It’s Sunday morning, and after a fairly restless night I drag myself up and out of the camper van (lovingly known as Miss Daisy) to stretch my legs. After a dull and cloudy day yesterday it was refreshing to slide open Miss Daisys’ door to a bright orange sun gently rising up above the distant Snowdonian mountains. Autumnal dew slips off the grass cooling my toes as I stretch my legs and put on my tri suit.
Today I’m competing (or rather taking part!) in the Sandman sprint triathlon in Newborough, Anglesey. It’s early, but already I know it’s going to be a beautiful day. It’s so clear, and as soon as the sun rises, the morning chill which by now has turned my feet into ice blocks, will disappear and hopefully I’ll thaw!
I feel a mixture of nervous excitement and anticipation as we cycle slowly from our nearby campsite to Newborough beach where the event will take place. I look around and admire the breath-taking scenery that surrounds us; Snowdonia to my left with Wales’ highest peak, Snowdon, in full view. To my right we pass some ‘Greek mythological-looking’ white horses with long muscular bodies, long white manes and short stumpy legs. I catch a glimpse of the sea before we hit Newborough forest and start to head down to the beach, overtaking the masses of cars patiently waiting to enter the event.
Arriving at the beach and transition area I find my place, park my bike and start to get organised. The one thing I notice straight away is that everybody is so friendly. Strangers around me start talking and laughing and immediately I stop feeling like a complete novice and start to relax. I’m here with my friend Joy. It’s her first triathlon and my second. We giggle as we try to work out which way our bikes sit on the rack, where our various identification tags and timing chips go and how on earth we are going to peel our wetsuits off when we’ve finished the swim!
Eventually we’re ready, I listen intensely to the pre-race briefing whilst Joy talks excitedly all the way through then says “what did he say?!”. We make our way down to the beach to watch our friends in the standard distance race (the long one!) set off first before it’s our turn. It’s a great atmosphere, families are on the beach waiting excitedly, the event organisers are on the microphone running through last minute details, and I’m really enjoying the sound of a group of drummers performing for us before Joy states “it sounds like we’re walking to our deaths!”.
It’s soon our turn to start and we all line up on the beach with our wetsuits and mandatory orange swim hats. Our ‘wave’ is mostly women and we all wish each other luck as the gun goes off and we run into the sea. We start swimming and the inevitable kicks from close-by swimmers is swiftly followed by ‘sorrys’ before we eventually spread out and find our own pace. Swimming is most definitely my weakest strength so I start towards the back and that’s where I pretty much stay. The sea is warm and the swim is manageable and goes fairly well until my goggles fill up with water and in an attempt to see I pull them down only to make the situation even worse as I accidentally pull my over-sized swim cap over my eyes and nose! After some minor panicking and fixing I pull myself together and carry on.
Joy is slightly ahead of me all the way but occasionally turns to make sure I’m still there and haven’t swallowed so much water I’ve sunk to the bottom! I was relieved to finally be able to touch the sea bed, hit the shore and head back to the transition area to get out of my wetsuit and into my cycling gear.
It wasn’t long before we were heading out of transition and onto phase two of our triathlon – cycling. My favourite and most comfortable discipline of the three, it wasn’t long before we were overtaking other competitors whilst talking excitedly about the swim. It was an 18km route and as we raced around I took time to appreciate the magnificent scenery, the ripple of mountains that led down to the Llyn peninsula and the beautiful Menai straights – simply stunning. Joy had driven the cycle route the previous day and so thought it helpful to give me a running commentary on exactly where we were going next and a lengthy description of each hill!!
The cycle was thoroughly enjoyable and very quickly we seemed to be back on the forest track and heading back down towards the beach for our final phase – a 5km run through Newborough forest finished with a 750m beach run to the finish line. I changed into my running shoes and we set off. Straight away my legs felt wobbly and tired and I started to wonder how I was going to get through the finish line. I tried to picture all sorts of motivational images in support, Rocky Balboa running at speed singing ‘Eye of the Tiger’, sitting on the beach relaxing with a glass of wine having finished the run, anything to take my mind off the pain I was feeling in my legs. Joy, on the other hand, was in her element by now and kept excitedly asking “do you think we’ve done a kilometre yet?”, and “do you think we’re halfway there?!”.
We hit the halfway water point and I managed to drink some water whilst still partially moving. I was struggling now and started to wonder why time after time I put myself through these things! Joy is ahead and could go so much faster but she patiently waits for me to catch up. We finally hit the sand dunes and I have to gather all the energy I have left to climb the steep sand dune and drop down onto the beach for the final 750m run. There are crowds of supportive people cheering us on and in the distance I can see the heavenly sight of the two blue flags that signifies the turn off from the beach to the finish line.
Keeping my eyes firmly on these flags, I allow myself a glimpse beyond to Llanddwyn Island, and it looks so serene and beautiful as I recall many happy memories of time spent relaxing here during the summer. We finally hit the blue flags, cross the last section of sand and I can see the red inflatable finish line metres away. I grab Joys hand and lift it high in celebration as we cross the finish line to cheers from strangers. My own personal battle is over. Relief hits me as I try to stop my legs from buckling and drink some water in the mid day sun. I feel a mixture of elation and pride as I immediately start to recover and cheer other competitors as they cross the finish line.
An amazing experience, enhanced by a beautiful day, a stunning location, great event organisation and of course some great friends. Whilst you’re in the middle of a tough challenge it’s difficult to define why we do these things, when it would be so much easier to stand on the side lines and cheer, but when we’ve completed it you really do get a huge sense of achievement. To really push yourself to your limits, and get out of your comfort zone you learn so much more about yourself, and what you can achieve.
Sitting on the beach afterwards, sipping wine in the sun (as per my earlier visions!) really completed the day. A fantastic event with supportive friends and a great atmosphere, I’ll definitely be back next year!