This all started with a bread board. I stood behind a group of exceptional humans as I contemplated the fact. They were special because they were all made from bone, sinew, and muscle. Especially muscle. Fat? Nah. Fat cells disintegrated on contact with these people. I got thinner just standing near them. My cycling shorts and running shoes were little more than a disguise: I was an impostor here. My cotton tee shirt came closer to the truth, bearing the legend: “Pete Puma’s Super Intelligence Serum – favoured by morons everywhere”.
I can’t say for sure what went through their heads as we waited for the ‘start’ signal that would mark the beginning of the race, but I can guess. I’m sure it was serious stuff, like a mental visualisation of them running the 3.2km course through the rural paths near Dundalk where the race took place, making a smooth change from runners to cycling shoes, pedalling hard and efficiently through the 17km cycling leg, then repeating the 3.2km run and finishing strong. Maybe some were thinking of the person they wanted to beat this time, pictured themselves passing him or her and crossing that magic finish line first.
I’m not entirely sure if anyone else was pondering the profound influence of bread boards.
The start signal cracked the brittle morning air. I watched everyone else disappear and settled into my comfortable pace, stretch the legs, use the hips, I have no idea if this is the way it should be done but it’s the way it feels right to me. This near automatic flow of movement left my brain free to trace the influence of the bread board in my life.
We arrived in Ireland on 1 April 2005, with a laughably small amount of money to tide us through. A car was not on the cards for the foreseeable future, so I bought one of these granny trolleys with the two wheels, the ones you drag after you as you walk. This would have worked well and dandy, except for the fact that my little boy, then only three years old, had to go with me everywhere. Though the local supermarket was quite close, it was still a very big ask to expect a little boy to walk the return trip, probably about three kilometres, every day. I kind of managed, but soon I heard of another supermarket, a little farther away, which was reputedly cheaper. I’d have to go there while the older children were at school, so my time was limited. In a nutshell, I wanted to go farther, and faster.
So I made a plan. I bought a bread board and fixed it to the granny trolley in such a way that my small noo could sit on the bag part of the trolley comfortably, the bread board half supporting him and half stopping him from sliding off. It did not occur to me that this invention might one day affect my sanity so much that I’d attempt to become a triathlete.
With my breadboard-adapted granny trolley, I could go farther and faster, but that was soon not quite enough, and I was given a bicycle. An ancient ladies’ bicycle with three gears. Being with the kids 24/7 was very challenging, and Micky suggested that I go for a little cycle on a Sunday to relax. I went 10km and thought it was awesome, so next time I went 15km. And the time after that, 20km. Soon I cycled to Carlingford and back, a distance of about 50km, though I didn’t realise at the time quite how far I was going.
The ladies’ bike got stolen, and I got an equally ancient mountain bike which at least had more gears. This was great, as I then managed to get over the Windy Gap Pass, which had defeated my efforts to conquer its heights with the ladies’ bike. My cycling adventures finally led to the acquisition of a proper hybrid, with which I then worked up distances of 100km and more in a day.
“You should do triathlons,” an acquaintance said. I laughed, but the thought stuck in my head. Over the next two years, triathlon went through cycles in my mind. I’d look up everything I could about it on the net, read ‘So, you want to do a triathlon?’ articles online, psyched myself up no end… then copped out. The tension would start building again, and two or three months later I’d go through the whole thing again. I was pretty sure I wanted to take my cycling to another level. I just wasn’t so sure if I should focus on long distance cycling, or triathlon. The former I was sure I’d like, the latter would incorporate my long-ago liking for a bit of running and swimming as well.
Then we moved to a new house, and the landlord turned out to be the chairman of the local triathlon club. This happened to be right in the middle of one of my ‘By gods, I’m going to do this!’ phases, so I blurted my laughable ambition. And the thing is, once you’ve told someone you want to do something, you’re almost obliged to now go ahead and do it.
Thus I plowed my way through the frightening process of talking to other people, joining the gym, not killing myself from embarrassment and, finally, entering a race. Not a triathlon, mind, a duathlon. To start with. I never even knew there were such things, races where you run, cycle, then run again. I do now, believe me.
There was a pre-race, a kind of fun have a look at the course type thing for the pros who do that sort of light exercise on a day off from training, for a bit of relaxation. I went, my trusty hybrid bicycle, Ronan, in the back of my scruffy car, Mindy. We parked in the far corner of the parking lot, being a mite early. One by one, the competitors arrived. Bit by bit, my courage dissolved and formed a sickly-green puddle somewhere near my feet. These guys’ bikes were state of the art wonder-machines. These guys were state of the art wonder-machines. These guys were mostly guys, I saw only a handful of women among them.
I’d been unable to get Ronan’s carrier off the night before. There was no way I could bring myself to push my workaday touring bike with its big, sturdy carrier past every one of these cars with their super-duper fantastic bicycles owned by super-duper fantastic supermen, and rack him up beside bikes that would make his paint fall off from the effect of their incredible coolness.
Part Two coming tomorrow.