Fail to prepare…

…Prepare to fail.

I should have known it wasn’t as easy as the sum of it’s parts, or that indoors adequacy was equivalent to outdoor competence.

I’m talking about my half Ironman distance triathlon, by the way. The reason we booked our week’s holiday in Cornwall.

We trotted off down there on the Friday, arrived in plenty of time, found the booking-in site for the race eventually and I was all set. I got up at 5.20 on the Saturday morning, had a quick breakfast, woke Wendy to zip me in to my wetsuit and set off to the race. My first ever triathlon. My first ever sea swim. My first ever swim in a wetsuit.

It writes itself, really. What the hell did I expect was going to happen?


We all made our way down to the beach. It was freezing cold. The wind was really blowing, straight off the sea. It was  a rough sea, and the wind was whipping up a nasty ‘chop’ (as we seasoned triathletes/ salty sea dogs say). Still, no worries. It’s only water.

7 am. We’re off!

I followed everyone else into the sea. First was the shock of the coldness of the water which fair takes your breath away. Soldier on, everyone else is in the same boat. Face down in the freezing cold water. Stroke, stroke, so cold you put your head up to gasp for breath SMACK, a wave hits you in the face, instead of air you’ve got a mouth full of salt water. Spit it out in panic. Head right out of the water, gasp for breath, panicking badly. Another wave. Half a breath. Try to put face down, can’t breath, shock of the cold water, no air, head right up for air, wave in face, up nose, in mouth. Try to swim on, head up, every wave hitting you in the face. Shocked, confused, scared and really panicking. Try to carry on. Can’t breath, can’t stop the panic, start to think I really am going to drown.


I quit.


I just couldn’t go on. I was devastated. Beaten at the first hurdle. One of the canoeists pulled me back to shore. In front of the spectators who’s turned up to watch the triathletes.

The shame.

I was plodding back, utterly disgusted with myself, just going to pick my bike and running kit up and go home when one of the race marshals said I could do the other two events if I wanted.

I thought I might as well but  then took off my wetsuit and was freezing cold and soaking wet in my tri-suit. My morale was at a low ebb so I thought ‘screw that, I’m going home’.

There were two other chaps who got pulled out of the drink. One of them said he was thinking of just going home and doing some training, but seeing he was here he might as well do it in the other two disciplines. It was a good argument, so I saddled up.

In passing, he also said “tell them they fucked the timing chip up.”  (ie, that was why your race result would show up as DNF – Did Not Finish- .) So fail at in the race, then lie to everyone. Personally I think that would be even worse. To fail so badly, then live a lie about it. Perhaps he was joking. Still, he was better than the other chap who said it was too rough to swim in, lots of people were going to get pulled out and he was going home!


Anyway, I rode 56 windy, bloody hilly miles around Cornwall, then ran 13 equally bloody hilly (though the wind doesn’t matter so much on a run) miles. It was bloody hard work and a massive mental effort to start it, then to continue it when it was so hard, then to continue with the run which was killer. Especially as it was a two lap race, so after the first, when I really didn’t want to play any more, I had to force myself to carry on even though the people on the shorter race only had to do one lap, so I could have ‘forgot’ and no-one would have known at the finish line.


The sad thing was;  every person I was racing with, even those that I overtook, had all beaten me already. I wasn’t even in the same race as them. They had finished the swim, with the concomitant lactic acid build up and muscle/ energy degradation. I’d only done the ride and race. I told the few I had a brief chat with that that was the case. I felt like an utter fraud every time I overtook someone. Good job it was so rarely, really!


At the end of the race, although I failed drastically, spectacularly and humiliatingly, I regained an iota of pride in that I did the two other disciplines when I’d already failed. I could have sacked it off, or quit on the ride, or cheated on the run. I didn’t. Although it was pointless, painful and bloody hard.


As soon as I was back at the chalet, regaling Wendy with my tales of heroic failure, I thought I could have pushed through the panic, found my stroke and done the swim.

I went back in the next day, in calmer seas. It took me bloody ages before I could settle down to a stroke. I kept doing brief swims, half breaths, full chokes, then running out of air and having to stand up to get my breath back and try again. After about half an hour I finally did a sustained swim. And that poorly.

I had another two or three swim sessions whilst I was there. By the last one I think I could have had a go at the race. It would not have been pleasant and I would still have been really scared, but I think (knowing there were canoeists ready to pull me out- again!) I could have kept breathing and stroking, which is the definition of ‘swimming’ in my books. 

If only I’d have been able to make it to the Liverpool dock swims before the race!

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Serious training from here on in.