No. I really can’t do this.

Lets just make this clear.  I can’t do this.  I’m not a natural athlete, I’ve never been competitive, I didn’t do sports at school unless I was forced and even then I was the kid at the back.  I had a go at shaking this off in my early twenties by doing Taekwondo for a few years with some success but otherwise nothing.  A lot of starts, a lot of plans but nothing stuck.

How did I get here?

A couple of years ago (May 2015) two events happened more or less simultaneously.  My brother called and asked if I wanted to do the London to Brighton bike ride with him and some mates.  I agreed, signed up, bought a bike and loosely followed their online training programme.  The other was being asked if I’d do the swim leg of a team relay in the London Triathlon.

The Sunday morning bike ride became a feature with getting up around 06:30 and heading out to do a lap of Richmond Park and back.  This ride was about 35km in total and I took a couple of breaks.  Over the 12 weeks ahead of the L2B as it was know I built up the distance and when possible did a midweek “shorter faster” ride.  Pretty impressive consistency for me but I was driven by nagging concern about not making it up the notoriously steep Ditchling Beacon – or having to bail out half way through the ride.

The team triathlon was a fundraiser organised by CBS who I do freelance work for.  Creating a dozen or so triathlon teams from the people I knew at CBS seemed implausible.  But out of the woodwork came  runners, cyclists, a few who could swim and a few others willing to throw themselves into the unknown and have a go.  I thought I could swim but in reality – as it turned out – I was just willing.

It was organised by Leigh.  She is from Connecticut has an intonation in her voice with enthusiasm built in.  So when Leigh says: “Hey you wanna swim in this Triathlon thing?” It sounds like this is going to be the best thing in your life – EVER!  So I said yes.

The first few swimming sessions were at my local pool where the barrier is down in the early morning connecting two pools to make a 50m Olympic sized pool, a rare thing and less than a mile from home.  Trouble was that I was pretty puffed out after a couple of lengths so only clocking up 100 meter’s before I needed to take a break.  My whole effort from a session might just get me to 400m or maybe 500m including time dropping out of front call to breaststroke and catch my breath.  The race distance being 750m.  And – unthinkable to me now – I used to drive there.

At this stage I hadn’t even contemplated what it might be like putting on a wetsuit and going in the open water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It starts right here. Today. Now.

Today – Friday July 21st 2017 is the day.  The day serious training starts.  That’s my resolution, my promise.  Of course I’ve made promises like these many times before and broken them many times but I’ll just go ahead and make another.

In May this year I entered the Slateman, a challenging triathlon in Snowdonia, North Wales.  I came last.  The photos of me running in the mountains show me alone.  No other runners around me and no sense it’s an event other than that I’m wearing a number and someone has taken my photo.  I look knackered.

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As a consolation I won the traders champion prize. The traders –  burger vans, ice cream stalls etc.  – have a whip round for the person who is last off the field, keeping the event (and the trade) going the longest.  I won £50.  Technically this makes me a prize-winning triathlete.

After crossing the finish line and collecting the prize (presented in a polystyrene burger box) I turned to the transition area.  All the bike racks lay flat on the floor except the one holding up my bike. This stood alone in the middle where two guys with power tools sat on the ground patiently waiting  ready to take it down.

While I can enjoy some irony and self deprecating humour as the hapless unlikely triathlete barely making it round the course (and we can agree it’s funny) but that’s not my intention here.

We’d made a weekend of it, myself and Sally, then as we drove away from Snowdonia I decided – resolved –  to come back next year, to train better and do better.  Although I don’t yet know how to quantify what doing better might look like.  Winning’s not possible.  However big I might dream it just isn’t physically possible to get close to the capabilities of the winners, not even if I devoted everything to training.  Winning my age group (50+) is unlikely too – I’ve seen the times they do.  Don’t believe people who say all you have to do is dream. We can achieve a lot, more than seems possible even, but we can’t change the laws of physics.  Thats not saying dreams are bad  – just better to make them plausible.

Maybe my goal here has to be something less precise, more malleable like “do better” or to run rather than walk up the hills and have photos on the run with other competitors around me.  To move up the grid to some place other than last or nearly last.  Well I have the winter to clarify the goal.

I’m now two years in to open water swimming and triathlon training but it feels like the beginning.  It’s as if the last two years were just getting ready, a sort of pre-training training.  A few weeks ago at a coached swim session I mentioned this “just getting started” feeling to Marsha one of the RG active coaches.  She said “yes, you’re starting to feel the water now”.  And I was. The micro adjustments you make to streamline your glide through the water, the constant tweaking of efficiency and subtle of shifts of movement, feeling your way to improve.  Elements of swimming that are simultaneously teachable and unteachable where you have to be ready to absorb the lesson and open to learning before it can taught.  Now two years in and this is all opening up before me like its my first day.

Early on I did a gym session with triathlon coach Phil Patterson. I was keenly aware of being overweight, inflexible and sluggish.  He suggested I  work on mobility in the short time there was ahead of my first sprint distance event.  It’s still true today – the need to stretch and work on mobility –  but now I can routinely set out on a 50k bike ride or a 1k swim.  I can bound up stairs at work carrying kit in a way that would have left me wheezing two years ago.  I now think “yeah stairs, nice,  a training set like being paid to train – lets go”.  Running distance …well thats my achilles heel, literally and figuratively.  Lots of work to do there.

But I’ve learned the value of having encouragement from friends and family and of learning from coaches and others at a club – I belong to RG active.  Another big motivator over the long term and a real driver for me is to have an event in the diary, something currently undoable that can only be done if I train.  And that event for me now  – right here, today – is the 2018 Slateman.

Where I get to depends on two things:  how I train and what I’m capable of.  Regarding the latter of those two things – yes I’d like to know.