One thing I need to reiterate about my sporting capability, is I’m not particularly good. I was on most of the school teams but if I traversed the slippery pole of greatness in any particular discipline I was quickly put back in my place by the elites. I was smashed in swimming club galas, assasinated at athletics and taken out in table tennis tournaments. Good enough to get to the party then brought back down to earth by my mediocre performance when compared to brilliance.
Anyway, despite my lack of natural sporting prowess, I do have a win or 2 under my belt. I just had to participate in the right event, then slice and dice down just small enough to find my winning place.
As a marketing professional I spent my early career hopping around small to medium sized businesses where I learnt winning was about finding a market niche, that no one else really good was looking at, and conquering it.
This niching strategy is what I applied, in my planless way, to my ironman world, and it helped me to achieve my first ever win (of sorts).
Not alot of people do triathlon (swim, bike, run), less so duathlon (no swim), only a small proportion of them are women, and a mere slither are in the 40-45 age bracket. Niche of a niche of a niche of a niche.
Note also that this story occurs in September 2020, in the midst of a global pandemic. All the Ironman competitions are cancelled and there are just a handful of small, carefully socially distanced duathlons in operation. There are no country qualification places, so the competitors are not quite up to the usual standard.
It is within this competitive climate, I arrive at the Darley Moor Sprint Duathlon September 2020. I am alone – social distancing in force, its freezing cold (Moors are very windy), I’m stressed to the eyeballs having had to make an emergency tyre change at the bike shop on route. (A tyre popping poltergeist continues to add pressure to my race day prep…) I’ve been panicking about whether or not I could go for a wee at a public loo mid pandemic but have risked it and managed to go. So I’m basically feeling stress layered on stress layered on stress.
This is a sprint duathlon – so totally not my thing, but I’m trained to the max for a cancelled Barcelona Ironman and I have a new digital coach and I have decided to bite the bullet and have a go. Martin (coach) has prescribed I just go flat out… Its run, bike, run on a motor bike race track, so 2 laps around the outside for the first run of 5km, then 8 laps/20km on the bike (with chicanes and hairpins and exciting motor bike stuff), then push to the end on the last 2.5km running lap. I’m a rubbish runner and its too short a race to make up the time on the bike, so the instruction is just leg it!
Its a staggered start and no one seems particularly willing enough to go, so I make my way to almost the front and set off in about 4th place, following instruction to the letter, and legging it. I overtake one straggler and I could end this here. In 3rd place at an event!! Hurrah for staggered starts.
But then fast people start catching me. I sound like a train I’m running so hard. I’ve got a slightly odd gait and the more effort I put in the higher I spring. A kindly man once said I run like a dressage horse. I think its more of a slightly weird high jumper or a gypsy cob pony. Anyhow its not very fast or effective and beautifully made up ladies are gliding past me barely out of breath as I charge along like a spooked black and white horse.
Despite the clear inefficiency I run flat out for 23 minutes and 25 seconds to complete my first 5km. I then sprint through transition and I’m on the bike course. This is awesome. Each lap I get more confident taking the hairpins faster and faster, leaning deep into the bends. I ride hard along the straights into the gale force winds blowing relentlessly off Darley Moor. I have 8 sticky gems on my bike frame taken from the children’s arts and crafts box as I know full well I won’t be able to count to 8 laps under race day pressure. (I had an earlier life fail counting to 3 laps as a rally co-driver but that’s another blog series). I keep picking off gems and start lapping people flying round and round the wind swept race course.
Then I’ve completed the bike section. I scream into transition. Get ordered to reverse as didn’t stop at the dismount section. Then I’m off and running around the final lap.
I’m actually quite near the front, but there’s the staggered element to bear in mind. I give it everything I have got. Then I hear someone gaining on me and I think if she’s in my age range I’ve lost my position. Some extra gear comes from nowhere and I sprint finish the last kilometer.
I finally charge across the finish line, every muscle crying out, and draw to a halt like a blowing race/carthorse. I walk myself around to slow everything down then find my socially distanced space on the course as we wait for everyone to finish before we leave the course en masse.
No one is really sure who’s won due to the staggered start, so we pick up our medals and wheel our bikes to our waiting cars.
That afternoon the results are in. I check out the leaderboard and I am amazed to find myself in a very respectable 6th place overall and second overall for the bike section.
Then as I filter to age group I am blown away to realise I have actually won something! I have won the Darley Moor Sprint Triathlon, females aged 40-45 category!
That feeling of elation I’d felt when I passed my driving test (3rd time lucky), achieved my marketing qualifications, found a microspcopic hole in my blow up hot tub (that took days)…. comes surging through my veins…
As I basque in my moment of glory, I glance through my emails and my excitement peaks even further. I have won my first ever race prize! It is a free entry into another race. But the message advises all the races are cancelled. So it is a prize of nothing.
I care not. Winning a prizeless prize is recognition enough.
An Ordinary Ironman CAN Conquer
Winning my age category at the Darley Moor Sprint Dualthlon September 2020 was my first taste at winning an ironman inspired event. Something that I was unlikely to get fat tasting, but still a huge milestone in my journey. It may have been just been 2 of the disciplines, in a niche of a niche of a niche, but it was an incredible feeling to have won an ironman type sporting accolade.
And whilst I still remained ordinary in my sporting capacity, I had learnt something new. That an ordinary person, an ordinary ironman, does have capacity to conquer against the odds. You just have to pick the right battles.