In every situation in life, there's always a way to make a tit of yourself
There are two questions that I’d bet everyone who has ever done a triathlon has been asked at least once. And they are: “are you completely insane?” and “are you secretly a superhero?” As for the first one, I couldn’t possibly comment. As for the second, I can see where confusion might arise here. Like superheroes, we triathletes seem to have a penchant for tight-fitting, all-in-one lycra outfits. And just like superheroes, we often seem to willingly do things that are probably going to hurt quite a lot. But I really must stress that after seeing me wince over the finish line looking like a pain-stricken, soggy beetroot with goggle marks and very alarming hair, no-one is going to be in any way mistaking me for superwoman.
For the seasoned triathletes amongst you, the following may all sound horribly familiar. For those of you who wonder why we think it’s so much fun to fanny around in lycra and cause ourselves pain, this probably won’t enlighten you at all. But nevertheless, here is a step-by-step awkward guide to triathlons.
1. Getting to the race. Having followed a careful training plan to get you to race day in peak condition, or having thought “sod it, too late for proper training, I’ll just eat loads of pasta the week before – that’s basically the same thing, right?” you eventually find yourself having to make your way to the start line. This is a process which usually involves some early morning attempts to read a map before you’re actually fully conscious, or an over-reliance on the ability of a sat-nav to guide you to “random field in the middle of nowhere”. As our access to cars/people able to drive cars is sometimes limited, at the university triathlon club we have often opted for the “let’s just cycle to the race, I’m certain no-one will fall off or get a puncture before we’ve even got to registration, what could possibly go wrong with this plan?” approach.
If you do have the benefit of a car, there is usually the drawback of having to completely deconstruct your bike in order to fit it in, praying that you’ll actually remember how to put it back together properly when you get there and won’t have to accidentally attempt the triathlon on a unicycle. There’s often some pumping up of tyres required here as well, and at this point you just have to hope that no-one overhears you out of context as you find yourself rather breathlessly saying things like “is it in yet?” and “is that actually getting any harder?” Otherwise it could lead to no end of slightly unfortunate misunderstandings.
2. The race briefing. This is the bit where they explain the route, tell you all the rules, and give you all the safety notices. To be honest, by this point you’re usually so engulfed in an alarming fog of adrenaline and nausea that you only hear “traffic lights”, “disqualification”, and something about St John’s Ambulance. Once that’s over, there’s just time to pace around nervously, repeating whatever personal mantra you have commandeered for the occasion. I always go for this one (in triathlons and, to be honest, in life in general) “just keep going, and try not to throw up or get run over”.
3. The swim. All too soon you seem to find yourself anxiously milling around with a group of other mildly terrified looking people waiting to climb into a pool or run haphazardly into a lake. Then you hear the whistle/gun/person shouting “Go!” and have to launch yourself into the frothing melee of feet and elbows and complete abandonment of all dignity and manners. For me, the swim is usually passed in a frantic blur of lane ropes, trying not to be sick, and suddenly finding myself far too close to other people’s body parts. All thoughts of stroke technique and remembering to breathe tend to rapidly vacate my brain and there is usually only one thing going through my mind at this stage: “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”
4. Transitions. Of which there are two in a triathlon – the first being the one with the most faffing around, the second the one with the most pain. First transition is undoubtedly the moment in every triathletes’ life when they acquire a new appreciation for how difficult it is to dress yourself. When you’re damp, in a hurry, and slightly wired on a combination of isotonic sports drink and mild panic it becomes even more challenging to grapple with the indiscriminate piece of lycra that has rolled itself up into an unholy tangle somewhere in the vicinity of your shoulders. This is probably also the moment when everyone decides that if they ever do a triathlon again, they’re getting a tri-suit. They may make you look like a complete tit, but they do significantly reduce the risk of falling over in transition whilst nearly naked, in front of a crowd of spectators. All in all, I’d say the benefits out-weigh the drawbacks. But whatever you choose to wear, the main aim of first transition is to make it out with all of your clothes on the right way round and attached to the appropriate bits of your body.
Second transition is the moment when every triathlete realises that cycling has the unfortunate side-effect of making your legs completely forget that they know how to run. But we’ll get to that bit later.
5. The cycle. This is usually fairly straightforward as long as you don’t fall off, get hit by a car, or crash into anyone else. Although, as you don’t tend to wear the standard padded shorts for a triathlon, your cycle tends to be overshadowed by thoughts of “really seriously don’t go through a pothole or irreparable damage to the nether regions may be done.” If racing in Scotland, on the way round you may also find yourself wondering how on earth everywhere in the damn country manages to be bloody well uphill.
6. Last but by no means least comes the run. Although by this point your legs have completely forgotten what to do and you suspect you may have inadvertently filled your trainers with quick-setting concrete, you have the comforting thought that it’s nearly over to keep you going. I usually spend most of the run trying to work out how old everyone around me is so that I can calculate exactly how embarrassing it’s going to be when they overtake me. Other people have game plans and try to run negative splits, I go for the Just Don’t Give In To The Overwhelming Desire To Have A Sit Down technique, and so far it has served me quite well.
So they may be a little bit insane, and we may feel a little bit like superheroes when we’ve actually finished one (albeit completely knackered and slightly queasy superheroes), but one thing is certain – triathlons really are a testament to how far some people will go for a free t-shirt, a Cliff bar, and a cup of Gatorade.
The Awkward Guide accepts no responsibility for adverse reactions to the implementation of advice supplied herein. Side-effects can include: smug laughter, mild disdain, and temporary irritation.