Lessons from Triathlon

My colleagues have allowed me just two Triathlon blogs per year which I’m sure you’ll agree is tantamount to censorship, after all, my experiences in the three disciplined sport can surely give many and varied insights into the development of excellence.
I have just completed the Alpe D’Huez Triathlon in a time of 9 hours 26 minutes which I know is a contradiction of the previous sentence but I am at this moment ‘work in progress’ and it’s always good to give yourself plenty of room for improvement. Indeed, the race centred around the French ski resort of Alpe D’Huez has given me a concentrated learning experience from which to build.
It all started in November when Sara, my wife, noticed I had put on weight and tactfully suggested I enter a race of some kind as motivation to get fit.  In a fit of pique, armed with the internet and a credit card I entered what is considered to be one of the hardest triathlons on the planet. When I announced to anyone who cared to listen that I had entered the fifth edition of this long distance race one of them remarked that this was impressive.  I now realise that anyone with a credit card can enter, that in itself is not impressive, finishing is!  2.2 km swim in a very cold lake, followed by 115km cycle over three alpine passes, the final one being 12km up the infamous Alpe D’Huez hairpins, the 1,200 meters of climb raced up regularly on the Tour de France. Top that off by running a half marathon.  Nine months training ensued, motivated by bravado, a reducing waistline, and the opportunity to skive off making dinner, washing up and the like because of the need to go out training.
Bravado lasted until about ten minutes from the start when I entered the cold water of Lac Verney insulated only by my wetsuit.  I scoured the horizon for the buoys that denoted the turnaround point  when the chill changed from that caused by the icy water seeping down my back to sudden realisation that this was going to be hard.
Swim went well, next was the bike.  All round the course were groups of spectators.  Cries of ‘ Allez, allez, allez’ rang around the mountains as I laboured uphill for the majority of the day.  As the temperature soared and the crowds went to lunch I gradually cooked on the Col D’Ornon.  Le Bourg D’Oisans, the small town at the foot of the great climb of Alp D’ Huez found me in a state of sweltered suffering.  At the drinks station I tipped water over my head, stuffed food into my mouth and could see no way I was going to be able to do the final climb.  Then came on of the most profound moments in my life.  An elderly volunteer handed me a water bottle; he looked into my half dead eyes and simply said, “Courage, Courage”.  My soul stirred.  At that moment I understood what it was to be French.  I was there at the barricades of the Bastille.  Courage was not optional, it was expected.  Courage led the revolution, it gave the world Egality, Fraternity, Liberty.  Courage would take me to the top.
Well, it took me to bend 13 where a fluttering heart rate suggested to me that cooling down for a bit in a mountain stream might be more prudent.  Dehydration changed my perception of the crowd. The large numbers of spectators becoming reminiscent of the baying mobs around le guillotine. How they like to watch me suffer to show them that they should never be lured into such foolhardy adventures.
One last effort and the final transition arrived. Elation quickly subsided as I realised there was still a half marathon to go.  I have no idea why but when I started running I felt great.  As others faltered, I sauntered, for about two hours.  Alpe D’Huez Triathlon completed.
What did I learn? 
  1. Always aim for things that are a real challenge.  Only by pushing the absolute limits can you find out what is possible.
  2. Courage is a very helpful mindset.
  3. Eat fewer pies.  This is considerably easier than the Alpe D’Huez Triathlon as a weight control programme.