Don't tri this
by Steve Riley
I was following a man on a bike this morning, labouring away uphill in the wrong gear. His bike was grime-worn from long use, and what had once beeen a fluorescent jacket hung limply on his body, no structure left. The bigger sprockets on the back of his block had that orange dry rust, the sort that indicates no use in a long time. It was some time since he'd brought them the gift of lubricant. He probably rides his bike most days, but he still hasn't learnt to ride.
That's us, that is. Making things harder for ourselves, labouring away in the wrong gear. From choice.
So, the point. The point. I'd done the Cockerham Offroad Triathlon a couple of times before. It's an easy way into tri, a friendly local event. Originally a one-off to raise a bit of money for the local village hall, it's run for four years now. The event has taken on a life of its own, attracting entrants from further afield than the local towns and villages. The first year I'd noticed a woman on an old tourer, canti brakes and fat tyres, who'd done pretty well on the bike leg. The bike certainly hadn't held her back, even though everyone else was riding mountainbikes.
So this year I thought I'd try it fixed. No reason not to. There's nothing technical on the course, and a 'cross bike would surely be an advantage on the road sections. Data: Pompino, 42x18, Hutchinson Pro Elite cx tyres.
I set my stall out in transition. Bike on the scaffold rack, helmet, vest, bike shoes, running shoes. Perhaps prophetically, I seemed to have bagged the only space freshly marked with a cow pat. Nice.
We started with the swim. I was off in the first wave. I got in with the elites courtesy of a foolishly optimistic predicted swim time and a same-day registraion. Ho, ho.
I was rubbish, but then I'm not fit. I've only swum about twice this year and was completely goosed from shifting soil and breaking concrete blocks the rest of the weekend. I set off too fast. Got punched in the nose in the scrum at the start. Couldn't get any rhythm going. Blah blah. After a minute or so I did a few strokes of breast stroke to sight the turn buoy. After that, every time I put my head down to swim crawl I felt queasy. A can of Red Bull just before the start, cowshit-filled brown water - a heady mix. I resigned to doing most of the rest of it breast stroke.
Up and out, idiot-jog to bike. Drop goggles, pick goggles up, idiot-jog, find bike. Vest on, bike shoes on, helmet. Unrack bike, another idiot jog past the marshall and on.
The bike went pretty well, I was soon battering along the rough farm tracks and grassy paths, glad of the speed of the narrow tyres. On the drops most of the way. About 5 minutes in I realised the annoying rattle wasn't a loose bottle bolt, but the lockring on the non-driveside of the flip flop hub. It soon came off completely, swiftly followed by the Miche cog. It spent the next half hour tinkling away like a demented Swiss midget cow.
As it turned out, the bike was probably faster offroad, and slower on the road sections. Without the distraction of gear changes I was forced to work the gear offroad, but on the road I was spinning out. Pushing too low a gear, I guess.
Into transition, a few chuckles from the marshals and a quick change of shoes. The run was torture. I've not run enough this year and was found out, simple as that. I felt sick to start with and it only got worse. But I got there, panting and grunting, gradually losing places till the finish. 73 minutes all together in the end, the slowest of my three attempts, but an hour and a bit is survivable even if you're not on form. I spent the rest of the day with a dicky stomach from that Red Bull/cowshit cocktail in the quarry swim. But all in all, it was great.
Would I do it again on the same bike? Definitely. I don't know that fixed was such a bad choice for the event, I'd like to try again when I'm feeling fitter, and find out if the poor run was down to the fixed ride, or just a poor run. But I wasn't trying to prove anything, just to find out a little more.
There were a few seconds of joy, flying along on the narrow singletrack above the beach defences doing maybe 20mph. For those few moments it all came together beautifully, and that's good enough for me.