Travel active: Get on course for a triathlon

You've swum 1500m in open water as fast as you can; just the 40km bike ride and 10km run to go, then. Tough stuff, this triathlon. Peter Conchie learns how to coax his muscles into toeing the line

Preparing for your first triathlon can be a lonely pursuit. It is a solo sport that demands many hours of hard training to master its three elements of running, swimming and cycling. In terms of commitment, preparing for a triathlon can be compared with a full-time job, whereas gearing up for a marathon is like attending an evening class.

Despite the effort invol-ved, triathlon is one of Britain's fastest-growing sports. According to the British Triathlon Association (BTA), around 400 events a year are staged in Britain, with total entries of 100,000.

A colleague, David Greene, and I recently attended a training day aimed at first-timers to the sport who are competing this year in events in Blenheim and London. I was there under false pretences, having somehow survived in London last summer, while David was preparing for his first event.

Competitors at the London Triathlon have a choice of distance. The most popular is the Olympic, which consists (in this order) of a 1500m open-water swim, 40km bike ride and 10km run, and the Sprint, for which these figures should be halved. Anyone tempted by the masochistic Ironman events should roughly multiply the Olympic figures by four and look towards the Ironman UK Triathlon, an event that finishes with a marathon.

The training day took place at Dulwich College, the educational establishment whose famous old boys include authors Raymond Chandler and P G Wodehouse. As if in tribute to their alma mater, during the course of the day our collective efforts would lurch between comedy and something from the pages of a thriller.

Our cycling expert was Richard Hobson, a former professional triathlete and the coach of Julie Dibens, an England international who competed at this year's Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. As we sat before him on low school benches, he gamely fielded questions on a bewilder-ingly wide range of subjects. He had advice on how to gauge your correct bike size and how much to spend on a new machine (unless you are a professional athlete, more than £1,000 is not worth it). There was even a deeply impressive demonstration, reminiscent of a West Country David Blaine, of how to change a flat tyre without using tyre levers or a bike pump.

The strangest question (closely followed by one from a man in the second row about whether he should shave his legs) concerned onboard urination. In the Olympic distance, an average competitor will take between an hour and 90 minutes to cycle 40km, around 25 miles in old money. If the urge strikes, what should one do, the questioner wanted to know.

The advice from Richard, to borrow a phrase from a leading sportswear manufacturer, was: "Just do it"; no one will notice as you will be going fast enough, but even if they do see something, they will think it is sweat.

Two wheels under our belts, it was off to the running track, where our BTA coach, Julie Liversedge, took us through some warm-up exercises before a session on technique. Glowing after a vigorous game of stick-in-the-mud, we performed some alternate buttock clenches and then tried to persude our legs to rediscover their - in my case estranged - fast-twitch muscles.

As we high-kicked in formation across the Astroturf with around 100 other more co-ordinated people, I could see the photographer's shoulders shaking with mirth, a fact that I hoped would prevent him recording the moment. The session concluded with three sets of two laps of the running track, during which we were encouraged to learn how to pace ourselves.

As the day wore on, faces that had been previously etched with anxiety became more relaxed. After lunch, there was a talk about hydration and nutrition, and gradually the prospect of a three-hour race seemed less daunting.

One aspect of triathlon that didn't feature in any of the talks, but seems to come naturally to most competitors anyway, is the importance of hiding your light under a bushel. Previous experience should be stealthily underplayed, and any evidence of actual talent, such as certificates or schoolboy representative honours, should be kept to yourself.

Thus, before the running session, my colleague David had declared himself "useless", and before the cycling stint he confided that a childhood accident while riding his Raleigh Chopper had left him wary about two-wheeled transport. The impression was of man lacking both confidence and ability. In the pool, though, I discovered that I had been had.

Coach Dan Plews asked us to rank ourselves in terms of swimming ability, and there, in the second fastest of six lanes, David glided along like a shark. If you can imagine a shark wearing a wetsuit. In contrast, my own attempts at aquatic self-improvement suffered a setback when I missed the first 10 minutes of the pre-swim lecture after I put my wetsuit on inside out. Following some rather technical advice on stroke efficiency and breathing - most of which passed me by as I peeled off then squeezed back into my rubber companion - we were let into the water.

The session was intended to recreate that claustrophobic fish-farm feeling that comes during a mass open-water swimming event. As we thrashed up and down, very often on top of one another, the finer points of freestyle went out of the window. But an equally important lesson was being learnt: that of looking after yourself.

The session concluded with us all practising "transition", the awkward art of swapping between disciplines. James, the demonstration swimmer, swam two lengths of the pool, then jumped out and whipped off his wetsuit in double-quick time, as if in preparation for the 10km run. He managed to keep his trunks on and got a round of applause.

As the day ended, new companions wished each other well and dispersed in varying states of disrepair and exhaustion. While most of us were not yet ready to take our place on the starting line, in a few intense hours the thought of completing a triathlon had become a marginally less daunting prospect.

Entries for the Blenheim Triathlon (theblenheim-triathlon.com) on 20-21 May and London Triathlon (thelondontriathlon.com) on 5-6 August are closed, but spectators are welcome. Places are still available for The Ironman UK Triathlon (ironmanuk.com) at Sherborne, Dorset on 20 August. For more information about triathlon: britishtriathlon.org

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Guru Careers: Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager is req...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future