“Try” is not a great word. You don’t hear kids declaring they are going to “try” to be an astronaut or a truck driver when they grow up. Nobody was inspired to support a leader on a promise to “try” to make a country great. And then there’s the whole other meaning: We’ve all met our share of “trying” people. That’s just one reason why entering a Try a Tri sounds so lame. The other reason is the numbers: A 250m swim, an 8km cycle, and a 2.5km run? You’d have that done while planning what to have for breakfast.
So when we arrived in Fenit yesterday morning for the Tralee Triathlon Club‘s annual triathlon (Alan was TO), I was quite happy to let people think that I had just come for the drive. And when Alan told people I was competing, I was quick to mumble that I was “just doing the baby one.” The truth is, entering a Try a Try was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. Oh, I had blithely announced last year that I was going to go the whole hog and enter the Hardman full-distance, but, despite being able to swim a mile in the pool, one experience of open-water swimming was enough to shut me up and put me off the whole idea of triathlons for life.
Well, for a year anyway. Something just would not let go in my head. I had to make an attempt, give it a go, try a tri. Anyway, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like I would die or anything.
“A man drowned during my first triathlon,” Susan, a swim coach and experienced triathlete, informed me as we both stewarded the Waterville triathlon in July. Surely that’s because there were hundreds of people in the water, and nobody saw him go under, I protested.
Susan shook her head. “His friends raised the alarm immediately.”
I waited for her to reassure me, to tell me that this had been a freak occurrence, that I would be perfectly safe, that I would not be kicked in the head or have a panic attack or sink.
“They didn’t find his body for a week and a half,” she said at last.
I dismissed Susan’s cheery reminiscences as I waited for the start of the swim on the beach in Fenit yesterday. After all, the tide was coming in, so if the worst happened, at least the search and recovery mission wouldn’t take long. There I was, standing at the edge of the water on a beautiful day of baby waves and breezy sunshine, and, had I not been hemmed in by 50 other nervy newbies, I would have turned tail and ran as fast as my neoprene legs could carry me. The buoys looked very far away, and the last-minute instructions merely added to the frantic buzz in my head that was telling me to do the sensible thing and just have a heart attack or at least faint— anything to avoid having to get into the water. But my heart insisted on thumping, so I had no choice but to wade in and set off.
It was then I made my biggest mistake: Spooked by slithering kicks from the shoal of swimmers around me and intent on not losing sight of the buoy, I failed to put my head into the water immediately, and after a few minutes, I found it difficult to put my face into the waves at all, so I floundered for almost the entire 250 metres, head up, half the Atlantic in my belly, and breathing like 40-a-day Sweet Afton smoker. The man doing an intermittent back stroke beside me did not help matters. The girl on the other side of him eventually spluttered at him to stop hitting her, and a kayak had to intervene. I could not get out of the water fast enough. Alan was on the shore cheering me on. “Never again,” I announced cheerfully as I tugged at my wetsuit zip in disgust.
It was a pleasure to hop onto the bike, a warm wind drying the back of my new tri suit, the sun sparkling on the sea that I had cursed just minutes before, stewards cheering me on. “I’m only doing the baby one,” I felt like whispering, but, as each kilometre creaked by, I was growing seriously and more disproportionately proud of myself and my successful efforts to not die in the sea.
The run was a surprise. I hadn’t even factored it into all the reasons why I should not do a triathlon, even a “baby” one. After all, 2.5km is hardly a challenge; I had run almost 17 times that distance in Copenhagen in May, and I do two or three times that distance most days of the week. It’s a different story when a gallon of brine is sloshing around in your belly, however, and your legs feel like they have been packed with sand. I was just starting to find my rhythm, and I had even start overtaking people when the finish line appeared. I crossed the line, accepted my medal and that was it.
Never mind the “Try” bit—I was a triathlete.