Last Tuesday night was the start of the most holy of Jewish holidays, Yom Kippur, AKA the day of atonement when you fast for 25 hours. It begins and ends at sunset. 25 hours with no food or water. I used to fast when I was much younger, more because it was what we did, rather than because of my religious beliefs. Now I question my belief all the time, I know there’s something there, but it might be a tree or a squirrel, and as I grow older I am less religious and less worried about it. Not that I was ever religious, traditional perhaps, observant of the festivals because it gave me the opportunity to gather with the rest of my family, eat fabulous food and enjoy the cultural side, but as for the religion itself, I have many problems with it, as with all religions. I am aware that as a childless woman, with a sister who died 5 years ago, a dad who died 2 years ago, when my mum is no longer here, I doubt I will feel the need to practice anymore. My identity will change. With no children to share it with, my niece and nephews have their own lives and families, I will, I believe, feel very differently about it all. I stayed with my mum last Tuesday night, and because I was there, in the heart of the ultra orthodox Jewish community (my mum is not at all orthodox), I decided I would fast. I also decided I would fast because my mum told me I have no willpower. I love food, I love to nosh, to snack, I love crisps and peanuts and popcorn. But I would weigh less in the morning. Not that I am hung up about my weight, I’m not. It would mean when it came to breaking the fast I could eat more! Talking of willpower, when it comes to exercise I have all the willpower in the world, exercise is my religion, without the guilt and with lots of treats for completing a new challenge! I love exercising. I love having exercised. I love that moment when you know you have another kilometre to go or 5 minutes left on the treadmill or one more stretch, one more bend in the park and then it’s home.
Back to last Tuesday. While I was fasting I was also thinking of food, looking at photos on Twitter of food and contemplating my Triathlon, more specifically, the bicycle that a friend was generously giving me for my Triathlon. I had asked her for a photo and spent the next half hour looking at the bike on my phone and texting questions. She told me her husband had done Ironman challenges and suggested that I prepare a list of all my anxieties. For the next two hours, I worked out how I could bring the bike home from east London, I wouldn’t be ready to cycle all the way. Imagine if something happened to me, how idiotic I would look. I checked trains, which trains accepted bikes and which didn’t, when could you do it and when were you definitely not allowed to. I never knew any of this. London Transport had something new to offer.
I spent a good part of that day researching bikes, the difference between mountain bikes (aka MTBs) and road bikes (aka road bikes). The one I am being given is a MTB with road tyres. Would I look like a complete idiot? Would anyone care? Would I care? And helmets, I have a helmet, it is a green helmet, a bright green helmet, not sleek or slender, but round, more like an old fashioned motor bike helmet. I like my helmet, I am not buying another one. But who knew there were MTB helmets and road bike helmets? A whole new world of accessories opened up. Fortunately for my wife, I don’t want any of them…apart from the tri suit, which will help me transition from water to bike IF I can get out of my wetsuit. I wonder if anyone has ever ridden a bike in a wetsuit in a triathlon?
And so my bike adventure was about to begin. More specifically, my bike accessory adventure. I already have cycling shorts, I have a helmet, I will wear the same trainers for cycling that I’ll run in, it will make the transition from bike to run swift. Transition. I am learning Triathlon language fast. I have become a competent swimmer, I can run 5k but the thought of the 13 mile bike ride was already causing my bottom to chafe. And transitioning was worrying me. Sea to bike to run. Sea to bike. Getting out of a wetsuit, finding my bike without my glasses, would I need prescription goggles just to get me out of the water to my bike? Which glasses should I wear, prescription sun glasses or regular or the ones with sun glass attachments? And what if they fell off mid race?
I googled TRIATHLON AND GLASSES. Everyone who wore glasses said BUY PRESCRIPTION GOGGLES IF ONLY TO GET YOU OUT OF THE WATER TO YOUR BIKE. But I like my goggles, I don’t want another pair, I don’t need another pair. This is very unlike me, because anyone who knows me, also knows I love accessories, I love new sports gear, I have running shoes for winter (waterproof), light autumn trainers (my new favourites), trail shoes for off road, road shoes…and I have worn them all. But I have stopped shopping for new sports gear. My wife is right, I do not need anymore. But it’s hard to resist that 25% off from Adidas or 10% off from Wiggle. Still, she has my Christmas list…so that’s something to look forward to. In the early days of our relationship, my Christmas list consisted of lovely tops or dresses. This year’s list asks Santa for a tri-suit and suit juice.
At least for the bike to run I would be dressed, all I would need to do is remove my helmet and run for my life. My fears of transitioning from water to bike had also been slightly calmed. Friends and a friend’s mother (my age, she has completed a half Ironman!) set me right and have given me terrific tips. Thanks! But a bike, I had to train on a proper bike, a grown up bike and although I was getting one, I had no where to keep it. As it is my study resembles the changing room of an up market sports shop. I suggested to my wife that I hang it from my study ceiling. NO. If I kept it in the hall (which even I didn’t want to do, our Victorian hall is very narrow) divorce would be imminent. I looked into sturdy galvanised steel bike racks to attach to the front wall of the house, but we were not convinced the bike would be safe and I would have to cover it and more expense and on and on it went.
