Written by Tim Green
My wife and I have been happily married for 8 years. We have two wonderful children and are fortunate to live in Perranporth on the north coast of Cornwall. One of the reasons our marriage functions, one of the very foundations of our union, is that long ago I learnt that it was deeply unwise to attempt to compete in a sporting endeavour, be it table tennis or triathlon, with Sarah.
On the surface, my wife is not an obviously competitive individual. But having grown up in a family with two brothers, she will derive deep-seated satisfaction in the infliction of defeat on brothers and spouses alike and is not one to let it be forgotten easily. Hence the feeling of unease, a little flicker of dread, when innocently one morning, she let slip that she might ‘have a go at the triathlon this year’… Doesn’t she realise…? surely she understands…? Why would she jeopardise everything we have built together… Triathlon is my thing… and I don’t know if my marriage can survive getting beaten by my wife!
The reason I am panicking is two-fold:
Firstly, Sarah is very fit, and she as a member of Perranporth Surf Lifesaver Club, she swims like a fish and is completely unfazed by swimming in big horrible waves.
Secondly, Perranporth Triathlon is a brute! One of the oldest triathlons in the country, it has built its reputation on the renown – sinus filling – swim through one of the finest surf breaks in the country, a tough hilly bike and a savage run across soft sand and dunes. I know from prior experience this race will take you to some deep dark places!
Soon race day rolled around, and I am stood on the golden sand of Perranporth beach, nervously surveying the rolling surf, and wondering if I am enjoying the last few moments of functioning marriage. The weather is cool and clear and the sea conditions are good but challenging, with the swim taking us out past the rolling, crashing surf a full 500 metres into the clear water, before heading along past the cans and back into shore to complete the 1500 metre course. The cans are so far out it is hard to spot them in the sea. I glance across at Sarah, fiddling with her goggles and looking supremely confident, unperturbed by the waves, and chatting to her surf buddies who are manning the water cover.
My plan is to stick with Sarah and hang grimly to her feet. This lasts as far as the second set, whereupon Sarah disappears like a startled porpoise as I endeavour to swallow as much seawater as possible. The wife is long gone, but I know enough to keep thrashing in the white water until eventually I have reached the relatively sanctity of the deep water and I can finally get into some rhythm. It is impossible to see the cans, but I follow the pack and soon enough I arrive at the first turn, I glance back and am startled to see quite how far out to sea we have come, but don’t have time to dwell and set off for the second turn. Finally heading for home I have no idea where we are supposed to be leaving the water and frustratingly end up off course, with a long wade through thigh length water to finish the swim.
There are crowds of well-wishers on the beach, and I get a thumbs up from one of Sarahs grinning mates who informed me that ‘she’s long gone mate, I’d give up now if I were you!’ No chance. I’m not giving up on my marriage just yet! I can see Sarah leaving the transition area when I arrive, pushing her bike to the mount line. I struggle out of my wetsuit, haul my bike off the rack, and set off in pursuit.
The bike route is a relatively new addition to the course and incorporates a three-lap hilly loop, with a leg-sapping climb up Liskey Hill, straight out of Perranporth. It is a long, grinding climb, with several false crests, but eventually levels out and returns back to Perranporth via some long flowing, and occasionally technical descents. I stuff a snack size snickers in my mouth, settle down into my tri bars, and peer anxiously ahead for my wife.
I eventually pass Sarah near the top of the climb, who glances across and smiles serenely, as a semblance of balance is restored to my relationship. I concentrate on keeping my cadence up, on these familiar roads, and try to pass a few cyclists to make up for my errant navigation on the swim. We pass through the centre of Perranporth, on closed roads each lap, and the crowds line the pavement cheering the competitors, like Roth, but with more ice cream! I make sure I eat and take on plenty of electrolytes, as tough as the bike is, I know the real hurt is yet to come.
I pass through the second transition, and my legs feel ok as I head out towards the beach. It doesn’t last. The run route takes me out along the top of the beach, through the soft dry sand, dotted with bemused beachgoers and holiday makers. My legs are burning as each step sucks energy from my system, I glance up and Flat Rock rises menacingly out of the sand. It ain’t flat! It’s a steep horrible coastal track that takes us on a lung-bursting ascent of the sea cliffs, followed by an equally unpleasant descent back down onto the sand. I could’ve stayed home, saved myself the bother, and beat myself around the legs with a rolling pin!
The run route rejoins the sand and we head out on a death march to the end of the beach, before heading back over Flat Rock, diverting even further over some big horrible dunes, as Perranporth sparkles in the warm sunshine below. I clatter over the finishing line and crawl over to some shade, elated and utterly shattered… marriage intact.
I’ve been doing triathlon for a few years now, and have run some tough races, including both the Slateman and Snowman standard distance courses, but I can honestly say I have never been taken to quite such a dark place as Perranporth Extreme Surf Triathlon took me on that run course. It was bloody brilliant. Definitely one for the bucket list, and with the added incentive of supporting the invaluable work of the local Surf Lifesaving Club. One to book in the diary for 2019!
Perranporth Extreme Surf Triathlon will take place on Sunday 2nd September 2019. For more information, please click here.