The ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi is not just for the elites and fitness freaks. It’s for the young, old, thin, big-boned, and even a sports journalist who up until recently considered couch-surfing a proper swimming discipline.
On Saturday, said journalist rocked up at Yas Marina with a newly acquired tri-suit, goggles more suited to scuba diving, a lack of sleep and the hopes and dreams of his dear mum.
Read on to find out if he let his mother down.
It’s not a good start. I arrive late, dishevelled and disoriented. A good Samaritan by the name of Ben Cranwell, whose name I next see many, many places above mine on the results list, guides me through the transition process and suddenly I’m herded down towards the marina with a stomach that’s been infiltrated by butterflies.
Some people loosen their arms. Others jump up and down. I decide to lean on the rail in attempt to look unflustered and cool. With the sun beating down, the latter doesn’t last for long.
Four people are released into the water at a time and there’s a lot slipping and flopping before the ramp disappears and you’re away.
Two problems immediately crop up. My goggles steam up and objects, human or otherwise, become a blur. Secondly – it’s really, really cold. But the momentary panic subsides and I’m actually swimming, or doing something that closely resembles it.
The next 750 metres, save for what I’d like to imagine were a few friendly prods of support from other competitors, go smoothly enough although the steaming is an issue. I zig and zag without much vision before I land ashore with all the grace of a beached fish.
My body temporarily forgets it has legs as I hobble to where my bike is parked. Thankfully, feeling is restored in time for the pedals and after a quick swig of electrolytes I’m doing OK.
That is until I go the wrong way at the first turn (someone shouted right – that’s my story and I’m sticking with it). Direction, if not dignity, restored, I start zooming around Yas Marina circuit like a foot-powered Mercedes.
There’s soon another snag. My laces catch a nook in my pedal and stop just before my circulation is completely cut off from my foot. All the while others are whizzing past me and I realise just how frustrating pit stops in Formula One must be.
Back on the proverbial horse, I’m offered some friendly advice (‘you’re in the wrong gear … no, use the right not the left’) and not-so-friendly (‘what you’re doing is dangerous’ – I was just rounding a corner, honest) before the circuit fans out and I’m now pounding the surrounding roads.
Still thoroughly confused by how gears work, as well as nursing an increasingly painful backside, I reach a mutual, unspoken understanding racing alongside another competitor before he betrays me and flies off into the distance, too.
Finally, I’m back where I started.
What’s sunburnt, hairy and wobblier than jelly? My legs at this point. My calves feel like they’re clamped in a vice and there’s just no fuel left in this particular tank. I mentally flay myself for trying to cram 12 weeks of training into three throughout my half-stagger, half-run, which would not look out of place on the set of The Walking Dead.
Nothing will work. No cartons of water. Not even wet sponges. But as I reach the second refuelling station, and see the faster athletes coming back down the other way, I vow to myself that I won’t stop again. At least until the third refuelling station.
The heat’s really getting to me now and I’m not the only one, with many others having long used up their last thimbleful of energy. Finally I can see the bike station and this 5km/5000km run is coming to a blessed end.
An organiser tells me the finish is just ahead so I summon strength from somewhere and breeze past a few of the other backmarkers. Unfortunately this turned out to be a little white lie and there are a couple more corners to go. One more teeny-tiny walk for good luck and I cross the finish line with a dip for good measure.
It didn’t make much difference – finishing in about 1hr50mins, I’m not threatening anybody – but you know what? I enjoyed that. Roll on next year.