I did a foolish thing the other day. Not that I don’t do foolish things on a regular basis, like putting the house keys in a safe place while we were on holiday for three weeks, then forgetting where they were when we arrived home at 11pm in the middle of a thunderstorm; I had to unpack the entire car in the rain only to find that they were conveniently in my handbag all along.
No, this latest foolish thing was to enter a triathlon with two weeks to go, and hardly anything in the way of training under my belt. I have done triathlons before, so I do know what I’m letting myself in for, but the last two events I have entered did not end happily.
A couple of years ago, fuelled by the hysteria surrounding the London Olympics, I signed up for the Virgin London Triathlon, an Olympic distance race based out of the Excel Convention Centre in London’s Docklands. The Olympic bunting was still flying only a couple of weeks after the Paralympics had finished, and I felt that in a very small way, I could be a part of the London sporting vibe. Helpful Hubby packed up my bike, put me on a plane to Gatwick and I made my way to stay with family nearby. I carefully re-assembled the bike, paying great attention to make sure everything was the right way around. I checked my clothes, my shoes, my bike helmet, my Garmin GPS, my running shoes, my swim goggles and my transition bag. I’m pretty sure I even refused a glass of wine before retiring early to bed for a good nights sleep. Morning came. We loaded the car, and headed off allowing double the time we expected the drive to take, but little did we know of the traffic congestion that would be caused by roads being closed for the race. Time ticked by as we sat gridlocked. Then the rain started. Messages wishing me good luck began to arrive on my phone, but soon, it seemed unlikely that we would escape the traffic in time for my group start. ‘I think I’ve missed it’ I texted back ‘there’s no way I can get there in time.’ The journey crawled along. Triathletes in cars next to us scrambled out with their bikes and attempted to ride to the event, but even if I could find my way, how could I transport my carefully organized transition bag with me? The weather deteriorated, but we began to make slow progress. Eventually, pulling into the car park, I made a run for it. The entry desk had closed, but not only that; the swim had been cancelled because of the bad weather. Runners from earlier waves were crossing the finish line, soaked to the skin and wrapped in silver space blankets to prevent hypothermia. The last two waves of the event were cancelled completely! We grabbed a bite to eat, gathered up some freebies from the exhibition stands, who were packing up to go home, re-loaded the bike in the car and headed off for another 4 hours of negotiating traffic. I don’t remember much else about the day, and flew home again the next morning.
I was filled with optimism (not like me at all) when I made the decision to up my game and enter a half Ironman distance for my next attempt. Admittedly I wasn’t getting all the training that was really necessary for my assault on the 2km swim, the 90km cycle, and the 21km run, but I figured I’d just take it easy, and aim to cross the finish line before (or close to) the cut off time. Six weeks before the race I set off early one morning for a training ride, accompanied by Helpful Hubby. 7.5km later, at a speed of 32kph, Helpful Hubby pulled out to round a traffic calming curb extension. Sitting on his wheel, keeping on the nearside to allow cars to pass, I did not see the obstruction, and rode straight into it. I flew over the handlebars wondering how long it would be before things started to hurt. It did not take long! A crash loud enough to bring the neighbour’s running out of their houses to see what was wrong, and my collar bone was broken and dislocated in a classic cycling injury. My bike came off worse though, and as I lay bleeding on the road Helpful Hubby was able to inform me immediately ‘your bike’s completely broken’ and it was; the carbon frame snapped in two and looking remarkably like the x ray they took of my collar bone some time later that morning. The hospital was wonderful, supplying me with endless amounts of super strength painkillers and fitting a titanium plate in my shoulder to bring the bones back into alignment. I began the long healing process, but my surgeon informed me that while he could help repair bones, he had no idea how to fix bikes. I pulled out of the triathlon, but I needn’t have gone to all the trouble of breaking a bone to get out of it. On the morning of the race, I texted some friends to wish them luck. The first wave had set off, only to be stopped on the bike leg, when it was discovered that torrential rain had caused a landslide to block the road. The race was cancelled. No one completed it that day.
And so it is, that two years later, with healed bones, a new bike and within cycling distance of the start line, I make a third attempt to regain my triathlete’s colours. It is a sprint event, a tiny distance and just as well since my last logged run was over nine months ago. We will swim, without wetsuits, 700m in a lake, cycle 20km around the lake and run 5km along the lake. Maybe it’s not such a foolish idea, I’m sure I can do it. What could possibly go wrong this time?
In case you’re interested, I did the triathlon and survived the whole experience; finishing in reasonable time and coming in 4th in my age group category . In fact, now it’s over, I think I might have actually enjoyed myself… apart from the run!
Can I call myself a triathlete again?