Some­times, it’s only when you get through the dark times that you see the re­sults, says Steve Trew

Triathlon Plus - - Contents -

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.

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