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Two years ago I competed in the UK cold water championships; I entered every category I could with the reasoning that I would probably never do it again. That’s why, two years later I was back at the next running of the event. This time I’d persuaded a few others to join me the water was colder but it was just as much fun.

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My first event was the ninety meter freestyle. It doesn’t sound far but when the water is 1.5 degrees it makes it a long way. I was marshaled through the familiar stations around the pool before arriving at the pool side. There was a woman with a camera standing next to my lane. She asked me to give a reaction as I entered the water; I told her that that would not be a problem. Then she asked me not to swear. That, I said may be a problem.

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Normally I take a long time to get into cold water. I don’t find the whole process of getting wet that pleasurable. But this was a race and there was no time for the niceties. It was straight into the water or nothing. The cold hit me like an ice cube tied to an express train. The lady with the camera got her reaction. I started to doubt my ability to do this event. Then I had to duck under the water, more cold water pain, before the very quick countdown. The first width flashed by. I was in an end lane and could see everyone to my right. I appeared to be about level with everyone else. I turned and headed back across the pool. I may have even convinced myself that I was warming up. The water turned to cold slow flowing treacle on the third length. I just couldn’t keep up the speed. The cold clawed at every limb and held me in the water. I saw a few people streak ahead but my only concern was to finish. I wanted to be out of the icy hell and into some warmth.

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The next event was the thirty meter freestyle. After the ninety meter this was small beer. I had no doubts about completing this but I now knew exactly how cold the water was. The thought of entering it again was not that appealing. I felt smug that I had remembered to pack many pairs of swimming trunks. Slipping on cold and wet swimwear would not have enhanced the experience. The race was over in a flash, thirty meters is not a long way and there was a reward of hot Ribena and a dip in a hot tub at the end.

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The fun part of the event is the head up breast stroke. Some people take it seriously and race whilst others wear hats. My breaststroke is appalling so I chose to wear a hat. I should have spent some time decorating it but although I had the inclination I didn’t have the time. I left my battered old summer hat as is and swum wearing it. I came last but felt good for entering into the spirit of the event. I stayed a lot longer in the hot tub this time, the cold was starting to accumulate and no end of warm clothes was going to take the chill away

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There was a big gap between the individual events and the relays so I took advantage of the array of food stalls and stuffed my face with a pulled pork sandwich. It was a delight to stuff it down my throat. I followed it with a marvelous cup of hot chocolate that warmed some of the less accessible cold bits. We had decided on a relay team uniform, garish scale patterned tights, selected for there hideousness. I slipped into the changing rooms to put them on and then quickly covered them with jeans. These were not an item of clothing to be proud of.

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Our race was called and the four of us headed for the changing rooms, we all had the tights on under our clothes. I’d like to think that we emerged from the changing rooms at the same time to a chorus of whistles and cheers. The reality was a little more muted. We took our places on opposite sides of the pool. I went first and, in my mind, powered across the pool, Tom was next, this was his first experience of water this cold. Tim was next; he wore the hideous unicorn head we had bought to go with the outfit. This had the disadvantage of flopping over his eyes. He to a very unsteady line across the pool bumping on and off the lane ropes. Cate brought the hideous head back across the pool in a similar style. We all felt that we had swum the relay in the style that it should be done. We spent a long time in the sauna.

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Getting changed I discovered I’d lost my underpants. I had to suffer the annoyance of unshielded jeans on the walk to the station. It was somewhat uncomfortable. It wasn’t until I put my hand in my coat pocket that I remembered putting them there when I changed into the tights. The equilibrium returned to my life.

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This was the first time in nearly fifty years that there had been swimming in the Port River. At some point in the sixties swimming had been banned because of the pollution, since then the port has fallen into decline but as a consequence the water has become cleaner. As part of the redevelopment of the area recreation has been emphasised and North Haven Surf Club had taken up the challenge.

We arrived early as everything was being set up and were the first to register. We had a wander around the impressive array of stalls in the start area and wearily watched the approaching dark clouds. Half an hour before the start the rain came down dampening the parched ground. The rain finished as quickly as it started and in time for the race briefing.

Soon after we were all gingerly stepping into the water ready for the start. The water wasn’t cold but it definitely wasn’t warm. I was so wrong slightly at the start but that went as soon as the hooter went to start us all off.

