Oh, the injustice….
Triathlon countdown. With about eight weeks to go, I developed dysentry and a racking cough that threatened to curtail my racing ambitions and lay me up in bed at home. My modest contribution to endurance sport for the well-over-forties, it appeared, was over. Well, almost. A brief doctor’s examination pronounced me fit for combat and off I went, enthusiasm fired for the coming ordeal.
You can’t really describe triathlon to the non participant. Most people get confused at the distances. Now, was it a thirteen mile swim and a four hundred metre bike or the other way round? Once you’ve explained the arithmetic, the next question is the order of play. Yes, it is the swimming leg first. This formality prevents you from drowning from a state of exhaustion brought on by hours of manic cycling and running.
Fitness is a strange pursuit. The more outlandish your goals, the greater the risk to your health and sanity. Exercising a few times each week to raise the heart-rate is good for the system. Anything beyond this is questionable. And, given the nature of endurance sport, it isn’t difficult to see why.
The immune system was designed to protect the individual from illness and infection. It was not designed to cope with the trauma associated with extended bouts of intense exercise. Yes, we were given legs to run with, but primarily to escape sabre-tooth tigers and spear-throwing Neanderthals not to take part in glorified slugfests like the London Marathon!
Often, during training, you can feel as if you’re invincible. Then a combination of factors such as late nights, fried breakfast, onset of virus etc, conspires to bring you down. Peak condition is hard to achieve, as illusive as the truth from a politician. You think you have it one minute and then it’s gone, a poignant memory, something to tell your grandchildren about as you ease gently into your orthopaedic chair.
‘Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’ Dylan Thomas could have penned these words in honour of the modern triathlete, for whom neither age or distance can erode their will. There is a nobility to the suffering, a sense of transcendence that stays with you long after the race is over.
So tomorrow morning that’s where I’ll be, busy contemplating this noble folly with a bunch of fellow competitors, heart-rate monitors at the ready and swim goggles misting over in the dawn light. And should I fall by the roadside, bury me in a shaded stretch of forest and remember me with this simple doggerel. ‘Here lies a man who just couldn’t stop. He went out one morning and bopped ’til he dropped!’