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The Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlon 2014

As a running fanatic, I've always been loyal to my favourite sport and thought triathlons sounded a bit daft (sorry tri friends). But, mostly because I wanted the hot body that training for all three pursuits seems to produce, I also secretly toyed with the idea of entering one. Spurred on by my desire to look sexy in hotpants, earlier in the year I entered the Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlon with my friend Susie.

Although I knew what triathlons entailed, I hadn't considered the implications of taking on a sport that requires so much bloody kit. As a runner, I'm used to slinging on my trainers and dashing out the door. Triathlons are ridiculously complicated. Not only do you need a wetsuit alongside your running kit, but you have to acquire a bicycle and a helmet too; ludicrous.

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After taking my usual lackadaisical approach to training, a couple of months before race day I suddenly panicked and set about honing my pins to trisexual perfection. Determined not die on my first tri, I even got myself a swim coach. Although I love running and I'm confident on a bike, swimming is a whole different ballgame. I could just about summon up breast stroke, but I was incapable of submerging my head without crying (I hate to ruin good make up) and the temptation to drop out was strong.

A couple of swimming sessions at Swim4tri put an end to my fears and I even managed to master the art of front crawl. After running to the pool a few times, I discovered that swimming really benefits my overworked leg muscles. I also borrowed a tri suit off my cool friend Katie and felt surprisingly sexy in the Lycra onesie.

When race day finally rolled around, Susie and her ace boyfriend Shaun picked me up from Windsor and we set off for Eton Dorney Lake. Upon arrival the tri waves were already well under way. With precariously balanced bike racks, mountains of kit and hundreds of other women queuing up to get involved, it all seemed like a massive ball ache and I wandered if it was worth it. But as we approached the bag drop, I was struck by the incredibly laid back atmosphere. Although my fellow competitors were clearly busting their guts out, everyone seemed relaxed and I felt instantly at ease.

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While dropping off my bike and dumping my gear in the transition section, I chatted with fellow competitors. There was a real sense of camaraderie, which I suspect might have had something to do with the lack of male competitors. We were all in this together and no one was going to elbow each other in the face to get the top spot. Feeling slightly more confident, I waded into the water in my onesie and prayed for forgiveness from the tri Gods.

Even with swimming lessons and the aforementioned prayers, the first stage still sucked. Flapping around in the water I swallowed so much of the lake, that I quickly gave up on the front crawl I had worked so hard to master and stuck to breast stroke. But when a floating race marshal threatened to make the last one out the water buy him lunch, I mysteriously sped up, beating a few knackered ladies in the process, and finished in 12:29.

Next up was the cycle; four times anti-clockwise around the lake on a reassuringly flat path. Despite riding a hybrid, I felt confident and happy whizzing around the water and enjoyed picking off competitors on much fancier road bikes. It was great to see Shaun cheering in the crowd as I cycled round (I knew boys were useful for something). I could have happily kept going and finished in a comfortable 56:55.

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It was a blessing to complete the trilogy with my favourite pursuit; the running section. By the time I hit the road it was baking hot and my competitors looked exhausted, but I felt the strongest I had all day and skipped along the path grinning like an idiot. I had my doubts about the out and back route, but was glad of the chance to high-five my friend Katie running the opposite way, and whoop like a baboon when the amazing Suzie lapped me to finish in seventh place overall. I didn't cough up a lung or come close to Susie's inspirational efforts, but I felt strong and comfortable, finishing in a not too shabby 28:55.

Having entered The Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlon on a whim with reservations about the sport and the concept of gender specific events, it was a pleasure to be proven wrong on both counts. I thoroughly enjoyed race day (apart from the swimming bit) and racing alongside so many lovely ladies was the perfect introduction to the sport. After such a great tri taster, I can't wait to don a Lycra onesie and go back for more.

@rhalou is a journalist, editor, diehard disciple of the cult of running and now… a triathlete!

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