Every triathlete shares something in common, apart from their obvious love of the sport. You don’t get very far in it if you don’t love it. No, I mean that the one thing we all have in common is that every single one of us comes in to the sport from a completely different way.
I’m sure if we all think about it we can remember when we made that decision to actually give it a go. Maybe not the exact date, but that very specific moment when it became a “thing” and you took a turn that lead you on to the path you’re now on.
For me it was April 2008. I was at the gym and it was sunny. I’d been lifting weights for a while, and gradually lifting more and more. I’d become a little bit bored with lifting just to lift. I wasn’t entering a competition, nor was I getting any bigger. There really was no point to it for me. I was taking a break and flicking through several of the magazines in the waiting area and the third one in was a triathlon magazine.
I’d read a bit about the sport back in 2003 in a couple of small articles in fitness magazines, but I knew very little about it other than it seemed ever so slightly mental! At that moment in the gym I was looking for a new way to train, to keep in shape without losing upper body strength. Triathlon seemed to fit the bill. I thought it was a good idea to start training as a triathlete. I still had no plans to actually do one, but the training in three sports appeared to be a good way to break the boredom I was feeling.
There were a few little problems with that though. 1) I had only ever swum breast stroke, and not very well at that. 2) I didn’t have a bike. 3) I had no idea where to start with training. These problems were there to be overcome, and I set about tackling them one at a time.
My girlfriend’s brother had a bit of a fitness fad a few years before. He was a keen cyclist at the time, and had actually raced a triathlon in his teens. He leant me a couple of books that would prove very helpful. One was a book on triathlon training and the other was a book on swimming, Total Immersion. Using those books I began to teach myself how to swim freestyle and train like a triathlete. I have to admit I did feel stupid the first few times I tried to swim. I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to swim freestyle, but week by week I made improvements and felt fitter and stronger. As I still didn’t have a bike I used the stationary bikes at the gym.
Finally I picked up a very cheap second hand battered Apollo road bike and my love of blasting the open road began. I had no actual cycling gear other than helmet, just a regular pair of shorts. I didn’t care, in my head I was a triathlete.
Bit by bit I achieved the distances and then came that moment when I decided to actually compete in a real-life triathlon. I picked a local race for the following year and trained hard. Riding home from work one evening a car jumped a junction and smashed in to my right hand side, snapping both wheels, bending several bits and pieces and sending my flying. After recovering from the concussion I secured a set of replacement wheels and unbent bits and was back at it only to then be involved in a car accident when another car pulled out without looking a few weeks out from my scheduled race. I was gutted. 11 weeks off work, physio sessions to get me using my arm and hand again and nearly a year of not really being able to train at all. I couldn’t even walk without being in pain for 2 months.
Being confident I could do the distances but not being sure I could do them all together I thought it would be a good idea to do a couple of solo practice races. I did the swim at the pool, dropped my stuff at home then went out on the bike, coming back and running laps around the block. I did 2 of them 2 weeks apart. Now I knew I could do it. There was still the small matter of doing it with a whole load of other people though!
The Cycle To Work scheme was a lucky break. I got my first ever brand new bike, a £800 Trek 1.5 that was the most awesome thing I’d ever seen. I also picked up my first set of lycra cycle kit and bike shoes. The first time I put that very snug outfit on I didn’t think I’d be able to go out in public! Oh, and the first time I tried using my cleats I fell off. On a sunny Saturday afternoon. At a busy crossing. There was plenty of people.
And so came race day. I turned up with my nice new bike (with a scuffed fork thanks to my previously mentioned crossing incident), racked my bike for the very first time, laid out my kit and realised I didn’t have any way of attaching my numbers. I didn’t have a number belt and a very nice guy handed me a few safety pins. I took my place in the line by the pool (thankfully a pool swim to get me started) and waited. I’m pretty sure I was the only one there without a trisuit, just my trusty speedos and I didn’t care. Completed the swim, ran in to transition and put my cycling gear over the top of me speedos and off I went again. I had no gels, just a large flapjack broken in to thirds. No fancy fuelling for this novice! And coming back in to transition I stripped off the cycling gear and on went a pair of shorts and t-shirt. My number was pinned to the wrong side too.
I crossed that line having given everything I had. I was a triathlete and proud of it. I finished in the top third which I didn’t think was that bad really. And then began my love affair with the sport. I hadn’t grown up being particularly sporty, I’d taught myself to swim, how to ride a road bike and I took it upon myself to know what I needed to know.
The point of all this waffling is this. You don’t need fancy kit, fancy bike or fancy training plan to be a triathlete. I’ve seen plenty of people racing with mountain bikes. Don’t put obstacles in your way. You need a bike. You need something to swim in. You need something to run in. And most of all you need the attitude. That’s it.
I still have the same bike, and it’s done an awful lot of miles and plenty of races including iron-distance. My first wetsuit for an open water race was a friend’s old windsurfing wetsuit and I paid £20 for it. IT didn’t fit all that well and the high neck meant I had one hell of a chafing rash on the back of my neck, but it did the job.
My advice to anyone even thinking about a triathlon is to go for it. If you’re thinking about it, you’re ready to do it. Don’t get caught up in all the unnecessary stuff. Just go out there and have an awesome time doing a sport that a lot of people still think they can’t do.