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.
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.