Friday, 8 October 2010

Love in Transition

I salute the unflinching courage of Mrs M in offering to witness my first attempt at a Triathlon last Sunday. However, she had been up till 2 am collecting M2 from his restaurant job, and was also fending off reading lists from the University and an attack of the shingles. I suggested that if she really insisted, she could put in a brief attendance at the triathlon “Transition”. She didn’t insist.

The Transition is the technical and spiritual heart of the modern triathlon. These triathlons consist, my patient teachers have explained, of three events: swimming, cycling and running. So the Transition is where you saddle up for your ride after the swim, and where you return to dismount, before tackling the run.

The Tameside Triathlon starts near Stalybridge, just a few miles north of Mandallay, but of course I got lost on the way. Someone had knocked down the former Senior Service cigarette factory at Hyde Mill. People aren’t smoking enough...

... Then the sat nav got lost too, and I found myself looking for a second time at Mottram church, perched high on the moor, behind a curtain of rain.

Strange to say, this is part of old Cheshire, though it really feels more like Derbyshire. Not a mini in sight.

The rain hadn’t stopped since I left home. Even in Mandallay, it was persistent enough to penetrate the ceiling of what only an estate agent might call the Master Bedroom. The Bunker would be a better name, but unfortunately the door is not blast-proof, so is regularly stormed at all hours of the day and night by enraged Ms, who come on raiding parties for money, clothes and toiletries, or just to vent their rage on their parents, for not having done their homework for them, or for being inappropriately attired.

This leads me to one of the main attractions of a triathlon: getting away from home.

Triathlon designers have many ways of causing competitors pain. The best that I can say for the Tameside triathlon is that the swim takes place in an indoor pool, where things don’t generally fall on your head. It would have been more in keeping with the rest of the event, if they had made us swim across one of the chain of black reservoirs coming down the Pennines.

A special feature of the Tameside Triathlon is that they make you run half a mile from the pool up-hill to Transition. The grassy incline to Transition was light mud by 8 am, but there were still a few rocks to hold onto, as I pushed my bike and a plastic box full of helmet, shoes and other essential kit for the event. Mrs M’s decision to stay in bed was, I considered, wise.

“This is bloody stupid, pal,” said the bloke in front in a blue top, as we puffed up the hill. “Bloody stupid.”

The start of the triathlon is staggered. The slowest competitors are the first to stagger. We line up at the end of the pool, the long and short, thin and podgy, and, especially, the tattooed, along with the perfectly formed freelancer.

Great attention is given to kit. Some have opted for high triathlon couture. Within seconds of completing their swims, they have slipped their feet beneath the elastic laces of their trainers, and are skipping up the bank to Transition. I lumber out of the pool in Dad’s Embarrassing Speedos, and grope for my spectacles. I spend some minutes jumping up and down trying to persuade a tee-shirt to descend over my wet back.

The next stagger is up the bank through the rain. The last rocks have sunk into the mud. A familiar voice behind me is saying “This is bloody stupid, pal. May as well walk.” He speeds past me.

Transition is the place for the love of kit. Here, the triathlete sheds trainers and claims specialised bike shoes, helmets, gloves, and the bike itself, whose every component is a buttress for the strength and self-belief of the triathlon amateur. I have heard men confess that they buy their bike bits in cash, so that the missus doesn’t know how much they really spent on the latest innocent-looking bit of metal, which is actually a hand-crafted fluid-formed titanium creation of such impossible levity, elegance, strength and ergonomic effectiveness, that replacing the Fiesta offers no contest.

The gender balance of competitors is different from that at running activities. Boys are easily outnumbered, for instance, in the group that I run with at the Stockport Harriers, for which reason we refer to the squad as the Harriets.

But Harriets were in short supply at Tameside Triathlon. One male friend opined that some ladies do not feel the true love for kit with the same intensity that a man does. I look forward to the views of correspondents on the matter.

Of the ride itself, I cannot tell you much. There was a lot of going up: rock, mud, flood, stiles, streams, bog, peat. And rain. There was also a lot of down, if anything more painful than going up. My helmet proved fit for purpose in its encounter with a stone wall, and I probably also remain fit for most purposes after my encounter with the crossbar. I have a vague memory of a bloke in a blue top passing me, saying “this is bloody stupid, pal. Not much of a view is it?”

Then hurray, we slurp back into Transition for another kit change. The inflatable “Finish” arch has collapsed into the bog. We change into running shoes, and most of us ditch our bike helmets too. I can report that one freelancer set off for his final run, still wearing his battered bike helmet.

Yes, throw what you like at a freelancer, but don’t expect him to take off his helmet.

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