Personal guide to the London Triathlon

The experience of triathlon racing

Triathlon racing can be a hugely rewarding experience, getting your body fit and healthy whilst offering a competitive challenge to the mind. Neil Barnes has become a regular triathlete after taking part in his first one a few short years ago. Here, he describes his experiences of competing in the London Triathlon and how he found the role of triathlete a challenging but very enjoyable one.

The experience of triathlon racing

It can catch you up without you even knowing it. One minute your shirts start to feel a bit snug and the next you need larger-sized trousers. Add to that a fondness for curries and a fear of sweating and you can see what future lies ahead! I can certainly tell you that it’s not nice to look down and see clear, undeniable proof that things have gone, well, literally pear-shaped. This expanding of the waist happened to me a few years ago, and so – in an attempt to reverse the effects of out-and-out enjoyment – I decided to try competing in a triathlon.

Well, I managed to do it, and that was three years ago – so, going into 2006 I was aiming to complete my third London Triathlon. Here’s the story of how it went – which will give you a good idea of what to expect if you enter a triathlon race.

London Triathlon race day, 2006

The London Triathlon 2006 promised to be the biggest and best triathlon ever: 10,000 nutters, some murky water, hot weather, and everyone at fever pitch! I’m pleased they shut the roads for us, as who knows what things would have been like if we’d been allowed to compete amongst the traffic…

At the London Triathlon the sprint distances are held on the Saturday and the Olympic distance races are on the Sunday, with everyone racing in age groups. I was to compete on the Sunday – but while most of my co-competitors were tapering and eating pasta on Saturday, our company had an exhibition stand at the London Triathlon. So, I ‘rested’ by standing up on my feet all day on the Saturday talking to and serving our lovely customers! It was great fun but heavy on the legs – which was a good excuse for me to use if I gave a poor performance in the triathlon…

Now, if you’re of a certain age, be aware: the organisers of the London Triathlon may think that all the people aged 40 to 45 can survive on virtually no sleep, as the swim start was at 7.10am on the Sunday morning. They tell you to get there 90 minutes before then, too – so that’ll be 5.40am then!

Still, I finally got to the transition – the racking area where you leave your kit while you’re out doing each bit – then squeezed into my wetsuit and headed off to the swim start to pick up my timing chip and swim cap. It was then I realized that I was the only person with my full wetsuit on. It was already 28ºC, I was sweating like Pavarotti and I resembled a boil-in-the-bag chicken! I just wanted to get into the water…

This is no problem, but you can’t do it until you have joined in some rebel rousing. ‘Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, GO!’, we were urged to scream before we jumped in. I didn’t, though, as I was boiling and my neoprene microwave was about to ping.

Once in the water, the relief at being cool was immediate. Others seemed to be happier for other reasons. Oh, and here’s a good bit of advice: never drink the water!

At the sound of the klaxon, we were off on the swim. This involved lots of thrashing about in what felt like a piranha pool of water. It can get very complicated out there; 300 adrenalin-fuelled athletes can create one hell of a pile-up! Luckily, experience was on my side and I got my positioning just right this year. I didn’t have to swim around anybody and nobody swam over the top of me – which is a first.


Swimming in open water is fun if you look where you’re going. Otherwise, expect to take the tourist route and zigzag your way along. It’s my best discipline but also the shortest bit and, for me, sadly it’s all over too quickly. The books say that once you’re out of the water you should peel off your wetsuit and stuff it in a bag while trying to run in a straight line without falling over. The elite athletes can do this with panache. I still do it like someone juggling wet fish.

Into the first triathlon transition, you stick your helmet on and run out to where you can mount your bike. And then you’re off for over an hour’s tour of the London sights. Normally you’d pay over £14 on a big red bus for a trip like this. The route goes past the Tower of London, Cleopatra’s needle, the Thames and the London Eye, then turns round at Big Ben and comes back via the City. Did I see much of it? Nah – it could have been anywhere. I just had to keep those pedals whirring…

After 40k I arrived back at the ExCel London exhibition center for the transition from bike to run. I was relieved to be off the bike despite the 50-mile training rides I had been doing most weekends. But it wasn’t my bum that was the problem – someone had nicked my legs!

As I ran out of the second transition I realized that I had completely forgotten what 40k of cycling can do to your body. And there was a 10k run ahead around the docks to do in a 30ºC heat!

On the run I had no idea of what was happening around me really. I grabbed water at all the water stations and slowed down so much at the cold water showers that Radox offered to sponsor me. Then, finally – after what seemed like an eternity – it was over. Running through the finish line of an event like this is very special every time you do it. Especially when the Olympic Champion and the World Champion were just about to do exactly the same as you have (albeit a tad quicker).

After the triathlon race

Quite a lot more training and a little less weight made a big difference. The good news is that I’ve become, well, quicker, and I’m back to my old size of shirts and trousers – perhaps even slightly smaller. I even phoned the British Triathlon Association today to find out what sort of time I’ll need to represent GB in my age group. Sub 2:10 you say? Well, it’s something to aim for. Apparently the 40 to 44 age group is the most competitive age group there is…

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