We had a plan, my husband and I - a plan to find a moment of calm amidst the chaos. A weekend somewhere lovely away from the demands of the family and work - time for us - time to recharge and reconnect.
It didn't happen.
We did, however, have a date in the diary to compete in a Tandem Triathlon. For want of a better plan, that was to become the time for us.
We had not trained properly for this event.
My husband was to do the 1K swim. He is a strong swimmer. This was never going to be a problem.
He is also a good cyclist but our trips out on the tandem to see what we could do have been few and far between. We hadn't even come close to attempting the 35km demanded by the triathlon and we were slightly concerned by a problem with the gears that may or may not have been sorted by the local bicycle shop.
The run was my responsiblity. My running training had been virtually non existent but I had completed a 5 mile fun run recently which gave me a bit of confidence. I have NEVER run after a bike ride of any length... let alone a 35km one! I was desperately in need of that confidence having suffered a nasty injury to my right leg in an oversized wellies and slippery deck related incident.
|The bruise in its yellow phase!|
Competitors were encouraged to dress up and decorate their tandems if they desired. We didn't have time to come up with an elaborate plan. I grabbed the artificial flowers that had been used to decorate my car on my wedding day (I could never quite bring myself to bin them) and hastily taped them to the handlebars. Perfect.
The triathlon took place in picturesque Bishops Castle in South Shropshire - picturesque and hilly. I don't know why but I had the impression that the competitors would be mostly long bearded, dressed in the style of Morris Dancers and possibly smelling slightly of incense. I couldn't have been more wrong. Admittedly there were a few couples who had embraced the dress up element of the competition but there were some serious looking lycra clad athletes too.
We signed in, wrestled the bike off the roof of the car and tried to organise everything we needed for the various stages of the event. It was warm and sunny so plenty of water and suntan lotion were among the necessities.
Before long, it was my husband's time in the water. I watched him for a while before going to the transition area to wait with the tandem. It was a very shallow pool. My 6' 4" husband looked quite ridiculous standing in it waiting for the cue to go. His swimming style did not have his usual effortless grace. This may have been attributed to the fact that his arms must have been scraping the bottom of the pool with each stroke!
It was a beautiful day and it was lovely chatting to the other competitors waiting for their partners to emerge from the pool complex ready for the second discipline. The transition was quite relaxed and then, we were off.
I love being on the back of the tandem. I can't see a great deal and have to have total trust in my husband but that isn't difficult at all. The countryside was whizzing past me and I was smiling at marshalls and other tandems coming back the other way. It was glorious. We were picking up a good head of speed going down the hills and that gave us enough momentum to climb up the hills without too much of a problem.
Then the hill happened.
The hill that went on forever.
The hill that saw our speed drop so slow we were barely moving.
The hill that required every bit of effort we could muster just to stop ourselves from rolling backwards.
But we made it. Somehow, we made it.
The bad news was that we would have to climb that hill again. Not all the way to the top but about three quarters of the way up was the run transition. My leg muscles were screaming. The idea of getting off the bike and running after climbing that hill a second time seemed impossible. On top of that, after the run there would be a further 5km on the tandem to reach the final finish line. I didn't even want to think about it.
So I didn't.
We were on our way again in a landscape that rewarded you with some downhill for the uphill exertions. The sun shone, but not too much. It was wonderful. I was loving it again.
Going up one hill, we were overtaken by a shiny red high performance sports car that made a throaty roar as it accelerated past us. This somehow added to my elation.
Unfortunately, my elation could not last forever. I had been worried about my injured right leg and had maybe been allowing my left leg to take on more of the strain for that reason. My left leg decided it had had enough. My knee started to hurt. My knee continued to hurt. The hurt intensified. I wanted to cry. Our dodgy gears were behaving fine but my knee was a different story.
I thought that if I was able to stretch my leg for a while it might ease the pain. I took my foot out of the toe strap, off the pedal and felt wonderful relief as I straightened my sorry limb. We also felt the disconcerting bumping of the toe strap hitting the road with every revolution of the pedals. Vaguely reminiscent of my husbands awkward swimming style in the shallow pool, we were losing our rhythm and at risk of coming off the bike. Lovely as it was to have relief from the pain, my leg had to go back on the pedal.
I was reassured that the pain had disappeared as soon as I had changed position. It was back now, with a vengeance, but I felt more confident that it was just muscle cramping and I could pedal through it. We free wheeled when we could so I had the chance to stretch it out again and it felt great. Mostly, I put up with the pain and prayed that I wasn't doing any actual damage.
When we got to the hill for the second time, my emotions were all over the place. I had the pleasure of knowing that this part of the bike ride was nearly over, the excitement of knowing that my leg was soon going to be free from the crippling constraint, fear that we still had to make it up the hill somehow and the absolute leap of faith that I would somehow still be able to run.
