As lovers of outdoor exercise, many of us take part in a variety of events, from parkruns to ironman triathlons. The event scene is rapidly growing and shows no signs of relenting. There really does appear to be something for everyone but costs can prohibit entry, in terms of race fees and kit – especially bikes. Events should really form part of our training, with race intensity, competition and adrenaline all being very useful allies on the road to top-level fitness and good performances. So if you don’t want to splash the cash what’s the answer? Simple, do it yourself. Words by Sean McFarlane
The concept was straightforward with a simple swim, bike and run loop. All those taking part were made clear from the outset that there would be none of the usual help – so no marshals, no safety, no first aid, no aid stations, no prizes and no entry fees. Nothing!
I initially asked along people whom I knew would require little if any supervision. On the day, we ended up with 14 which was just about perfect. Many more than that and things would have got tricky. However, fewer would mean things could get pretty lonely for those involved. We set up a 500m swim loop; a 45km bike loop; and a 7km run loop. We had two key added comforts – the first was Wheels, a local bike shop which provided parking, a pre-race meeting place, transition 2 and the finish. And the second was the local sailing club who allowed us to access their site for the swim start and transition 1. The two sites were about a kilometre apart so the participants had to engage the grey matter just a bit to figure things out. There were plenty of questions amongst the first timers as to what “split transitions” meant. To cycle down to the start in your wetsuit or not? Oh, the dilemma!
We purposely had a range of abilities and experience amongst the competitors. Some had completed ironmans whilst others had never done a multi-sport event of any sort before. There were a good few decent triathlon bikes but also plenty of machines with that all too familiar “I’ve been at the back of the garage for years” look. Many of us were using the day as part of our training for a “proper” event. Dougie Vipond, who I’m coaching for the Braveheart Triathlon in September, also joined us. This provided him with the perfect opportunity to check where his training was at. This would be his first triathlon.
Most of us had decided before we started our distances how far we would go. The most common distance was a two lap swim, one lap bike and one lap run. The beauty of it being a DIY event meant you could do what you liked – people were putting together their own race and that was part of the fun. A few opted to see how things went and decide on exact distances as they went along. Starting together meant that we would finish at widely varying times. Future DIY days might require a staggered start to get a sociable finish line atmosphere.
So, how did this experiment go? The water was brisk but perfectly bearable. Transition was a somewhat leisurely affair and off onto the bikes the field quickly spread out. I passed Dougie which was a relief as it meant he’d made it out of the water. Mission accomplished already for him. Onto one of Scotland’s best rising bits of Tarmac, Duke’s Pass and I was on my own. However, a familiar voice soon rose up behind me, it was Alan, a time-trialling machine. After a brief chat, enough for me to admire his total lack of any out-of-breathness, he was off. Race your own race I thought. But this wasn’t a race, was it?
I’d chosen to bike three laps. Alan quickly passed me once again – he’d stopped for a refuel at Wheels. For a second I thought I must have a puncture but I quickly slumped back into the tri bars resigned to the fact that he was just an uber biker. Back in for my final lap and thoughts turned to perhaps changing my bike for the first time this season. Today I was on a new steed and it just didn’t feel right – then again maybe I was just blaming my tools like a bad workman.
As I came into transition 2 I could see most of the others had finished for the day and there were smiles all round in the warm sunshine. Dougie was in the middle with a very obvious post-event glow. It was great to see and I was keen to join in. But hang on, there was a small matter of a half marathon to do!! So off I set. Three run laps for me.
I was glad to see the run course was easy to follow. As I ran through the village of Callander, my energy chews were a poor match for the waft of chips and the sight of ice cream. The first two laps were okay but the third and final one hurt. I was being painfully reminded how different running on hard surfaces was compared to my usual off-road trails. As I eventually arrived at the finish, nearly all the others had made their way home already, but Steph was right behind me and together we headed down to the river for a much needed dip.
What a day! A local brewery had kindly given us some beers for the finish but I’d mistakenly left them in my car. Or so I thought. I had just enough energy for a fist pump when I realised our photographer Andy had put a few in the fridge in his van. Genius.
As we sat leisurely in the sunshine drinking our beers we reflected on what a great day it had been. We were lucky with the weather, it was perfect, but it does seem that when you get things right the skies above look down approvingly and give you what you deserve.
Top tips for organising your own race
Invite the right people. I think the business term is “self starters”. You do need people that have a “just get on and do it” attitude. Triathlon and the event scene in general has led to competitors expecting a good deal of hand holding but there’s none of that here.
Get some local comforts. Having the use of the sailing club for the start and the Wheels cycling centre for parking, transition 2 and the finish made a big difference.
Stress from the outset via emails well in advance that there is NOTHING. No safety, marshals, aid stations, etc. Then go about seeing if you cab get a bit of help. For example, my wife was in a kayak during the swim. Every little helps but don’t give the participants any expectations initially.
Consider staggering the start so people are finishing roughly at the same time. It might not be an official event but people still seem to need to walk about a finish line chatting to others.
Choose a course with minimum hassle and that is easy to follow. Our swim used existing buoys, we had all left turns on the bike and the run followed mainly well signposted cycle paths.