I love being a triathlete. This may seem an odd thing to specify at the start of a regular column in the UK’s leading tri mag, but when you spend as much time as I do knocking about with single-discipline athletes it’s occasionally worth reminding yourself where your heart truly lies.
And my heart really does lie with tri, not least because it gives you a no-lose way of training and racing with people who only swim, cycle or run. For one thing, saying ‘I’m a triathlete’ gives me a handy get-out clause if I can’t keep up with them, along the lines of ‘of course I’m going to get left behind, this is all you do’.
On the flip side, it gives me a fantastic opportunity to rub their faces in it if they can’t keep up with me: ‘And this only a third of what I do.’ There’s nothing runners, for example, love more than being reminded they’ve been left behind by a part-time runner.
I love being a triathlete so much that I start inventing triathlons to get me through the winter months, and part of my regular off-season training routine sees me go swimming in the morning before cycling to work, then going for a
run during lunch, before stinking the office out with a mixture of sweat and chlorine, nodding off at my desk and being disciplined for lack of productivity.
I also invent my triathlons around single-discipline races I’ve entered, which is part of the requirements for being a triathlete. As such, I frequently arrive at running races by bike – often with the hostility of a cornered badger because I’ve once again overestimated my cycling ability and made it with about a minute to spare – and run home from many a bike race with my knees squeaking like Joe Pasquale in a cement mixer.
An unusual take on my DIY Tri antics occurred recently when I took part in the National Masters swimming champs in Sheffield and the National Masters XC relays in Long Eaton… in the same afternoon. In fairness, this was more accidental than planned because I’d already entered the 400m freestyle race on the Saturday afternoon when my running club asked if I’d like to get covered in sh*t on their behalf. I considered saying ‘No, I’m already racing’ for about 0.1 seconds before my inner triathlete raced to the surface and I said: ‘I’ll do it.’
It’s a measure of my tri obsession that I genuinely investigated whether it was possible to cycle from Long Eaton to Sheffield in the time available – it wasn’t. So I persuaded my run club to let me run first leg for the team before leaping into my trusty campervan and chugging up to Sheffield. The mass start at the XC was inevitably more vigorous than a Black Friday punch-up in Asda, so by the time I finished I’d run a fair bit harder than a man who is anxious to avoid getting cramp should have. With no time for luxuries, like getting changed, I lurched straight to the van and set sail for Sheffield, stopping only to try and ward off cramp by drinking a flask of green tea that tasted like boiled horse urine.
Upon arriving at Ponds Forge I cut a singular figure at poolside registration resplendent in vest, shorts, spikes, mud-smeared legs, and a post-running whiff that had all the appeal of an abandoned bus in Mogadishu. My subsequent appearance in the 400m will be long remembered in the annals of amateur swimming, mostly for the sheer amount of time it took my stiffening legs to assume the start position on the blocks. As it was I swam 400m in 5:28mins, but when things hotted up in the last 100m I couldn’t respond, and my chances of a medal receded faster than Lance Armstrong’s book sales.
Afterwards, to my intense delight, I discovered I’d won a bronze medal in the 1,500m the previous day, so I had the pleasure of collecting my non-ferrous award from a table surrounded by lots of medal-less swimmers checking their results. I’m sure it cheered them up when I pointed out ‘And this is only a third of what I do!