The Virgin Active London Triathlon rolls into town on the weekend of 22nd-23rd September. While we all know that there’s a swim, a cycle and a run involved, for a lot of us, this is pretty much all we know about the sport.
It’s one of the biggest events in London’s sporting calendar, yet as I sat recently, staring at the triathlon article I’d stumbled across, I realised it remained a mystery to me. ‘Why is this?’, I mused. And that’s when it dawned on me – I don’t actually do that much sport anymore. I’m out of touch. And I hadn’t even been aware of the fact. Something had to change.
As I sat at home lamenting the lack of physical activity in my life, I decided that this couldn’t possibly be my fault.
“Why didn’t you tell me I’m lazy?”
My lovely lady casually turned her head towards me (eyes still firmly glued to Hollyoaks) and half-heartedly shrugged her shoulders.
“You’re knocking on a bit; it happens.”
“What do you mean?! I’m thirty!”
“Ssshhhhhhhh, I’m watching this.”
“I’m baring my soul here!”
“If you’re that bothered, do something about it. Or shut up.”
“Fine. I will.”
So that was it. I decided it was time to get off the couch and rediscover my former glories. And what better way to start than with a triathlon. If I was going to avoid slipping back into old habits, it’d be good to have something to aim for – and this ticked all the boxes. Being the consummate professional, though, I thought I’d do a bit of research first, to make sure I wasn’t biting off more than I could chew.
Onto the official website I went. The Virgin Active London Triathlon isn’t until 22nd-23rd September. I reckoned that’d give me plenty of time to train. It’s based in London’s Docklands, which I know how to get to. All good so far.
I’ll need a wetsuit. This can be hired for about £50 or bought second-hand for similar. Awesome. I’ll need a bike, too. This can be hired or borrowed off a mate. No sweat.
Unlike the cycle and run, you can’t stop if you get tired. ‘Good point’, I thought. Drowning is never ideal.
There are three course distances: Super-Sprint (400m swim, 10k cycle and 2.5k run), Sprint (750m, 20k, 5k) and Olympic (1500m, 40k, 10k). This is something else I didn’t know about the triathlon – you don’t have to be an athlete of Herculean ability to have a go.
As a highly egotistical man, however, my brain was screaming at me to take on the Olympic challenge. A quick chat with the missus soon convinced me I was an idiot, though, and it was put to me that if I were to go ahead with this, the Sprint option would be the sensible choice. At a push.
After my online dabblings, my quest for knowledge sent me off in the direction of some people in the know, so I headed down to my Virgin Active Health Club to ask some probing questions. I also dug out a friend of a friend from work, who’d done his first triathlon last year. In doing so, I found out loads and felt like I was starting to truly understand the triathlon. And I was beginning to like the sound of it.
If I was to take up the challenge, I discovered I was going to need a good few months of training; not the type that would consume my life, but 12 to16 solid, disciplined weeks. I explained to the guys at VA that I was a half-decent runner and cyclist, but that my swimming could use some work (it’s the breathing that gets me). They pointed out that this was the key discipline for most, as unlike the cycle and run, you can’t stop if you get tired. ‘Good point’, I thought. Drowning is never ideal.
They also gave me advice on ways to train; outdoor runs and cycles are great, but if I used the club, I’d be able to practice all three disciplines in one place, which would help me to keep tabs on my progress. Spinning classes would prime me for cycling among other people, while some open-water training closer to the big day would be invaluable, too. The main Virgin Active benefit, though, is the fact that expert help and advice is there whenever I’d need it.
By now I had a decent idea of the practicalities involved, and the club would help make sure I’d be doing the right things at the right times. So I thought I’d ask my friend of a friend about the more emotional aspects of being a first-time triathlete. Having found out what might be coming my way, I now wanted to find out how I’d feel about it.
Just as I’d done in the club, I explained that I was confident about my running. Seemingly, this was my first mistake. A 5k run is one thing, but a 5k run after a swim and cycle is a different thing altogether, apparently. I’m told I need to work hard on it. A pattern was beginning to emerge. Which was a blow.
For all the talk of hard graft, however, I was also told about the growing sense of achievement felt as you go about your training. For someone that had just realised they’re not as fit as they used to be, that sounded good.
There was plenty of other pleasing news, too. I was informed that the cycle leg was handy, as you could stop pedalling whenever you reached a slope and grab a breather. Also mentioned was that the sights of London were inspiring as you made your way around – and the roar of the crowd was fantastically uplifting. There was talk of the overwhelming sense of pride at the finish line, too (more than the the odd tear is shed, I was told).
By now, I was a bona fide triathlon aficionado, and I was feeling genuinely excited about the prospect of having a go. Even the girlfriend was starting to be supportive (apart from during ‘One Born Every Minute’, of course). Women in their late twenties. Broody.
So, with newfound determination seeping from my every pore, I decided to commit. Without hesitation, I dug out my trusty runners and headed for the rolling hills of North Oxfordshire. Training would begin right then. About a mile-and-a-half into my maiden session – and still feeling as fresh as a daisy – I bumped into my friend, Danny, who was out walking his dog close to one of the local pubs.
“Mikey Boy! (Oxfordshire accent)”
“Danno! (Lancashire accent)”
“What you up to, chief?”
“I’m training, pal. Decided to do a triathlon.”
“Triathlon, eh? Why don’t you tell me about in the pub?”
“I don’t have my wallet mate - and I’m on the detox.”
“Quick lime and soda on me?”
“Quick lime and soda.”
“Go on then, just a quick lime and soda.”
Training was cut short, but a swift refreshment break wouldn’t do any harm, would it? And I’d not seen Danny for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, through no fault of my own, as I was heading to the bar, I slipped and accidentally swallowed five beers.
‘Training definitely starts tomorrow’, I thought as I meandered home, freezing in my shorts and vest as darkness fell. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I’ll get there. And if you’re feeling like you fancy joining me, there’s no reason why you can’t.
The Virgin Active London Triathlon ballot is open now until the end of Friday 23rd March 2012. To enter it, just get in touch with your local Virgin Active Health Club and ask about the process involved.
London’s calling. I hope to see you there!