Posted by: Ian | September 24, 2012

A few photos from the Virgin Active London Triathlon

Yesterday Paula competed in (and, despite recent injury, successfully finished) the olympic distance of the London Triathlon. It was held at the ExCel centre, which is an enormous warehouse in the wastelands of far east London. The urban architecture and the rain lent the event a Soviet bleakness that was, in its way, paradoxically appealing. The desolation accessorised the vastness of it all: 13,000 entrants; the broken, derelict cityscape; the industrial docks under wide, plane-laden skies.

Here’s the start of the swim wave that Paula was in:

Redundant ships and warehouses and soulless new development projects lose all sense of scale.

Wave after wave of swimmers were led through a ritual of Ogi Ogi Ogi, Oy Oy Oy! For several, it wasn’t enough to combat the numbing cold of the water. I saw one swimmer cramping before he’d even set off; helpers in a dinghy tried to cure it with stretches but it was futile and they had to haul him out. Several other swimmers were rescued after they’d set off and ferried back to add to the DNF list. (It seems mean to post photos of them.)

Here’s the flurry that followed the klaxon in Paula’s wave:

Towards the far turn, planes inbound on the way to City airport looked as though they risked leaving tyre marks on the swimmers’ pink caps:

By the river bank, within a short distance of the control tower, there are a couple of cockpits from planes that haven’t done so well, offering a morbid message to passengers who might spy them on a bumpy approach:

The vernacular industrial architecture retains hints of a past with a bizarre optimism now long extinguished:

And so onto the run. Here the cyclists pass between pylons and stalags; spectators look on from the pavements and the DLR footbridge:

The next snap shows Paula making it back, drenched, on wet roads. The route risked edging into the less severely inhospitable parts of London, coming within a whisker of St Katherine’s docks and Tower Bridge. Despite this, the organisers were sure to stay true to their aesthetic, threading between these less brutal districts on only the narrow strip of The Highway, which was entered and exited through the subterranean approach of Limehouse Link. Any hint that participants might so easily escape the Canning Town dystopia were obscured on the website, which spectacularly avoided giving any course details that you could identify on a map. I only discovered the route afterwards from Paula’s Garmin.

The continuing rain eventually caused the organisers to cancel the swim leg for the later entrants. As if in compensation, part of the run course was like a steeplechase and getting wet remained unavoidable for the athletes:

Unlike most sportives, this event had no warming snacks for the participant-survivors. There was, though, always the ice cream van:

I was hoping to do some analysis of the ride data, as I’ve done for previous triathlons before. However, the results information on the event website is abysmal. There is no file download, no competitor search and no “jump to page x” for scrolling through the many thousands of results. Moreover, at least hundreds of the competitor results have been lost to tech errors. (I had to piece to together Paula’s splits through timestamps on my photographs.) No wonder Virgin can’t run a train service. But how could a company with the business focus of their chief exec could fail so badly?


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