Like most people, without the obligation of school sports, and less again the excellence to pursue sports to a professional level, my post-school fitness regime had diminished considerably.
Ten years on from school, it was time to test myself. It was time to complete a triathlon.
Comprising of a fifteen hundred-metre ocean swim, a forty-kilometre cycle, and finally a ten-kilometre run, I had my work cut out for me.
After a brief consultation with Dave, the team had doubled to two members, and two days after that, we had eight. However, after a realisation of the amount of training required, we ended up with four committed members. Dave, Porridge, Polky and myself.
Our united goal; to complete a triathlon without stopping or walking.
Sipping on a beer at the Manly Wharf Hotel days before Christmas, Dave and I decided to address our much-needed training schedule. Our race was in late March, but without bikes, our training was going to be difficult.
Glancing out onto a glistening Sydney Harbour, the approaching ferry gave Dave an idea.
“Lets treat ourselves!”
“What do you mean?” I asked
“Lets get on the ferry, head into the city and do some bike shopping!”
“Well it is Christmas I guess. Great!”
Half an hour later, we had caught the ferry from Manly into the city and had decided to refresh ourselves with the first of many more beers that afternoon.
One and a half hours after that, we stumbled into the Clarence Street Cyclery, a well established bike shop.
Ironically, I had just finished a beer as I chatted to the salesman about the sacrifices triathletes have to make in the name of training. In the background, Dave had commandeered a shiny red bike, and was dangerously navigating it around the clothes and apparel isles within the shop. Needless to say, he crashed shortly after mounting the bike. Giggling on the ground, he looked up to the bemused salesman and claimed
“I’ll take it!”
Moments later we left the shop with two identical bikes. We were now ready to start training and what better time than the present. The day was young and we decided it best to cycle home in an attempt to familiarise ourselves with our newest purchases. We would simply ride home along the same route that we would drive by car.
Having never ridden bikes through the Sydney CBD before, avoiding cars and pedestrians proved testing, but once on the freeway, we felt more comfortable. It was only half way across the Sydney Harbour Bridge however that we noticed that there were no other cyclists on the road. We were the only ones. In fact it then dawned on me that I’d never seen a cyclist on this road.
“Isn’t there a cycle lane we should be in?” I asked Dave,
The answer was yes. We should have been on the ‘cycle lane’, a completely sperate road designed for cyclists specifically. But it was too late, and not only were we cycling in what was now peak-hour traffic, but every passing car was beeping their horn at us in anger. I looked around and saw a long row of cars trailing us.
With no other option than to continue, we finally made it to end of the bridge, where we gladly made use of the first turn-off from the highway. Embarrassed, we stopped at the first pub in North Sydney and calmed our nerves with a beer.
In total, it took us three hours to get home. In this time, I managed to crash my bike in an attempt to mount a curb, and Dave figured out to use down-change his gears. Success. The cuts on my feet and hands delayed my training by one further week.
None the less, we now had bikes. We also had only 3 months until our race.I soon found a triathlon training schedule on-line. Aimed at first-timers, the twelve-week program seemed ideal, so I emailed the three others hoping to inspire our training.Due to location and work schedules, the four of us within our team couldn’t train together. Polky lived up in Queensland, and Porride, Dave and myself lived down in Sydney. Although we trained alone, we did regularly talk over the phone to keep tabs on each other. Slowly but surely, it seemed that a little bit of male competitiveness was sneaking in to the routine.
If Dave had been for a run, I made sure that I had gone for one just as long. Polky had the privilege of training at the site of the actual event in Queensland and so we would pick his brains for any tips and advice on how to get a competitive edge on race day. Make sure you can run up big hills, he would tell us. However, no matter how hard we trained, none of us could get a body like Porridge. He was dropping weight daily and toning his muscles incredibly. On looks alone, it was a race for second place between the rest of us.
It took only two weeks for us to admit that the training had become too much! Polky generated a hatred of training, Porridge realised that he needed a bike and Dave and I had developed what we thought to be a concentrated bout of chronic fatigue syndrome! We were training every day and had no time for anything else!
We had been training nine times a week and had spent in excess of two hours on a bikes per session. We were not cut out for this! Who is?
From this point, we realised we weren’t going to break any records, and so instead concentrated on our mission; to finish a triathlon without stopping or walking.
In the pool, I felt more comfortable. Dave however, didn’t, so we decided to join a swim squad. Aside from a few runs and bike rides, this was the only time that we got to train together. Twice a week, we would jump in the pool and spend an hour trying not to drown. By the end of our twelve-week training program, we had both made big steps; Dave’s swimming had improved amazingly, and I felt comfortable wearing speedo’s in public spaces. On weekends, we would meet at Manly in the morning and do a kilometre ocean swim, occasionally lucky enough to spot a baby shark along the way. These Dusky Whalers were harmless, but naturally we joked that one day we would be stranded five hundred metres off shore with a Great White Shark circling us.