The first part of the course was across to the opposite shore. Bearing in mind that the previous day I’d flown half way round the world and I’d only had six hours of sleep I was amazed that I was keeping up with everyone around me. There was no doubt in my mind that this was a swim and not a race.

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We turned at the buoy and headed up the Port Adelaide river. It was heavy going. Either the current or the tide or both were against us. However, my thoughts were more occupied with the wall to wall jellyfish that I was swimming through. The water was thick with these translucent slimy blobs. At times, I felt that I could probably get up and walk on them. Everyone and again the water would be clear of them but they would inevitably reappear.

It seemed to take ages to get to the next buoy. I had hoped that this was the turning point but when I got there I realised that the route went under the Birkenhead Bridge. The water under there tasted of diesel fumes and was distinctly unpleasant but at least the next buoy was in sight.

At the buoy the route crossed to the opposite bank and headed back down stream. The swimming got distinctly easier but I was definitely going slower. I could see lots to people in front but whenever I took a sneaky glance behind there was no one. This didn’t surprise me. I passed under the bridge once more only this time I tried to hold my breath to avoid the fumes.

I’m not good at swimming in a straight line at the beat of times but my route to the last buoy was distinctly wobbly. For most of the way I was shadowed by one of the water cover people on a paddle board. This convinced me that I was at the back of the swim and inspired me to swim even more slowly. I was quite surprised when someone passed me as I rounded the last buoy.

After the swim, we feasted on pork sandwiches and nearly hot tea and reflected on being the first people in a very long time to swim in the Port River.

 

Living the dream at Herne Hill

Posted: December 1, 2016 in Cycling

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A long time ago I went to the Good Friday meet at Herne Hill Velodrome and watched people cycle very fast around in circles. It was a fantastic day out, I came away wanting to give track cycling a go. It’s taken a long time to fulfill that dream but at last I’ve done it.  I joined up with a group of local cyclists for a coached track session.

The Velodrome was almost how I remembered it, a massive asphalt oval with banked edges sitting in the middle of a field. Last time I was here there had been crowds of people and the smell of hotdogs and cooked onions drifting over. This time, on a cold and grey November day it was almost empty. The building works for the new stand made the place look messy and untidy. It was still the stuff of dreams and I still couldn’t believe I was about to fulfill a dream that I’d had for over 10 years.

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Banking and lines

We started the session by a long line and following each other round the track. We did and exercise were we rode progressively higher on the track. We started on the white line, moved up to the red line, then the blue and finally close to the top of the track. This was the first time I’d been on the banking and I was a little nervous about how it would work. I needn’t have worried, it was easy. I just followed the bike in front and climbed up. It took a while to get used to the slight acceleration coming off the banking but it didn’t take long before I felt comfortable with the whole thing.

The next exercise was all about riding in pairs. The coach instructed us to ride at a conversational pace above the blue line with the front two peeling off at the end of the lap and joining the back of the back. He carful explained that the bottom rider need to push to the banking and clear the bunch so that he didn’t cause a calamity and bring everybody tumbling to the bottom of the track. It was a lot easier done than said. We ambled round at a gentle pace chatting as we went. I was a fair few riders back of I could watch what was happening. It was all  quite straight forward. The top man drifted to the top of the track and the bottom man accelerated to the top. Then the rest of the bunch came through. What I found interesting was the changes in pace as various people it the front. I was also starting to discover that my bike was under geared for track riding. My legs were going round much faster than everyone else’s.

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Hospitality

After a little bit of recovery we worked on changes, the coach carefully explained how the track could be used to slow down and speed up whilst keeping the peddling rate constant. It was one of those things that was obvious once it has been explained.  Soon we were off again in a long line, with the front man peeling off every half lap. My turn came quickly. I could see the line, all I had to do was carry on in a straight line whilst the pack behind me went round underneath me. As the tails came round I came off the banking and joined the tail. I felt like a proper track cyclist.

The coach had yet another game up his sleeve. This time we rode at conversation pace in pairs about the blue line. When he blew his whistle the front four dropped down to the white line and powered round to join the back of the back, changing positions every half lap. It was on this exercise that I realised my bike was severely under geared. I just couldn’t hold the back wheel and had to drop off the back of my group of four. Despite this I was still enjoying myself.

