Reading Time: 9 minutes
I was wondering what the deal was as I walked along the pathway where the other swimmers were waiting for the triathlon to start.
It seemed that absolutely everyone except me was wearing a wetsuit. I wasn’t really sure why as the weather was great and I didn’t think you’d need it.
As I walked down the pathway I also noticed all the other triathletes looking at me.
Given I was the only person without a wetsuit alongside being the only brown person lined up that wasn’t really a surprise. I’d definitely be easy to spot in the crowd – the same problem I’d had during military training that you hardly blend in when you’re brown.
I had a blue cap on which denoted my age group; 18-50.
There were 2 more sets of the caps that I could see. The 50+ group in pink, and the women who were in yellow.
The start times were staggered with the men in my class starting first, then the ladies and then the 50+ group – this way it would allow us younger folk to get in front first.
There was some chitter-chatter going on with 1 or 2 people hearing that I was English saying ‘wow you must be an excellent swimmer man!”
I didn’t really understand the compliments, but I politely thanked them and said ‘no, not really’.
But that type of response seems to be common in the sporting community, to underplay your ability.
Of course, as we would discover if anything I was overplaying it.
As the world in Lausanne and I would discover, I was in fact absolutely sh*t.
The funniest part of this all was me not knowing that.
I’d never worked with a swimming coach, or swum as part of a club; so I had no real sense of reference as to my ability.
I was about to get that reference.
The horn cannoned across the water as I hung off the side of the walkway like the side of a swimming pool lane and pushed off into the water.
I’d never swum in an open water race before; all the training I’d done up until now had been in a swimming pool.
What I immediately noticed when I was lining up with the other triathletes was – ‘I hope I can remember the direction’.
Open-water swimming is nothing like a pool. This wasn’t Barbados; it was a somewhat grimy lake in Lausanne.
The water was dark and deep. But off I shot; head down into the water amongst the cacophony of splashes alongside me as all the other swimmers should out alongside me.
You had to look up and forward to figure out where you are going in line with the buoys.
There are no lanes out in open water, no guides, just you, the other swimmers and some buoys to tell you which way to swim and where to turn.
With my goggles on and cap over my ears, I felt like a fish in a goldfish bowl as the fluttering feet, arms, elbows and other swimmers all roared out ahead of me.
Within the first two to three minutes of the swim, the best swimmers had already shot out ahead. Within four to five minutes the general shape of the pack began to be determined.
I was with a group at the back and was valiantly keeping an even pace of front crawl as I moved forward.
As the pack thinned and I could no longer see someone immediately ahead of me – what with the small waves of the lake and dark water limiting visibility; I’d need to stop every so often to check I was headed in the right direction.
I’d often find I was swimming in a direction that took me outside the path given to us by the buoys and I’d need to correct myself.
Wtf was that?!
Ah; then I remembered.
As I’d had a blue cap on and I was at the back of the blues with several other swimmers chugging away; I began to see yellow caps swim past me.
The fastest ladies were off.
At this point, I did feel somewhat embarrassed as they were in a different class from me and started five minutes after us yet had caught up with me fast.
The upside of this was that I had reacquired some easy navigation – the other swimmers.
Within ten minutes I was about to start seeing history repeat itself as again all the female swimmers in the yellow caps had pretty much swum past me.
Intermittently when I got a little tired I’d switch to breaststroke for a couple of strokes before I returned to front crawl.
This time it was the pink caps – those who were 50+ and setting out some 10-12 minutes after I had set out,
We were maybe 30-45 minutes into the race by the time I also, with my blue and yellow stragglers began to see the fastest of the pink caps.
15 minutes later, I was neck and neck with the slowest of the pink caps.
I felt like a turd aimlessly floating through the water.
Like a sea cucumber who upon inspection just shat themselves as sea cucumbers so often do.
Now I was neck and neck with what looked like a very large lady upon whom you could stick a sail and glide if you wished; alongside a man who looked older than Switzerland himself.
Alongside me, Mowgli the jungle boy out there trying to swim.
After 15 minutes of going neck and neck with these two as I moved into the 80-90 minute mark, they finally trundled past me and the race I was racing in the water was against me, myself and I.
I immediately switched to a more casual breaststroke and determined that it was going to be last; I’d be a convincing last – although I suspect that decision was made all by itself.
It turned out that it would take me 1 hour 45 mins to complete the whole swim and come in the resounding second to last as it turned out when I looked around me.
It seemed I’d missed another dying man who was struggling in the water not far behind me.
Then it came…
As I came out of the water after so long in the lake and started running through the swim finish into transition my legs felt like jelly – I was not used to standing up.
