In every situation in life, there's always a way to make a tit of yourself
When the sun rose on Sunday morning it brought with it a gentle breeze, perfect temperature conditions, and the sense of impending doom that often precedes an attempt to do something that is probably going to hurt.
After a summer of (fairly ineffectual) training, race day had arrived and I think it’s fair to say that Mum and I were feeling rather ill at the thought of it. While Dad loaded the bikes onto the roof of the car, we unenthusiastically munched our way through some toast, and then after some neurotic triple-checking that we had all our kit, we set off on the road to Nantwich.
After about an hour in the car silently repeating the mantra “just keep going and don’t forget to breathe” and occasionally lapsing into nervous-and-ever-so-slightly-manic laughter, we started to pass flourescent cardboard signs and pained-looking cyclists, and the alarming fog of adrenaline and nausea descended over us. Our anxiety was not in the least bit eased when, as we were nervously heading to the toilets, we found ourselves following a man with an enormous, bloody scrape down the left side of his back and an enchanting mixture of blood and gravel coating his palms. Kind of put paid to the cheery “What’s The Worst That Could Happen?” attitude we had been attempting to muster.
Mum had an earlier start time than me so I had a bit of hanging around time before I could set up my transition. Time which I spent fretting and trying to work out how old people were so that I could calculate precisely how embarrassing it was going to be when they beat me. Then I heard my number called out and I went to arrange and re-arrange my things into what I hoped was a logical and time-efficient order.
And then, before I knew it, I was changed and standing on the poolside in a line of other mildly terrified looking women, fiddling with my goggles and trying to pay attention to the race briefing. I just heard “roundabouts” and “traffic lights” and “disqualification” and something about not following the signs for the 100-mile bike race also taking place that day. One by one the women in front of me pulled on their goggles, climbed into the pool, and launched themselves into the frothing melee of feet and elbows and complete abandonment of all dignity and etiquette.
With a horrible sick feeling I reached the front of the queue and climbed in, as ready as I was ever going to be to face the 500m dash with women who appeared to be behaving slightly more like rampaging cage-fighters than middle-aged housewives. All I can really remember of it was that it was over very quickly and I climbed out very pleased that I hadn’t been sick in the middle of the pool. I had got through the first stage in a blur of salty water, lane ropes, and suddenly finding myself far too close to other people’s body parts.
I ran what seemed to be the impossibly long path around the swimming pool to the transition area, thinking that shaky legs at this point did not bode well for the run that was waiting for me at the end, and firmly telling myself “do not fall over because you’re not wearing very much and there are people watching”. But I managed to find my bike without incident and set about transitioning.
This is undoubtedly the moment in every triathlete’s life when they acquire a new appreciation for how hard it is to put clothes on. Especially when you’re damp, in a hurry, and slightly wired on a combination of isotonic sports drink and fear. Oh yes, and when you have an audience watching you grapple with the indiscriminate piece of lycra that has rolled itself up into an unholy tangle somewhere in the vicinity of your shoulders.
Finally, after a not-insignificant amount of faffing around, I was out of transition and on the bike course. I wasn’t setting any land-speed records and I still felt really quite queasy, but at least I had made it out of transition with all of my clothes on the right way round and attached to the appropriate bits of my body. About a third of the way into the ride, after I had stopped thinking “oh my god I’m doing a triathlon, why am I doing a triathlon?”, and after I’d worked out that the weird noise my bike was making was actually just my race number rustling in the wind, I started to relax and settle into it.
Though, it has to be said, cycling past recurring road signs kindly informing me that I was on a “HIGH RISK COLLISION ROAD” and that there had been “186 CASUALTIES IN 3 YEARS” had led to a slight modification of my mantra. It now went more along the lines of “ok, just keep going, don’t forget to breathe, and try not to end up mangled underneath the wheels of an articulated lorry”. Not quite so snappy, but under the circumstances, probably necessary.
About two-thirds of the way in, a few of the serious athletes started to whizz past me. They were easy to recognise; they were the ones with perfectly honed bodies, pointy helmets, and bike wheels that could cut glass. My self-esteem could handle being overtaken by them. It was, however, very relieved that I didn’t get overtaken by anyone overweight, over-the-hill, or optimistically riding a mountain bike.
As I started to recognise that I must be nearing the second transition, my short-lived relief was rather quickly doused by the realisation that I would soon have to get off and run. I briefly considered slowing down to delay this ordeal but decided that was probably a bad idea.
Second transition went very smoothly, except one minor incident involving almost completely demolishing the sign pointing the way to the transition area. And, when it came to it, the run was not nearly as bad as I’d expected. Although the course was a disheartening 4 laps around a field, and although I spent the first lap feeling like I must have accidentally filled my shoes with quick-setting concrete, by the time I was on my second lap I knew I was going to make it and I was actually enjoying the run (a concept which had hitherto been completely alien to me).
I had decided to opt for the Just Keep Plodding And Try Not To Slow Down technique, and it was working well. I was feeling relatively comfortable, I knew I’d eventually reach the end, and I was managing to ward off the overwhelming desire to sit down. It being 4 laps meant that everyone was fairly close together and you couldn’t tell whether people were actually overtaking you or not, which created a nice, friendly atmosphere as I plodded round. It also meant I got to run past the smiling faces of my Dad and my brother four times which was a big encouragement.
By the time I had finished, shared a triumphant hug with Mum, and was tucking into some well-deserved lunch, I had realised a few things. There is no greater feeling than crossing the finish line knowing that you gave it your best shot and survived. There is no better-tasting bacon butty than the one you eat when you’ve just tested how far your body and your determination will take you, and discovered that it’s quite a long way. And triathlons really are a testament to how far some people will go for a free t-shirt and a cup of Gatorade.