Bike sheds, from the council, I’d driven past them several times, that would work. I went on line (remember I am supposed to be atoning for my sins, the really good Jews don’t watch TV or drive, or go on line or speak on phones, I was breaking all the rules at a time when I was supposed to be repenting), checked how to find one in my area, the cost per year was less than the cost of buying and fitting the galvanised steel bike rack. I was excited. I could chain my bike around the corner from the house in its own little shed, and it wouldn’t get stolen or wet. I’ve never been so happy. I imagined myself heading down the road, key in hand. I’d be on my bike and off in minutes. Turns out there are a lot of people like me, and there is a waiting list…I am second on the list for the one around the corner. Until then my bike remains in east London. So I will wait. And when my turn comes, I will go and collect my bike. Until then…it would be static bikes in the gym. But not yet.
My next training session was to consist of an hour of pilates and then a 5k run. After a 60 min class which started at 9.30am, I ran twice and a bit around Brockwell Park, did 5k, for the first time with my own music and no one called Laura telling me what to do, when to do it and when to go faster. That was ok, but I wouldn’t be doing an hour of pilates and then running, I would be getting off a bike I’d glued myself to for 13 miles. And while I had been contemplating cycling, I was aware that I hadn’t actually done any yet. I spent a lot of time watching cyclists from the comfort of my car…the cyclists on the road who I often shouted at, told off for going through red lights, raised my fists at for doing idiotic things and occasionally praised for stopping at red lights for not doing anything idiotic, for taking care. I saw them in a new light. Dare I say it, I almost felt empathy towards them. I wanted to wind down my car window and yell, ‘I’m not just a driver you know, I get the bike thing.’ It was time to stop thinking and start cycling. I had to make the most of my gym membership, my first ride would be on a spin bike, a new spin bike which I had to learn how to use. But not yet. First I had to swim.
After 12 lengths in 13 degree water, delicious water, I could have kept going but I know the rules, once I start to feel comfortable it’s time to get out. Hypothermia sets in fast, and although 13 degrees is not that cold, I knew that if this was the temperature for the triathlon, I would be in a wetsuit. Cold water swimming feels fantastic, but you have to be careful, you have to know all the warning signs. I’ve read several books on amazing cold water swimmers, and when I say cold I mean cold. 13 degrees feels totally balmy compared to the water temperature some of these swimmers step into. Swimming to Antartica by Lynne Cox. Read it if you want to be bowled over by sheer determination and keeping going. But you see what I’m doing, deviating from cycling…
Having completed my 12 lengths, when I stepped out of the pool and crossed reception towards the dry side, I saw a friend who had been watching me. I gave him a cold kiss and mentioned my super sprint triathlon, apologising for not stopping to chat, I was shivering, my skin was bright red and itchy from the cold water AND more importantly I was about to get out of my swim wear and step onto a bike because it was time. But not before he told me this true story. A man turned up for a cycling race with his fold-up bike. All the other cyclists laughed at him, with their shiny road bikes, grown-up road bikes with big wheels. At the end of the race, they all went off to the train station together, and the men with the shiny bikes with big wheels were told they couldn’t take their bikes on that train, they’d have to wait several hours. The man with the fold-up bike pointed to his, oragimi-like in a corner. ‘What about me?’ ‘Oh you’re fine,’ the train supervisor said, ‘fold-up bikes are permitted at all times.’ To which the man with the fold-up bike received a cheer and round of applause from the other cyclists.
It was time.
But first I had to get out of my swim wear and into a set of gym clothes. Lycra bra tops are really REALLY hard to pull down when a) your body is not 100% dry, b) your hands are numb. I had to ask someone for help…I wonder if I can ask for help getting out of my wetsuit or will I be disqualified? Dressed, socks on, trainers on, shivering all the time, long sleeved top on, warm hoodie zipped up, hood over my head, I walked quickly to the gym, set the display on the spin bike and off I went. Well, actually, I didn’t go anywhere, not physically. Mentally I was cycling along country lanes, sun beating down on my skin. Brought back to reality, I looked at myself in the mirror opposite. I resembled the kind of person I wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night in an alley, not a 57 year old would be super sprint triathlete. I continued to shiver. The last time I stupidly went for a swim in water of about 5 degrees and then did a work out, I couldn’t get warm. I was clothed from head to toe, had layer upon layer, wore a woolly hat and gloves was on a cross trainer for over 30 mins and still I shivered. I promised I would never do that again, gym then swim in cold weather, I WOULD NEVER DO IT AGAIN. I was doing it because I had to, I had to get my head into that space where I emerge gracefully from the water, tell myself I am warm, run to my bike and cycle off…what if I shivered for the entire 13 miles? How could I run 5k after that?
The thing about being cold is that in order to warm up, you have to work extra hard. I’ve only ever taken one spin class, I have no idea of the ‘gear’ levels, other than 1 is easy and 12 or more is like cycling through a bog. Not that I have ever cycled through a bog. As I said, there were so many functions, all I cared about was distance and age. I started on level 7 and worked my way up to 9 towards the end. Can I remember how long it took? Did I make a note of how long it took? The good thing was by the time I slipped off the bike, I had warmed up, but I was walking funny…my legs were aching. My legs which carry me everywhere, which are fit and strong, which do 35 mins on a cross trainer two or three times a week, which run and stretch in yoga and pilates, the legs that take me across the pool with no trouble, MY LEGS WERE ACHING and I had only cycled 8k. The thought of running anywhere right at that moment was not appealing. I was exhausted, hot, YES HOT and hungry. It was time for a snack. And in my head I could hear my mum, after I told her I was doing a mini triathlon. ‘Darling you must remember you’re not twenty-five any more.’
Day 4…cycle & run…