Sometimes, it’s only when you get through the dark times that you see the results, says Steve Trew
It’s the pain you feel before the gain that makes triathlon, says Steve Trew.
When you decide to become a triathlete, it’s usually because you have become profi cient in one sport, one discipline, and you want to move on. You take that skill of one discipline you have practised and perfected over the years, and you endeavour to add the skills of one or two more activities. It’s not easy; it’s never easy. You’re playing catch- up.
There is that pure, clean, lucid, fluid motion and movement of swimming. The body position is already perfect, the legs barely seem to move, they supply the ideal balance, so hard to get right, unless you have swum since seemingly forever. That effortless moment as the arm stretches forward and the body rotates just perfectly, when the hand enters the water and fi rst catches and descends and starts to hold and then pull backwards while the elbow stays fi xed, high and wide. The body glides forward but at such a speed that those people who have never been lucky enough to be real swimmers cannot believe that it can be so easy. Those who watch the great athletes ( but who have never experienced it) look and think how easy it must be, because it looks both effortless and smooth. The great swimmers and athletes know and appreciate just how lucky they are to know it and to have it.
When you arrive at a certain level in any sport, you reach the perceptive ability to examine your expertise in every single facet of that sport. You can step outside yourself and analyse the skills and the tiny, individual movements that create the whole of your ability to repeat that skill. Arguably both valuable and useless, worthwhile and worthless, learnable and unlearnable, it comes together to form a series of movements that make it possible for you to do this complex something better than almost every other person on this earth.
It begins to hurt; you hurt in all sorts of ways. First, there is the hurt of a heart pounding deep within your body, which you the athlete has always believed to be a temple of physical perfection. Then there is the dull, wooden aching in the feet, calves, quadriceps and glutes, as the body jars with at least double the bodyweight at every step and stride. Then there is the unsettling area in the lower stomach, which is only just in control, and the niggling distractions of discomfort as the sweat runs into the eyes and damp hair fl icks gently against the cheeks, neck and forehead.
Also to contend with are the gradually building discomforts that increase as the shoes rub into soft ski; against a toe here and into the lower heel there, growing red, sore and chaffed, and starts to bleed.
Don’t forget the inner thighs, just along the line of the running shorts where sweat causes friction; the salty sweat, which pushes that edge of textile gently into the skin, again and again, with every stride. At fi rst, a reddened line forms across both legs and then the line chaffs and then they grow raw until the skin breaks and tiny drops of blood appear and transfer themselves onto your running shorts and legs.
And yet, the athlete runs on because they have already made the decision to run 10 or 20 or more kilometres, and because they have something to prove. To themselves and, maybe, to others, too. Maybe, to every other athlete that has ever set out to fi nish a training session or to fi nish a race. Because if you don’t do that, however bad you feel, you feel somehow that you have failed.
The pace slows with fatigue. Sometimes because of unfitness for the new activity, sometimes more often because of the pain in all corners of your body. Finally it’s over; the session is over. But you know it’s never really over; you’re just perfecting a new skill. You’re forever playing catch-up.