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A Tri-ing week

Give it time, and consistency pays off

An unexpected challenge to my limits. As I write this, it’s hard to believe that a week ago I was lying in the A&E department in Bath, anxiously awaiting an emergency CT scan. Having spent many happy and exhausting hours there during my training, the familiar surroundings felt strangely alien and unnerving during those five hours of waiting.

It all started with a mild, intermittent flank pain that I had been ignoring for a few days. As an older athlete prone to bumps and bruises, I often dismiss these little niggles as occupational hazards. On Sunday morning, however, the discomfort had escalated to a pain score of 3-4 out of 10. I mentioned it to my friend Peter before our duathlon, hoping it was just a minor irritation and took a couple of paracetamol, which provided some relief.

The race took place in monsoon-like conditions, with parts of the run course described by Peter as a quagmire. Despite the challenging weather, what troubled me most was my inability to push myself – something just didn’t feel right and on reflection, hadn’t been all week.

Later that day, while driving south, a sudden, excruciating pain hit me like a missile in my side. The pain was so intense – 9-10 on the pain scale – I was writhing around hopelessly trying to find a position to ease it. For those who’ve experienced labour pains, think of that intensity and then some.

The diagnosis was renal colic, or kidney stones. The CT scan was to check for complications which the doctor thought I might have from the severity of my symptoms. Fortunately, it was ok sparing me from admission. The prescribed treatment was pain relief and copious amounts of fluids to flush out any remaining gravel, grit, or sand from my kidney. No wonder I hadn’t been feeling right and struggled during the race. Despite this, I apparently still managed to qualify for the 2025 World Championships but only just.

It was a tough few days working in Bath, leaving me exhausted and still experiencing mild flank pain. By Thursday, I developed a cold. Despite feeling run down, I had committed to marshalling an event on Saturday in exchange for an entry to a triathlon on Sunday. I entered last minute on Thursday, but with a strong caution from my coach to consider my participation carefully but entering gave me the option, as a lot can change in a few days.

I needed the event for open water and first transition practice ahead of a race in Portugal, so even just completing the swim and T1 would suffice.

Saturday’s 5am start and long day marshalling the Ullswater swim events was tiring but enjoyable thanks to the lovely team I worked with. Volunteering brings the joy of meeting great people. That evening, I organised my kit for the triathlon, worried about the 14-degree water temperature. Despite wearing a wetsuit, I’m prone to cramp and swimming-induced pulmonary oedema. Gloves and socks are not allowed under the rules but I did decide to wear a merino tee-shirt, against the ‘nothing new on race day’ rule.

It turned out I was camped next to an amazing lady called Claire Poole who holds several world records for swimming. One of those, in a relay with three friends, the four of them completed 13 lengths of Windermere, that’s 136.5 miles in a time of 77 hours and 39 minutes. Awestruck, I felt very humbled talking with her but weirdly it helped give me a bit more motivation to get on with my mere 1500m swim the following day. She herself had completed the 5km swim that morning – without a wetsuit.

A restless night followed as my cold tried to overwhelm and drown me with its misery.  I managed some sleep and woke up at 6am coughing and feeling rough. It was chilly and I waged a bit of an internal battle as to what to do. A couple of trips outside as the sun was trying to warm the day, breakfast and some more paracetamol and a decision was made: I headed off to rack my bike and lay out my kit.

Back to the van for the usual exhausting aerobic workout getting into my wet suit and then to the startpen although I got the timing wrong and arrived  after the briefing started. It didn’t really matter as I couldn’t hear anything anyway.

Entering the cold lake for the deep-water start was a shock, I was at the back as we entered the water and somewhat annoyingly, the countdown completed and the swim commenced before myself and a few others had got over to the start – hey ho, need to think about that for next time.

It took a few moments to gain control of my breathing and then I focused on technique. A year of consistent swimming felt as if it might be paying off as I found my rhythm and even passed a few other swimmers. I managed sighting between the buoys which is a huge improvement. Garmin claimed I swam 1770 meters instead of 1500 but I do find it can be a bit fickle in open water.

Both calves cramped as I tried to exit the lake, but a lovely fellow competitor helped me out.  The merino top had done its job in the water but in transition, the cold got to me and my Reynaud’s flared up, making my fingers useless. I fumbled through, even putting my KTC top on backwards (see photo), but I got through it.

On the bike, I reminded myself that this was a training session so kept it steady. The first half was on fairly quiet roads where I’d never cycled before but with 1700 feet of elevation I was expecting some climbs. The day was warming up making it very pleasant and I even passed a few cyclists as I went along, including on the hills.. At Shap the route picks up the A6 and just as it did so I was surprised and delighted to see  my friend Peter who had cycled from Kendal to support me; that gave me a huge boost.

Because of the ongoing kidney gravel, I have been pushing fluids down me this week and had done so in T1 and on the bike. In T2, my hydration efforts caught up with me, costing me a minute in the loo. Another diversion was required two miles into the run which added four minutes, and I made sure to take water at each drinks station. If you’ve had renal colic, hydration is crucial to preventing further problems.

I finally completed the second lap and crossed the finish line, where Peter was waiting. Also, to my surprise, I was awarded first FV60.

It was a well organised and friendly event and the weather helped make it a good day out. Certainly an event I would recommend  to others. A big thank you to Epic Events and especially the wonderful volunteers without whom it woudn’t be the same experience.

Reflections:

It’s been a tough week in an already challenging year. When discussing healthy ageing, I often hear people say they can’t pursue their dreams because they lack what I have – as if I’m gifted in some way. That’s not true. I have no natural talent and as this post shows, am as prone to health issues as the next person, but I’m curious and willing to find solutions and put in the work.

The reason I could complete both the duathlon and the triathlon, despite the stress and setbacks is not talent or some mythical gift that carries me through, but rather the unwavering support of my coaches working around my injuries ensuring the consistency of my training, and the sheer stubbornness to never give up on my dreams.

Also, a minor knee procedure five weeks ago has allowed me to run pain-free, which has been incredibly uplifting.

You don’t know what’s possible until you try.  Life isn’t a rehearsal, and you’re a long time dead. At 65, if I’m lucky, I might have up to 25 more years – a whole career’s worth of time. There’s so much I still want to do. And, while it might not look like it may have done in my earlier decades, it doesn’t mean I can’t still have a go.

If you’ve read this far, I’d encourage you to revisit those pipe dreams gathering dust on the shelf and see if they’re still achievable. You’re never too old to set new goals or dream new dreams.

 

Perfection is an illusion - instead, seek progress and you will achieve