Ben Blackwall talks about his highs and lows at the Virgin Active London triathlon.

Ben racing out the waters at the Virgin Active London Triathlon

You need a bit of luck sometimes. Mine was when I found out that my neighbour in the cavernous transition area turned out to be a veteran of 11 London Triathlons. This was auspicious, I thought, and it would have been careless not to ask for his top tip. He said, ‘Just make sure you start the swim on the outside.’

10 minutes later, bobbing about in the river, I’m thinking, ‘The surest way to prove this Ben, is to start on the inside, and near the front.’ I set off at 7:30 and by around 7:30 and 10 seconds my transition neighbour was proved right.

I think the nearer the swimmer is to the front of the wave, the less familiar they are with the convention of personal space. I love a swim but I’ve never felt moved to combine it with martial arts. It’s a niche combination but, for me at least I confess that I think the latter tends to diminish the former.

It did have one positive effect though, it made me hurry up. By and large, after a knock, I’d squirt on the gas and go in front. Also, using my new and still rudimentary navigation skills I tried to swim to the outside. The swim settled like it does and was pretty good – for me probably the most interesting leg. I’ve not swum in the Thames before  but it was very warm and the water was really not that bad. Very green, a bit chewy maybe but not bad.

On the return leg of the one lap course I was also lucky enough to find some advice of my own: know the course markers. This is great advice and I hope to be able to pass it on one day. Without this you might, for example find that you are swimming alongside three people, all on your right then, just as you pass the marker, you swerve rapidly right, broad siding all your neighbours. If that happened you would feel silly so, with due deference to my Triathlon Veteran friend, from now on, that is going to be my top tip.

28 minutes later, wetsuit bagged, I’m zoning straight on to my bike. This is a small victory I think as when you’ve got a hall that big it stands to reason your bike isn’t going to stand out. I had prepared for this by having a towel that stood out instead. Mine was large, mainly pink and had Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty on it. As far as I could see it was the only one of its kind there.

So, to the ride. Getting out of the hall you wind down the ramp under various bridges on to the course. The first thing you hear is stewards exhorting you to ‘Slow down, SLOW DOWN!’ on account of the puddles collecting at the windiest parts of the exit track. I did as I was told, but looking back I don’t recall anyone telling me after the minor hazard, ’Now hurry up!’ It would be unfair to blame the stewards but my bike time was 1:37. I really don’t get that. It felt fast and I felt really good too.

I enjoyed it, which is a breakthrough in itself (thanks to a bike that I have managed to bond with), I overtook plenty of people and by and large was only overtaken by a few TT bikes so I thought I’d finally cracked my bike hoodoo. I can only assume that all the people who rode faster, and there were a lot that did, were not on the course when I was. Looking back now, there was probably one sign predicting I’d have to leave any PB’s for another day; I was on my drops throughout, puffing away and was doing tit for tat overtakes with another cyclist who never crouched on to his drops at all. He was sat bolt upright. Presumably he just decided that fighting air resistance wasn’t for him, it was for other people like me. He was basically a more natural cyclist than I am and another reminder that, having finally bonded with my Team Carbon bike, there is still plenty of work to do.

Then to the run. It felt good again and I did a reasonable 44 minute split but I’m sure, like the cycle, I can work this down. The course itself was made by the spectators, and given how twisty it was, I think its fair to say it was made FOR the spectators as well. By making the run three laps, with each lap passing through ExCel and past the very noisy, very enthusiastic Charities there was a great atmosphere there. That will be my memory of the run – it won’t be the course itself as I don’t think its unfair to say that there is probably not a less iconic 10k run course to be had in all of London!

In a nutshell this event was great, as much for the atmosphere and location as for the triathlon itself. My race was probably similar to most people’s; it was good in lots of ways but had room for improvement in others. I think this is triathlon’s way of making you keep coming back for more – there is so much to do that you can never say you’ve done a perfect race – there’s always something to improve and with that, there is the promise of faster times. But I have loved being part of Team Triathlon Plus. It has provided me with invaluable advise from experts in their fields (Liam Dixon and Kevin Wallace) and the companies that provided our excellent kit (Team Carbon Bikes, Zone 3, Tenn Outdoors, Saucony, Polar, Limar) have been very supportive too. Then of course there is the camaraderie and support of the Triathlon Plus community. It’s been a great experience. Thank you everyone.

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