26 signs of a world-class triathlon club

From evenings out to Ironman obsessives, shouty swim coaches to underhand tactics, our weekend warrior, Martyn Brunt, presents his A-Z of 26 things a world-beating tri club should offer its members…

Why you should join a tri club

Thinking of joining a tri club? Do it. I could just end this article there, but I sense this might leave you feeling a tad short changed, so let me impart some wisdom to you all on what it is that makes tri clubs the place for you, and what you should look for in a good one.

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Triathlon clubs are essentially groups of people in identical garish leotards whose obsession with tri has moved past the stage where they started keeping their training plans on an excel spreadsheet, and have decided to join like-minded people to do races together and try to drop each other on Sunday-morning training rides.

When you see club athletes at races, they can appear intimidating with their in-jokes and their carefully selected chest-bragging T-shirts. But people in tri clubs are, almost always without exception, welcoming and friendly, and not at all the kind to laugh at your non-elasticated laces and race number pinned straight to your top.

And when you speak to them, it’s more than likely they’ll immediately try to recruit you to join, not least because with a fresh arrival they’ll have someone new to brag to about their PBs. So with so many great things to choose from, what should you look for in a good tri club? Well, here’s my handy A-Z…

Brunty’s A-Z of why you should join a tri club

Awards night

All good clubs should have an awards night with prizes for the fastest, longest, most dedicated and, ideally, the most hapless (I speak as two-time winner of Coventry Triathletes’ ‘Who got Hammered’ award). Awards nights are great opportunities to gloat if you’ve won a trophy and nurse grievances if you haven’t, and really help to make up for the inevitable hell of the AGM.

Bike monster

Every club has at least one person who is somehow twice as fast as everyone else on a bike. Ride with them whenever you can because, while painful, you will learn things. When I started cycling I descended hills with all the skill of a dumper truck on a ski slope, but thanks to riding with the bike monster I improved a lot. Not least because if you don’t keep up with them they’ll bugger off and leave you.

Committee

Dedicated, diplomatic, generous, hard-working – these are just some of the many qualities I don’t possess, which is why I avoid joining committees. Yet without the devoted and enthusiastic people that make up committees no good club can function, and I like to pay tribute to their selfless commitment by avoiding eye contact with them at AGMs when they’re looking for volunteers.

Dirty-kit athlete

Every good club should have at least one member renowned for the grotty state of their kit, which permanently lives in a repellent bag where it has coalesced into a ball and which emerges only on race days accompanied by an odour that makes the enamel fall off your teeth. Annoyingly, they will also be a very good athlete.

Evenings out 

All good clubs should have regular social get-togethers where members young and injured gather for drinking and plotting. Curry nights are a particular tri-club staple, with everyone trying to outdo each other for the healthiest menu option rather than the butter chicken and giant naan they really want.

Facebook page

In every race there’s only one winner, and the rest of us are left trying to make it sound like we actually won by talking about lifetime PBs, course PBs, age-group results, first-in-club finishes, better-than-expecteds, etc. The best place to do this is on the club’s Facebook page, which exists specifically for this purpose.

Gazebo

Nothing says ‘proper club’ like having your own branded gazebo, which appears at races for members to leave their kit and litter in. Just as nothing said ‘disorganised rabble’ like the running club I used to be in which left our kit bags under trees or, occasionally, other club’s gazebos. Some clubs have flags too, which are great for everyone except the poor sod who has to transport them to races and put them up.

Half-wheelers

When you join a club and go on a training ride, you’ll inevitably end up alongside the club half-wheeler who stays resolutely half-a-wheel length ahead of you no matter how much you speed up to be level. Every club has one, and you’re next to them because no one else wants to be. Wait for someone new to join and them scrape the half-wheeler off on to them.

Ironman obsessives

Every club also has at least one Ironman addict and you must face the fact that they will talk you into it too. When I joined Coventry Triathletes in 2003 I’d done one Olympic-distance race which took me over three hours to finish. Eighteen months later I was doing Ironman Canada, which I was talked into signing up for by the pair of athletic psychopaths who were organising that year’s ‘club outing’.

Juniors

Having young club members is not only excellent for the future of the sport but, and I speak as an athlete old enough to remember Dunlop Green Flash pumps, it gives you an important demographic to beat in club races – for a while at least.

Kit

One of the most important questions to ask yourself when deciding whether to join a club is ‘What will I look like in the kit?’ Also consider: ‘Is the design lurid enough to cause public embarrassment?’; ‘Is there associated leisurewear to impress strangers in supermarkets?’; and ‘Will it go see-through when wet and show my bits off?’

