Where it all began, and what I wish I had known...
Updated: Jul 1, 2020
Pulse quickened; senses heightened. The gun sounds, what am I doing here and why am I doing this? Such thoughts raced through my head at the start of the Warwickshire triathlon in 2016- my first multisport event. Many athletes can relate to this when looking back on their initial entry to a sport. We gain experience, confidence, and acquire strategies in future races, but the one thing that remains is the exhilaration of the start line. This race ended with cramped legs, a grimace strewn across my face and a relief to get over the finish line, and realistically not much has changed since in that sense!
From childhood I was quite sporty, fit and healthy. Parents that pushed a wide variety of extra-curricular activity meant I gained a broad skillset and enabled me to turn to those sports that I particularly enjoyed. However, problems arose with regular injuries and accidents that over time limited the sports available to me safely, and so meant I turned my attention more so to cardio and strength training. Coming to secondary school I found refuge in the ‘cave’, the perfect place to satisfy endorphin cravings and work out a day of studying.
My gym routine developed into a full 6-day a week, intense training plan. With emphasis on trying to bulk out my particularly skinny adolescent physique. It was this physique though that made me an adept runner at school, and so around the gym I would often pound my local trails, taking the dog and exploring the local countryside. Here I developed my passion for running which hasn’t stopped since (and is my favourite discipline in triathlon). A running highlight comes from sixth form where after several years of unstructured training I managed to break the 40-minute barrier for 10km, and I haven’t looked back since!
Cycling was the next discipline to come into my life. Idolising my dad’s charity sportive cycling I jumped at the opportunity to ride from London to Paris in the summer of 2014. I bought the cyclocross bike that I still ride today just before the event, and then duly road the 310 miles in 3 days on knobbly tires, and in some fairly awful conditions! Reaching the third day and lying on the roadside during the stops, it was definitely an epic. But these adventures continued annually for the next 3 years, with a 100 mile event, Manchester to Bristol and Coast to Coast charity sportive all taking place- raising over £100,000 as a team in the process. It’s important to recognise though that these were very much isolated events. I didn’t train cycling specifically at all and it was only reaching university 3 years ago that I started to put in structured sessions to see how I could develop!
Finally, as is the case with most triathletes, swimming was my neglected discipline. Having taken swimming lessons to age 11, and only jumping in the pool occasionally thereafter, it wasn’t until university that I properly looked at stroke development and swim specific training. From that point it was a tough journey, clinging to the heels of those faster than me in the university club, a significant year of training during second year saw me come on leaps and bounds to be a strong, efficient swimmer. Something that I’m still thoroughly enjoying developing today.
Completing each discipline on it’s own however doesn’t constitute a conventional triathlon. This requires a jump, or commitment to an event. Something I had never and likely would never have considered had it not been for one of my teachers at school. During sixth form the head oh physics, who lead the after-school jogging club, and was a keen triathlete himself, suggested that I join him and a couple of other students at a local sprint-distance triathlon, and it’s was this event that brings us back to the grimace-stricken boy! This event led me to join the University Triathlon Club at Exeter, something which most definitely changed my life. Adding structure to training and a social aspect to the sport that many don’t realise exists from an outside perspective.
It’s at this point I would also like to impart what I wish I had known when coming into the sport first of all, and that is to not be afraid of the ‘triathlon or endurance sport’ community. It can be intimidating to be surrounded by such absurd amounts of lycra, or to have jargon thrown around and no idea what it means, but the community of these sports is incredible. Training with others and under the guide of a coach if possible, makes everything a little bit easier and a lot more enjoyable. Being in the position I am now I can truly say that taking the leap and joining others in my endeavours turned triathlon from a casual activity to a thoroughly enjoyed hobby and even more!
Hopefully this show’s that we all start somewhere… And that it’s a long journey to become comfortable in the sports that we find ourselves. My journey has only recently begun in that sense!