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As the Virgin Active London Triathlon calls, Triathlon Plus’ Tom Ballard considers letting it go to voicemail.

London Calling: Tell them I'm not in!

The Virgin Active London Triathlon is nearly here and the race excitement is building into a weak-kneed fever! This iconic race – the biggest triathlon in the UK – is an event that’s been playing on my mind all season, one that I’ve been looking forward to and been think of with trepidation since the challenge of racing it was posed at the beginning of the year.

It’s strange how your mind plays tricks on you, for despite succeeding at completing two middle-distance races this year – the incredible Ironman 70.3 UK and the amazing Cowman – I’m just as nervous, if not more, about my first attempt at the London Triathlon. I’m sure this is partly down to the fact that I’ll be racing for (and against if that’s possible) Team Triathlon Plus-Boardman, our in-house band of triathlete pretenders, and partly because I’d forgotten in my half-iron mentality just how far Olympic distance is and the serious test it still represents.

In post-middle distance fervour, I attempted (with mixed results) to hold fitness and work on speed before taking on London. I was so utterly convinced that the Olympic distances would seem a walk in the park that it wasn’t until more recent race-length sessions that I remembered how isolating 1500m in open water can be, how difficult working seriously hard on the bike for 40km is and how far 10km of running feels.

While my 70.3-mile endeavours were undertaken with a firm grasp of the need to hold myself back – complete not compete – Olympic distance offers a unique challenge in terms of race pacing. You’ve got to go up to your limit, but not surpass it, power hard on the bike, but leave something in the legs for a fast run, an experience any Olympic distance athletes out there will probably recognise – and one any triathlete building to the distance will need to get used to.

There’s also the added pressure of my desire for a PB bouncing around in my head, which is asking for trouble, surely. Nervousness caused by this is completely overshadowed however, by the fact I’ll be up against three colleagues in a race to finish.

Though Team Triathlon Plus-Boardman is really just a bit of fun, having direct rivals in a race is something new to me. I’ve previously been concerned only with racing my own race – which I’ll still aspire to of course – and haven’t ever cared or considered who might be swimming, biking or running past me. With Adrian constantly improving, James looking extremely tasty in all disciplines of late and Rob – well, I wouldn’t put anything past him, I will, for the first time be looking up the road or over my shoulder in search of their distinctive branded outlines.

Not to be overly grandiose about the scenario, but I wonder whether this is a microcosm of how pros feel when they line up for a race, scoping out the opposition and playing mental top trumps with their various strengths and weaknesses in an attempt to divine the potential standings by the end of the race.

So, for those few interested, I’d rate the rest of the team (on my utterly subjective scale within the confines of the four of us) thus:

Triathlon Experience 4/5
Height 5/5
Race Prep 4/5
Swim 5/5
Bike 3/5
Run 3/5
Transition 3/5
Unknown factor 3/5
Total 30/40

Triathlon Experience 3/5
Height 5/5
Race Prep 3/5
Swim 4/5
Bike 4/5
Run 4/5
Transition 3/5
Unknown factor 5/5
Total 31/40

Triathlon Experience 1/5
Height 5/5
Race Prep 2/5
Swim 2/5
Bike 4/5
Run 5/5
Transition 2/5
Unknown factor 5/5
Total 26/40

Triathlon Experience 5/5
Height 2/5
Race Prep 4/5
Swim 5/5
Bike 5/5
Run 4/5
Transition 4/5
Unknown factor 0/5 (didn’t think this through)
Total 29/40

The unusual suspects: James, Adrian and Rob have come a long way this year

So what does this tell me about my competition apart from the fact that I would consider them all to be needlessly tall? Well, James is, by my extremely scientific reckoning, my biggest threat throughout the race. He’s been training hard on the sly and I’m sure he’ll be on great form. He’s also a natural athlete with a hidden competitive streak that I’m sure will be on full display in London, whereby I’m convinced he would run himself to within a fraction of his life to secure victory.

I was relying on a speedier swim than the rest of the team to give me an advantage, and while I’m pretty sure I’ll be out of the water before Rob and his inflatable duck waistband, in a recent 1500m open water time-trial, Adrian, James and I all finished within a minute of one another. Adrian’s also been getting the training in with his triathlon club, Tri Team Glos, and has seen steady improvement since Mike Trees of Newton and All3Motion tried to send him on the right path to running nirvana.

Rob is a quite the dark horse too. A veteran runner with some astonishing PBs knocking around in his past as well as being the piston-legged cyclist that being the editor of Britain’s top cycling magazine requires, once he’s out of the docks, he’ll only be getting closer as the race progresses.

It’s strange to think that all three were triathlon novices at the start of the year, and a testament to the infectious and inclusive nature of the sport that all have thrown themselves – nearly always willingly – into the challenges of becoming triathletes. They’ve all improved immensely though the help of all the coaches, experts and venues we’ve visited. In fact, they’ve all got worryingly close to my best times and already surpassed those I achieved in my maiden year in triathlon.

So you’ll understand when I say that regardless of my triathlon experience being greater than theirs, on the day, it’s still anyone’s game.

I’m now beginning to regret sharing so many tips with them, but at least in view of their lanky frames I should have the aerodynamic advantage. Still, right now, I’m more proud than anything that I have in some small way contributed to a few more people getting involved in the sport I love. Mind you, if you visit the Triathlon Plus stand (C48 just by the finish chute) on Sunday afternoon, that positive opinion might just have changed!

Good luck to everybody racing at the Virgin Active London Triathlon this weekend – especially Aimee, our triathlon-trying Marketing Manager and of course, the relay team fantastique that is Adam, Liz and Rob.

Special thanks must go to Team Triathlon Plus-Boardman’s sponsors: Boardman Bikes; 2XU; Garmin; Newton; and GU.

Don’t forget to come and chat with us at expo stand C48 – we’d love to hear from you! is the online home of Triathlon Plus. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.

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