Don’t get me wrong, I love running. But when you’re a runner you can easily become distracted (*obsessed*) with each and every run and forget there is a whole new world of other sporting events out there waiting to be discovered. Last year I tried both a duathlon (run, cycle, run) and a very short triathlon (swim, cycle, run). My biggest hurdle to this goal is the fact that I am not very good at swimming. I only faced my fear of putting my head underneath water and learning how to do front crawl two years ago – in swimming terms this is like being a toddler in the pool (especially compared to other triathletes my age who have been swimming for over 30 years). When my youngest daughter finally grasped the front crawl, aged six, I felt shamed into manning up and facing down. I have never looked back.
Do you, like me, watch in awe at how fast triathletes can swim? Unlike these awesome dolphin-esque athletes, I squirm as I swim, grasping at the air and the water like Gollum searching for his precious. And yet I crave my weekly swim as much as I look forward to my next run. The stress relief swimming has provided was completely unexpected. I also love the technical challenge, after all, running is just one foot in front of the other, right? And just because I am not very good at it makes me want to get better.
I knew I had to start small, and so signed up to the new Triathlon Pink series that has come to the UK from Australia, where it has raised over $1million to fight breast cancer. Triathlon Pink (www.triathlonpink.co.uk) offers British women the chance to try out a triathlon in a relaxed, non-competitive and fun environment – and it really does deliver.
The University of Bath provided the stunning backdrop for my event last year; the course wound its way around the university grounds with the swim leg held in the pool at the Sports Training Village. Everything – EVERYTHING – was incredibly well organised. The parts I was worrying about, transition and racking, that left me sleepless the night before, were seamless and thoroughly explained. With hundreds of women gathered in the pool for the first wave, there wasn’t just excitement in the air, but a sense of inspiration. Many women – some in remission, some fighting cancer, some participating in memory of loved ones – were tackling their first triathlons to raise money for Breakthrough Breast Cancer. I felt humbled.
The best thing is you don’t have to be experienced triathlete, and it really doesn’t matter if you don’t have any of the gear. A pair of trainers, a bike (anything goes, including shopping baskets on the front) and a swimming costume will see you round. Looking to the future, and the health of our nation, this event series ensures it offers something for the whole family; Triathlon Pink for the ladies, Triathlon Pink Kids and the Pink Pyjama Fun Run for any men who wanted to be part of the day.
This year I did my local triathlon at Fareham Leisure Centre. I definitely don’t shine in the sport, especially as I didn’t do any bike training, and despite the best of intentions, managed very little swimming leading up to the day. I’d like to say my run was super swift, but it wasn’t. What could I expect, with so little training? I know lots of people at my running club who manage to fit in multiple activities during the training days, whereas I struggle to fit in one bike (not very far) and one swim every week. Over the holidays this reduces to nothing. I don’t expect to get better, even though I wish I would! But it really inspired me to give sea swimming a go. This is truly scary for a swim-phobe like me. So scary I almost cry every time I try it, and yet I love doing it once I get out of the water. The truth is I’m not a water babe, and swimming in the ocean petrifies me; I try not to look in the water for fear of spotting any type of marine-based animal moving towards me. Even though I only swim when the sea is calm and the tide is high, open water swimming remains a massive challenge. This is exactly why I keep trying it. Earlier in the summer I tried an aquathlon in a local lake, but pulled out half way round the first (very short) lap. I was so cross at myself I nearly broke down and spent the whole evening going over and over why I just couldn’t swim in water that is shallow enough for me to stand up in. Obviously there was no question as I have an irrational fear of water.
So I have forced myself to swim in the sea, cautiously and with my lovely triathlon-busting friends David and Sandra close by. The first few times Sandra suggested I try to swim out to the local buoy and back I said no way. It looked like it was miles away – half way to the Isle of Wight at least. In fact there and back is only about 8 or 900metres. So when I last went out, and said “Let’s go for it” I was trying to do something I never have thought I could achieve. And yet I’ve done it now. There was a bit of a swell on the way out, and I did start to struggle as we got near to the buoy, but the tide was with us, which greatly helped in ensuring I didn’t make a complete fool of myself. I still haven’t conquered an open-water triathlon; I’ve got lots of opportunity during the rest of the summer to give one a try. I keep stalling though.
A lot of us runners are reluctant to try new events – after all, we love running so much we wonder if there is any more room in our lives to love anything else. And yet the more you cross-train your body, the less injured you are likely to become, and the longer you will hopefully be able to continue running, enjoying improvement and strength and not the disappointment of recurring niggles. Something I have always dreamed of doing, I have now achieved, and it really wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be. Well it was, but I did it anyway. I bet there are lots of you reading this who were pretty good at swimming when you were younger. If you gave yourself a chance to reconnect to the sport, and then mix up your training with the odd cycle, as well as your running training, I know you would be sooooo much better at triathlon than I ever could be.
Questions: Have you done a triathlon? Is triathlon something you fancy giving a try? What’s holding you back from giving it a go?