I Am A Trying Afflete

I’d intended to blog about the Easter Beginners’ Triathlon in Newham on Sunday when I got home from it but triathlons are exhausting and I fell asleep. I was still knackered in the evening when I had another go at it but I couldn’t think straight. I suppose it was fair enough because I couldn’t swim straight in the morning. I was tucked up in bed by 8:30 last night and comatose ten minutes later. I was still wiped when the cat stood on my head at five this morning. I haven’t been so completely ruined by a race since my first half marathon in Edinburgh in 2011.

I was late arriving. Of course I was. I put off leaving for two reasons, neither of them particularly legitimate. I was replying to an email which probably could have waited until I got back. I also didn’t really want to arrive too early and have time to get nervous. Registration closed at 9:45am and I rocked up just after 9:30am. I’ve found in my extensive racing career that if you want to compete, you really need to enter the race. I’d been wittering on about doing this race for weeks but had somehow forgotten to enter it until Thursday. I sent the organisers a text and got a reply saying that I should hand-deliver my entry to their office in Stratford. I was busy taking Anne up to Nottingham that day but I had time to do it on Friday. Which was a bank holiday. Which meant the office was closed when I rocked up. I popped the entry through the letterbox and hoped for the best.

I didn’t really have time to worry about it because of the TORQ Trail Team day on Saturday. When I arrived to register at Newham Leisure Centre on Sunday morning, they hadn’t received my entry. I offered to help out instead. I was terrified of making an arse of myself in the race but Corral said that I’d brought all my kit so I should go ahead. She gave me an entry and I’m glad and grateful that she did. I had time to listen to the first part of the race briefing before I went to rack my bike. I set up my first transition there with my towel on which I would dry my feet, my arm warmers and gilet to keep me warm on my bike and my bike shoes and run shoes. I faffed a bit doing all that and missed the next bit of the race briefing. I’d regret that.

The other competitors were sorting out their first transitions outside the pool when I went to rejoin them so I pulled my carefully-arranged transition apart and set it up again right under a lamppost. I thought I’d be disoriented when I came out of the pool so I picked a huge landmark I’d be able to find easily. I asked one of the organisers about this and she said that they didn’t want to have competitors run round the outside of the building to their bikes in their bare feet. I wouldn’t have minded. I’m hard, me. I went to get changed once I’d arranged my T1. I’d left my running shoes by my bike. That’s the bit I would come to regret.

I had time to get nervous once I’d got changed into my trisuit. I was one of only two people in such fancy gear. Everybody else was in swimming trunks. Most of the blokes were in baggy shorts. Some of the youngsters were in more streamlined gear. I distracted myself by talking to some of the other competitors and to the dad of one of the boys. He wanted to see his son compete but had to leave to go to work. He was immensely proud of what his son was going to do.

The competitors were set off in waves of three or four, juniors first. My wave was due to start at 11:10am. We were supposed to wait outside the pool but it was far too cold for me to do that so I hung around near the start area and tried to look inconspicuous. It was hard to do, given I was in my body condom. I was watching the other swimmers looking for last minute tips. Nearly everyone set off in front crawl but quite a lot of people didn’t manage to get to the end of their swim still doing their crawl. The juniors only had to do 50m. I was in the Challenge event and I had 200m to do. One of the marshals was waving a huge white board under the water at the end of the lane when each swimmer had done 150m to let him know he only had a couple of lengths to do.

I got into the water when the last of the swimmers from the previous wave had cleared the pool. I swam a few strokes to reassure myself that I still knew how to swim. I was surprisingly calm. The starter set us off. There were four of us in the 11:10 wave. The only other bloke in a trisuit was one of us and I think he was the one who shot off into the distance. I was right against the side of the pool for the first couple of lengths until I managed to get ahead of the young man beside me. I took the decision not to try bilateral breathing. It was causing me stress when I was practicing it and I just wanted to get through the swim in one piece. I was concentrating instead on slowing down my stroke and relaxing. The swim was over quickly. I lost count and didn’t notice the huge white board being waved under my nose at 150m. I had to check with the marshal that I was finished. I hauled myself out of the pool by the steps and headed out to T1.

I pulled on the bike shoes, gilet and armwarmer remarkably quickly for a change and trit-trotted round to my bike where I put my helmet on. I pulled my bike out the rack and headed over to the bike start line. The marshal gave me the go-ahead to start. I couldn’t clip in. It wasn’t happening. I tried the left pedal. Nothing. I tried with the crank at the bottom and then at the top and it still wasn’t happening. Half a minute had passed at least. I tried the other pedal. Still nothing. I was buggered. The marshal was asking me if I had problems. I wanted to scream. I just pushed off and used the wrong side of the pedals to get going. Finally first the left cleat then the right one clicked home and I was off and rolling.

We were cycling round the outside lanes of the Newham athletics track. I forgot how to operate the gears on my bike. It took the best part of half a lap to remember how everything works and hit my pace. I had to do twelve laps and I kept track by counting to myself all the way round each lap. “One, One, One, One. Two, Two…” I was moving quite quickly. Mine was one of only a handful of road bikes. There were lots of mountain bikes there and even one or two BMXes. I lapped one bloke about three times. On the final straight I dropped off the big ring and started spinning my legs hard to get them working for my run and tried to unclip. Then I tried again going round the last bend. And again on the way to the line. I had to cling onto a barrier and struggle for valuable seconds to get my shoes out of the pedals. It took forever. For ever. And my running shoes were the best part of 100m away. I briefly considered running the 1,200m barefoot but one of my toes was bleeding already.

I ran back to get my running shoes and swapped over to them. The best that can be said of my run was that I didn’t get overtaken. One of the guys I’d overtaken on my bike was 10m ahead of me and I thought I’d easily overhaul him again and pull away but my legs just refused to co-operate. I tried shortening my stride and upping my cadence and I got slower. I tried lengthening my stride a bit and got slower again. The man ahead was 30m away now and dropping me. On our second lap, he stopped to tie his laces and I closed him down again but he dropped me easily. I had nothing left. At least there was nobody behind me to make me look even slower.

I crossed the line at the end of my third lap and received my medal. I was chatting to the marshals and timekeepers at the finishing line when I saw one young man walking at the other end of the finishing straight. I thought I’d go and run in with him. I encouraged him to start running but he stopped running again after another 200m. I was doing all I could to get him moving again even running backwards ahead of him. I found out that his name was Robbie. He started running again as he crossed the line for his final lap and began to drop me. Instead of clinging desperately on to him I headed across the D to the finishing line to welcome him in. Robbie was still running strongly on his final bend.

Robbie was typical of the competitors. He was giving it everything to finish. It was an excellent event. The organisers have lots to be proud of. They had forty or so people out on Easter Sunday morning swimming, cycling and running when they could have been giving themselves a chocolate coma. I loved the event. The atmosphere reminded me of a parkrun. It was warm and supportive. If you get a chance to try one of Keep it Simple’s events, do so. I’m looking forward to the next one. They may be able to use the Olympic Park next year and that will be very special .

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