It was once the preserve of the super fit and masochists but triathlon has become the UK’s fastest-growing participation sport.
This week, KARL HOLBROOK continues his journey from his settee to taking on the sports toughest challenge - the dreaded Ironman.
Training for an event like Ironman is hard. And it’s even harder alone.
But the thought of joining a club is daunting for most people, not to mention a podgy amateur like me.
Despite triathlon becoming the country’s fastest growing participation sport, there is still the image that it is practised by macho men with chiselled jaws and super human strength.
The reality of life in a triathlon club, however, as I found out is far less intimidating after I was welcomed into the ranks of TriPreston this week.
Formed in 1997 by just a couple of die hards, the city’s only bespoke club for triathletes has grown to more than 100 members today.
They range in age from teenage starlets competing for Team GB to middle-aged weekend warriors just looking for a fun way to keep fit. (My plan of attack is certainly to buddy up with the chaps in the latter camp!)
I put my apprehension aside and took the plunge at one of the clubs training sessions led by the club’s head coach Ian Murphy, a level three triathlon coach and former competitive cyclist himself.
The camaraderie and dedication was plain to see with around 20 members turning out on a cold, wet January morning for a three hour session at UCLan Sports Arena, off Tom Benson Way.
After a warm up bike ride around the mile-long track with member and club sponsor Emily Rhodes, Ian put us through our paces for some drills to test basic abilities. So far, so good.
Then we were split into three teams based on ability for a race.
Miraculously I was placed in the middle group, a team of six charged with hunting down the speed demons in the top team.
To spice up proceedings handicaps were handed out to the two stronger teams, with both having to complete extra laps of the undulating track against the clock.
The handicaps levelled the playing field and tickled everyone’s competitive spirit. While my ‘B’ team never really threatened to reel in so-called slow team, who had to complete two fewer laps, we were able to hold off the marauding ‘A’ team in a nail biting sprint to the finish.
The competitive element made things a lot more interesting for all abilities.
Coach Ian explained: “We cater for all abilities at the club, we really pride ourselves on that. Nobody ever gets left behind.”
Splitting the teams up into similar abilities meant everyone could ride without worrying if they were too fast or too slow for the other members and the handicaps levelled the playing field so everyone got a chance for a little competitive fun.
More importantly, by working in smaller teams of similar abilities, we were all forced to work harder than we might alone and if I’m going to complete Ironman’s 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 24 mile run come the day of reckoning I am going to need to push myself harder and harder.
Club coach Barry Cleminson explains: “Even though triathlon is a single person sport, the training and bond between teammates makes the training sessions easier.”
Alongside the race, some of the club coaches held a bike maintenance drop in and after a quick change it was time to lace up the trainers for 400m intervals around the track for some running training led by coach Joanne McWilliams.
The first session couldn’t have gone better and the club couldn’t have been more accommodating.
Buoyed by my first session, I hit the ground running (literally) and joined the clubs weekly Sunday run the following day for an eight mile run along the riverbank from Avenham Park at the start of the Guild Wheel.
Like the previous day, the session was designed for all abilities, with everyone setting off towards Brockholes at their own pace with each runner turning back after 45 minutes. It meant the faster runners put more miles in but everyone got back to the start at the same time for a bacon butty and a well deserved pat on the back.
There’s a long way to go but week one certainly couldn’t have gone any better and now, with a team in my corner, I am ready to take whatever this long and crazy journey throws at me.
l For more information about Tri Preston visit www.tripreston.co.uk or contact Dave Rigby on 07734 396193
Next week find out how I got on when TriPreston’s head coach put me through a punishing fitness test