Ahead: 5km Swims, Sportives, 100 mile Time Trials and Adventure

635570328174813169It’s been some time since my last ‘firsts’ by bike – five, four and three years ago were the summers of giddy virgin events. First triathlon, first time trial, first Olympic and 50 mile distances, first major PBs.

Since then I’ve been rolling up and down dual carriageways chasing the seconds, the watts, and the improvements, all the while the clock ticking on my twenties.

I’ve somehow perfected the art of ramping my heart rate to 195, then down to 190, and keeping it there for 23 to 63 minutes.  I tried racing with no power meter or heart rate monitor, to see if I could break the ceiling and stop riding with my eyes glued to the screen. Instead I stared at the minutes and worked out my average speed, still finishing with an identical average heart rate. Frankly, I’m a little bored.

Frankly, I’m a little bored.

Those of you with good memories will remember I had planned on triathlon-ing this year, but sadly sciatica put an end to that (again, SERIOUSLY). So, at the dawn of summer I was a little lost for goals. Until…

Yesterday I completed a 5km open water swim. I’ve never swum 5km open water before. I entered the 5km because it seemed like a real challenge – the kind of thing I was expecting to leave me struggling to finish.

The reality was that I knocked out so many 4km pool swims in the run up that by the time I got to the water’s edge I knew full well I could swim the distance, but I had no idea how to start, how to pace myself. I wasn’t sure if it would be faster or slower in the open water (wetsuit + drafting vs no turns every 25m), thus what sort of heart rate or rate of exertion I should be knocking out.

I wasn’t sure where to put myself in the chaos at the start. In the end I put myself next to a bloke who hit me squarely in the head, twice, as soon as the start buzzer went. I wasn’t sure if I needed gels, or how the hell to swim around this annoying woman who just kept on launching herself at me in a diagonal line on the first ‘out’.


On the second out I learned how to blow the lake water out my nose when someone filled my face with it (multiple times), and on the final back I figured out the difference between swim-drifting in the pack and swim-powering when you realise the event is almost over. Then how long that ‘back’ can be when the buoy just doesn’t seem to get closer.

I finished with a time of 1.37.50 – 27th out of 82 women (114th out of 258 swimmers),  3rd of 14 in my age group. I still don’t know what makes a respectable time, and what I should have been aiming for – but actually, that’s rather liberating.

I still don’t know what makes a respectable time, and actually, that’s rather liberating.

The tester in me still does the maths, various sums involving my 400m swim PB (6min28sec) and what I might expect to do for 1,500m, 3k, 10k… if  I’m better suited to long events or short gala type things… but when I forget about all that I realise that I learned a lot of new things during my swim. I actually really enjoyed it.

Before the event, I  wasn’t nervous, during the first meters, I wasn’t constantly checking the time to see how I was doing compared to previous events – because there were no previous events, this wasn’t a self-measurement tool or a quest for self-improvement, but just something to enjoy.

So this year I’m taking my eyes off my stem a bit

So this year I’m taking my eyes off my stem a bit, and entering events that are new – that aren’t about ‘how many seconds slower/faster am I going than last time I rode this piece of ground’ – but about ‘what can I achieve’ (eg 100 mile time trial). And maybe even, along the way, what can I see and experience (eg Pru 100 and the Grizzly).

Having gone from total noob to triathlon and TT geek, I sort of feel like I skipped the ‘sportive’ step of cycling development and I reckon my legs could do with more miles and hills. Road racing is out because I’m too much of a crash wimp, but Gran Fondo’s are another matter.

I’m not claiming I’m going to forget the seconds, I’m still planning on doing plenty of DC time trials. If anything the knowledge that there are new challenges ahead has caused me to dust off my power meter after a winter hiding from the numbers.

A part of me is hoping shifting my approach, entering more events where other riders will push me up the hills, and make me really work, will help slice away the seconds, too. However, I’m not going to hold them as the only marker of success.

I’ve already enjoyed 80% of a Surrey Hills 100 mile sportive (why travel into London to ride out of it?!), spent an awesome day riding in Dorset, crossed off my 5k goal, and done a few TTs too.

It’s only May and it’s been pretty fun already. For the rest of this summer, I’m going to pepper the TTs with new challenges, new  rides in new places, and see where the roads (and lakes) take me. I’m kind of looking forward to it…

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Events this year so far..

Feb 15 – Redhill CC 18 – 54:45

April 4 – Brighton Mitre 10 (G10/44) – 28.19 – 3rd female

May 9 – A3crg 25 – 1.02.35 – 5th female

May 10 – 80% of the London Cycle Sportive (joined a friend on the route… why ride INTO London to ride past my house?!)

May 15 – SCCU 10 (G10/57) – 24.40 – 1st female

May 25 – 5k Open Water – 1.37.50 – 27th of 82, 3rd in Age Group

Events to come…

These are in my calendar, no doubt things will move, but here’s the idea…

June 6 – SEWTTS G10/44

June 7 – Tour of Cambridge Gran Fondo

June 14 – National 50

June 28 – SCCU 50

July 3 – Friday Night Swim, Reading (1,500m)

July 12 – Grizzdale Grizzly Adventure Cross (IF I can convince Mr Brennan this is a good way to spend our anniversary!)

July 26 – SCCU 100 or 100 on Manchester course

August 2 – Pru 100 with Redhill CC Team

Aug 3rd – ?? : Touring week with Maurice/Visiting Pyrenees

August 15 – H25/8

Aug 20 – Big Dog Swim (3.8km)

September 6 – SCCU 25

Published by michellearthurs

I'm an NCTJ Journalist and work at Cycling Weekly. Previous to this, I was the Editor at Total Women's Cycling. I've also dabbled in marketing and copywriting - having been Marketing Coordinator and Social Media/Content Editor at Evans Cycles. My first job was working on a local newspaper.  I've written for a variety of titles on a freelance basis, too. I got into cycling when I entered my first triathlon in 2010. I now race crits, road races, time trials, and do a lot of track training for not very much track racing.

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