In what I laughingly call my ‘athletic career’ I’ve done many stupid things. And a surprising amount have come from ignoring signs.
– Being chased through a field by a mad horse after ignoring a ‘Warning! Stallion’ sign
– Crashing repeatedly while riding the South Downs Way on a Brompton after ignoring a ‘Warning! Only suitable for mountain bikes’ sign
– Being told I was “causing distress to the public” after some of them had phoned lifeguards in a panic after seeing me swimming under Brighton pier in rough seas, having ignored a ‘Warning! No Swimming’ sign
I’m renowned for ignoring signs, physical or otherwise, to the extent that my long-suffering wife, Nicky, half expected me to come back from a recent trip to the travel agents having booked a holiday in the Crimea. And I can indeed add another sign-ignoring episode to the litany of failure above thanks to my recent performance at the Sandown Park 10k, which I accomplished while looking about as happy as Ellen DeGeneres in a selfie with Nigel Farage.
The Sandown Park 10k is part of the Triathlon Show weekend where I was a guest of the lovely people at 220. Despite my personality being as exciting as a Boots Meal Deal, I was asked to give a couple of short, ‘expert’ presentations on how I’ve managed to complete 10 Ironmans with no discernible talent. The weekend also featured a 10k race, which I was incapable of resisting, plus the annual 220 Awards dinner with its lashings of free alcohol and guest list of non-drinkers.
This was my first visit to Sandown Park Racecourse, which I’d always assumed was full of really posh people who always have their teeth visible like they’re halfway through a sneeze and have trouble fitting their ancestral quiff into their Range Rovers. However, the Triathlon Show was an oasis of carbon-based normality in this sea of horse racing, and I was able to deliver my presentations to audiences of athletes agog with disinterest.
The awards ceremony took place on the Saturday evening and to my utter astonishment I found myself seated at the front table rubbing shoulders with Tour De France cyclist Magnus Backstedt and fastest Kona age-grouper Catherine Faux, and sitting next to six-time Ironman World Champion and legend Dave Scott!
It was perhaps the stars in my eyes at meeting these three that led me to start consuming vast amounts of alcohol. Or perhaps I was trying to give myself a bit of courage to engage them in triathlon talk – you try talking about your IM PB to Dave Scott without sounding like a tit. Either way I ignored the signs that drinking buckets of wine the night before a 10k might not be wise. All three were absolutely charming people, who seemed unfazed by sitting with an increasingly drunk man with a body that looks like a mug tree.
It wasn’t until I emerged into Surrey’s night air that I realised quite how much I’d drunk. I also realised that with my standard triathlete’s capacity for alcohol it was only a matter of time before I would be ‘driving the porcelain bus’ in my hotel room toilet. Sure enough the guests at the Chessington Zoo Holiday Inn were treated to a night of what sounded like a Brummie lion repeatedly roaring in room 323.
The next morning things didn’t improve, and I roared some more before emerging from my room looking like a character from a Russian novel with an epic hangover and a headache that felt like I’d been nutted by Alan Pardew. By this time any normal person would’ve gone back to bed/the toilet, but I was raised by Jedi Knights in Coventry who taught me how to fight, not with my fists but with my mind, so I ignored the signs that running might be a catastrophically bad idea and headed for the race.
Having been sick again in the car park before the race and then fallen asleep in a chair, I eventually took to the start line with my face the same colour of beige as a hearing-aid and with the same gait as a farm animal. What followed was 10k of sheer hell, which saw me running like I was being hustled into the back of a van by the Ukranian police, with the facial expression of someone who’s trying to wedge one last book onto a shelf. I threw up once more at 7k (and finding a place to be sick unseen is hard work on an out-and-back course) before crossing the line in a creditable yet utterly shambolic 39mins.
After a battling performance like that you’d think I deserved to be plunged into a Jacuzzi in the company of champagne-drenched bikini models. But no! What I got was a six-time IM World Champ laughing heartily at me and suggesting I was so pale I should put make-up on before being seen in public. Tellingly, Dave, who as well as being just about the greatest Ironman ever, has coached athletes like Chrissie Wellington and Craig Alexander, offered me absolutely no advice on how I could improve my performance – and I’ll take that as a sign.