Steve Trew on the life, times and changes witnessed by an old-school triathlete

The Old Timer (Peter Greenwood)

The Old Timer (Illustration: Peter Greenwood)

He was old now, this particular triathlete. He’d been around since the early days, seen and done it all. Been around when the distances were very much a mish-mash, where you could look to choose a race where you might have a better chance of doing well; where the swim was ultra-long or very, very short; where the run might be four miles, or 10, or 15. Way, way before the present day Olympic or sprint or super-sprint formalised distances.

He’d raced everywhere, travelling up and down the country because he’d had to if he wanted to race. There were so few races, and you saw the same hardcore group at just about every event. Race kit? He allowed himself an inner smile – there was no such thing as ‘race kit’. You wore a swimming costume, changed into cycle top and cycle shorts and then changed again into running shorts and vest. Wearing swimming trunks on the bike would have been considered very weird, and on the run – never!

And wetsuits! He shuddered. When he’d started, wetsuits didn’t exist (well, they did, but not in triathlon). He couldn’t believe it when they became accepted; how can that be fair? If it’s cold, you deal with the cold, don’t you? The younger athletes around him had smiled when he’d started on with his ‘wetsuit rant’, for he was old now, and what did he know about triathlon?

Not for this particular triathlete the joys of warm weather training camps, the trips down to Australia or South Africa for a couple of months in the winter. Why would you do that? How could you afford to do that? Was it even fair? If you could afford to go and others couldn’t, didn’t that give you an unfair advantage? The younger athletes had smiled again… They’d heard all about amateurs and professionals many, many times from the old guy.

But he was old now, old and tired. The youngsters, the newcomers to the sport who had once hung on his every word, barely acknowledged him. The old are always old, the young always young. Well, that’s what it felt like to him… Had he ever been young?

Perhaps he had, but it didn’t feel like that as he shuffled away on his usual training run. Training run! At his age! The kids would have laughed at him (actually, they did laugh at him, but not to his face, he at least retained that tiny vestige of respect). How many times had he run this particular route? His mind played tricks… A hundred? Don’t even think about it, a thousand? Many, many times that. Thirty years a triathlete, perhaps four times each week this particular run. Make that 200 times a year… His mind played tricks again – 6,000 times!

He drifted in his mind while running; how many swim sessions? How many times had he lifted a leg over the top-tube for yet another turbo session. And still he shuffled/half-ran on his route… Six thousand swim sessions then; how many lengths, how many tumble turns was that? Tumble turns – even they were difficult to perform now.

LIFE IN THE OLD DOG YET

And yet, and yet… He was still running, swimming and cycling. Despite all the pains and niggles and injuries over the years, despite all the gradual slowing down, the longer times, the shorter repetitions. Even the embarrassment of being the slowest, maybe even the ‘token athlete’ in the group (he still thought of himself as ‘athlete’) was gone. Perhaps even a smidgeon of pride there? The oldest and, usually, the slowest. But still doing it. Or was he? Was he training or just going through the motions because… because why exactly? Because he wanted to? Or because it was habit? Or maybe because he had nothing better to do?

He turned into the club meeting place; where they always met up before or after a session. The youngsters were talking, but he couldn’t hear them. And if he had…

“Still running! At his age! Much respect, much respect to him. I hope I can still do half of what he’s doing when I get to that age. Man, that guy’s done everything, everything I tell you! He never talks about it, never boasts; he’s done well over 200 triathlons, every distance, sprints to Ironman. The guy’s awesome, I’d stand in line for his autograph!”

The old man stood a little away from them; he knew he wouldn’t truly be accepted, because he was old now. He stood alone, and he never knew.

Steve isn’t old…. He’s really, really old! And the older he gets, the better he was. Steve is an advisory coach for Speedo. He can be reached for all things triathlon on trew@personalbest.demon.co.uk