Ultimately, this whole process is about crossing one particular line – the finish line of this year’s Outlaw iron-distance triathlon in Nottingham.
On this side of that line are hundreds of hours of training, eating, training, fretting, training, eating and fretting. And on the other side? Well, I’ll think about that if – actually, make that when – I get there. (Suffice to say a sweaty hug and an enormous family meal will hopefully be involved.)
But as I’ve ramped up the training over the past few weeks, I’ve also started thinking about the other lines you need to cross before you get anywhere near the one where you can stop running and stick your head in a bucket of Hula Hoops, ice cream and ibuprofen.
And while I know the lines I’m crossing are nothing like the ones professional athletes encounter every day – Paula Radcliffe’s recent tweet from her Kenyan training base to her daughter, a continent away on her birthday, being a case in point – it’s also true that I’m starting to understand a bit more about why sacrifice is a theme that comes up a lot in sports interviews.
Take nights out, for instance. They’re not easy to fit in when you’re training 8 or 9 times a week. And so I recently found myself turning down a darts night in favour of a turbo trainer brick session. Even a couple of years ago this would have struck me as bonkers. It certainly struck everyone else who was playing darts as bonkers.
Nights in are changing too. I commute a fair distance from work, so quite a few evenings now look like this: get home; remind wife who I am; train; eat; shower; bed. Which doesn’t leave much time for sitting down and relaxing in front of the fire. (Actually we don’t have a fire, so sitting down in front of one would be anything but relaxing, but you get the point.)
Then there’s the money I’ve been sacrificing, on kit, entry fees, replacement parts and so on. And the sleep, because sometimes 5am is the only time I can fit in a run. And the social skills, because it turns out that spending lots of time training doesn’t make you the greatest raconteur (unless you want to hear about heart rate variance, in which case pull up a chair and I’ll tell you tales that will make your eyes glaze over as they’ve never glazed over before).
And yet – and yet – none of these things have really felt like sacrifices. Missing the darts didn’t feel like a hardship. Seeing the world before it wakes up is more of a privilege than a pain. And being out there in the January sunshine has been nothing to complain about either.
It’s early days, of course, and I know I’ll have to cross lines I can hardly imagine if I’m going to end up getting myself over the big one. But for now – averaging around 10 hours a week, and with my swim times improving, my bike form getting better and my heart rate on the runs going down and down – I’m loving it.
More than that, I’m ready to do whatever’s needed to try and get the job done. Even if my darts form has to suffer as a result.