Famous last words come back to haunt us. When I joined AVTC three years ago I had no idea of the journey that lay ahead. I was there to support Kate, who had some crazy notion about getting into the GB Age-Group team after watching Louise Minchin on the TV talking about the Chicago Triathlon Worlds Champs. I duly filled in the AVTC form asking why I was joining: “To get fit, for skiing, and with no intention of doing a triathlon”. Those who saw my first efforts at front crawl in the pool – a demented egg whisk with a purple face clinging to the side of the pool half way up – will understand why.
By the end of the following summer I’d done five sprint triathlons, both pool and open water. How did that happen? It’s down to the great atmosphere within our club; support from members and encouragement from the coaches . The Iron Men and Women of the club were so generous in their support for a newbie making the first steps in this mad sport. I’ve done a number of sports over the years, but I think AVTC is special in the way it helps inspire everyone to have a go. Thanks.
Buoyed up by my initial forays into triathlon I thought I might as well enter the qualifying events to get some idea of how I’d fare. Kate would be doing them anyway, they were all well organised and operated on closed roads. I had low expectations and at the first event at Eton Dorney those expectations were fully met! By the time I got out of the swim the first person out had already completed the first lap of the bike course – some 10 minutes ahead of me. I think I ended up 30th out of 31 competitors. I was also shocked to find that my nice aluminium Cannondale bike looked like the sort of the thing the butcher's boy would be pedalling when I compared it to the sleek carbon machines there. That turned out expensive – new bikes for me and Kate!
The next two qualifying events were at Llandudno and Redcar – both sea swims. I struggled with those, especially Llandudno where the sea was cold and rough, and I must have stopped half a dozen times as I made my way around in last place (at least I got my own canoeist as safety cover!). Whilst my swimming was dire, I did find that my bike times were only a few minutes off the best and my run was about average. I was still outside the 115% of the winner’s time (one of the key criteria for qualification) but I had a feeling that with a lot of luck and a following wind it might be possible to scrape into the 115% and hope for a roll down place.
More work was needed over the winter, especially on the swimming, but I still started the season with massive trepidation about the swim. I just had to accept that I would be last out and to think of it as “just another long swim”. The first qualifier at Eton Dorney was uber competitive, but I was happy to have settled to the swim, even if it was slow. Next up was Cardiff which I thought would also be challenging – my best hope of scraping a qualification I thought would be the last event in Redcar.
I was quite nervous at the start of the Cardiff swim and went off a bit quick, trying to stay with a small group. After a momentary panic, a brief stop, I then settled down to a steady swim. I picked up another competitor on the bike and was able to draft him (legally) on the into wind sections. And whilst the run was hot – you could sense the heat coming up from the tarmac – I felt good and did a PB. Given that two weeks before I was in such severe back pain I couldn’t get out of a chair without wincing (diagnosed as a torn disc), a combination of pain relief gels and pills had got me through. No one was more surprised than me to find Q3 against my name when British Triathlon published the qualification list.
Getting the email confirming that I had qualified for the GB Age-Group team for the World Champs in the Gold Coast was something very special. And when the kit arrived it all became that bit more tangible. The experience of mixing with the other members of the GB Age-Group team was great; whilst I had a bit of the imposter syndrome (and I wasn’t alone in that) I was made very welcome. The event itself was a very special feeling and wearing a trisuit with “GB” on it was something amazing. The race itself was such fun. For once I felt under no pressure, I was just happy to be there and taking part. I had low expectations: just to finish, even if last would have been good enough. As it was I even managed to overtake two people on the swim, picked up 12 places on the bike, but with leaden legs had to fight to not drop more than six places on the run. Running up that blue carpet through the finish was a great feeling. Probably the first triathlon that I can say I’ve come away from having enjoyed it!
I am convinced that amongst our terrific club members there are many more who could do the same and was so pleased to find we have several people succeeding this year in making a GB team. It’s a fun thing to do and, whilst I remain in awe of our super heroes with Iron Man credentials, here’s a way for mere mortals to feel a bit special. Even ordinary people like me can get a chance to do it. That’s not something I ever expected when I started this journey. Who’s next?