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The last lap bell – a wonderful sound

After a short brake we moved onto a little bit of friendly competition. We started with a team pursuit. I started well, I held the wheel of the bit in front for almost a lap. After that I started to lose contact and had to give up. The rest of the team went on to win the heat. We then went straight onto the next pursuit. This time I was the lead out, this was the only time my under gearing gave me an advantage. I was able to accelerate much faster than anyone else, they just had to hang on to my wheel until I got to the other side of the track and peeled off. I almost managed to get back on, almost.

The session ended with an Australian pursuit, this was new to me. We were set off at equal intervals and the aim was to pass the person in front whilst not being caught by the person behind. I was the very last in the line, I thought that this would be a good position until I saw how far the front of the line was round the track when I set off.  I used my acceleration advantage to pick off about three people by the end of the first lap but by then my legs were spinning at top speed, I couldn’t go any faster whilst those in front with the proper gearing could. I was picked off on the second lap.

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I had a wonderful time at Herne Hill, in my mind I was one of those starts of cycling that I’d seen over 10 years ago swooping round the track. I left with a desire to do more and to get another bike.

 

The Petworth 100

Posted: November 19, 2016 in Audax, Cycling
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Blue bike in repose whilst the rider drinks his body weight in tea

 

After nearly a month of coughing and spluttering and one cancelled long ride I wasn’t about to miss this Audax. It’s so well catered that I’m convinced that it is possible to gain weight during the course of the one hundred kilometers. Just to add to the fun I had arranged to do the event with Trev. He is a keen cyclist but an Audax novice, so this was an idea introduction to the past time for him.

We met up in a car park were everyone was complaining about the cold. It was hovering above freezing but the forecast was for it to hit nearly double figures by lunch time. We ignored the minor fly in the ointment of rain forecast after two as we should be near the end of the ride by then and of course a little rain shouldn’t hurt too much. The wind was taken from our sails when some youths turned up wearing shorts. At least they had the dignity to look very cold.

The route is made up of three loops, each one ending at the same village hall where we would be filled with food. The first loop started with reasonably flat open roads that had Trev and I bowling along quite happily chatting. The odd rise here and there showed up out differences in climbing ability. Trev can climb, I can’t. The last part of the first loop takes in a particularly lumpy road. It was a lot lumpier on a bike that it ever is in a car. As we struggled up one hill we were greeted by a wall of smoke. It looked like we had reached the end of the world and that just nothingness lay beyond the curtain of smoke. In reality, someone was burning garden rubbish and the thick smoke was drifting across the road. I tried to hold my breath whilst travelling through the noxious cloud but it didn’t work. Eventually I had to breath and then all my senses were assaulted by the smoke. The taste lingered long after we exited the cloud. What I needed was a cup of tea and something to eat to take the taste away.

The next loop was to the south and featured a hill, just the thing to show off my climbing inability. We climbed a little hill as an overture to the main event. A number of cyclist passed me on this but I wasn’t too bothered, I knew what was coming next and them passing me now meant that there will be less people to witness my pitiful attempt at the main event. The hill started at the end of a right-hand bend and just went up at a steady rate. I settled into the low gears and started the struggle. Trev disappeared off into the distance and more people passed me. About half way up I got to the point where I had no momentum what so ever. These are the desperate times, close to the moment when I would like to get off and push. If it wasn’t for the photographer on the other side of the road and my vanity I probably would have. Trev was waiting at the top sporting that smug look of someone who was reasonably good at climbing. It took him a few kilometers to mention that his legs were burning and he was feeling the effect of the hill. That did my ego no end of good.

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This picture is in perfect focus as I was moving very slowly

What I lack in climbing ability I make up for in pace on the flat. The return section of the loop went through miles of woods, I just kept up my normal pace and I was surprised to see Trev trailing a little was in the distance. I could have slowed slightly but it felt much better to wait at a junction instead.

