I don’t know whether it was while I was battling through the last eight miles of the London Marathon or whether it was soon after I crossed the line – but at some point in that period I vowed “never again”. It had been a long haul. Eighty runs in five months. Numerous early morning starts. Countless lonely miles on country roads, more than 460 in all; and that was just to get to the start line. As for the race itself – as much as I had really enjoyed it, it hurt!
Now I know that I am venturing onto very dangerous ground by even thinking about comparing the pain of a marathon with the pain of child birth, but hear me out! They have one thing in common and that is the fact that people must forget about the pain because they do it again. Well for me the forgeting didn’t take long. Less than 24 hours to be exact.
The next morning as I lay in bed basking in a warm glow of satisfaction, I found myself wondering about my time of 4.08hrs. What could I have done differently? How was I going to knock off eight minutes next time? I couldn’t help myself. Here I was unable to walk up or down stairs as a result of the race I had done just the day before and already I was planning the next attempt.
Surrendering to the inevitable, I entered the ballot for the London Marathon 2013 seven days later. That may seem a rasher thing to do than it really is. Unfortunately entering the ballot is not a decision you can ponder on for too long. Once the ballot opens, it is closed when 120,000 people have registered. The ballot traditionally opens on the Monday eight days after the London Marathon. It fills up and closes before the day is out. I entered at 6.30am before I left for work. The ballot was closed by 2.00pm.
Luckily for me I won’t find out if I have been successful in the ballot for six months and if I am successful I won’t have to run the race for another year. So with that little surprise to come, my attention turned to what next. First I had promised myself a rest. Between the Salisbury ½ Marathon, The Race Your Pace ½ Marathon and the London Marathon, I had been on a training treadmill for most of the last nine months. I wanted to give my legs a break. For the next month I would concentrate my exercise on cycling and swimming. No schedule, just exercise three times a week with the odd run thrown in. But I knew that this wouldn’t keep me motivated for long.
The seed of competing in a triathlon had been sown sometime before. I had met up with an old friend after a gap of some years. He told me over lunch very modestly that he had just done an Ironman Triathlon. I had heard the term but didn’t really know what it meant apart from the fact that it was an extreme endurance event that was way out of my league. I looked it up online after I met him and was fascinated. The more I scoured the web the more I learned. Whilst Ironman was beyond me there were lots of choices of the distance you could do with a triathlon. The shortest, a Super Sprint, is a 200m swim, a 10k bike ride and a 2.5km run. That sounded a bit more manageable. There seemed to be every distance between that and an Ironman (3.8km swim, 180km bike and 26.2 mile run) to choose from.
My interest in triathlon wasn’t a sudden thing. I have enjoyed triathlon as a spectator for a while. I remember the days of the “budgie smuggler” brigade in the eighties. The Simon Lessing’s of the world who with their tight Speedos, permatans and moustaches, reminded me of a cross between a personal trainer and a porn star. I remember the rise of Tim Don, Jan Frodeno’s completely unexpected gold medal in Beijing, the three Australian Emmas on one podium and of course more recently the rise of the Brownlee Brothers and Helen Jenkins for Great Britain. I was a fan, but I had never looked at triathlon as a sport I would participate in. It looked very technical, very tough and very expensive. But now I questioned that. I was back in shape. I had just bought a bike and was enjoying using it and I can swim, although I have never swum competitively. When I asked myself the question “Why not?”, I was really struggling to come up with a good answer. The need for something different after the London Marathon and an inability to dissuade myself from triathlon saw the decision made. Triathlon it was.
My next task was to find an event that was suitable for a beginner and which was reasonably local so that I could skulk off home with my tail between my legs if it all went pear-shaped on the day. I trawled through dozens of online listings of races, taking time to read the feedback from previous participants. Eventually I settled on two, both local to me. One was a true beginner’s event – in fact it was even run by an organisation called Try a Tri. It was a super sprint. The second was about a month later in Eastleigh, near Southampton and was a true Sprint Triathlon (400m swim, 20km bike and 5km run) with an open water swim organised by the same people. That would give me two months to get ready for the Eastleigh event.
“In for a penny in for a pound” I thought as I signed up and entered payment details. As my cursor hovered over the “Pay Now” button all sorts of doubts crept into my mind. Was this wise? Had I thought it through? Was I about to make a prize fool of myself? And then controlled by a force that came from somewhere other than my body, my finger clicked the mouse. In a moment the screen showed a “payment successful” message. I had just committed to make my triathlon debut at the age of 52.