London Daze

I found this article from 2008. Interesting how perception changes with time. I thought I might be slower but, as it turns out, my speed seems to have improved. My current Olympic Distance Triathlon PB from 2010 is 2h06m comprised of a 21m59s swim, 1h05m45s bike, 37m01s run. Patience, consistency, eyes on the horizon.

London Daze

London was my home for a few months shy of a decade. From 1998 to 2008, I spent my late twenties and early thirties in the Big Smoke living in the Ivory Tower. I was looking for life in the fast lane and The Experience. Somewhere in between, the mist parted and the path straightened out. After a few years of Glastonbury haze, soured beer and economy flights to Hemingway’s European playgrounds, I found my way out of my youth.

There are so many valid reasons for leaving, but so many reasons to be happy for having lived in London. These were the Labour years which saw the mourning of a Princess, the tail end of the Dot Com boom, and the celebration of reality television and the Digital Age. Money was filling up the coffers and property prices were turning pensioners, who had no intention of ever moving, into millionaires. The EU’s walls lowered and the less affluent poured through customs looking for jobs at Starbucks. Life ala Tony Blair was good.

The Forest

It was another typical scrambled-eggs-and-sausage-Sunday-morning nursing a hangover which had embedded itself in the neurons of my brain. I wondered if anyone had seen my antics the night before. It was a fun night, but hopefully no-one else could see the cracks. I couldn’t handle the thought of staring at the television trying to figure out the Sony Playstation controls. I decided to get out of the house. Putting on an old T-shirt and pair of track pants, I headed out to the Wimbledon Common.

By the time I reached the common I was out of breath and wasn’t certain where to run to. Ahead of me I saw a female runner head into the woods and I decided to follow her to see if she could guide me to a running path. I kept my distance, not wanting to scare her off thinking I was stalking her. Without notice she turned sharply across the golf course and headed over orange leaves into a thicket of trees. It was an autumn morning and the crisp air was starting to clear my head. Ahead of me I reached the female runner and an elderly couple who were waiting at a cross roads in the woods. All of a sudden a gaggle of female cross country athletes tore up the path. There must have been about 200 young runners. It was still 8am and I thought everyone was at home sitting on the couch hiding from the wet cold. And here I was stuck in the middle of a bright, wet forest with runners slopping in and out of the mud. I didn’t wish to be anywhere else.

Feeling like an extra on the set of Chariots of Fire, I decided to keep on running. Out of the woods, across several football fields to an old club house. Eventually I found a side door to one of the old dressing rooms with a large X across the door. This turned out to be the HQ of the Thames Hare and Hounds, the oldest running club in the world. I’m not sure what I was looking for but I went up the stairs and encountered the club president.

President: Hi. Can I help you?
RR: Yes please. I’m interested in joining the club. I’d like to run a marathon. In under 3 hours.
President: Well, that’s still ok, you should still think about joining the club.

Now, I had never ever run a marathon let alone have a clue of what it’d take to run one at that speed. 3 hours just seemed like a pretty rock star running time and I wanted the President to know that I was serious and interested in going *fast*. My hangover was still there and I need to channel my energies into something more beneficial to my longevity. I was looking for a lifeline.

His response that I “should still think about joining the club” threw me off completely. As I walked and jogged back home I thought about what he had said. “That’s still ok.” Holy cow. This guy (and everyone in his crew) must have been able to run much faster than 3 hours. I’m certain it wasn’t intentional but the choice of his words made me think this whole running thing was purely for elite athletes who had been doing this since their first day out of diapers.

I had possibly hoped for the reply: “Be here tomorrow at 6am sharp. Bring water. We’ll make a champion out of you.” His actual words, intimidating in their subtlety, knocked the wind out of my sails.

It made me think. What would it take to go fast? What sacrifices would have to be made? As athletes and as normal individuals we all experience epiphanies which change us. But, as I have realised over time, it is not the epiphany which changes us, but the actions we take as a result of those epiphanies. A seed had been planted.

My First Triathlon

I tell everyone who does their first race that I know their biggest fear is death by drowning. That was certainly my biggest fear. No-one says anything but I know it lurks there beneath the surface. One mistimed kick to the temple or one too many people swimming over you. That could do it. Fear is stirred by the unknown.

My first race was the 2001 London Triathlon. It was the only triathlon that I had heard of, so I entered. My training involved 4 swims in my local leisure centre, 2 bike rides of about 20 kilometres, 4 x 5k runs. That should get me though it.

I made some notes just after the race and inadvertently started my first training diary:

Scared in the swim. Some guy had died in an earlier race. Swim turned out to be quite comfortable. The ride was very tough on my dual suspension mountain bike. The run was quite good although my thighs started to twitch on my last lap. I forgot how many laps I had left to run. Stopped to ask a supporter what to do. Rookie of note. What an awesome feeling finishing my 1st ever race.

I was on cloud nine for several days after that 3 hour long race. It was unbelievable to me that I had completed a full Olympic distance race. I thought I could have gone a bit faster if I trained more. The following year I decided to do the Windsor Olympic Distance race. The photo at the head of the article is me on my last lap of the race. I managed to go sub 3 hours on my brand new Trek bike purchased the day before.

The winning Elite athlete, Richard Allen, overtook me that day. He had started about an hour behind me and was leading the run and ahead of Spencer Smith and Andrew Johns. I had plenty of time to see him floating above the ground eating up the road. Watching him made me think I could go much faster. He was running effortlessly but as he ran by me I could hear his thoroughbred lungs sucking the air in and out. He looked calm but I could hear he was working *hard*.

It made me think that there is more to this Triathlon malarkey.

Pieces of the Puzzle

Everyone gets to similar destinations via different routes. Some of us follow, some of us lead, some of us get lucky. This goes for most things in life. Packing up my bags, I came across old race medals, faded T-shirts, dirty race numbers and plenty of crusty race pictures. I looked at the results of my 1st ever Windsor race in 2002:

Swim 00:32:08

Bike 01:34:13 (25kph)

Run 00:51:00

Time 02:57:20

My time 5 years later in 2007 was:

Swim 00:24:32

Bike 01:12:47 (33kph)

Run 00:39:43

Time 02:17:04

It was interesting to note that I had taken 40 minutes off my first ever Windsor time. My Windsor picture from 2002 is at the start of this piece. A picture of me at a team triathlon race in July of 2007 is at the end. Amazing what perseverance brings. More importantly, I can still see the huge amounts of improvements that can be made. All one really needs is patience, consistency and eyes on the horizon.

Now to set my sights on the stars for 2008, in whichever country I should find myself, and plan accordingly.

Power to the people,

If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them. Henry David Thoreau