There was a small section of main road ahead and it seemed that every boy racer was using this stretch of road to show their lack of taste and driving skills. It was immensely irritating. Up ahead I saw the bare legged youths. The thought of a tow came to mind. It would have been nice to hand onto the back of a group for a while. I made sure that Trev was on my wheel and slowly built up the pace. Trev realised what was going on and stuck to my back wheel like glue. It would have been a brilliant plan but we were thwarted by a small rise in the road that was beyond my climbing prowess. We cruised back to the hall and filled ourselves with beans on toast instead.

It was a struggle to leave the hall for the final loop. It had got significantly colder outside and we were weighed down with beans on the inside. It took me a while to remember the last bit from last year but after a few kilometers it hit me with the force of a brick. This bit was cantered around climbing up a steep and nasty hill. I had begun to notice a pattern with this ride. The hill started gently enough but moved into struggling territory very quickly. Trev was up ahead and disappearing into the distance by the time we reached the pub. A few Sunday diners yelled “allez, allez” at him to spur him on, I took advantage of the question on the card to stop and write the answer down. I continued the struggle up the hill. On the curve a group of mountain bikers were putting their bikes into a van. Now I couldn’t get off and push. Eventually I reached the top, legs burning and chest exploding. Trev was sat in a lay by with the smug look of someone who can climb.

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Preparation for those heart stopping moments

We cruised back to the village hall, Trev was clamped to my back wheel for most of this, claiming that he didn’t have it in him to take the lead. I was alright with this, it meant the hill had taken its toll on him to.

We arrived at the hall and were greeted by a bowl of peaches and rice pudding accompanied with big lumps of cake. It was the only way to end this ride.

 

Autumn Tints 100

Posted: October 13, 2016 in Audax, Cycling
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I haven’t done a long bike ride for a very long time so I was looking forward to this one with a bit of trepidation. The Autumn Tints starts in Hailsham, heads out east along the coast and then makes a big loop in land via Heathfield and a few lumps to arrive back in Hailsham in time for a bite to eat. It’s one of Dave’s rides and no one ever goes hungry on a Dave ride.

 

In the few moments between getting up and leaving the house I went through the dilemma of what to wear. I’d decided that I would do todays ride on two wheel rather than three. The problem with this is that I have very little carrying capacity for all those other incidentals. After referring to multiple weather forecasts and eventually by sticking my nose out of the door I went with tights and two layers on top. It felt like it was going to be cold.

 

I got to the start in good time and stood around chatting over a cup of tea. A few asked after Gracie the trike but most of the conversation was about the last  seasons rides. I felt a little out of place having not done a long ride for a while. Dave said he would prefer a staggered start as there where a lot of cyclists today. I got away in the first group as I felt that I might be going slowly today. It wasn’t long before I was on my own and heading to the coast. I’ve done this route a few times before so there was very little need to look at the route sheet.

 

The journey across Normans Bay was as stunning as ever, I watched a few people fly kites as I whizzed past. If the wind had been blowing in the other direction it would have been perfect. I carried on into Bexhill and then Hastings where a man in a small car was pumping out reggae music to wake the sleepy town. It was all going well until I hit the first hill. I’m not built to go up hills. My only real option is to grind them out in the low gears. I fully expected a big group of cyclists to pass me but in the end only one came shooting past. No doubt the thin ones were still struggling in the wind,

 

I eventually got to the top of the hill. It was payback time, the descent. There was a time when I wouldn’t even have covered the brakes, I was immortal then. These days I’m on the lookout for cars and truck and no end of movable solid objects. I have no desire to be the filling on a car sandwich. I hit the levels at speed but the hope of speeding across the levels was dashed by the strong headwind. It felt like going uphill. I was glad to turn inland and arrive at the control.

 

The control was laden with goodies and Dave had his famous oven heating up all kinds of treats. To linger was to get fat so after a cup of tea and a few tempting titbits I headed off into the cold. My legs were starting to complain, they had not been asked to peddle for this long for quite a while.

 

The creaking started a few miles from the control. At first I thought it was the chainset, then my attention moved to the wheels. The bike started feeling a bit strange. I had developed a wobble. After mentally going through all the bits that could have come loose I realised that it was the saddle that was wobbling. I carried on to the top of a rise to fix it. It is never worth stopping at the bottom of a hill. The bolts were hanging out. A piece of deft work with a hex key soon fixed it and I was on my way.

