There’s something in the water: Negotiating the Solstice Triathlon.

As my blogs are restricted to when I do something for the first time (in a sporting context, generally), there’s been nothing since the move to minimalist shoes apart from a brief summary of 2014

But last night’s Solstice Triathlon on the Pentlands was indeed something different, namely, my first open-water competitive swim as part of a multi-sport event, and so an opportunity to blog.

As I’ve previously indicated, dear readers, swimming is not my forte, and despite improving since this time last year through forced training/gritted teeth and the fact that I now have 4 triathlons under my belt (with one to come on Sunday!) and a few open-water training swims to boot, I was still apprehensive about last night, to say the least.

But let’s rewind just a bit. I’d heard about the Solstice Triathlon before, of course, but like any water-based event I had given it little or no thought, until the dark world of triathlons started to get under my skin. My nearest-to-death experience still remains a water-based one, when I fell off a boat in the Coral Sea in Australia, returning from the Great Barrier Reef. As I fell under the hull I saw both the propeller spinning in front of me and my life flashing before me. I popped to the surface to see what I thought was the boat leaving me for dead. It was actually turning, slowly, to come and get me and the voices shouting in my direction were saying ‘Stay where you are! we’re coming to get you!’ not ‘Shark! shark!’ as I thought. As I was dragged on to the boat I swore I would never go near water again.


Goodbye, cruel world.

Anyway, the chances of the event actually going ahead were looking increasingly slim as time wore on. From what I could glean, landowners were moaning about dogs being killed by cyclists/EU subsidies or something and in the end it was close run thing, with the event only being confirmed at the death and with a revised bike route to boot. But more of that anon.

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Keen as mustard.

When places did become available, I signed up immediately (first, in fact, hence my race number ‘1’).


Surf’s Up.

Then I guess the training had to begin. As I do a reasonable amount of off-road running, and I’m on the bike(s) a lot these days, these elements didn’t phase me, but the thought of an open-water swim did, for reasons explained ^. I’d had a very enjoyable first taste of sea swimming in a wetsuit* (*in Scotland) with Peter and Mary earlier in the year and it gave me a chance to look at the whole Wetsuit Thing™.

Now as anyone who knows me will testify, I *love* kit, and the chance to indulge myself with something new did add spice to the event. In the end I was on my third wetsuit by the time I finally got around to completing the evening. Model 1 was a £20 quid job that I bought on gumtree. I thought it was fine until it was pointed out that it was baggy on the shoulders, not tight enough generally, and designed for surfing/sailing and not triathlons. Triathlon wetsuits need to be rib-crushingly tight, and made of neoprene, apparently.


Wetsuit 1: Too baggy.

Model 2 was a new purchase, bought on eBay from Germany, and promised me ‘hours of uninterrupted fun’ on the label. I think it lost something in translation.


I was a male stripper in a go-go bar.

On the basis that I had a cunning plan to stay in the wetsuit for the duration of the race (no-one has thought of this before, right?), I went for a sleeveless/skinny (stops at the knee) option. The first outing killed this dead when I was shivering uncontrollably after emerging from a training swim with Jim Hardie at Threipmuir Reservoir.

Which left me in a bit of a position. Go with the original one or risk a serious situation with getting too cold too quickly in this one? All was saved when I stumbled across a sale item at Decathlon. A shorty, but with mid sleeves, and thicker, and for the bargain price of £35 new.

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Third time lucky.

Sorted. I took it for a spin with Jim and it proved to be a winner: Flexible enough to run in and warm enough to survive my (never-ending) time spent swimming. I bought ear plugs, and new swim caps at the same time too. I was ready.

So to the event itself. It was confirmed at the start of the week that it was going ahead and annoyingly for most, there was little time to recce the new bike route. I didn’t fit it in, but knew the route in my head, having done a fair bit over those trails recently on my mountain and cyclocross bikes. The run route was as per last year and Jim and I ran it after our last swim, so (thankfully) getting lost shouldn’t be a problem on this occasion.


We headed up to registration in plenty of time and the weather was not promising – dark clouds were rumbling and it was cold. As we milled around with the other competitors there was a collective chattering of teeth. For once the ‘no nudity’ rules were welcome. It was no weather for stripping off. We met up with Peter and Bob Waterhouse. No sign of Craig Mattocks and Roddy McRae though, so the Carnethy contingent was down to 3.

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Team Carnethy. Jim’s hoodie needs some Dylon.

Bob had a shoulder injury so would be swimming breast stroke (which filled me with schadenfreude) and we got into our respective swimming gear (with fetching dayglo green caps courtesy of the organisers) and were ready for the off.

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In the words of an un-named admirer of Jim’s; ‘That man should be made to wear a wetsuit and swim cap at all times. It would gladden the heart of the nation.’

So into the water, pee in the wetsuit (wha’?) and ready for the klaxon. Go! The start was as bad as I thought it might be: legs and feet and arms and hands everywhere, hitting you, pushing water up everywhere and causing the heart rate to go through the roof.

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This wasn’t good. I quickly slowed and got into breast stroke for a tiny while to guide myself away from trouble. There were still too many people behind me, dammit. I needed to be away from everyone and into a serene channel of focus. I soon was, as everyone bar a few also-terrible swimmers lagged at the back. I soon got into my stride and I have to say I actually enjoyed it. The 750m metres seemed to go relatively quickly and without further incident and, remarkably, as I dragged myself ashore, I wasn’t last out of the water (what were the chances of that, then?).

Here was where my one-suit strategy would reap the benefits: I only had helmet, glasses and SPDs to put on, a quick squeeze of an energy gel and I was off on the bike.



This is where I felt most comfortable and I was soon overhauling many riders on the climb up to the kissing gate at the foot of Capelaw. Here I spotted Jim nursing his broken bike and guessed it was race-over for him. No time to weep though as there were other riders to catch. The descent towards Glencorse reservoir was very rough and it’s no wonder Jim punctured. A sharp turn before the end of this trail and we were climbing towards Bonaly on Phantom’s Cleugh. There was a bottleneck here and I had to come off my bike momentarily as I lost momentum. I pushed it past a few riders and got back on and made my way to the next kissing gate. From here to the stony path at Bonaly I really enjoyed as it was lumpy and bumpy and I could go fast with the 29-er wheels. The descent into Bonaly was terrible, as expected, and it was a case of going as fast as you could (not very) without shearing off into hell. From the gate at the bottom I knew that I was building momentum and cranked through the gears and continued to overtake riders. At the uphill section to Cock Rigg, it was again extremely rough in parts and I passed a poor rider on a cyclocross bike looking very tentative. From here it was a final climb and then a fast descent to Harlaw and transition. Just before which I caught Peter, who seemed to be foaming at the mouth <actually, not metaphorically>.


Gunning for Buchanan.

Into the final transition and I lost a couple of places here as I changed from SPDs into my X-Talons, and then off out for the (shortened) run. The organisers had obviously become concerned that the new bike leg would take folk a bit longer, so they shortened the run leg to prevent us being up too late on a school night.


Very moist.

However, not so good for those that were depending on the run to overhaul more rivals. It was only a loop of Harlaw Reservoir and felt like no more than a couple of miles. I maintained a steady pace and caught a couple at least (including my pal Nicola Ross, who finished 3rd Lady), but didn’t quite have enough to make an assault on Peter’s lead.

I have no idea where I finished, or my time (Pentland Triathletes I guess will publish the results at some point) but it’s fair to say I did better than expected and had a blast. Roll on next year and roll on the Craggy Island Triathlon in September.


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