These jokes quickly became actual concerns as in February, only weeks before our triathlon, there were three confirmed shark attacks in Sydney. One surfer in Bondi lost his hand; a navy diver also lost a hand as well as a leg in Sydney Harbour and a third boy was bitten on his thigh whilst surfing at Avalon Beach. Manly sat centrally to all three locations, and naturally our ocean swimming became less frequent. If brave enough to jump in the ocean, we tended to swim no more than a few metres from the shore, occasionally beaching ourselves if we caught the slightest glimpse of anything other than water. Seaweed had never been so feared.
Porridge joined our swim squad half way through our training schedule. This I think made Dave feel better as Porridge was often found waving his arms in the air whilst inhaling large amounts of water.
Polky had improved out of sight, constantly telling us of his fifteen hundred metre swims!
My body had become too comfortable with jogging up and down the beach, and I found it hard to up the distance. Soon, I got into the habit of leaving my car at friend’s houses over night just so I had to run and get it in the morning.
One day I made the mistake of training with Lowsy, a friend of mine who runs marathons.
“Lets run around the damn!” he suggested one day
“Sounds good to me!” I replied.
The damn was almost eight kilometres around, and this I could handle. However I didn’t plan on having to first run to the damn from Lowsy’s house, and then run back. That particular sixteen-kilometre excursion put me out of action for another week.
I used to be one of those drivers who would see a pack of cyclists on the road, and roll my eyes at them in disgust. I always though that Lycra bike pants, matching muscle shirts and teardrop headwear belonged only in gay clubs. How times change.
I soon discovered that in a busy city, it’s sometimes quicker to cycle somewhere than drive there. As the days ticked by, I became more comfortable on my bike and soon I began to enjoy racing the cars through traffic. Dave would often remind me to be less reckless, telling me that
cars rarely observe for cyclists. He was genuinely concerned about my safety. Ironically though, it was Dave who was actually hit by a car.
Firstly, let me say that he was not seriously hurt, in fact far from it. Secondly, due to the prior point, let me say that we all had a good laugh at him.
From his account of the event, Dave remembers being at a zebra crossing on his bike, when a car ignored the stop sign and collided with him at about thirty kilometres an hour. Instantly he found himself floundering across the bonnet of a car, before sliding off the edge as the female driver slammed on her breaks. Lastly, he remembers gazing back up at the car and noticing a smashed windscreen and a severely damaged quarter panel. A distressed lady approached him asking if he needed an ambulance, to which he declined. In a state of confusion he then mounted his bike again and continued his ride to my house. Walking in the front door, he announced,
“I just got hit by a car”
There was no doubt that Dave had been hit by a car, but judging by the size of the bruise on his left hip, I couldn’t help but wonder if the car was perhaps remote controlled?
He was lucky.29th March, 2009- Race Day
Loud music bellows from the living room of our two-bedroom apartment in Mooloolaba, waking Dave and I. We open the door to the living room to find a chisel-bodied Porridge psyching himself up by dancing around a table. We suspect he has overdosed on caffeine pills. He has a banana in one hand and a tub of Vaseline in the other. Perhaps Porridge mistook Triathlon for Body Building Competition?
The three of us leave our apartment and head for the start line. Sporting the official Mooloolaba Triathlon kit, we blend into an early morning mix of four thousand athletes. It’s still dark, but our florescent uniforms help with lighting. I am nervous as hell. Have I trained enough?
Ocean swim is moved into nearby estuary due to massive surf. I remember watching a documentary about Bull Sharks breeding in estuaries. We meet up with Polky who seems anxious. I need the toilet.
I calculate the likelihood of being eaten by a bull shark is slim amongst so many people.6.00am
Race officially starts with first wave of athletes diving into the water. We all start at separate times meaning that we can’t race each other. Probably a good thing.6.07am
I dive into water amongst the fourth wave of athletes. The water is murky and I find myself stuck in the middle of a pack of fifty athletes. Elbows, feet and fists furiously pump through the water. This isn’t like the pool training Dave and I had done! We would have been better off wrestling each other to prepare for this!
The pack has spread out and I find I’m swimming comfortably with two other guys. One other joins us from behind and he keeps touching my feet with every stroke. Why doesn’t he just overtake me? He then grabs my foot and yanks me backwards. I am furious and yell at him. If I wasn’t so bloody tired I would have made sure he stopped and listened.
I exit the water in the top half of our pack, but my legs are burning. I wish I knew who was responsible for grabbing my foot! The 400 m run to the bike racks is hard and slow. I run past a friend who is a spectator, he urges me on by yelling, “Run you fat prick!”
A quick drink of water and I frantically put my shoes on, as well as my racing singlet. My legs are recovering as blood starts to pump again. I run with my bike through the exit gates and begin a 40km cycle.
I thought this was meant to be a flat bike circuit. I feel like I’m ascending Everest. My legs hate me. I hate my legs. A photographer on the side of the road snaps a shot of me and I wonder how much pain is visible.
Finally I hit the freeway, and I feel amazingly good. I begin to pass slower athletes and remember riding across the harbour bridge 3 months prior. I laugh at myself.
