As my first sprint tri approaches (yes, I’m doing two), I signed up for a novice training session at Crystal Palace, where the event will take place on May 14th. A couple of Sundays ago, I headed off on my bike for the 4-hour novice tri training session. I was by far the oldest, even the instructor was younger than me, although he was sure he was older. Several of the group had run marathons or were super speedy swimmers and accomplished cyclists. I am pretty average at all three sports. Pretty average is an okay place to be. Or so I thought.
I set off with my usual gusto, cycling along mostly flat roads, until I reached a hill that I have cycled before. Twice. Apparently lots of really good, really competitive cyclists ride up and down this hill at night to train. Once a month is enough for me. When I reached the top, Crystal Palace would be opposite, on the other side of a main road. However, as I approached the top of the hill I decided to stop and take a moment. It’s often the moments that count. I unclipped my left cleat, all good, I had been practicing. In order to turn right onto the main road, I would have to cycle into the middle of the lane, wait by a traffic island and then turn when the road was clear. Of course I hadn’t bargained on unclipping my right foot, because we drive and cycle on the left, so I automatically stop on the left and unclip on the left. When I cycled to the traffic island, I couldn’t unclip my right foot and toppled over, in a rather spectacular yet graceful way, falling onto my right side, cutting both knees. Miraculously my running pants were intact! I burst out laughing, because all my cycling friends had said, you’ll fall over at some point with your cleats…but did it have to be right at the top of College Road, opposite Crystal Palace…in full view of everyone. I bounced back and off I went, only to do it again later on in a cul de sac at the race meeting. Someone else fell too – we were both a little bit happier that we were not alone. Our coach was on hand to give me two plasters and that was before the session had started. I’m glad I fell among people I felt comfortable with and not during my first tri when there was every chance I’d be run over by hundreds of eager triathletes on foot and two wheels.
The bike session was great, a simple tour of the route, talking us through gear changes, again help was on hand from more experienced cyclists, although it would be completely different with hundreds of cyclists and runners all vying for a top place and those like me just wanting to finish without needing oxygen. We rode in a group, up steep hills and down fantastically sloping ones, the rush of air cooling our hot bodies. It was thrilling, exciting and just a little bit scary.
A couple of us wanted to wear our tri suits. For those who don’t know (or care) what a tri suit is, it’s an all in one, which you wear for everything, so there’s no need to change. There’s padding for cycling and Lycra for swimming and running, tri suits dry fast and they have back pockets for snacks! Though they do not hold you in, so a swimming costume underneath is preferable. You’ve seen the Brownlee brothers swimming in wetsuits, only to remove them to reveal their tri suits. I’d tried mine on in December when Stella bought it for me. It felt great, so why now, in the huge Crystal Palace changing room was it choking me. I lifted my hand to my neck, I went into a panic, there was no way I could swim, cycle or run in this, I could barely breathe. And then, while I was trying to work out what on earth I would do and whether it was too late to pull out of the entire tri, another woman on the session, also wearing a tri suit, said, I think it’s supposed to zip up at the front.
Even though I am a newish and competent swimmer I knew that there would be much endurance training ahead of me. I also discovered that doing sport with others makes me competitive and I am not competitive. Other people make me want to go faster, which is not necessarily a good thing.
After teaching us how to propel ourselves forward, we swam several lengths. We were then told that our 15 lengths would start at one end of the pool and end in the last lane at the other end of the pool, meaning we would have to swim down then up the same lane until we swam 15 lengths, then walk slowly on the slippery pool side and, once outside, run to transition. Somehow I would have to touch the end of a lane and propel myself under the thick, hard plastic cordon that separates the lanes, bash my head against the hard plastic and then continue down and up that lane, with more head bashing until I reached the last lane in the pool. Trying to propel yourself under hard plastic, when only one foot can find the wall of the pool proved a total disaster. I’ve tried it since, I still can’t do it. The maxim tri tri tri again has a totally new meaning for me. In my case try, give up, practice and hope for the best.
Having changed into running gear, we headed out into the brilliant afternoon sunshine to run part way of the route and see where it would take us. It was roughly the same as the bike route, except it wasn’t as long. We have to cycle nine times around the bike route and run twice (taking in a car park to make up the 5k), ending up in the track, THE TRACK, where we will be welcomed by a crowd of mostly strangers, and end our tri by running one and a half times around THE TRACK, before collapsing and saying never again.
Exhaustion set in. Fatigue arrived. This was only the novice training session.
I’m glad I signed up for this because really, I wouldn’t have had a clue on the day, I would have panicked and probably gone home. This gave me the chance to see who I was up against, that it really didn’t matter if I came last, because I am not an elite athlete or a pro, I am not training to break my own record because I don’t have a record to break. If I get through it before sunset I will be delighted. If I get through it without damaging myself I will be more delighted. If I get through it without damaging someone else, even better.
Of course this is the first of two sprint triathlons. The second is in July when I will do the same all over again, except in the middle of London and swim in a wetsuit in the Thames. I have a whole new set of hurdles to deal with but to conquer my fear of open water swimming, I have signed up for a session in a reservoir in Stoke Newington one Saturday morning in May at 7.30am.
Oh, and I have joined Windrush, the local triathletes, which means more new gear and apparently lots of cake and jelly beans. Now I can train with them whenever I like. So far I have been to the velodrome using my road bike, a very different experience to riding fixies (fixed gear no brakes) on the same track, which I do most Thursday mornings. And because I’ve been going to the velodrome since Oct, I was confident and for once knew what I was doing and that felt fantastic. Today I was up at six for an hour’s endurance swim session in a Clapham pool, a new venue for me. I lost £1 in a locker that had no key, and having no other change, a man came to my rescue and gave me his £1. Newbie nerves, we all have them, the first of anything is the worst. I become clumsy and say stupid things and act as if I don’t know anything. And for some reason I have to tell people my age as a pre-requisite to my impending leisurely stroke/run/cycle rate, as if that is a good enough excuse not to be as fast as the rest.
This morning’s session was in a 25m pool and I am used to a 50m pool, so why was it so hard? When the lovely coach said, right let’s do a warm up – 100 freestyle, breaststroke and backstroke, I assumed she meant 100 lengths of each and again, I went into a panic, until I realized that I would be there all day! Although I’ve never tried backstroke until today, I was helped by a young woman in my lane, another member of Windrush, who told me how to count to the end of the lane once I reach the second lot of flags. And suddenly it all felt okay.
Ageing does make us slow down and takes its toll on us in different ways. We’re not as fast, our joints ache, injuries take longer to heal, fatigue sets in sooner. It’s just the way it is. I’m not old, but I am older and slower than the younger triathletes. They have all been totally supportive and no one has looked at me as if I am some middle-aged loon, trying to recapture my youth and prove I am as good as them. I’m not. And that is okay. I am enjoying this journey because I know it won’t last. I want to experience it all and do it all, push myself and try to be the best I can. And if I fail, well, so what? I can always do it all over again next year…
One thought on “Tri Tri Tri again.”
Your desire and focus and commitment are wonderful and motivating. Presumably the roads will be closed on race day so no need to worry about unclipping. Think you’ll learn loads of great tips from your new Tri Club chums.
It is sooooooo exciting! #GoShelley