My one previous experience with triathlon was in 2010. My sister convinced me to join her in signing up to a Try-a-Tri event – consisting of a 300M swim, a 6KM cycle, and a 2KM run. How hard could that really be? No need to train. I certainly wasn’t going to let the fact that I didn’t know how to swim stop me – sure doesn’t the wetsuit do the work, as they say… even though said wetsuit had been procured in the middle aisle of Lidl, and fit poorly. My bike was one that had served me well as a teenager, pulled out from the back of my parents’ shed without even so much as a cursory drop of oil. As for the running, sure I was well used to doing that around football and hockey pitches – easy. Oh how wrong I turned out to be. The event was a disaster, from start to finish. I should’ve taken our bikes falling off the car rack on the motorway as a sign to just turn around and go home… from getting a busted nose in the start-line scramble, to doggy-paddling my way to last out of the water, to sustaining a head injury from the Transition Area bike-rack, to the bike’s chain malfunctioning on the cycle, to falling on the run and cutting my knees – everything that could’ve gone wrong did. I crossed the finish line safe in the knowledge that triathlon was not for me.
A decade older and wiser, I came to Triathlon Ireland & Sporting Pride’s ‘Tri With Pride’ new-to-duathlon programme with an understanding that this is not a sport in which you can wing it in. Having learned to swim from scratch in 2019 after retiring from team sports, and completing Swim Ireland’s ‘Swim For A Mile’ pool & open water programmes since – I knew the immense value of putting in the hours to learn a new sport from the basics up, on your own time, at your own pace. I also knew I was really struggling both physically and mentally with the swimming pools being closed long-term under Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions, and needed a new exercise outlet to blow off steam – turns out replacing swim training four times a week with sitting on the couch doesn’t make you feel so good. I saw the Tri With Pride programme advertised on Twitter in December, and immediately liked how it was scheduled to commence in mid-January, free of toxic ‘New Year, New Me’ guff – so, I signed up for more info. The opportunity to take on a six week training programme under the guidance of experienced professionals seemed like the perfect way to give myself much-needed structure, and stop using daylight and weather as excuses to not go outside to exercise.
On January 13th, I joined the Tri With Pride Information Webinar on Zoom. Triathlon Ireland Development Officer Nikki Bradley led us through the plans for this pilot programme; Triathlon Coach Gary Crossan outlined what the training schedule would entail and the distances we’d be working towards; S&C Coach Eleanor Condon talked through how she’d be leading us in “The 4th Discipline”; and Nutritionist Fiona O’Donnell went through how we would learn to fuel performance along the way. I work in sport full-time, regularly interacting with sporting NGBs – and I was blown away by the evident resources and people-power that Triathlon Ireland were dedicating to this programme from the outset, with the ultimate aim of encouraging more LGBTQ+ people and their friends to participate in the sport – and all for a €25 registration fee. The call had barely concluded when I signed up for the programme.
When January 18th came around, and the Tri With Pride programme commenced – suddenly, my achingly empty new 2021 diary filled up. Monday evening live S&C sessions online, Tuesday evening training group Weekly Checkin Zoom calls, and then four other bike, run or brick sessions to schedule in to suit yourself. Whilst there were times when I really REALLY did not want to go outside to train – there seemed to be a storm every single weekend of the programme! – I’m proud to say that I didn’t miss a single session. Accountability is a strong force – and as someone who comes from a team sports background, it really motivates me. I quite simply didn’t want to log into the Weekly Check-Ins without having my homework done. I’d always considered cycling and running to be ‘individual’ sports – but, with a core group who committed fully to all aspects of the programme, it felt like a real team effort… and, with no requirement to share your distances or times with the group, it was very much a collective approach to achieving individual goals.
Week on week, I could feel my fitness levels improving. Injury-ravaged areas of my body responded to the very gradual nature of the running programme, with pain that had prohibited previous overly-ambitious runs no longer present. My long-held view of cycling changed from mode-of-transport to mode-of-training. I got to know every inch of my 5KM radius, with neighboring housing estates becoming tracks and circuits to suit interval sessions. I began to relish the incremental improvements, no matter how minor. I was moving better, eating better, sleeping better, and most importantly feeling better.
After 6 weeks of hard work, the official Event Day finally arrived, on Saturday 27th February – a timed duathlon consisting of a 3KM run, a 20KM cycle and a 3KM run. The elation of completing it in times that I would have thought impossible at the beginning of the programme was a fitting finale.
With the Tri With Pride programme, Triathlon Ireland & Sporting Pride have created an initiative that empowers participants to believe and achieve – with a dream team behind-the-scenes providing clear-cut communication top-notch training. I can’t recommend it highly enough. With brighter mornings and longer evenings now here, I know I will keep up both running and cycling – and I’m already looking forward to bringing swimming into the mix, to progress from duathlon to triathlon. As I’ve learned through both the ‘Swim For A Mile’ and ‘Tri With Pride’ programmes – It’s NEVER too late to embrace your inner-beginner, and find a new sport. If you never tri, you’ll never know…