An athlete passes me at a speed that embarrasses me! His bike is from the future, and his calf muscles are carved from granite. I feel very average again.
Disaster! I look at back tyre and see that its three quarters flat! Have I got a puncture or did I just not pump it up properly that morning. After five minutes, I realise it’s the latter reason. I’m just an idiot! Shit!
I must have passed about twenty people with punctured tyres. They are slowly ambling back to the start line, some walking from fifteen kilometres away! I feel lucky to have a two in tact tyres at least.
I reach the twenty-kilometre mark. My bike feels fast! I feel like my training has allowed me to peak for this very day! All I have to do is turn around and head back to where I came from …. Oh shit! That head wind is immense! That’s why I felt so good for the first half!
I ride past Porridge riding in the opposite direction and let out a big yeeeeeeeeeeeeooooooowwwww sound. He’s still on the first half of the bike leg. He must have struggled in the swim. Bloody Body Builder! That’ll teach him for making me look fat in front of girls!
Ride past Dave as well who lets out a similar noise in my direction.
I slow down on approach to the bike rack again. I know that I’m only moment away from having to run 10 kilometres, and I feel exhausted. I get off my bike, and almost fall over. I can’t feel my legs! I leave my bike and again exit the area heading for the run course.
Still no sign of my legs, not sure where they’ve gone. I’m running on memory alone. I see friends in the crowd and attempt to smile. Instead I dribble on myself.
The first sign of feeling in my legs comes by way of cramp in my right calf. I slow down slightly to assess the pain. It’s intense, but I can’t stop. I prey it just goes! I suddenly become emotional fearing that I can’t continue. It’s killing me!
I don’t know how, but the cramping stops. I feel very lucky, until I see the hill that Polky that must have been talking about. It’s in front of me, and I instantly hate it. It’s stretches up into the sky. I start the climb.
That was hard! I reach the summit and make use of the down hill that’s now ahead of me. I try and stretch my legs down the hills, but every time I push myself, pins and needles shoot through the stomach and chest, so I have to slow again.
I see a large sign on the side of the road. It reads “2km- keep going!” 2km! Is that all? I thought it might be 5km! This is the hardest part of the entire race. If I was going to stop, it would be now, but I don’t. I keep going, constantly making mental comparisons to my training runs; That’s like running from my house to my Mum’s house!
By this stage I’ve come to terms with ladies overtaking me. I just accept it. I swallow my ego with a cup of water that a marshall hands me as I run past. My body won’t allow me to push harder, and my mind won’t allow me to slow. I’m just there.8.30am
I see Porridge again as he runs past me in the opposite direction. I run over to centre barrier and high five him as we pass.8.34am
Another bloody hill!
I swear never to do another triathlon.
I pass an 8km sign and realise that I’m near to completing this triathlon. I try and up the pace and I manage it, just slightly. I look ahead to one more hill climb. It’s the most daunting. A mobile DJ plays loud music, willing people up the hill. I think I remember The Venga Boys tune. I wish it were the Rocky theme tune.
I am now talking to myself subconsciously. You can do this! I know I can! Well don’t tell me! Fine! I am on the final decline, which then leads to the final straight.
My body is truly being tested. I can’t even find the energy to sprint the last fifty metres. I run towards a large stop-watch suspended above the finish line. It says 3:00.00. My mind is too tired to calculate what this means.
I DID IT! I jog very slowly through the finish line. There is no tape to break (that was done hours ago by professional athletes). I don’t think I would have the strength to burst through tape anyway; it probably would have knocked me over!
My body is letting me know it’s worked hard. I feel sleepy, excited, fatigued, beaten and pregnant all at the same time.9.15am
I greet Porridge as he crosses the finish line. We embrace and accept that we are too tired to converse.10.15am
No sign of Dave or Polky. I fear that Polky may have given up.
Porridge and I decide to walk back to our apartment. We open the door to our apartment to find Dave and Polky sprawled on the couches. They still have their uniforms on.
“So, we all finished?” I probed.
“Of course!” said Polky.
“Of course not!”
We had done it.
We had all finished the triathlon with stopping or walking.
It had been a long journey, but one which was completely satisfying. We high-fived each other and then took a moment to contemplate our achievement. The silence was broken after only a few seconds by the most obvious of questions,
“So, who do you think got the best time?”
Somehow, we worked out that Polky came fourth, Porridge came third, Dave came second and I came first.
I was happy, but to be honest, it didn’t matter.
Later that day, Dave got the official times on-line. Polky was indeed the slowest. In fact out of 4000 athletes, he came second last. In a humorous twist, it turned out that Polky actually knew the person who came third last, and that person knew the person who came dead last. The last I heard, the three of them were catching up for lunch.
Porridge did in fact come in third place, and in a very decent time.
I had been demoted to second place in a time I was really happy with, and Dave took out the line honours. He was over the moon. He beat me by four minutes overall.
Note: In an ongoing argument, which will never end, I soon remembered that my tyre had been flat. Due to this fact, I still claim that over forty kilometres, this would have slowed me down by four minutes and one second.
What’s on your list?