At last! After 10 years of doing triathlons, I have FINALLY made it on to the podium at a race.
Actually that’s not strictly true, I was on a podium waaaay back in 2004, but rather than standing proud and victorious, I was slumped on it looking like a deflated testicle, having just completed my first ever middle-distance seven minutes inside the cut-off.
The race was in Belgium, and my abiding memory of it was shuffling past mirrored shop windows with my red face, sun-blocked mouth and spotty shirt, like a clown having a heart attack.
The other thing I remember was that on the race photos, you can see the winner’s medal ceremony going on behind me while I’m still running! This humiliation led me to vow that, one day, I too would grace the podium.
What I didn’t realise was that that one day would come about 3,650 days later, following a decade of basically turning up and farting out races with deeply average results.
The scene of my ‘triumph’ was the Avenger Triathlon, a brand-new middle-distance race held at Ragley Hall in Alcester. I’d set my sights on this race after finding out one of the organisers was an old friend Catherine O’Carroll, a woman who once conned me into running 15 miles to a lighthouse in Majorca with the promise of a bus back – only to discover once there that there were no buses, ever!
The omens for success at the Avenger were good leading up to the race. I’d done three middles already this season and managed to crack them all out in under five hours. Plus my friend Neill Morgan, a Welsh druid chieftain and sales rep known as the ‘Dai Lama’, predicted I’d come second. At least that’s what I thought he meant when he described me as a loser.
The swim in Ragley Hall’s ornamental lake was in two waves – women, relays and men 45-and-over in the first; men 44-and-under in the second. Yours truly lined up in the old gimmers wave for the very first time.
The horrors of leading
I spent the usual nervous pre-race minutes treading water while teetering on the verge of self-befoulment, before the klaxon went and I swam haphazardly towards the first buoy.
At the first turn, I realised to my horror that I was in the lead, with all the pressure of potentially directing the whole field the wrong way. So relief came when when I was overtaken and could get on someone’s feet to indulge in some massively irritating toe-tapping.
I emerged from the water in fourth place behind two relay swimmers and a woman/mermaid, and – after chugging my way round transition like a fat oaf – I was off on the 56-mile bike course.
Being a reasonable swimmer means bike legs are a depressing procession of hearing the distant ‘thwack thwack thwack’ of an approaching disc wheel as the bike monsters come past, but on this day it was me doing the overtaking. I passed the mermaid and one of the relay teams, before setting about duelling with leading woman Emilie Verroken.
Fifty-five miles ticked by and still no-one came past. I was trying to suppress excited thoughts about winning, mixed in with the usual ones about Holly Willoughby’s dress, when suddenly I heard it – thwack, thwack, thwack…
Yes, I’d finally been hunted down inside the last mile by my friend and bike monster Greg Ashley.
Bickering into T2
Greg and I spent the dash through T2 bickering about the poor sportsmanship of overtaking someone in the last mile; he emerged onto the run 200 metres ahead – game on! The run was three laps of Ragley Hall’s grasslands that are about as flat as a taxi-driver’s man boob, and by the end of lap one I’d closed the gap to about 20 metres.
However, thanks to a combination of unrealistically high expectations coupled with a below-par work ethic, I couldn’t keep it up and by lap two the gap was closer to 500 metres.
With victory gone unless my prayers for Greg’s hamstrings to snap were answered, I began to worry about hanging on to second. By now there were runners all over the course, and it’s hard work trying to work out how old someone is when they all look like the last semi-deflated balloon at a children’s party.
Neither magnanimous nor charming
After spending the last lap pursued by paranoia and a Stuka squadron of flies, I crossed the line in second place for a silver medal and with the kind of skin colour you get from smoking 60 high-tar cigarettes a day.
Greg was magnanimous in victory, Emilie was charming about me overtaking her less than 500 metres from the finish, and I was neither magnanimous nor charming when I realised I’d beaten my old Worcester mate Dave Fenton by just 14 seconds. Ha, ha, ha…
So how do silver medallists celebrate? ?Well, in my case, by devouring a huge cardboard tub of breadcrumb-coated chicken parts and heckling my slower mates as they toiled through Ragley’s matto grosso.
I hope The Avenger is a race that’s here to stay – it’s well organised and a great, testing course. I’ll certainly be back next year, although chiefly because I’ve left a pair of pants somewhere in transition…