7/12/2021 | Andrew Tracey
We recently published our ‘5 Step Guide’ to absolutely nailing your New Year’s Resolution, in which I laid out my case in my defence of this time honoured tradition, swimming upstream against current popular thinking.
Off the back of the piece, I thought it prudent to share with you one of my own, personal New Year’s traditions, and a story surrounding how it came to be, and what it has since evolved into.
So, without further fanfare (a sentence which acts as an apt summary to the tradition), I give you ‘The Cowboy Triathlon’
Three is the magic number.
There’s a dogeared old book on a shelf in my house, the red of the text on the spine washed out and discoloured from years of sitting in view of the sun. Before it sat here, it had a similar resting place, gathering dust in the house I grew up in. It’s simply titled ‘Triathlon’. It’s authorship most likely predates my birth and every year, for as long as I can remember, I’ve leafed through the pages with a stirring curiosity.
The sport itself has always held a certain allure to me, it’s difficult enough to master any sporting discipline, let alone three, let alone three in quick succession including quick outfit changes, equipment swaps and the the biggest terrain switch imaginable, moving from the sea to Terra Firma and then from the mechanical advantage of a well tuned bicycle to the comparative inefficiency of the primordial shoe lace express.
Many, many times over the past few years I’ve discussed the logistics of training for and competing in an organised event, but with most of my training built around lifting weights in a time crunched fashion, the antithesis of endurance training, the idea always seemed to ebb away. This year however, in an effort to clear my mind of flighty thoughts and wistful pondering, I’ve very much adopted the mantra of ‘pull the trigger or put the gun away’, so when the sun bleached pages of Dad’s book caught my eye towards the end of 2019, I decided to cock back and shoot straight from the hip.
Bite off more than you can chew, there are remedies for indigestion.
It’s becoming somewhat of a New Year’s Day tradition for me to tackle a task I’m comically unprepared for, on the 1st of January 2019, before sunrise, I strapped myself to a sled loaded up to my own bodyweight. I completed a half marathon drag, with the aim of providing myself with some perspective as to what ‘tough’ feels like, in the year to come, so it seemed on brand to saddle up for what, now joined by my brother, we were branding as ‘The Cowboy Triathlon’, on 1/1. I made some enquiries, eventually finding a local hotel pool that would be open, mapped out a course, pumped up the tires on our woefully unsuitable downhill mountain bikes, and conceding there was little more we could do in terms of preparation, headed out to join in the NYE revelry.
After a short three hours of sleep, punctuated by nervous thoughts of the morning ahead, no doubt exacerbated by the amount of caffeine it takes to get through a New Year’s party as a non drinker, we loaded our bikes into the van and set off, noting that this was the first time I’ve paid any real attention to just how heavy my mountain bike is.
It doesn’t matter how many old ladies lap you, as long as you keep swimming.
To dispel any accusations of a misleading premise, I’ll preface the swim by having the record indicate that I do have some background in the sport. In 1997 at the age of 9, I swam a mile in aid of a cancer charity. This may well have been the last time I undertook any aquatic activities, beyond shallow water snorkelling to stave off heat stroke. Nevertheless, as I cut my first few strokes through the pool, I was immediately confronted with the fact that this ‘training’, was in fact not going to cut it.
To my surprise though, through a mixture of steady breaststroke with controlled breath work and the odd sporadic burst of amateur front crawl and gasping, we managed to stay ahead of the pace we’d set ourselves, finishing our initial 1500m foray into the world of triathlon, in a fairly comfortable sub 40 minutes.
With a bolstered sense of self confidence, we made our way to the changing rooms to attempt, as best we could, the secret art of ‘the transition’, although I don’t recall any of my YouTube research indicating fumbling around with lockers or having to pay the drop in fee on the way out of the pool due to a faulty till, I’m sure technical problems are encountered at every level of the sport.
Either way, we were onto the second, and geographically longest leg of our journey.
Despite what my cavalier nature towards this challenge may indicate, I can be a meticulous planner. I’d analysed our cycling route carefully and planned out a series of checkmarks, based on average speeds to hit our pace. We weren’t long into our 40km cycle when I commented that I may well have written these notes in crayon, the most suitable writing implement for someone with my cycling IQ. Our large, cumbersome bikes, designed for soaring downhills and robustly surviving landings from heights measured in storeys, proved to be an underestimated hindrance when it came to hitting our predicted speeds. I kept in mind that technically speaking a human on a bicycle is one of the most energy efficient forms of locomotion on Earth, but it wasn’t much consolation as I pumped my way up the larger hills on our course, all the while losing precious energy to the piston like machinations of my front suspension.
Despite never getting much above a conversational pace, my frustrations kept me quiet as we haemorrhaged time, losing ground on each and every landmark until we eventually touched down in our second transition point, handily located in my back garden. A far more efficient transition followed (despite the ingestion of my first calories of the day from a bagel and an energy gel) and we were ready to head back out. With the knowledge that the run would be far more within my wheelhouse, I felt emboldened and confident that we could claw back some time out on the road.
If my life had a narrator, this would be the part where she pointed out how erroneous an assumption this was.
The secret to finishing is never giving up (and electrolytes, apparently).
Following an initial few hundred yards of jocular commentary on the peculiar running gait we’d both adopted immediately post cycle, I consulted my watch, checked our pace and noted we needed a slight increase in tempo, but beyond that we were right on track for a pretty respectable time for a pair of novices. The quiet confidence didn’t last long however, as I began to notice an odd twitching, up and down both of my legs, with a pained face I attempted to adjust my stride slightly to compensate, and thus began a game of cramp ‘whack-a-mole’, whereby every area I managed to stretch into action, another area tightened with excruciating ferocity. After a few minutes, around a mile into the run, my stride no longer resembled anything you’d ever label ‘running’ and after a final frantic effort to get back on track, I handed over my phone for safety and went straight to ground. Here I twisted and contorted in what must have been the oddest display for cars passing on the main road, looking for any position that would result in a modicum of comfort. A few minutes passed like this, eventually I bent myself into a shape that gave me a brief reprieve to consider my options. Quitting wasn’t one of them. But I was struggling to come up with anything more satisfactory. With a helping hand to my feet, I hobbled another few hundred metres to the local post office where I’d decided further nutrition and hydration was my first actionable step.
Thanks to a minimum spend on Apple pay, we left with a bountiful amount of Lucozade and eccles cakes. The next 5 miles were a woeful hodge podge of short bursts of ‘speed’, short stops to stretch and a lot of very short strides. The loop we’d elected to run was a regular feature in my training, one I’m comfortable I can complete in 40 minutes, so once we crept above the hour mark, my resolve hardened and I resolutely stated that I refused to take twice as long regardless of what had come before, even if it meant crawling. We painfully climbed gears, finally getting above a conversational pace for the last 800m, before coming to a mercifully welcome stop at the ‘finish line’ in the garden at around the hour and fifteen mark.
All things considering, I’m not incredibly disappointed. The two legs of the events that were a complete unknown to me, I was pleasantly surprised at. I went into them with very little in the way of expectations, but came out of the other end seeing how with small tweaks, (the correct equipment) and a bit of practice, I could quickly make up ground. The two legs that gave me the most reason for concern were my own, as an experienced trainer I know better than to push my luck with a lack of nutrition, rest and most importantly hydration, and I paid the taxes on my poor preparation with 10’000 extremely uncomfortable metres.
I think the adage is I ‘learned the hard way’, which is fairly on brand for me.