“I’m basically triathlon’s equivalent of Alan Shearer”

Martyn Brunt is struggling with his new role among the sport’s newbies – that of advice-giver…

Issue ID: November 2012

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He may be a bona fide ‘celeb’ on the amateur tri circuit, but Martyn Brunt’s struggling with his new role among the sport’s newbies – that of advice-giver…

Back in 2007 I was about to start Ironman Lake Placid when I stubbed my foot on a rock and took the skin off the end of my big toe. This mishap was soon forgotten as I addressed the more pressing issue of stopping 2,000 swimmers from booting my goggles off as we sprinted for the first buoy.

In fact, all thoughts of my skinless toe vanished until halfway round the bike course when I needed the loo and decided to save time by peeing while cycling. I hoicked up my shorts and began the freewheel of shame, at which point I was sharply reminded of my earlier foot-stubbery as some wee leaked into my shoe and hit my toe with the ferocity of a snapping turtle.

As the stinging hit warp-factor 10 on my personal pain threshold, a shocked group of US spectators were treated to the sight of a man streaking past them with his knob out while howling obscenities and with the haggard look of one who fought at the Battle of Stalingrad.

Personal hygiene

I do not tell this story in support of personal hygiene, but to underline the point that this is how I learn my lessons – by making catastrophic mistakes. This makes me a dangerous person to seek advice from, as some novices tried to do at a recent race when I was exposed as the most experienced triathlete in the room.

The race in question was the excellent Ely Monster Man, a middle-distance dash around the flat lands of Cambridgeshire (river swim, fast bike, boiling hot run-shuffle, five hours on the nose and 40th place, I thank you).

At the race briefing we were treated to a first-rate presentation on nutrition by Jon Cowell of the BTF, who asked people to hold up their hands to indicate how many half-Ironmans they’d done. When he reached six races, I was the only person in the room with an arm still aloft and there were audible gasps in the room when we worked out I’d done 15.

Triathlon terminator

As soon as the briefing was over, I was pounced on by first-timers asking questions, who seemed to revere me as some sort of triathlon terminator with origins as a nude man, who materialised in a transition area and whose first words were, “I need your Oakleys, your Carnacs and your Cervélo P3.”

Despite being a triathlete for 10 years, I am basically triathlon’s equivalent of Alan Shearer, in that we both spend much of our time commenting on a sport we clearly have no recollection of having participated in.

I feel this is important to stress in case anyone out there is ever tempted to ask my advice and thus harness the terrifying power of my black hole of anti-knowledge. It’s genuinely quite unsettling to find that people think of me as some kind of triathlon idiot-savant, and I’m now so worried that people will start seeking my advice that I’m thinking of publishing my results on WikiLeaks to put them off.

All the charm of a loading bay

I had a similar experience at the National Relays in Nottingham – one of my favourite races – which I was doing as part of a team from Coventry Triathletes. Once again novice members of the team sought my wisdom on matters such as where the swim goes (around the lake), where the bike course goes (around the lake) and where the run goes (for Pete’s sake!).

The National Relays is perfect for novices, but it’s also an important place for experienced athletes to gain new skills, such as: how to perfect swim handovers in a crowd of people in identical wetsuits, where the only way you can spot your tag partner is if they send up a flare; how to say supportive things to someone who has just cost you 30 places in the swim by bobbing along the surface like the body of an improperly weighted mafia hit; and how to get clean in campsite showers that have all the charm of a loading bay.

Throw the telly out the window

But even the most experienced of us can still balls it up. My friend, Martin Burder of Leicester Tri, crashed at the Relays when his handlebars snapped, leaving him with a broken arm, road-rash and damaged bike shoes – which was of greater concern because he’d borrowed them from me.

The last I saw of him I was feeling distinctly like a grave-robber as I prized my shoes off his twitching feet while some ambulance drivers carted him off to hospital to place his life in the NHS’ hands.

So with experience does not come wisdom, and I’m the last person to pass on advice to newbies. In fact my advice is less for triathletes and more for caravanners at the Nottingham campsite who sneered at our triathlon ways.

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My advice to them is that for a happier life, stop acquiring fried meat in cardboard buckets, stop living your sporting dreams vicariously via tattooed men in shorts, throw the telly out the window and move somewhere sunny with trees. As to whether you should take up triathlon – don’t ask me.