Like a cat out of water

World Triathlon Series, Leeds, June 2016

At least the bike was easy to find: only helmet of its kind about

I am a Cat by name and by nature: I don’t like water. In January, I struggle to swim a four lengths back-to-back. (Just how terrified I am of open water is written about in all it’s panic-mode glory in an earlier blog post, ‘overcoming obstacles’).

One wetsuit, daily lengths, an indoor tri and several outdoor training sessions later, And I stood at the Roundhead Park pontoon, eyeing up the course for my first real triathlon, due to take place the following day.

I almost gave up there and then.

It wasn’t even that long a swim – 400 metres of whatever stroke you like. Breaking this down in to 25 metre lengths makes it sound very doable. Seeing the course laid out in real life makes you realise that this distance is actually significant. With no possible breaks or sides of the pool to grab, my bottle had gone.

I sat down on the jetty and put my feet into the water, trying to psyche myself up. I imaged 12 kilometres of biking through Leeds on closed roads – that part was going to be fun. Two-and-a-half kilometres of running is easy – you’ve finished before you’ve even got into your stride. It was absolutely doable.

Apart from the swim. The swim was terrifying me.

I thought of all the training I had done. I was in the pool almost ever day, including over Christmas. I had been to the outdoor pool at Ilkley three times, freezing my face off each time as I got used to wearing a wetsuit. I thought of the financial investment I had made – not only the £70 wetsuit and £20 tri-suit (both heap at half the price, I know how to haggle…) – but the admission fees to the pools, the bike service, the competition fee itself. It was all too much to pull out now.

But I really, really wanted to.

The first marker was half way across an open-water lake. The water quality was such that you couldn’t see three feet in front of your face. Then, it was all the way over to a second marker at the opposite side. The distances looked impossible.

I thought of those who had helped me train. Driven me to the pool, encouraged me, given invaluable training tips, offered me wetsuit advice. I thought about going in to work the next day, having been talking about doing a real life triathlon for six months now, and saying I had bottled it.

I jumped in.

Or rather, lowered myself clumsily off the jetty on all fours backward, but still managed to submerge my head and start hyperventilating as I surfaced. No-one expects amateur triathletes to be particularly graceful, but I looked like a hippo.

I had almost skipped the practice session, thinking it would be fine just to turn up on the day. I am very glad I didn’t, because jumping in to practice 200 metres of the swim was probably the most difficult hippo imitation/sporting participation I have ever done. I needed that warm up to make sure I followed through with it the following day.

But it was worth it for the pride at the end. I didn’t finish with a great time, and the experience certainly didn’t lend itself to graceful photographs. And honestly, there is little remarkable to say about the experience itself, except that cycling 12 kilometres as fast as one possibly can is maybe the closest feeling to flying one can get, and that running even 2.5 kilometres after cycling as fast as one possibly can is harder than it looks. And that swimming, even if it’s just divided into lengths, is still just swimming.

And I did it. The hippo did it.

I am forever tempted to now put “triathlete” after my name, like qualifying letters. It was harder but more satisfying than getting a degree in any instance. And, unlike a degree course, I am certain I will do more. Yes, even the swimming part…

Feeling more bemused than proud to be honest… what did I just do?