So, it's race day at siesta time and I haul my bike onto the train, find myself a seat and sit down to prepare myself for the afternoon's race. It is time to chill out after spending the morning baking muffins, buying running shoes (I kid you not) and sorting out childcare arrangements for a meeting I have in Madrid next week (big thank you to Ursula for covering the nursery-nanny gap).
I get off the train in central Madrid and ride my bike across a bridge over the river to the Casa de Campo park, where the triathlon is to be held. It feels wonderful to cycle along the shady avenues of downtown Madrid. I'd like to do this more often, I think to myself, as I take in the sights –royal palace, cathedral, cable cars, etc.
The event site in Casa de Campo has a festival atmosphere, except that instead of beer and live music the stalls have officials who check your ID card and give you a brown envelope with your swimming hat, running/biking number and a few freebies thrown in. I am all fingers and thumbs as I attempt to thread my number onto the elastic I bought for the occasion. I didn't realize that it was supposed to be thick elastic so the number won't flop about too much. Oh well. Spot the newbie.
Nerves are high before the race. I'm relieved to find my friend Stacey, who seems calm and prepared in comparison to my flustering. Our other friend Meredith arrived earlier and promptly got a puncture, so she is making a mad dash home to swap it for her husband's tyre, none of us having a repair kit to hand. The girl starting next to me has forgotten her helmet, and her boyfriend is rushing back home to pick it up for her. These are hairy moments, all adding to the nerves, but when the final call comes over the loud speakers both Meredith and my race companion slip into place just in time. Phew! They will get to participate after all.
We walk across a blue carpeted area to the lake where the swim will be. It's marked out by four gigantic orange buoys. I wonder to myself why they need to be so huge –surely normal-sized buoys would do the job? The race starts in three stages, at one minute intervals. We are the pink hats –the last ones to start. I wish I'd paid attention to the orange hats' start a minute ago. I am waiting for some Spanish version of "On your marks... Get set... Go!" But no. They cut straight to the klaxon –guess that was the "go" part. That'd be Om in Mom still standing on the blocks then...
I dive off the blocks into the lake, mere miliseconds after my companions. The water is cold, but there's not really time to think about that. There are swimmers thrashing about all over the place, and I've got to remember to keep the buoys on my left at all times. Now I know why they are so huge –it's virtually impossible to see where you're supposed to be going. This ain't no straight laned swimming pool. My goggles fill up with greenish water and I swallow a mouthful too. It tastes of weeds. I make a mental note to do the rest of the swim with my mouth shut.
I'm starting to think I should have trained for this. The swim is supposed to be my best of the three sports, and it's only 300m. But it's the longest 300m I've ever swum. I even resort to breaststroke a few times, can't believe I'm being such a granny but it really is quite a struggle. I pull myself out of the water at the end and run with leaden legs to the transition area.
OK, bike next. This is definitely my worst leg, but at least there's no more lakewater to swallow. I pull my helmet on first, chuck on socks, trainers and my floppy elastic number, grab my bike and off I go. If I hadn't seen my partner take the kid seat off my bike a few hours ago, I'd swear there's a giant toddler (or perhaps a sumo wrestler) on the back as I huff and puff my way up the first hill. I marvel at how many women are overtaking me. It's like I'm going in slow motion –backwards.
I spend the whole of the bike section surreally watching myself get further and further towards the back of the race. There's just one woman who seems to be as slow as me. She's faster going up the hills, but I am reckless on the downhill bits and keep catching back up with her.
As we pull into the transition area once more, I hear a little voice shout "Mummy!" and I spot my boys waving to me from the sidelines. Yay! They made it! This cheers me up no end (although I seem to be fighting back the tears –hold it together woman, not a good time to get emotional). I make a huge effort to look like I've got loads of energy left as I whizz past them, all smiles and waves.
In the transition area I jump off my bike, hook it on the stand, change my bike helmet for a baseball cap and turn my race number around to my front for the run, as per triathlon regulations. I start my run and I swear I've never felt less like running in my life. I wonder if I'm going to have to walk some of the way. Not now though, because I'm passing my boys again. Keep going Om in Mom, it's only 2-3km! (Never mind that the only running I've done in the last five years is when I've been late for the bus, the train or my goddaughter's christening...)
It turns out that the running course is a linear route along a road: 1-1.5km out, 1-1.5km back. It's horribly disheartening to see the elite triathletes coming into the finish when you're only just starting out. Maybe I'm a defeatist, but I find this really hard mentally, until I see Meredith ahead of me on her way back just past the halfway mark. This helps me to keep going and soon enough it's me who's on the home stretch shouting some "whoop whoop, nearly half way!" type comment to Stacey, who's not far behind.
The run gets easier towards the end. It may even be slightly downhill. As I pass my boys for the last time, I manage to pull out some more fake energy to show them how hardcore their mum is. By some minor miracle I have just enough strength left for a cheeky sprint to the finish line. Woohoo! What a feeling of elation. Meredith greets me with a nice sweaty hug –she finished just ahead of me. We turn around to cheer Stacey into the finish line and we're done. All that remains is to take a photo for
And that was my first triathlon experience. Almost no training whatsoever, brand new running shoes, bought the same day, and I don't know what other triathlon preparation rules may have been broken along the way. Thankfully I lived to tell the tale, with no blisters or injuries (but it's not big or clever, you know). What an incredible day though. I will definitely be back for more next year. Who's going to join me? You never know, I might even try training next time...