But the heart-thumping feeling of embarrassment which I’d quelled whilst being with my own thoughts in the lake exploded as I came out of the water.
And the roar exploded alongside me.
The audience cheered voraciously and wished me luck and told me to keep going. In all the events I’d done to date I’d never ever got a roar like that.
The commentator also jabbered excitedly in Swiss-French as I came bounding out of the water. I felt like I was on I’m a Celebrity.
Time to transition and cycle!
The cycling, as it turned out, was not a better event for me.
If I’d been a shitting cucumber in the water, I was a Teletubby on a scooter on land.
Luc and I had tried to source an excellent tri-bike before the event, but as it was so late in the day and I was rather tall – all they had left for me was an old heavy road bike.
But, it was definitely a step up from the mountain bike I was used to riding.
As I transitioned from swimming to biking, I stuck my running trainers on and wandered over to the racks where all the bikes were kept for the ‘athletes’.
I use that word with caution because of what it implies. I am a hobbyist at best!
As I started out, I had no real sense of what 40km on a bike was. But I was about to find out because as I discovered – it’s a hell of a lot further than I thought.
I’d never ridden uphill once on a road bike, or any other bike for that matter, before.
I went up hills at a snail’s pace giving it all I was worth.
Luc had my bib number down and was catching up with a good friend of his, Sebastian, who lived locally and actually runs a multi-8-figure company.
Luc could track my performance across the race and be shocked in a comical way to discover I was last.
For there had been the old sea urchin who’d got out of the water after me, but he soon overtook me on the bike.
I tried to pedal with all of my might but it felt like my bike had an anchor around it – a continual problem with it not being a road bike and more akin to a country line steamer with a steel frame
But onward I rode with my country line steamer as after the third lap (it was laps of 10km) I stopped seeing anybody.
Not only was no one lapping me any longer; I actually just couldn’t see anyone in general.
I was dead last, and so far behind that over the final 10km I didn’t see a single cycling soul, all the athletes were running by now.
That’s when I saw it behind me.
For the course looked ready to close and I felt desolate like I was marooned on a cycle loop I would never escape from – just loop loop loooooop 😛
He sounded like a powerful rider judging by the ease with which he could pick up pace and ay behind me so effortlessly.
Then I heard a siren ‘whoop’
A short snappy popping sound that let me know he was there in case I hadn’t heard him/her.
I looked around quickly to understand what it was.
Can you guess what/who I saw?
A man behind me with a helmet and sunglasses on looked something like someone out of Police Academy but the machine he was riding looked more like a motor-whale than it did a motorbike.
But indeed it was…a motorbike.
And here tipped his helmet towards me and put a thumbs up in encouragement to keep going.
I felt fired up by that and turned and made a push for all of about 50 metres before my body said ‘no – please remember WHY you’re last’.
So as I was the last man on the bike still ‘zipping around’ the motorbike rider in his high visibility jacket and probably medical gear packed in one of his great big satchels was accompanying me to the end of the 2nd leg of this triathlon.
This was the signal for all the staff coordinating the cycling section of the event to wrap everything up and start packing as I trailed past them.
Finally, after what seemed like aeons I made it to the end upon my steel-framed road/mountain bike with its steel frame in Lausanne.
Luc I think had gotten bored by now and spent more time chit-chatting with Sebastian as I transitioned into the run.
Running 10k was something much more up my street and I started running with the ever-present jelly legs but with much more ease this time.
At least there were still some folks running the 10k 🙂
So some 60 minutes plus later, I was to finish the triathlon in Lausanne to the rapturous applause I’ve ever had in any event I’ve competed in.
I guess there really are two special positions in events of a limited distance (where spectators are still around/have arrived in time).
First (of course) and last (as I discovered).
As I trundled in with a mixture of mortification (woah I never realised how bad I actually was) and pride at coming last (oh what a story – for it’s memorable to place last :P) I finished strong.
The master of ceremonies (or whoever had been commentating) actually came over to say hello with glee – the same with which I greeted him.
I definitely saw the funny side of it now, and he urged me to come back and try again the next year :p
It was a great experience for me to have a sense of ability that was so absolutely misplaced in coming last that it stirred within me the desire for a comeback.
Everything about my preparation had been wrong – and by the end of the race, I still had no idea what cleats, compression socks, a wetsuit and many other things were that were critical to know/use during triathlon events.
The next race I was to ultimately race was on the other side of the world in a seaside town called Port Elizabeth in April of 2015.
I HAD to make sure this event would be different from this one.
For that event was Ironman.