closed! Safe to say this had us feeling a little nervous, but thankfully the bad weather cleared out and we were blessed with perfect weather by the time we arrived. I’m certainly no mountain goat when it comes to climbing on the bike, and the climbs in Mallorca were definitely a challenge – but ticking them off gave me a boost of confidence that if I could make it up these, then Cheddar Gorge would feel like a breeze in comparison. 220km of riding with 3650m of climbing later, it was time to head home and get ready for the big day.
Race morning was here, and of course those race day butterflies made themselves known with a vengeance. I felt nervous to the point of almost being sick! Still, I set about getting my bike and transition area all set up like I’d practiced and soon enough it was time to head to the start line for the swim. The race had wave starts, and I was in the 3rd wave of swimmers which meant 40 minutes of waiting on poolside. It was very warm on poolside (top tip: don’t forget to take your water bottle with you so you can stay hydrated while you wait!) and watching the first two waves get going definitely made the nerves build up… but then it was the big moment. Show time! It was time to jump in the pool and get ready to go. The whistle went off and I tried to keep reminding myself of my mantra: slow and steady. Of course I still ended up going off a bit quick despite this, and by the halfway point of the swim I was suffering a tad. But I finished and it was my quickest ever swim time. A great start!
With the swim ticked off, it was time to head into T1 and get ready to set off on the bike. My transition time was a little slower than I’d have liked, but now I was in the saddle I knew I was in my element and I had the opportunity to make up a few places. It had rained the night before, so the course was still wet but thankfully the weather was kind and we didn’t get soggy out on the course. The ride through the gorge is incredible, and is definitely a bucket list ride to go and experience if you ever find yourself in the West Country. There are even goats grazing there! The 20km bike leg flew by, and soon it was time to head into transition for the run. Back in school I’d been a half decent runner, but today was all about pacing myself to make sure I could get round and make it to the finish line in one piece. 1 hour and 42 minutes of swimming, cycling and running later and my first triathlon was done! I came 109th overall, and I’m pleased to say I was only 13 minutes behind my brother who finished in 50th place. It was his first ever triathlon too, so it was great to go and experience it together and I really appreciate all his support.
One and done?
So there I was: an official ‘triathlete’! Did I enjoy it? If you’d asked me that immediately after I crossed the finish line my answer might have been different, but once I’d got over that ‘never again’ feeling… I can honestly say I really did enjoy myself. So much so, I’m considering doing another one!
Training for a triathlon is a great way to boost your fitness. But it’s also more accessible than you might think – it’s definitely not just a sport reserved for the pros such as the Brownlee Brothers! It doesn’t matter what shape, size or age you are. It doesn’t matter how fit you are or what ability level you currently have – anyone can give tri a try! The shortest distance is the super sprint, involving a 200m swim, a 10km bike and a 2.5km run. You can take it as seriously as you like, but it’s important to know that you don’t need to have specialist kit such as a triathlon-specific bike. A normal road bike or even a flat bar hybrid will certainly get you round. I even saw someone do Tri Cheddar on a Brompton! A pair of goggles, a trusty steed and a pair of running shoes are all you need to get started.
If you’ve been thinking about giving a triathlon a go, I hope my story might help you on your way to hitting that ‘enter now’ button. Maybe I’ll see you out on a race course sometime soon!
Ready to give Tri a try? Check out our Top Tips For Your First Triathlon to help you get ready for your first race.