Time for the quiet life? Is it heck – Steve Trew looks at the crazy compulsion of triathlon’s world of pain.

Triathlon Blogs - Steve TrewBack in the days when I was a runner, it was 11:30pm on a Sunday and I’d just got in from an evening out (a small drink actually). Just enough time to go over my training diary before getting to bed. Then – disaster! Why? I’d only managed 77 miles that week instead of the scheduled 80 miles, and there was half-an-hour to go. What to do? A no-brainer – get the running shoes on and head out for a rushed three miles to make the schedule. Phew! Panic over and miles achieved, I’d ticked the box.

Now, would I have been anything less of a runner had I not completed that magic 80 miles for that week? Of course not. But 80 miles is 80 miles. It was on paper, so it had to be done. Fast forward 30 years –it’s Tuesday morning at 5:30 and swim session starts at 5:55am. I have to get up, I have to go to the session. What the hell for? Why does a bloke in his 60s get up at that unearthly time to go swimming? I could go in for “those of a certain age” public sessions later in the day at the leisurely hour of 11am. But it wouldn’t be the same. Where’s my swim squad? Where’s the hurt going to come from? Why would I want to swim with those old blokes? (No disrespect at all intended). No chance! And the thing is, that everybody reading this article totally understands.

I’m preaching to the converted. We’re different – we think and act differently. We’re not the same as Joe Public out there: “Age cannot wither us nor custom stale our infinite variety”, as my good friend William Shakespeare was wont to say. It’s that obsession that makes us different. Why settle for an easy life when we can do it the tough way? Why settle down in the armchair with a cardigan and pipe when we can still have those sore, aching muscles that make us proud to realise just who we are?

GOING BACK FOR MORE

Why has one of the greatest of the greats, Australia’s Ian Thorpe decided to put his Speedos back on and try to make the Aussie team for the 2012 Olympics? Why put yourself through all that pain? And believe me, Ian knows more than most just how much pain there will be and how much during however many training sessions he will regret his decision. But any regret won’t last. The obsession will. The obsession to make one more Games, one more time on the line, one more time in the lane; 12 years (and that’s a double lifetime in swimming) after that magnificent Sydney explosion in the pool.

Thorpe gave himself just three days to see if he could bear it again. Then three weeks (he trained in a different pool every day so as not to give anything away to other observant swimmers). And then decided to give in to the obsession and try for it. It certainly won’t be easy (understatement of the decade) swimming, times, techniques, costumes and records have moved on. And yet, the Thorpedo is willing to give it one more go. Maybe he was influenced by fellow Aussie swimmer, Geoff Huegill, who made a swimming comeback and lost 100lb (45kg!) in weight and proceeded to take the gold medal in the 100m butterfly at last year’s Commonwealth Games, beating his personal best time from over ten years ago. Comicbook stuff… but actually for real. An awesome obsession? Some would say so.

AN HONEST SPORT

Triathlon has all the components to be an obsessive sport; it needs lots of training, lots of hours, lots of self-discipline. There are three distinct areas of commitment. It is extremely attractive to those of us who know that nothing comes easy, and if it did, then it wouldn’t be worthwhile anyway.

Above all, triathlon is an honest sport; the more you put in, the more you get out. Obsession? Some would say so. Why be a runner doing 80 miles a week and take 10 hours doing it when you can be a triathlete and spend 20 hours training? Give me more! Bring it on! Yes, some triathletes do do that. They take it perhaps further than it should be taken. We’re not talking the pros here, that’s what they do, that’s their job. But us? Yes, it is an obsession, and all the better for that. But it’s an obsession that makes us appreciate our lifestyles, enjoy the balances and take the rewards of relaxation after all the hard work. “A triathlete forever” – I’ll be happy with that on my gravestone.