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August 5, 2013

A Terrifying Triathlon Triumph

Having recently taken part in my first ever middle-distance triathlon, I have been thrilled to receive eager questions from curious congratulators about my training methods and techniques. Most people seemed braced for a heroic tale of how my months of toil and training finally paid off and how the event itself was a breeze. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

It is not unheard of for me to wander off the conventional route in life and this triathlon was no exception.  Firstly, I entered, not because of any long-standing desire to complete one, or motivation to raise money for charity (before you write me off as a cruel person, I would have done if I could have guaranteed I was going to finish it), but to keep a friend company. I should probably add that this friend never even made it to the event. Secondly, I didn’t actually have a bike and, in fact, I hadn’t even ridden one since the age of about five. And thirdly, I couldn’t seem to find any time to train since starting my new job and subsequently living here, there and everywhere.

Due to all of the above, along with my natural tendency towards disaster, those closest to me felt compelled to voice their worry about the possibility for serious damage to myself and/or others. Plus, they were quick to remind me, I still didn’t have a bike or any idea how to ride one. Thanks to my boyfriend’s dad, I managed to sort the latter out a week before the event, and despite all of these excuses (and more) I somehow found myself ‘ready’ to ‘compete’ in one of the largest triathlons in the world. I say this with some caution as I was certainly neither ‘ready’ nor ‘competing’. As far as I was concerned, I just wanted to survive. After a last minute wetsuit purchase (how was I supposed to know wetsuit and tri-suit weren’t the same thing?!) and a personal tutorial on how to tackle the transition phases from a very amused event volunteer, I was ready to roll…straight into the turbulent, murky London docks along with hundreds other triathlon partakers.

I was so NOT ready for the terrifying experience that was the swim. With the added challenge of moving under various layers of lycra, having almost zero visibility through my steamy goggles and being surrounded by thrashing limbs at every angle, this was no mean feat. Despite having been advised to position myself to the back and to the outside to minimise my chance of death, I somehow found myself in the middle on the inside. Whoops! After a perilous splashing scramble which seemed to take an eternity, I emerged, bruised and battered but happy to have survived. Now for the next challenge. No, not the biking – getting the wetsuit off. ‘How hard can that be?’ you ask. The answer is VERY if you have not greased up your wrists and ankles, which of course I had not. After a hopping episode that I can only imagine resembled a drunken frog, I was at last free to run to collect my bike from where I’d racked it in the transition zone. Hmm…where did I leave it again?!

Bike successfully collected after few moments of frantic searching, I was soon off zooming around the streets of London. Well I thought I was zooming, until the girl I had been attempting to keep up with turned off when I still had one more lap to go. Oh well – I was having fun by this point!

At the end of the bike leg, participants have to dismount and run with it through the transition zone. In an effort to save time, I thought I would smoothly remove my bottle of water from the bike holder (I hadn’t managed to do this while going along) and have a drink (it was 30+ degrees). On removal of the bottle, I managed to get caught up with the peddles and ended up face-down on the floor straddling my bike. Sadly, no one was there to capture the moment on film…what a pity.

Finally, the run was here! The only bit I’m naturally any good at. I quickly realised, however, that running straight off the bike is a whole different activity to just running. Despite having the world’s worst stitch, jelly for legs and the feeling that I might flop at any minute, I managed to whip round the distance in a pretty fast time and made it to the finish, armed with all manner of energy supplements that I had collected on the way round but hadn’t managed to open. I collapsed in a large heap of exhaustion and Gatorade as soon as I had crossed that all-important finish line. Wahoo, I had made it!

Sadly, my chip came off 10 minutes before the end, but my time is estimated to be between 1hr28 and 1hr30 minutes. Not only was this an excellent time which exceeded all my expectations, but it meant that I beat Mel C from the Spice Girls – and let’s face it, that is the key achievement here.

As with most experiences in life, I like to learn from them. From time-to-time we all find ourselves facing things we feel totally unprepared for, for whatever reason. But in most cases, with a little bit of dogged determination we can usually get through them, come out the other side smiling and realise that we have actually done better than we imagined we would. Despite my loose interpretation of the word ‘training’ and lack of triathlon know-how, I somehow managed to complete the course in a time that rivals some of the top 30 women in my heat. I look forward to taking up the next triathlon challenge and applying my new-found knowledge of the dos and don’ts of the sport, which will hopefully render it slightly less terrifying in the future. I also learned that, sadly, wearing lycra does not make you look like Cat Woman when it has a padded bottom.