Monster Mojo Triathlon
“Seriously, we could just do the bike in our wetsuits.” Standing in transition, Nick and I contemplated this idea for several minutes. It probably took us longer to think through the various implications because the cold was restricting blood flow to our brains. It was ridiculously windy and as a result, incredibly cold. The water was (allegedly) a fairly balmy 16˚C but the problem, as we saw it, would be getting on our bikes, wet from the swim, and cycling into the biting wind. It was not a prospect that brought us much in the way of cheer as we stood shivering at the side of the lake. We discussed wearing armwarmers under our wetsuits, but in the end I resigned myself to a long T1, figuring at least then they’d be erring on the side of dry.
I hate racing in armwarmers. It’s not that I have a particular aversion to the garment itself, more what they represent – cold conditions, numb feet, fingers that don’t work, ears that sting. It’s supposed to be fun, and for me, 4 ½ hours or so in this weather did not promise much joy.
I loathed getting into the lake. I do not thrive in low temperatures; I don’t have much in the way of insulation and when I get cold, my chest gets tight and I can’t breathe. If you can’t breathe, you can’t swim, but if you don’t swim, you won’t warm up. I know, from past experience, that somehow you just have to start and keep moving. The process took at least 5 minutes (an eternity in a 1.9km swim) and seemed much longer as I watched the rest of the field disappear. Eventually I got into a rhythm, quelled the suffocating panic and generated a bit of heat. It’s frustrating to have worked so hard on your swimming and not to be able to generate a split representative of that, but such is life. By the half way turn buoy, I’d caught a fair few people, which was a bit more heartening, although shortly after this, my right hand started to claw. Hand claw is an early sign of hypothermia; when the ulnar nerve gets very cold, it sends constant “contract” signals to the muscles it innervates in your forearm. This causes your fingers to contract towards your palm – not in a fist, but not in a particularly useful cup-like shape which aids a swim catch, either.
T2 was a bit of a joke. I’d decided to leave my swim caps on until I’d sorted out other areas of my body, in a slightly pathetic attempt to retain heat where possible. Getting out of a wetsuit is usually good for generating a few joules of warmth but, of course, exposes bare skin to the evil zephyr. I put my gilet on, but with only 2 or 3 functioning digits, couldn’t do up the zip. I managed to struggle my way into armwarmers, socks and shoes, before shoving on my helmet and discovering I was still wearing my swim caps. That gave the BTF officials something to giggle about anyway.
The bike course was a short outward leg, three loops, then back again. There weren’t many people around, since there weren’t many people who swam slower than I did. My legs cramped in the cold. God, it was cold. There were a lot of roundabouts and quite a lot of corners. My Garmin seems not to like the cold very much either, as it kept pausing itself, which was annoying since I didn’t know exactly how far I’d gone. Knowing exactly how far you’ve gone becomes disproportionately important when the only thing stopping you jacking it all in is that you gave your car key to the photographer for safekeeping and the only place you know for sure he’ll be is at the finish line. Icy lake water dribbled out of my ears. I wiped it off with my armwarmers. I was pretty miserable for most of the first lap, especially when it started to rain. I really did not want to be there and generating the motivation required to actually work at race HR was a bit beyond me. By the second lap, the Mojito (standard distance) athletes were out on the bike course, which at least gave me some company and I started to overtake Mojo racers too. At the best of times, my nose runs a fair bit when I bike. After swimming, it runs a lot. Viscous rivulets of lake-watery snot dripped out of each nostril and the wind smeared them laterally across my cheek. When I could be bothered, I smeared it onto my armwarmers instead.
About half way through, (while my Garmin was restarting itself) I started to worry about my sunglasses, which I’d left in T1. I managed to convince myself that someone would accidently step on them. The mental image of their demise in such cruel circumstances caused me significant angst. Everyone racked even vaguely close to me had left by the time I had carelessly abandoned them as superfluous, but it seemed like a good reason to get a wiggle on and make it back before anyone had a second opportunity. So, gradually, I started to increase the effort, and gradually my average speed rose. I spent several miles trying to decide if I should run in my gloves and whether or not I should take off my squelchy socks, inside which I assumed my completely numb feet were currently sloshing about. My conscious brain couldn’t recall any recent signals from my toes in quite some time, but I was hoping they were still viable. The various treatments for trench foot occupied me for most of the rest of the bike. At the start of the final lap, I had another gel and although by now my hands were a bit warmer, I utterly ballsed up opening the packet and a lot of it ended up on my chin and all over my gloves, both of which I wiped on my armwarmers.
With about 10 miles to go, the sun came out and by the time I got back to my (uncrushed) sunglasses, most of me was actually fairly warm. I was pleasantly surprised at how few bikes were back, which is probably why I forgot about my socks and left one glove behind.
I couldn’t feel my feet for the first mile. I wished I couldn’t feel them for the second, as the blood started to come back into them, along with a fair bit of pain. When I collected my first band, the woman told me I was second. I wasn’t really sure this could be true, but I supposed she was in a better position to know than I was. It is relatively hard to mistake someone dressed head to toe in yellow anyway. I ran with a couple of guys, trying to keep my HR down. My sunglasses steamed up. I wiped them on my armwarmers, but they remained inexplicably smeary. At the end of the second lap, I became irrationally angry with the entire experience and since the only thing standing between me and warm dry clothes was a couple of stupid laps, I decided the best course of action was simply to get the whole thing over and done with.
I finished second female, never before so thankful that a race was over. When I took off my socks, I discovered bleeding toes on both feet. I considered wiping off the blood before putting my feet into clean socks, but my armwarmers looked a bit saturated, so I pretended I hadn’t seen it.
I won £150. I thought briefly about spending some of it on new armwarmers, but in all honesty, I’d rather just race abroad in the warmth from now on.