Local knowledge

One of the best things about clubs is that they’re full of people who know good routes to cycle, and which places to avoid when going out running, particularly when you’re tired and less able to escape the mockery of teenage gangs.

Marshals

A sign of a happy, healthy club is how many people are willing to give up their day to marshal at races. It’s a selfless act, which I’ve done only once and where I was admonished for holding up rude signs to club mates and mooning them, which was an excellent way not to be asked again.

Nutters

One of the best things about joining a club is the fantastic array of persuasive lunatics you’ll meet, who will slowly convince you that swimming in water cold enough to give you toothache is perfectly normal behaviour, and that running races don’t count unless you cycle to them.

Open-water swimming

All the best clubs have a weekend open-water swim session, which is obviously first thing in the morning to maximise coldness and where you can bond with your clubmates by not speaking for an hour while you’re swimming, nicking all the hot water in the showers and then refusing the marshmallows you really want in your hot chocolate in case you’re seen and judged. Naturally you’re expected to cycle there.

Photographer

Every good club should have at least one keen amateur photographer who will snap away at races and then post everything online, no matter how unflattering the photo. Cultivate a friendship with them so that they at least leave out the worst ones which show your moobs or suggest you have the knee lift of a chair.

Qualified coaches

And I mean qualified, not the kind of people who resemble that bloke in a pub who sidles up and gives you unsolicited advice when you’re playing a fruit machine. Coaches who’ve done courses are worth listening to, much more so than some Spartan cyclist whose lifestyle makes Kim Jong-un look like Oliver Reed, and who says you aren’t taking the sport seriously if you don’t live on rice cakes that taste like a wad of cotton.

Relays

The biggest club event of the year. The National Relays is the only place where you can compete against other clubs almost as hard as you do against your teammates. A fantastic fun race where you can see how much better other clubs’ kit, gazebos and flags are than yours.

Shouty swim coach

The measure of a good swim coach is not how fast they get you to swim, but whether you can still hear their voice when your head is underwater. A voice that can be heard through your swim cap, water-filled ears and eight lanes of frantic splashing is a sign that your chosen club has a proper coach on their hands.

Time-trial trophy

Some clubs hold their own race, some join in with their local cycling club, but having a time-trial trophy is a great way to still be able to win a club award if you swim like a brick or run like an egg whisk. A convoluted handicapping system, which only the handicapper understands, is essential to ensure everyone has a chance except the bike monster.

Underhand tactics

I know how to skirt a pothole so that the person drafting on my wheel goes straight down it. I know how to send people swimming into riverbanks when they’ve been tapping my toes. I learned things like this from wise old athletes I met when joining clubs. Listen to their wisdom young grasshopper.

Veterans

Do you want to hear about long defunct races where you used to rack in hedges, or what life was like before aero helmets and when men in Speedos roamed the earth? No? Well tough, because clubs have loads of older athletes who know this stuff and they’re going to tell you whether you like it or not.

Weekend rides

An absolute necessity for any selfrespecting club, the weekend ride is where you’ll find out everything that matters about your teammates – who is bike monster?; who are the ruthless climbers and daredevil descenders?; who wants to stop at cafes?; who’s the half-wheeler?; who uses their tri-bars in a bunch?; who avoids a turn at the front?; who knows how to do through and off?; who brakes on corners? etc.

XC team

Nothing improves your running more than scratching around in the winter mud, so many clubs enter teams in their local cross country leagues. It’s important that you cycle to them, and that you stress to runners from other clubs that you’ve beaten that you’re just doing this for training. They love that.

Yearly video

Just like photographers, every good club has someone who is a whizz at filming and editing, and they usually like to show off their skills at the club’s annual dinner. Again, cultivate a friendship with them because of the 25% of the film that isn’t of themselves so that you can make sure they use that one bit of footage of you where you aren’t gurning, shuffling, spitting, eating, swearing or being overtaken.

Zwift battles (other training apps are available but they don’t begin with a ‘z’) 

The days of spending the winter alone in your garage secretly sweating yourself to death on a turbo are over. Why suffer alone when you can join your clubmates on a Zwift virtual training ride every bit as ruthlessly competitive as a real one?

If Martyn’s words have inspired you to join a triathlon club head to our directory to find your nearest one

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Top image illustration: Daniel Seex for 220 Triathlon