Now that I’m well into my third decade as a triathlete (photos of me running in Speedos are available for a small fee), I have been musing on how much has changed since I first shook the grey waters of St Katharine’s Dock from my ears, jammed my JJB sports trainers into the toe clips on my brother-in-law’s borrowed bike, and wobbled off down the ramp at the London Excel Centre.
Some of the changes have been with the sport – for example, aero helmets were once rare enough for anyone wearing one to be called ‘Tron’, whereas now they’re only outnumbered by Dryrobes – but most of them have been with me, and as evidence of this I need only look at my race-selection criteria.
Back in the day when planning my race calendar for the year I applied the following conditions to any races I entered:
- Will my main race be sufficiently major to make other triathletes think I am a proper triathlete, and ordinary members of the public think I am some sort of athletic God? And as it approaches, will it give me several ‘Oh no, what have I done?’ moments?
- Will there be lots of clubmates there that I can attempt to beat while trying not to look like I am?
- Will my other races help towards my main race of the year, and wrestle my race calendar into some sort of coherent plan that makes others think I know what I’m doing?
- Will the race take me somewhere glamorous that will enable me to fill social media with pictures of me looking dynamic and exotic?
- Will I get a large and weighty medal the size of a bin lid, and a T-shirt that will enable me to chest brag at training sessions and to the general public in supermarkets?
- Will there be several race photos of me to purchase post-race so that I can select the ones that make me look like I have quads when on the bike and actual knee lift on the run?
- Will it be a serious affair with things like pasta parties, awards ceremonies, and registrations that require enough documents to make you feel like you’re trying to cross Checkpoint Charlie?
- Will the pre-race communications make me feel like I’m about to attempt Everest?
Compare that with the criteria I’m applying to my 2022 events:
- Am I free that weekend or have I promised to mend the garden fences from that storm?
- Is the race within an hour’s journey of my house, thus reducing the amount of time I have to sit in my car in damp, sweaty kit and with rigid, aching legs which make me yelp whenever I use the brake pedal, and meaning that upon arrival I don’t have to be helped up my front steps?
- Will I be the only person from my club doing the race, thus sparing me having to put any effort in to try and beat them while also making me look like an independently-minded trailblazer? And will the age-demographic of likely participants provide me with some important injury-networking opportunities?
- Does the race offer me the option of a tree instead of a T-shirt, thus not only saving the planet but also sparing my T-shirt drawer, which is overflowing more than a builder’s skip?
- Will the event be cupless, and free of plastic bottles, again not only saving the planet but also justifying my recent heavy investment in hydration systems for my bike and run?
- Will there be a quirky gift?
- Is there a chance I can avoid being seen by the race photographer?
- Will the bike course be rural enough to be free of drivers?
- Will the pre-race communications be full of the kind of motivational messages that make me want to launch myself into a well?
- Will there be cake at the finish?
So that’s what 25 years of tri does to you, folks. I’ve evidently swapped glamour for convenience, competition for solitude, and T-shirts for a large slice of Victoria sponge.
Having said that, I’m still happy to take part in large, glamorous races in exotic places that any race organisers might be looking for (relatively) well-known columnists to participate in. Just as long as there’s cake.
Illustration: Daniel Seex