Bank Holiday Monday, 26 August 2013, exactly a year to the day that I started all this arsing about with sport nonsense (ok, a year to the day that I completed my first “event”, the canoe sprint), and the good news was I had finally reached the end of the Week of Excessive Sport, and indeed, my challenge. The bad news was that I was sitting in a rental van at 6am with Beyonce, poorly secured in the back, crashing around, on my way to compete in my first ever triathlon. The even worse news was that I’d spent both the Friday and Saturday nights of the bank holiday weekend out on the lash.
On the Saturday morning I’d been with a friend who had competed in the same triathlon series, Thames Turbo, back in May. “Would you like to see my results?” he offers, enthusiastically whipping out his laptop. I knew he’d have done pretty well, given what an athletic chap he is, so the truthful answer was, of course, no I didn’t. But I sensed he wanted to tell me about it, so I should probably do the right thing and show willing.
One hour 16 minutes and 41 seconds, was his time, completing his swim in eight minutes and 23 seconds. “Well, it’ll take me double that time to finish the swim”, I tell him.
“No really, I’m a rubbish swimmer” I protest.
“It literally can’t take you that long to swim 436 metres”, he insists “anyway, you can’t really make up any time on the swim, it’s too short. It’s all in the cycling, and you like cycling – you’ll be fine”. I wouldn’t say I was reassured, but he’s right, I do like cycling.
It was at the Triathlon in St James’ Park, where the Brownlee brothers achieved Olympic glory last summer, that the concept for this silly project had been spawned. That the project should end here, with my own triathlon, was fitting really. Obviously I had hoped that by the time I took part in a triathlon I’d be considerably fitter, but as previously discussed, I’d become increasingly feral towards the end of my project.
I had somehow managed to find a friend who actually wanted to give up part of her bank holiday weekend to swim, cycle and run at seven in the morning and Liz had even been enthusiastic about it, initially. I sensed the enthusiasm had waned a little as we drove out to Hampton Court open air pool on this sunny, late summer morning. “If you’re awake at this hour” I post on Facebook “I hope it’s because you’re really drunk, not because you’re on your way to a triathlon”.
When we arrive, the first bad omen is the number of wasps that have turned up to welcome us/scare the shit out of me. I do not enjoy a wasp. The second bad omen is that my tri-suit, an instrument of torture and humiliation, is so tight, it is actually see-through about the arse. This is more of a problem when you’re not wearing pants which, incidentally, you don’t in a tri-suit.
I’d picked a triathlon in an open air pool because apparently, they’re easier and a lot more civilised – in different waves, individual competitors start in timed intervals, and a tap on the foot from a competitor behind you means you wait at the end of the pool and let them past. A small child writes a number on our arms and legs, which makes me feel like those chaps on Home and Away who are always fannying around on the beach with embarrassingly small trunks and funny hats, and we take our place around the pool towards the end of the first wave. At this point, I note the third bad omen – a dead frog in the pool.
Eventually, I start. It’s fair to say I’m pretty slow and I am tapped on the ankle, probably on my second length.To my horror, it transpires that the chap who I must let overtake me is the last person in our wave, and so now there are only three people in the pool, one of them is me and I am at the back. One of the others, who I do eventually overtake, is actually on his back, skulling. Though it is a little mean and not really in the spirit of Inspire a Jen, I have to wonder exactly why he’s chosen to spend his bank holiday Monday morning in this way. The guy who had overtaken me starts stopping at the end of each length for no apparent reason and I overtake him, too. I’m claiming this as a victory of sorts.
After what feels like an eternity, I run towards the transition zone to collect Beyonce and as I scamper off, my wet feet in my now wet trainers, I realise she is making a funny noise and her chain has come off AGAIN. Beyonce, I mutter to myself, when you act like that, I don’t think you think about how it makes me look – or feel (you will only understand this reference if you’ve seen the video for If I Were a Boy, which everyone you must do, possibly daily). A kindly chap rushes to my aid and starts faffing around with the chain, as does a woman with a clipboard who tells me that though she could in theory disqualify me for receiving assistance from another person, obviously, she won’t. Thanks for that.
Off I go, delayed and recovering from a pretty disappointing swim, but this is the cycle and I reckon I can make some time back. I’ve never taken part in smaller events like this, before. The events I’ve participated in have been massive, close the roads and stick fences up everywhere kinds of situations. So I’ve not studied the route very well, because I wrongly think it will be obvious, and because I am at the end of my wave, there aren’t that many other people around. When I get to the first roundabout, I am instructed by a steward to go over it, but there isn’t an “over”, so I assume he means continue along the road, which I do. As I speed off down the road, I hear a whistle, which I don’t really think much of until around 10 minutes later when I consider the fact that there aren’t actually any other bikes on the road. At this point, I begin to worry that the whistle may have been to indicate that I had taken the wrong turning. I go on a little longer before the horrendous penny ultimately drops. At this point I swear really loudly, which is fine because there’s literally no one else within a 5 mile radius to hear me, and I turn back.
“She’s back!” the stewards exclaim as I return to the roundabout, “we tried to tell you! YOU CAN STILL MAKE IT!” they shout, though I really think they might be taking the piss out of me, now.
I spend a considerable amount of time after this praying to god that I’m near the halfway point, at which I’m to turn around and return. Quite a long time later, I see Liz, heading in the opposite direction to me, who looks bright and breezey as she gives me a wave. All sorts of super-cyclists from the next wave are now overtaking me and shouting encouraging things like “YOU CAN DO IT!” as they do so. Whilst the message is a kind one, I’d be lying if I said I didnt feel a little patronised.
By the time I return to the transition zone ahead of the run, I have nothing left to give. Looking not unlike Quasimodo, I limp into Bushey Park, dragging one leg behind me, huffing and puffing as I deeply lament how I have spent the earlier part of my weekend. I really, truly think I will not be able to finish this mere 5k run. Imagine doing an Olympic length triathlon? I return to my initial thoughts on the triathlon, that if I were ever to do such a thing, I would surely die. 31 minutes later (which actually, for me, isn’t a bad time, at about 10 minutes a mile), I cross the finish line and stagger back to the pool with Liz, who finished a while ago, to pick up our results. I am disappointed to find that it has taken me two hours, one minute and 52 seconds to complete my first triathlon, but this does at least leave quite a bit of room for improvement for next time, which I worry there will be because I am senselessly competitive with myself about such things. Gold medalist Liz, who has not participated in 38 Olympic disciplines over the last year, is understandably chuffed with her time of one hour, 30 minutes and two seconds.
But I had done it. I had tried all 38 Olympic disciplines (in which women compete) in a year, like I bloody well said I would.
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