I could only push up the hill with my one good leg. Three legs pedalling failed to do what four legs had only just managed to do the first time. The bike did literally reach the point that the upward forces were less than the downward forces. We stopped. We walked the bike up the hill and I was hugely gratified that I could in fact walk! Maybe I'd be able to run. The gradient of the hill became slightly flatter at the turn off into the forest for the run transition so I bravely suggested getting back on the bike to ride in with dignity.
I made use of a portaloo. I gagged on a warm, gloopy energy gel. I grabbed a water bottle and I was off. I was running. Slowly, but I was running.
I knew the run was though forest trails which is my favourite kind of running. What I didn't know was that it was through forest trails up a mountain. (Maybe it wasn't exactly a mountain but it was a very big hill). My leg didn't feel too bad but my heart was pounding and I was so hot. I drank sips of water, ran when I felt able and walked (briskly) when I needed to. This was going to be a slow 10K but at least with all this uphill I was guaranteed some downhill where I could hopefully make up some time.
My run/brisk walk strategy degenerated into a slow walk/drag strategy. Even the feeding stations with their generous rations of jelly babies, crisps, biscuits and drinks could not energise me. But I was still standing and slowly making forward progress up the incline that just kept inclining!
|Looking rough at the halfway point selfie|
Eventually, and not a moment too soon, the gradient flattened out. I had reached the top and saw before me a plateau. A gently undulating meadow plateau. It was what I had been working for and there it was. My slow walk/drag turned into a shuffling jog. I shuffled and I jogged and my heart sang. A short way further and I could see the inevitable downward gradient. All I had to do was let gravity carry me down the hill to the finish. I might even make up a bit of the time I had lost on my ascent. How could I have known that the pain I had felt climbing the hill would be insignificant compared with the pain of coming down?
As soon as the downward gradient became noticeable, my left leg seized up completely. Bearing in mind this happened mid stride and was as shocking as it was painful, I did well not to fall over. With a series of comedy hops to keep upright, I managed to slow myself to a stop and then tentatively tried to take my weight on my left leg. It was having none of it. I was quite scared for two reasons: firstly, had I done some real damage here that I might never recover from and secondly HOW THE HELL WAS I GOING TO GET DOWN THIS BLOODY MOUNTAIN?
The limit to how many swimmers could fit into the pool at any one time meant that the race was organised with staggered start times over a long period of time. There was never much of a sense of competing with anyone other than yourself and the spread of other competitors throughout the entire course meant there was not a great deal of camaraderie or support available. I was pretty much alone up that mountain. Alone and in trouble. All I could do was man up and face the challenge of getting down. I rested. I massaged the offending limb. I eventually braved walking. It was an awkward walk but it sort of worked.
All the way down the mountain I kept thinking how wonderful it would be to be running but was also grateful that I was at least moving in the right direction. I may have looked like an extra from a zombie apocalypse movie, I may have been grimacing, but I was making progress again. Dragging my bad leg painfully behind me, hop limping... I was making progress.
After a long, torturous time, my spirits lifted when I recognised the terrain that I had run through at the start of the ordeal which meant it was nearly over. My mind was taken off my trials when another struggling runner caught up with me and walked with me for a while. We chatted and commiserated with each other and then the finish line came into view. I encouraged him to go for it and do a good finish. As I watched him muster all his energy to pick up pace I decided to take a chance and do the same. The elation of seeing the finish line combined with the brief respite that the company had given me combined to give me super powers when I needed them most. By 'super powers' I do of course only mean coming back from the Walking Dead to the elevated status of Broken Runner... but I was mrunning. I felt amazing. I felt like that shiny red high performance sports car that had overtaken us on the cycle ride. I let out my own throaty roar and it was over. My husband waiting in the transition area was paying no attention. My triumph was mine alone.
We still had the 5km bike ride to the Final Finish before this triathlon over. There was no way that my leg was going to be fit to pedal. Using the tape we'd attached our 'fancy dress' flowers with (resourceful!), my husband fixed the toe strap so it would not hit the road with every revolution and I 'one-legged' cycled the final stretch.
I would love to say that crossing the final finish line was everything I dreamt it would be but I was in far too much pain. We did not stay for the celebrations which included a BBQ and a Ceilidh (which to my shame I had pronounced Sea-Lid anyway). All I wanted was to have a nice hot bath and to rest in the comfort of my own home... which we did.
This was supposed to be 'time for us', my husband and I... time to recharge and connect. My leg may have let me down badly but honestly, it ticked all the other boxes. Would I do it again? Definitely. But next time, I might just do the swim and let him take on the run!