Finding Our Personal Best. Team Mel C vs Team Pendleton: The Human Race Shock Absorber Women Only Triathlon

Driving along the M4 on the way to the Human Race Women Only Shock Absorber Triathlon at Eaton Dorney, my butterflies were dancing. Race day had arrived much sooner than I thought.

Tweets of support were pouring in for Team Mel C and it began to dawn on me quite how significant this was. Oh, and that we were racing Britain’s most successful female Olympic athlete. Ever.


Kelly (bike) , Mel (run) and Alice (swim): Team Mel C. Photo: Matt Alexander

I love swimming, but I don’t consider myself a speedy swimmer and naturally feel more at home without a wetsuit, going at my own pace and travelling longer distances in the open water.

A 400m wetsuit, super sprint triathlon swim is unfamiliar territory and I found myself sitting quietly at the back of the car, trying to ignore the little voice in my head.

“What if you panic at the start and inhale loads of water and have to be rescued by a David Hassellhoff in a kayak and then Team Mel C are disqualified?”

We are our thoughts, and our body does what the mind tells it to. Thankfully I had the sense to metaphorically take myself to one side for a chat.

I thought about my lovely new Speedo wetsuit that’s got go faster stripes over the shoulders and did my best to channel a Keri Anne Payne/Jennifer Lawrence ‘Catching Fire’ mix…

Keri Anne Payne

Keri Anne Payne

Jennifer Lawrence getting ready for her swim in Catching Fire.

Jennifer Lawrence

Alice Gartland

Alice Gartland

And then, as if by swim coach telepathic magic, a tweet popped up from Dan Bullock :

@MelanieCmusic @HumanRaceEvents @AliceGartland @kellyKoya Best of Luck, go @AliceGartland be fast #openwater

Two words: Be Fast.

I hadn’t ever thought those words could apply to me, but what if they did? It flipped a switch. So what if I had been managing a back and shoulder injury. So what if I didn’t know how ‘well’ I was swimming. Today I would see where all the hard work had got me. Today I would see how fast I could be. Today I would find out what my personal best is!

The adrenalin that was rushing around my body switched from being vomit inducing, to all encompassing, girl power, excitement.

“I’m swimming for Team Mel C – we’re racing Victoria Pendleton – what a privilege – this is the most exciting thing I’ve ever done – WICKED!!!!”

I’d never participated in an all female sports event like this before and there was definitely a different vibe, which also helped me relax a lot. Elite to beginner, families, little kids on tricycles, groups of friends, all coming together for a sporty day out.

Everyone was focused, but not in an intimidating way. Their concern was to put in the best performance they could on that day; to achieve a personal best. That brought with it a lovely atmosphere of mutual respect.

In fact I’ve never heard such positive chat at an event before. I loved it and it’s what this women only triathlon is all about: investing in yourself, in your well being, health and fitness; about feeling and being the best you can be.

For me, it was going to be a bit of an experiment. I have not worn a watch in swim training for many months as I’ve just wanted to focus on developing my swim technique so didn’t have a time to aim for. I was just going to swim, listen to my body and discover what I was capable of.

My main concern was getting fitted into my wetsuit properly, so I was as comfortable and streamlined as possible. Thankfully my team captain helped with that and once zipped in I had plenty of time to head down to the pontoon, flush my suit and warm up a little bit.

Mel C helping me with my wetsuit. Photo: Matt Alexander

Mel C helping me with my wetsuit. Photo: Matt Alexander

Everyone was smiling and laughing. Helen and I were bobbing around with excitement and Mel and Victoria came down to cheer everyone off.

Alice and Helen at the start. Photo: Matt Alexander

Alice and Helen at the start. Photo: Matt Alexander

Victoria and Mel cheer us off. Photo: Matt Alexander

Victoria and Mel cheer us off. Photo: Matt Alexander

For the first time ever I positioned myself at the front of the pack. Without thinking I even stretched my right arm out in front, like I have seen speedy people do. I’ve not done that before and it felt nice, purposeful and positive. I was so excited….The horn sounded… We were off!

Swim start

The Start!

We're off! Photo: Matt Alexander

We’re off! Photo: Matt Alexander

I didn’t sight the first buoy very well and was tense, breathing every two strokes and I was indeed a little bit panicked. Also I was aware that having started at the front of the pack, I had remained amongst the front of the pack – new territory and I tried to switch off the pressure I felt and relax into the swim.

Unfortunately just after halfway my right arm started to weaken and I felt really tired. And then that little voice came back: “You’ve never swum like this before, are you sure you’ve got enough left in the tank? Shouldn’t you slow down?” And I did slow down and I felt a swimmer go past.

Thankfully my optimist kicked back in: “When are you going to get to swim this wonderful race again? Never. Enjoy it. Make it count” and so I did.

My body found it’s rhythm in the water and I swam my heart out until I hit the ramp, and, whilst feeling incredibly dizzy, remembered that I was in a race and managed to run in a relatively straight line over to my teammates for the transition.

Out of the water and running in a relatively straight line!

Out of the water and running in a relatively straight line! (Note the Speedo go faster stripes)

Kelly flew off on her cycle lap, with Ingrid in hot pursuit and Helen and I cheered them both on with Victoria and Mel.

Team Mel C in transition. Just realised I'm third out the water. Photo: Matt Alexander

Team Mel C in transition. Just realised I’m third out the water. Photo: Matt Alexander

It was pretty special to hang out with such a great bunch of sporty women. And yes, Mel and Victoria are as friendly and as inspiring as you hope they are going to be!

Having fun with Helen and Victoria

Having fun with Helen and Victoria

From nutrition, leggings vs shorts, race nerves, swim training and cycle confidence to weight and muscle tone, swim technique, cycle helmets and tri bars, we covered it all.

And what’s particularly lovely is that those conversations have turned into action.

I was inspired and I am back cycling after my road accident, Kelly has started swimming lessons and Helen has just smashed her first 3.8km swim.

Welcoming Kelly back into transition. Photo: Matt Alexander

Welcoming Kelly back into transition. Photo: Matt Alexander

Team Mel C were just ahead going into the run, but despite an incredibly speedy performance by Mel, Victoria sneaked past – pesky gold medal winning Olympians!

We each crossed the finish line with our teams and I think its fair to say we were all buzzing from the experience. We each had our individual goals, our own personal bests we were aiming for that day; and we all exceeded them.

Team Pendleton and Team Mel C : An inspiring group of women

Team Pendleton and Team Mel C : An inspiring group of women

The event has also changed my view on a couple of things. I  had previously questioned the value of women only events, but I am now a convert. This triathlon has a wonderful vibe to it (forget traditional triathlon stereotypes) and people should not be mistaken in thinking that ‘women-only’ translates to somehow a softer or less focused approach to the sport being undertaken. It doesn’t.

But what it does brilliantly is marry that athleticism and passion for sport with the female spirit, making it accessible to all and a great place to discover your personal best.

See you next year!

芙蓉出水: (fúróng chūshuǐ) Out of the water a lotus rises

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