Recently I was standing on the finish line at Kona having just completed the Ironman World Championships. My arms were aloft, my fists clenched and my biceps rippling in celebration having finished the race in under 10 hours.
And while I hadn’t troubled the elites, I’d almost certainly picked up an age-group prize. As I celebrated, my wife Nicky barged in demanding to know what I was doing and to “get a bloody move on” because she wanted to use the toilet.
Unfortunately this strange tableau took place not in Kona but in my bathroom, where I was engaged in a bout of ‘mirror triathlon’, a private pastime where I live out my triathlon dreams in front of my reflection. Had I been an elite, or an American, I could have got away with replying ‘positive visualisation’ when Nicky demanded to know what I was doing. But as I am British and an age-grouper I instead mumbled ‘erm, stretching,’ before retiring red-faced to the landing and doing some more ‘stretching’ to give credibility to my lie.
I suspect I’m not the only mirror triathlete out there, especially at this time of year when the swallows and the elites have flown south for the winter.
In admitting that I knock around semi-naked in front of the mirror with the lack of inhibition that often characterises the physically repulsive, I realise that I may come across as a bit of a git, but mirror triathlon has lots of advantages over the real thing:
■ I don’t suffer any pain; or, if I do, it’s from dignified injuries like ‘old knee trouble’, which suggest a solidly athletic past (as opposed to nipple chafe or sweat rash).
■ It’s much faster than real triathlon. I find it takes me about 15 minutes to complete a whole Ironman.
■ I never lose my bike in transition and am not to be found charging around between bike racks like a wronged rhino.
■ I look like Bradley Wiggins when I crouch over my imaginary tri-bars, as opposed to looking like a middle-aged man in a regrettable skinsuit.
■ I am able to beat triathletes who are past the age of puberty.
■ I never blow my good starts. In the real world this happens with tiresome regularity for, as Confucius say, whenever Martyn is first out of the water, defeat shall surely follow.
■ I don’t rely on the curious mystique of lurid kit to make other athletes wrongly believe that I must have talent.
■ I don’t end up being lectured on my training by someone who has Been On A Course.
■ People overseas believe I am good because I’ve travelled all that way to race – as opposed to the truth, which is that I’ve flown all that way simply because I am able to fly all that way. To be treated with the respect you aren’t due is the dream of every talentless sportsperson.
■ I never have to fumigate my kit bag and humanely destroy any old tri shorts that lurk within.
■ I never have any trouble getting into races. One of the many conveniences of the online-entries revolution is that you have to decide in January what you want to do in July. So far I have entered three half-Ironmans and Challenge Almere. Twice. At 2am. While drunk.
■ Credit card companies do not write pointed letters.
Now is the time of year for hopes, optimism, dreams and memory loss about how disastrous last season was.
Every triathlon failure has been eradicated by weeks of tri-free complacency and it’s only when the real triathlon season starts and tiny bacteria of doubt start breeding in my brain that the unstoppable momentum of real life renders my fantasies impossible. Mirror triathlon is the perfect winter hobby for people who are long on ambition but short on dedication.
On the downside, it does suggest either an off-season life almost Nordic in its bleakness, or a monumental level of conceit. As a rule I don’t linger long over my reflection because I don’t like to be reminded that my forehead once boasted a luxuriant fringe but is now wholly reflective, and that my hair has reached that stage in its growth cycle where it looks like a wig.
Far from being conceited though, it should be remembered that us mirror triathletes are not looking at ourselves, we are miles away in Kona sailing pain-free and wind-free through the lava fields, with our pockets full of lightweight snackable comestibles to keep us going.
So that’s what I was up to, Nicky. I was dreaming my dreams of sporting greatness. And, as if triathlon wasn’t expensive enough, now it seems that I’m going to have to install another bog in the house if I want to stand on the Kona podium uninterrupted.