 

I started to struggle, there were a series of long straight road that sapped the energy from my legs. My bum had started to complain as well. This is what happens when I don’t cycle for a while, everything below the waist goes soft. I persevered wilth only a mild amount of complaining. I knew what was coming next…

 

Climbing, that was what was next, lots of going up. I was in the low gears for most of it and cursing geography for all of it. The views at the top were wonderful, all the way out to the sea. I would have appreciated them more if I wasn’t a sweaty mess from struggling up the hill. From here it was a lumpy ride into Heathfield. To make it a little more urgent my bladder decided to let it be known that it was full. I was scouting for places but there were people where people shouldn’t be. I was sweating with effort and desperation by the time I got to Heathfield. The public convenience was a little old and decrepit but at that moment it was like a palace. The urgency washed away. All was right with the world.

 

I met up with a few others just outside Heathfield. This was good, I had people to chat too but, more importantly, I had people I could follow. They could drag me to the end and my legs would be grateful. I clung on the best I could even though my legs threatened to cramp. It helped that the last bit was mostly downhill. It still seemed like a long time until the end came into site with its promise of yet more hot food

The British Open Water Championships

Posted: October 1, 2016 in Swimming
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Quack!

 

I like an event with an impressive title and I like a new event, this event was both new and had an impressive title, I just had to do it. Swim serpentine ran over two days, day one was one loop of the serpentine and day two, called the British Open Water Championships did two loops. I had entered the Sunday event as it was longer. If I was going to travel up to London, then I wanted to have a decent swim. The first surprise came a week before in the shape of number transfers or tattoos as they were called. It looked like they wanted us to have numbers all over the place.

 

It was nice to have an afternoon start, it meant I could have a Sunday morning lie in and a proper breakfast before meeting Cate and heading up to London on the train. I was expecting the area around the swim start to be a hive of activity but it seemed almost empty. A few people told us that it had been a lot busier yesterday, the extra loop of the lake must have put a few people off.

 

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Tattoos R us

Slowly people assembled at the start. It became very clear that loud swimwear was a feature of this age group. There were some very bright trunks, some of them were more hideous than mine. It started to get serious at the briefing. We were racing under FINA rules. This meant no watches, no jewellery and short nails, there were some other things as well but I ignored those as I was removing all my jewellery and trimming my nails.

 

A few minutes before the start we were given the opportunity to acclimatise to the temperature. We had been told that it was around 17 degrees but that is just a number. The real test was getting in. After the initial shock of getting wet the temperature was not a problem. It was warm enough to swim in and that was good enough for me.

 

The start was a chaotic affair. First of all, we had to line up behind a rope. The instruction was to hold the rope. That would have been easy if it wasn’t for all the people standing on it and holding it below the surface. Stupidly I’d picked a place in the middle of the line, I never start in the middle of the line.  After a bit of shuffling about to get us all in line the starter sounded the horn and we were off. The start was similar to having a boxing match in a washing machine. There were arms, legs and water all over the place. One moment someone would be swimming over me the next I would be swimming over someone else. I don’t like the starts of swim races; they are far too violent.

 

The struggle had calmed down by the first turn. Most of those that were faster were in front and most of the slower ones were behind. Now I could start to enjoy the swim. Well I would have if it were not for the person in front of me. I went left, they went left, I went right, they went right. It was as if they were deliberately trying to block my path. All I wanted was a clear bit of water. Eventually it got beyond a joke, there may have been some cursing, loud cursing. I pulled back and then swung out wide. It took a while but slowly I passed him. Now I was happy, I was in clear water, I could set my pace and start enjoying the swim.

 

The first woman passed me at the bottom end of the course, she came flying past at a speed I could only dream of. A little later one or two others came speeding by. The women had had given the men a six-minute head start so these women where really moving, they would probably be finished, showered and changed by the time I had finished.

 

The second lap was much better that the first, I’d warmed up and settled into my stride, occasionally someone would come past but as I had no hope of keeping up with them that didn’t bother me. This time round I could look at the ducks and swans and wonder what they were making of it all.

 

I turned the last corner and all of a sudden realised that it was nearly over. I don’t do sprint finishes but a group behind me were determined to. One or two came by but I kept to my slow and steady approach right up to the last few meters. Someone in a green hat was trying to come past. I wasn’t going to have that. We finished together. She turned to me and said “I’m glad you are a bloke” as she was given the news she was third in her category.

