After watching the Royal Wedding a few weeks ago, our star columnist looked at some of his own tours of duty.

Triathlon Blogs - Phil GravesAs I write this, the whole country is Royal Wedding mad – even I have been out to buy some bunting and put it outside for all and sundry to see. I know our little island can seem mundane, cold and pretty boring most of the time, but having been around the world and back again I can really say, just like Dorothy, there is no place like home. I simply love living up here in little old York – in my own world, away from all the hype, pressure and without the professional triathletes on every street corner of the USA.

Pride of place

Anyway, with all these British flags flying round, it really does make me feel proud to be from such a great country. I’m sure all of you who have been lucky enough to race for GBR, be it as a professional or as an age-group athlete, are immensely honoured, just like I am, to pull on your national colours and race for this great nation.

I know you will all have very special memories, so I want to share some of my most memorable, shall we put it, ‘events’ from my time on international duty. My first-ever race in a GB vest was when I was 14 in the European Youth Relay team. I had made it into the ‘B’ team by coming 4th in the qualifying race – my second ever triathlon, a supersprint at Eton. The ‘A’ team was made up of Alistair Brownlee, Adam Hickey and Simon Fanous, and I had James Radcliffe and Aled Thomas in my team. I can remember it like it was yesterday. We all headed off to Italy. It was my first-ever time on a plane and, even though our team came 9th and the ‘A’ team was 4th, I had the time of my life.

Tiny terrors

Being only 14 or 15 years old we were all terrors. I remember after the race all the other teams were staying in our hotel and the coaches had given us a curfew of 12am. Obviously, every other team was staying up later, so we would climb from balcony to balcony on a ledge that was literally four inches wide on the first floor, moving from apartment to apartment, hiding from the coaches who were prowling around trying to catch us out. It was a fun trip to say the least!

Flying the flag

A few years later I was at the same event in Croatia, but had J-Dog (aka Jonny Brownlee) and Rob Bowles in my team. There are so many stories from this race I really can’t share, but there is one I will. Ali B was racing in a European Junior cup race the day before our race, so me, Rob and J-Dog rode down from the hotel to cheer him on. I rode down carrying a small Yorkshire flag in one hand, but my hand slipped on the bars and I fell off and got a few cuts. Anyway, we still made it down to cheer him on, but I felt such an idiot, I was doing my best to try and cover up the wounds from all the coaches down there until I got back and could clean them up. I didn’t do a very good job, as the performance director got to find out (it was Graeme Maw at the time) and he just told me to try and stay on my bike – I felt like a right clot. I still have a huge scar on my arm to this very day from that crash. But it’s OK; we won the race, even if the salt-water swim did sting a bit…

Bum’s the word

Probably the funniest thing ever to happen occurred when I was in Finland racing the U23 European Tri champs. We had just finished an open-water swimming session in this beautiful Finnish lake and this one athlete, who shall remain nameless, managed to get his wetsuit off OK, but upon bending down to pick up his bag the seam on his tri-suit (that ran right up the middle of his bum) decided to part ways. He was left with his bum hanging out of his tri-suit, much to the amusement to the 20 or so people that were there at the time. That was certainly one ‘for Queen and Country’ moment, I can tell you! So, my one tip for this triathlon season is buy the right size trisuit – please!