Steve Trew relives every second of a triathlon event.
“In the hands of the starter”, first the words and almost instantly it seems, the klaxon sounds. The reflex to dive takes over and you hurl yourself into the water, forcing yourself to stay deep for as long as possible while the buoyant wetsuit tries to bring you to the surface. Stay down, extend arms in front, keep your head low between the shoulders and double beat down with the legs, three, four, five times, and now start kicking – streamline, streamline. OK, now come up and pull back hard and yes, clear water in front, look to the side and, who’s that? Looking strong, we can work together. Leaders edge towards each other as if gaining magnetism with each arm stroke and behind them, athletes struggle to gain and then maintain contact.
Maintain a long stroke; enter the water and glide the hand forward, push it a little further than you think you should and feel the body rotation start with the shoulder and hip, feel the hand dropping to the catch position and change the pitch outwards and then turn and draw the water in and then accelerate backwards and hold in the water as long as you can. Release and bring out high and do it again and again, 72 times each unrelenting minute.
- Transition one
Round the final buoy, 150m to go, sight, get a straight line, control your breathing. Watch the water change colour, see the green felt on the slipway, dig your feet in and you’re up and running and here we go, running up the path, hand behind and get hold of the cord and pull the zip and – keep running! – grip on and pull over the shoulders, arms out, hair-ends wet on forehead, thumbs inside the waist and ease down and – there’s the bike – foot down, jarring, balance, disorientated – now that’s better. Push down, one knee up, and the other one, foot on neoprene and lift and free one leg. And the next and now change and re-focus with helmet on, lift your bike off the rail, hold the saddle and run through transition. Beaten the others out! Shouting, cheering and over the line, keep running and lift and onto the bike and pedal, pedal, pedal, to get the speed up and now, one hand down to ease the foot in, done. And now the other.
No pause or hesitation, sweep onwards and upwards choosing not to change gear just yet but digging deeper on each downward thrust of the pedals, maintaining that momentum. Time becomes a friend that slows down and speeds up as required; slowing as you take a hairpin bend turning upon itself so that you can see with startling lucidity the best line to follow and then speeding up as a deep, long descent opens its way through the encroaching trees forming a tunnel to the freedom found at the end of the discipline.
- Transition two
Ease the feet out, watching for the dismount line, lifting the leg over and bringing through and then run. Run hard to where the shoes are, rack the bike, helmet off, hold the racing shoes open, pushing toes and feet in, and then in one motion, rising and turning and taking that first step to find out how much the cycle section has really taken out of you.
- The run and the hurt
Just you, the athlete, chasing, chasing now. It’s getting hard. The crowds can lift you so much that the pain is channelled away. It’s still there, of course. But it is as if it is not really in the person, just the body. The legs feel strong, powerful and smooth. And as the self-inflicted pain takes hold, the body comes back to you, becomes yourself once again. You know you can’t go any harder. And still you drive yourself on; still you test the limits of your soul and find you are willing to give even more. There’s that awful nightmare that all of us have. That one when you’re being chased by somebody you can’t quite see; but you can’t get away from them however hard you try. And when you open your mouth to scream, nothing comes out although your vocal cords are almost bursting with the effort of trying. All you want is for it all to stop.
- The finish
Triathlon is life – everything else is just waiting for the next race.
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