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Trail runner to triathlete: Katherine gives Swim Bike Run a try

Trail runner Katherine Brook shares her experience of taking on her first ever duathlon at a British Triathlon non-competitive Swim Bike Run Local event. Has she been converted to the world of multisport?

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For plenty of would-be triathletes and multisport enthusiasts, the prospect of taking part in a full-blown race feels far too daunting. But British Triathlon’s recently launched Swim Bike Run initiative gives people of all experience levels the opportunity to experience a multisport event in a fun, pressure-free environment.

To find out what taking part in one of these events is really like, keen trail runner Katherine Brook headed down to a Swim Bike Run Local event at Lee Valley VeloPark to give her first ever duathlon a try. Read on to find out how Katherine got on, and whether she’s been converted to the world of multisport.

From runner to duathlete

The idea of doing a triathlon has always appealed to me. But until recently, that’s all it has been: an idea.

Being a keen runner and cyclist, I already feel pretty comfortable with two of the three disciplines, but swimming? It doesn’t take me much more than a few lengths of a pool before I’m out of breath, tired, and spend the rest of my time floating around. So, when I saw that British Triathlon were hosting a series of non-competitive swim-bike-run taster events, in collaboration with Aloha Tri, aimed at helping people get into triathlon. I thought, why not give it a go?

Having signed up at the last minute, and with no specific training, I decided to play to my strengths with my first event and do the duathlon: 1.6km run, 8km cycle, 1.6km run.

While I knew I’d be able to complete the distances, the thought of running straight off the bike did make me quite nervous, not to mention the transition process. And given I signed up just days before the event, there was little time to practise…

The day before, I managed to rope in two friends to join me – one who is a total newbie to triathlon, and the other hadn’t done one since dabbling in a couple in 2018.

Pre-race preparations

The duathlon took place on the outdoor circuit at Lee Valley VeloPark, in east London. Of course, I added an additional level of toughness because I had to cycle to the event start from south west London (and back), but a quick refuel with pastries and a coffee soon had me feeling refreshed and ready to go.

The check-in was a smooth process. Reception staff at the VeloPark directed us through the outdoor ‘tunnel’, where the Aloha Tri team were waiting for us. They checked our name against a list and then showed us where we could leave our bike and bags. It was all very secure and there were even changing and toilet facilities close by.

The ‘transition area’ was positioned on a grass verge at the side of the race track. We set our bikes against the fence, along with our cycling shoes and helmet, then had a few minutes to freshen-up before a briefing.

Katherine running at Lee Valley Velopark during a British Triathlon Swim Bike Run Local event.
No tri suit required: the beauty of a beginner-friendly event is being able to wear kit you already own.

As I don’t own a tri suit, I chose to wear running clothes for this event: a long ‘cycle length’ pair of tight shorts and a long-sleeved running t-shirt. I didn’t feel out of place, as there was only one person in a tri suit and the rest of us were either in running or cycling clothing.

The briefing was quick and straightforward, outlining the route (a 1.6km loop, which meant we did the same loop five times on the bike, and just once on foot) and the best way to do a transition. There were a few rules participants had to adhere to which were explained before we started. For example, not touching the bike before putting on your helmet, knowing when you’re allowed to mount your bike and similarly, where you must get off of it again.

No time for nerves

It wasn’t long before we were all toeing the start line, shifting nervously from side to side. 3, 2, 1, go!

All the worries and nerves I had felt before were quickly forgotten as soon as I started running. My focus shifted to getting to the end (and reminding myself it was ‘helmet first’).

My heart racing, it wasn’t long before I entered the transition area after the first run. After a quick change of my shoes, I clipped on my helmet and then grabbed my bike. I ran the short distance to the mount line pushing my bike and once I’d crossed it, I was straight into my 5 loops cycling around the course. My legs burned a little more on each lap, especially on the small hills, and I didn’t even remember to take a sip of my drink, I was so ‘in the zone’!

Five laps complete, I jumped off my bike at the dismount line, ran with it to the fence, swapped my cleats for running shoes and headed back out onto the course for the final 1.6km run loop.

The only way I can describe the way your legs feel when you get off the bike is like jelly. Almost as if they aren’t part of your body anymore. It felt like I was moving so slowly, yet when I checked my watch I wasn’t far off the time of the first lap – that was really surprising.

Finish line feeling

I crossed the finish line with a surge of endorphins and a huge smile on my face. My reward: a Hawaiian Lei and a minced pie (it was close to Christmas).

While I decided to turn this more into a ‘sprint duathlon’, it wasn’t actually a timed event. There were no prizes for 1st place, and we all had an hour and a half to complete it.

Katherine Brook after finishing the British Triathlon Swim Bike Run Local duathlon event.
There’s nothing like the finish line endorphins to get you hooked on multisport.

My friends, all of us with different levels of experience and fitness, had equally as much fun: “It was such a supportive and personable event,” said James Cooke. “The course and distances felt achievable, and the atmosphere was incredibly friendly.”

Next stop: triathlon?

So, has it made me want to do a triathlon? Yes!

It has made me realise that triathlons aren’t as scary as I thought. And while I didn’t have to do a swim on this occasion, I think with a few swimming lessons next time I’ll sign up for a full swim-bike run at another British Triathlon friendly event. After that, I may even be ready to sign up for a competitive race!

As IRONMAN is so popular, I think people often forget that triathlons come in a variety of distances, like a ‘sprint’ – the shortest triathlon distance – which is a 750m swim, a 20k bike, and a 5k run. I will definitely be starting with a sprint triathlon, but who knows what the future holds…

Inspired by Katherine’s experience and ready to start your triathlon journey? Get going with a Brownlee Fitness training plan for duathlon, sprint triathlon or Olympic distance triathlon over at SBRX.

Start your triathlon journey today

British Triathlon’s Swim Bike Run programme gives you the opportunity to get involved with triathlon, in a way that works for you. Whether you’re new to the sport or looking to take the next step, make your move and discover Swim Bike Run activities happening near you.

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Katherine Brook
Written by
Katherine Brook
A copywriter and journalist by profession Katherine is a passionate trail runner and often to be found challenging herself across the UK & Europe. 2024 will see her take on a triathlon challenge.
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