 

There was a selection of hot tubs in the finish area, it was a suitable place to wait for Cate and warm up. There were bragging rights at stake, she would have to wait a while to find out that she had beaten me by a minute.

 

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Happy people with a duck toilet in the background

Although I call myself a triathlete and I belong to a triathlon club the truth of the matter is that I’ve not actually done a triathlon for quite a while. I have a sneaking suspicion that training for all three sports and doing them individually doesn’t really count. Eventually the guilt got too much an I entered one. It helped that it was the first running of the event and that it wasn’t too far to travel.

It was a perfect morning for this sort of silliness, warm and clear. We all racked our bikes, listened to the race briefing and then started some dedicated milling about whilst the swimmers with slower swim times started off. I always enjoy watching swimmers and today was no exception. There was a real mix in the pool, from someone who stopped at the end of each length though some very strange stroke styles to some very polished swimming. This is what I love about these events, people having a go. I sometimes feel that televised sport gives the impression that everyone needs to be absolutely perfect when in fact it’s possible to complete no matter how imperfect you are.

I joined the line and waited to be ushered to my lane. As usual there were people who wanted to talk and people who didn’t. Eventually I was taken to the lane nearest the side and told to get in. The pool seemed very shallow, I was expecting it to be deeper. I got myself prepared and completely missed the starter telling me to go. I thought he was starting someone in another lane. It took a few lengths to get into a rhythm but slowly things started to get a bit smoother. The other person in the lane was quite a bit slower than me so I passed them many times but I made up for it by messing up at least half of the turns by misjudging where the edge was. Before the start of the swim I’d been playing with my watch to put it in “multi-sport” mode. I wasn’t sure if I’d done it right. I was quite relieved when it beeped signalling the last lap.

There was a “no running in the pool area” rule. This meant exiting the pool consisted of a fast walk to the door and then a sprint to the transition area. My transitions have always been slow. I don’t know why I find it hard to put on a helmet and a pair of shoes quickly, I just do.

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Yet another lightening fast transition…

I enjoyed the bike course. I didn’t think I would as they were roads I was familiar with but I was on pretty bike and she always makes me feel good. I was don on the tri bars as much as possible and tried to maintain the position. It took a while but eventually I saw someone up ahead. This always makes me feel better. It didn’t take long to be “that bloke”. The one hunched in the time trial position that comes storming past. It happens to me often, it’s nice when I can do it to someone else. Not long later “that guy” passed me. There was a roundabout at the halfway point. It looked like a whole bunch of bikes had been held up as it seemed to be full of bikes. I negotiated it safely and set about trying to catch someone. I caught a fair few people but not all of them were actually in the race, they still count though.

The bike leg ended with a run down a path in bike shoes. It’s not a thing that fills me with joy. Other sensible people had taken their shoes off. I should have thought of that. Instead I slipped around on the path on route to another tremendously slow transition. This time I had to take shoes off and then put another pair on. How hard can that be?

I always forget how hard it is to run off the bike. I spent the first kilometer of the run wondering what was wrong with my legs. Eventually my body made the necessary adjustments to be able to run more like a runner than a cyclist. The route took in two laps of a sports field. As a chugged round a couple of my club mates came past, one made it look easy and the other looked like he was putting in a lot of effort (he won the over 50’s category). About half way round the second lap I realised that my watch thought I’d not started. I’d clearly managed to get the set up wrong. I started it anyway, now my swim would be in the middle of the field. After four hundred meters I changed the sport. Now I was cycling round the field. Eventually I got it to the running bit. The record of this race is going to look very strange.

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I claim my bottle of water and a medal

Just outside the entrance to the sports centre I heard heavy breathing behind me. Someone was catching me. I had a choice, I could sprint for the line in a display of pride or I could just let them go past. In my last sprint finish I managed to damage myself since then I’ve given up of the notion of sprinting for the line. The extra few seconds gained are not worth the weeks of recovery. I watched him gain a few seconds before I crossed the line and was rewarded with a medal, a bottle of water and a slice of cake.

When the results were published I found I’d done quite well. This could only mean a full fried breakfast to celebrate.