By Andrew Colman
English teacher, Ilkley Grammar School
For the last three years I’ve written "book Ilkley Triathlon" under May 1 on the kitchen calendar (it takes place on Sunday, September 21). For two years I looked at the reminder some time in mid-May and realised I hadn’t a hope of entering. But this year, because I wrote it in my daughter’s bright pink highlighter in extremely big letters, I remembered and managed to secure a place. Friends, colleagues and even my own brother-in-law have successfully completed the Ilkley Triathlon several times, so I thought it was about time I pitched in to see what all the fuss was about.
These days there seem to be a lot of blokes around my age (early 40s) testing themselves with impressive feats of physical endurance; it’s the new mid-life crisis. Whether its triathlons, marathons, the Great North Swim or cycling stages of the Tour de France, it’s something we do to prove to ourselves (and to others) that we’re still young and capable. And of course it’s far less expensive and more sensible than impulsively buying a BMW convertible and running off with another woman. I do, though, get a little irritated by our neighbour who completed an Iron Man last summer. "Hello," he’ll yell cheerfully at 9am on a sunny Saturday morning. "Just cycled to York and back." "Good for you," I gasp as I struggle to hoof our old petrol mower around the front lawn.
I’d taken advice from some triathlon experts I knew and gathered a hazy idea of what is involved. However, this only seemed to add to my worries: get a belt to hold your number because you need to switch this from your front to your back (eh?); you will be given a transition area to keep your stuff when you move from one phase to the next (can I keep some sandwiches and a flask there too?); buy some ‘tri-shorts’- you keep the same shorts on for swimming, running and cycling (won’t his cause serious chafing?); make sure you try out the circuit first to get used to it (what if Iron Man Neighbour sees me?).
So it was with some trepidation I left our Menston home early on Monday morning to try out the circuit. I assembled my things in the hallway listening to the gently contented breathing of my family who were still asleep. "I am just going outside and may be some time," I felt like shouting Captain-Oats like up the stairs. Ten minutes later I pulled up outside Ilkley Lido, got my bike out of the car, did a few stretches and set off into the customary bank holiday drizzle.
The first circuit wasn’t too bad: along Denton Road, up Carter’s Lane, down Curly Hill and back onto Denton Road past the Lido. However, when I got to the top of Curly Hill during the second circuit I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. The BMW convertible idea didn’t seem so bad after all. Luckily, the exhilaration of flying down the hill and the wonderful smell of bacon coming from the Ilkley Cricket Club car boot sale revived me for the third and final lap by bike. Forty-two minutes later, breathless but triumphant, I took some long gulps of water, wondering how I would have felt if I’d started with a 500m swim first.
Next was the running circuit. Or in my case running, with a bit of limping and walking thrown in for good measure. What felt a little unnerving was the way my legs felt like jelly for the first five minutes before eventually clicking into gear. But the good thing about running is it gives you a chance to look around more: the striking blue and white of Westville House School, the farmer climbing into his tractor, the impressive houses with their views of Ilkley shrouded in mist in the valley below. Getting to the top of Curly Hill was hard going, but the descent was very rewarding, if a little jarring on the knees. I took a breather by the entrance to the car boot sale, wondering if I should allow myself a quick detour to find the bacon butty stall. But I decided to wait for the more healthy option of a cereal bar, waiting for me back in the car.
Driving home I felt shattered, but a real sense of achievement. Although I do try to keep fit you never know how you will be until you give things a go. One funny thing I noticed on the route was a large black slug- it was determinedly crossing Carter’s Lane just opposite the school. With each circuit I took it got a little closer to the other side. My aim became to make sure it hadn’t finally crossed the lane before I passed it on my fourth running lap. Unfortunately it had. So my aim next time I practise is to build in a swim, and to beat any road-crossing slugs!