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Runner, writer and occasional breaststroker, Rhalou, dons the Lycra and tries her hand at triathlon.

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.

Rhalou and Susie tri girls

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.

Katie, Rhalou and Susie

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.

Rhalou and Susie

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 Susie 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.

When it comes to technology, runners are divided. Rhalou starts the debate.

As anyone with a Twitter account will attest, runners can be a bit like train spotters; we tend to be rather passionate about our sport of choice. While passion is arguably the ultimate secret weapon for any sporting endeavor, when it comes to running accessories, it can leave the field divided.

Some runners insist on hitting the road armed to the teeth with the latest technology to accurately map their route. While others, like me, prefer to run naked and free (in a gadget sense). But which is best?


The gadget corner: this not a Garmin advert

There are valid arguments for both naked and gadget running, but one thing is for sure. Every runner is vehement that their method is the best. In my bid to give the debate a fair airing, I posed the question to Twitter and was inundated with replies.

‘I always carry my Garmin, and use it for cycling as well.’ Says @AndyWaterman. ‘I like to know my heart rate – it stops me going too hard on easy days and tells me if I’m trying hard enough when I do more intense stuff. And when I go to new places, I can plan routes in advance and follow them really easily: I was in Spain recently and did some amazing solo trail runs – one had 900m of elevation in 11km! I would never have tried that without the security of knowing where I was and where I was going.’

@Rundembear agrees. ‘The one gadget I pretty much never go running without is my Garmin. It serves so many different functions for me. The training regimen I follow specifies almost all of my runs by time and effort, rather than by distance. Once I push the start button I just let the watch tell me what to stop and when to start up again. Which means that I can work on running all out, try not to look at the watch at all, and not worry that I will get the timing wrong.’

@accentis is dead set against naked running. ‘I just can’t run naked. I’ve tried. It’s naughty. I don’t feel liberated at all. Naked running is not for me. I NEED my Garmin to run.’

‘I’ve been known to cancel a run if my watch isn’t charged!’ says @Redazril. ‘I never run without it. Partly because I’ve set yearly goals and every run logged adds to that goal, and secondly I like to know how far I’ve run and how fast I’m running. The amount of information available with GPS watches is incredible. I honestly don’t think I’d enjoy running as much if I didn’t have a GPS watch.’

@josiearden is passionate about her technology. ‘I’m rubbish at pacing so it keeps me on the straight and narrow by always telling me what speed I’m running. Also it’s a watch. It doesn’t weigh you down, you don’t have to stop, remove it from your arm and press buttons before you can read it. It also IS an actual watch.’

‘I think my Garmin-love pretty much reflects my personality,’ says @SweatyCityGirl. ‘I’m a bit of a control freak, I like structure and I like numbers. A lot of my enjoyment of running comes from hitting goals and seeing measurable progression in my training.’

@Griffalo1977 credits gadgets with improving his running. ‘Being able to map, pace and understand my running transformed my times and training sessions. My PB for the marathon has improved by 38 minutes in just three years. If you want to improve then a GPS watch is a must.’

Running naked appeals to @MilkE73, but he’s still addicted to his watch. ‘I do like the idea of running totally pure – given I like to carry as little as possible – but I’m too scared to go out without my Garmin. How would I know how fast or slow I’m going?! I’d probably end up running too fast; and how would I know when it’s time to go home?’

The naked corner: Hippies do it better

My Twitter friends made some good points. But as a free-spirited runner, I prefer to run naked without the added stress of a GPS or heart rate monitor putting me under unnecessary pressure. This hasn’t always been the case though; my quest for nudity is largely down to my recent running renaissance.

Like many runners, upon first discovering the joys of running, I quickly stepped up from a 5K to a marathon in under a year. As I started to progress, speed became the central focus, and the best way to get faster is to get with the digital programme. But as I got faster and trained harder, I became entirely disillusioned with the spirit of running and stopped enjoying myself.

When I look back at my running journey, the races I recall most fondly were spent high-fiving kids and dancing to the crowds without casting a single glance at my watch. At my peak, my glorious sub-2 half marathon PB moment was 1 hour and 59 minutes of misery with projectile vomit at the end. After inevitably injuring myself, I realised something had to change.

Post injury, as part of my reintroduction back into my favourite sport, I eBayed all my watches and spent six months skipping happily around the park at my own pace. As a naked runner, I tend to run as fast as the person I’m with, or as slow as the wind. I have absolutely no way of officially gauging how fast I run, and I don’t give a rat’s arse.

As I prepare to embark on racing after taking time out, invariably pacing has reared its speedy head. Determined to do it the right way this time, instead of buying a watch, I studied Chi-Running and invested in a pair of minimalist running shoes. This may sound like hippy hogwash, but Chi-Running has taught me how to self-regulate. I can work out roughly how far or how fast I’m going if I listen to the most important technology there is on offer, my own body. But ultimately, what’s the most important part of running anyway, clocking a good time or having a good time? I know which one I prefer.

Gadget fanatic @rundembear perhaps puts it best of all. ‘If it is the right gadget for you, it really can help support your training goals and assist you in becoming a better runner. But the gadget can also get in your way. Make sure that the technology is working for you, and that you are not working for the technology.’

Gadget or naked running, which do you prefer? Send us a tweet @findarace

I wrote this piece for visit the original here!