People have been stopping me in the street lately, asking me if I didn’t blog about the Triathlon I did a few years ago because I never made it past the Finish line and couldn’t take the cybershame. It’s a fair question, especially since the only thing my mum repeatedly asked me about the whole event was, “Will there be ambulances there?” The truth of the matter is that ever since making it across the finish line of the triathlon, I have been studiously lazy. I’ve been lounging, safe in the knowledge that with two labours and a triathlon under my belt, I never have to exercise again, or even think about the experience.
I can now reveal that my triathlon story begins 48 hours before the race, with an unexpectedly professional phone call from my sister. She runs marathons in England and wears jeans that wouldn’t fit past my ankles.
“Right, what are you eating?” she opened with, before I could get a hello in, a question which implied she’d had some kind of British futuristic video messaging app installed her end to which Canadians didn’t yet have access.
“What?” I replied, playing for time, and trying to sound like I wasn’t chewing.
“Everything you eat from now until the race has to include carbs,” she said, with an air of Jillian Michaels that I found exciting. “You have to carb load.”
I promised to do just that at every opportunity for the next two days, only to find out that I already carb load round the clock anyway. My diet didn’t change one iota. Jillian Michaels will have a field day when she finds that out.
When I showed up to the pre-race meeting to listen to an hour’s worth of course information and event rules, I felt like I’d wandered into the Olympic Village without a security pass, but nobody had noticed yet. I felt like that, I should say, until I glanced to my right during the speeches, and saw my neighbour. She was staring the course organiser right in the eye, listening intently, as she shovelled handful after handful of Miss Vickie’s chips into her mouth. It was an hour-long production line – she never faltered – and the chip packet she’d brought along for the meeting was the size of a small sleeping bag. I absolutely loved sitting next to her: she was so confidently non-triathletey. Whether or not she was taking carb loading to a whole new level, there was something very calming about sitting next to that woman.
My calm didn’t last. By 6am on race day my adrenalin was flowing like a fast-paced river. That might account for why I managed to swim like a rocket in the first leg: I think it was nerves. I took off at a cracking pace, which is an interesting decision when you can’t see anything. On lap one I swam right up onto the stomach of a large lady doing a slow backstroke. I was like a seal, beaching.
Having made it out of the water, I ran far too fast up the beach and into the transition zone, where I grappled for about 15 minutes with clothes that wouldn’t go onto wet skin, all the while breathing like a vacuum cleaner. I definitely used up vital glycaemic stores trying to get my sports bra to unroll out of its tight, wet line of cloth and get into position, so that I could actually consider getting onto my bike. I also remember being gutted that my felt tip number on my arm had rubbed off on my wetsuit – I only entered the triathlon to get the felt tip numbers. I would later draw it on again in a black felt-tip from Scotty’s colouring bag.
I had a good lead on the pack after my uncharacteristically dynamite swim, a lead I held onto for about seven minutes until 55 people overtook me on their bikes. The only person I managed to pass on the bike leg had a puncture and was pushing the bicycle home. As the 38th person blazed past me with a demoralisingly cheery, “On your left!”, I started to check for rocket fuel coming off the back of them because seriously, my car doesn’t go the speed of most of those cyclists.
There was a moment of horror for me when I jumped off my bike and began running, where I realized that actually my legs weren’t moving, only my arms were. My calf muscles were cramping up, and I had to keep stopping near bins to stretch my feet upwards against them. They were the kind of stretches that meant I had to put my face almost into the bin while I took big, deep breaths. That didn’t help. As I rounded the corner towards Safeway, I was overtaken by a family of four taking their Yorkshire terrier for a gentle stroll. The father glanced back, probably to double check that I actually had a number on my chest and was a registered racer. He stumbled a little, confused. Meanwhile, my own family were loyally cheering me on from the bridge, and must have seen me coming 15 minutes before I actually reached them. I’m pretty sure neither of my children have watched The Walking Dead yet, but I think the sight of me lurching towards them, gritting my teeth, my hair plastered to my face, might have been quite the preview. As I passed my son, he stuck his little hand out for a high five which caused me to do a massive sheep-bray-sob-heave, which I’m really thankful the photographer didn’t capture. From that point, though, I have to say I rallied, and I finished the race looking deceptively at ease. And that, after all, is the main thing.
The day after the triathlon I went wakeboarding. Didn’t everyone? I’ve never been wakeboarding before, but apparently I am Olympic and not a day past 19, so being pulled at 500,000 horsepower, face-down, holding a rope shouldn’t really be a problem. The day after the wakeboarding, I found I couldn’t walk, and that lasted for seven days. From triathlon to unable to move in 24 hours. Who else of my felt-tipped brethren can say they did that? See, I knew I was a record-breaker.