In the same way that the build up to Christmas seems like an awful lot of fuss for just one day, so did all the months of training and preparation for the triathlon I ran on Monday 30th May 2016 seem like it was all rather blown out of proportion for what amounts to less than two hours of swimming, cycling and then running.
But when it comes down to it, it is a gruellingly tough experience, and a lot of people I know have expressed their admiration/concern for my bravery/lunacy in undertaking this. That, and I had a lot of people sponsor myself and my erstwhile friend and colleague Rebecca, who were doing this to raise money for the library we are building for Tanzania (why else would it be in this category on my travel blog?), and a cool £1450 said we were going to succeed in our mad mission.
The team, pre-race
No pressure then. Luckily we had plenty of our wonderful, relentlessly positive friends along to support us, and a grand total of eight people rocked up to Hampton Pool on a grey, overcast morning – we had been hoping for pleasant, sunny conditions – to complete the triathlon.
As the race marshal gave everyone a poolside briefing – don’t jump red lights, don’t “draft” behind other bikes, don’t forget to have fun – I could feel the butterflies break dance in my stomach. So much so that I needed a pee. Twice.
By the time I dragged my goosebump-mottled body to the pool I was simultaneously champing at the bit and terrified that I was about to crash and burn. A lot was riding on this – what if it all went wrong?
Then, from the corner of my vision, I caught sight of a group of my cheerleader extraordinaire friends, who whooped words of encouragement along the lines of ‘you’ve got this’ and ‘come on Joe!’ That gave me the lift I needed, and I was almost smiling when the marshal counted me down and I pushed off the pool wall. The triathlon had begun!
The swim is supposed to be my strongest discipline, but I made the rookie mistake of propelling off a bit too fast, and I felt a bit knackered by the end of the second length. I calmed myself and managed to settle in to a more consistent rhythm, meaning I finished within my predicted time of 12-ish minutes, where I was greeted by more shouts of support from my friends. Job one done.
The cycle is the longest part: at 21.5km, I had been expecting it to take me at least an hour, as I’d been cycling at about that pace in training (i.e. 21km an hour). Factor in post-swim shivers and it might have taken me longer. On the plus side, I was familiar with the route – our guru trainer Sharon had ensured we were prepared – and I’d also managed to nab myself a road bike, as generously donated by the husband of one of my fellow triathletes, so perhaps I could do it in less than an hour after all.
The route took in a mix of countryside, town-outskirt roundabouts and sleepy-morning villages with not a soul to be seen. And, well, there really wasn’t a soul to be seen – this isn’t the Tour de France, and the only spectators I had on the bike route were race marshals dotted at periodic intervals to offer you sporadic encouragement/instruction. So without friends to cheer me on, it was a case of gritting my teeth and getting on with it…
Well, not quite, as I cycled past a few of my fellow tri-buddies, including Rebecca when I was on my way back, who seemed in very good cheer when I went past her. Me, I was blowing quite hard by the time I completed the cycle stage…and it was little wonder, as it turned out I did it in just over 51 minutes…not bad going at all! Adrenalin had given me an extra fillip.
How am I smiling?!
Unfortunately, it probably made me a bit weary for the run, comfortably my weakest of the three, and sure enough mere minutes in to it my legs felt both heavy and fragile at the same time: plant stems filled with sludge. As I skirted the pavement that led toward the gate of Bushy Park (a pretty place filled with deer and gardens, not that I had the chance to appreciate it today), where the majority of the run takes place, I honestly thought that, perhaps, I couldn’t do this.
But gradually I got in to a rhythm. Sure my lungs were bursting, my legs were on fire and an endless procession of people seemed to overtake me. But two people who did – one of the group I was with, one stranger – gave me words of encouragement to keep going, and coupled with the unflagging support I was getting from the sidelines, I was able to tough it out, one pace at a time.
Somehow I managed to even find an extra spurt to sprint my finish, and I completed the run section in just under 33 minutes, which is actually the fastest I’ve ever run 5km (told you I was rubbish at running). It sure didn’t feel like it was my fastest ever 5k run at the time! This meant my finishing time was just over 1 hour and 40 minutes, at least 15 minutes quicker than I’d initially envisaged. Not bad going!
After sticking around to cheer on those tri-buddies who came in after me (not necessarily because they were slower: they stagger the start times!), it was a case of going for a massive brunch to begin the process of piling the weight I’d lost back on. It was tough, it was gruelling, and I’m not entirely convinced I will do one of these ever again. But I sure am glad I did it, not least because, without the money we raised from it, that library in Tanzania would never have been completed.
Thank you to all my fellow Triathletes, those who came out to support me on the day, and those who sponsored us: you guys rock! Special thanks to Sharon for her indefatigable encouragement and support and for taking these photos, and to Becca for also doing this for the Tanzania library (thus helping us raise such a magnificent sum) and for being there to talk to about this on an almost daily basis!