The Lung Brothers

Hanging out at the extreme end of the long tail ...

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Mid-Life Crisis? What Mid-Life Crisis?

A couple of years ago, under the mounting peer pressure of a sports freak from work, I gave in and signed myself up for this new- fangled piece of fitness lunacy called a triathlon. Now don’t go getting all overcome with admiration or anything, I’m not talking about a ‘proper’ triathlon. Although they occur simultaneously, I shall certainly not be taking part in the Barcelona Olympic Triathlon (Dear sweet Jesus no!) or the Barcelona Sprint Triathlon (Heaven forbid!). No, I shall be doing the dilettantes’ Super Sprint Triathlon, a pathetic 45-minute waddle that could probably be completed by a relatively buoyant pensioner with a spry nurse and a greased-up Zimmer frame.

Last week was my third time to enter into this madness and as a mark of my relief of still being alive, I thought it would be nice to go over what the whole thing entails.

Someone once defined a classical book as something you don’t enjoy reading, but do enjoy having read. This, it seems, could also be said of most feats of athletic endurance. We all enjoy recounting and embellishing our accomplishments after the deed is done and thanks to some sort of masochistic amnesia, we might even look forward to taking part in the next event. But the moment the starting gun goes off and we actually start doing the damn thing, the only thoughts that go through our heads are “Holy shit, now I remember what this is like! It’s horrible and painful and goes on forever. Why the hell did I sign up? Am I fucking insane?” Naturally, these thoughts will have once again disappeared by the time you’re quaffing beers that evening and while trading anecdotes of the day, you’re actually planning your strategy for next year. What silly creatures we humans are.

The swim is where the whole business begins. 300 fools in neoprene line up on a beach and on the starter’s command, sprint into the beckoning waves like lemmings on speed. Well, make that 299 fools in neoprene. There is one mick moron who would rather swim in a tutu and a summer bonnet than to don one of those pussy prophylactics. I did have the last laugh in last year’s event all the same. There were huge waves and the only way to efficiently get by them was to pummel through them, which I did with 200-pound ease. However, with their highly buoyant suits, the neopreeners were all driven backwards like so many bobbing corks. Oh how I chortled.

The fun begins when everyone arrives at the first buoy and has to turn left. As you can imagine, with having 300 highly competitive jocks being funneled into one point, the kicking, shoving and elbowing would make a Sicilian knife-fight look sporting. Once you get past that first bend, things get a fair bit easier.

Or at least they should. Swimming is my strong suit and I can knock out a mile in a pool without so much as breaking a sweat. So why is it then that I get so knackered so quickly when swimming in the open sea? We only do a quarter of a mile but I nearly always feel my arms getting heavy half-way through and usually have to break into a breast stroke on the home straight. Still, I usually end up being among the first bunch to hit the beach, hyperventilating and having those Saving Private Ryan flashbacks. The children in the crowd are usually a bit disconcerted to witness a battalion of X-men tottering up on the sand accompanied by what appears to be a wheezing speedo-clad manatee walking on his hind legs.


So you’ve made it to the beach, you then run up a concrete ramp while being cheered/jeered by the spectators, you cross a walkway and descend into a race track in the middle of which is a sea of bicycles mounted on racks. One of those bikes is yours and you have to trot around trying to figure out what sort of fucked up Dewey classification system they’ve used before you can find it. You then pop on a T-shirt, a helmet and a pair of running shoes and run your bike out of the enclosure and onto the open road where a new and different flavor of pain awaits you.

The route is mercifully flat and I usually do pretty well considering what I’m riding. It’s a beat up second-hand mountain bike that looks like a piece of scaffolding with two tractor wheels nailed to it. I couldn’t look less cool if I had a shopping basket hanging off the handlebars. A lot of the more ‘serious’ or wealthier competitors cycle those carbon fiber road razors that probably weigh less than the chain on my bike. So even though I pass quite a few of the normal riders on the route, every now and then one of those high-tech racers will whizz by Tron-like, just to remind me not to get above my station.

So after a 10km tour of the Barcelona business district, we all arrive back to the track and once again run around looking for the right place to park the bikes. It’s a bit like those Discovery channel documentaries where the all penguins get back to the beach after weeks of fishing and then wander around in their thousands each one looking for its own particular chick to regurgitate on.

So you finally park the bike, grab a small bottle of water and set off at a trot. And you’re foolishly thinking ‘Hey, my legs are nicely warmed up now so this run should be a synch’. But you soon realize that your cycling muscles and your running muscles have never formally met and this brief introduction is enough to reveal that they don’t have an awful lot in common. So you flat-footedly waddle out of the enclosure like Chaplin desperately looking for a restroom and set off for your mile and a half of agony.

Again, under normal circumstances I could cover 2.5 km without a bother. But on the back of the previous exertions, that short distance seems to stretch to eternity and by the time I get to the finish line, my damp and crimson visage would put you in mind of someone who fell asleep in a sauna. And as always, there are those couple of minutes of sanity where your brain is repeating those sage words ‘Never again! Never again!’ And as always it doesn’t last.

Now those voices in my head are telling me to do the mid-level triathlon next year. Can’t you hear them?