Stories from a Slowcoach Triathlete
I usually prefer to be behind the scenes, or in the back of photos, slightly out of focus or obscured by someone else’s arm. I have never felt confident enough to share my blog posts alongside those of Joe (UTMB and Glencoe skyline runner), Natalie (super-fit mountain adventurer) or Siân (outdoor swimming expert). But recently a friend took a photo of me that I am really proud of. And I thought maybe some people might like to hear about someone at the other end of the outdoor adventure spectrum.
I'm Hannah and I'm the Marketing Manager for Cicerone. I love the outdoors and I enjoy being active and giving things a go. However, I am perpetually overweight, still labouring under the delusion that doing Parkrun every Saturday will give me the body of an athlete despite the vast quantities of biscuits and cake I seem to need to keep me going. I also inherited asthma from my dad and a bookish indoors sort of nature from both my parents. Essentially I am not a natural. At anything.
In a somewhat odd juxtaposition to these characteristics I have a very strong internal competitive streak and a desire to challenge myself. My level may be lower than most people's but my drive and determination is pretty high. So when, twelve years ago, I decided to do a triathlon, I was pretty much unstoppable.
It's been a long slog to get here.
Thirteen years ago I had just moved back to my home town from university. Following a break up, and having a post-university "career break" I had nothing much to fill my time apart from work and playing pool. After a few months of getting really, really good at pool I joined a gym and got really really good at that. I went most days, cycling there straight after work and doing two or three hours of classes before cycling home and having the student's supper of cereal or somesuch. Luckily I was working in a café in the daytime and had vegetables and stuff there.
I loved the gym, and how it made me feel. I felt strong and capable and, for the first time ever, started viewing my body as having these positive attributes. My whole outlook changed and I stopped viewing my body as something to starve, hide and diminish. I even started running. It was all going so well. And then two things happened that both served to scupper my plans:
- I met a girl
- I quite catastrophically broke myself
I'm not sure how to apportion blame here but, seeing as I am now married to the girl, I should probably spare her a little. Anyway, suffice to say she did not enjoy dating someone who went to the gym for three hours a night, had a bowl of cereal for tea and then went to bed. We had to arrange dates around my inflexible gym timetable and by the time I got to them I was usually aching and tired and not great company. In fairness to her she only suggested a little more balance but I've never been good at that. As I was slowly introduced to the joys of lazy Saturdays and Costa hot chocolates with cream I started skipping the odd class here and there. It became shockingly easy to spend time with Jemma.
I was still very active and fit - it takes a while to fully adjust to a new hot chocolate filled lifestyle - and was aiming to do a triathlon in the summer. I didn't have a car so I cycled everywhere, even up the enormous hill that Jemma lived at the top of. I had been running most mornings before work and had done the pinnacle event in the sporting calendar - Race for Life - the year before. The only thing that I was concerned about was swimming but I had been a strong, if slow, swimmer as a child so I wasn't truly worried.
For some reason I decided that, on my first visit to a swimming pool since school, I would start with butterfly. The ridiculous stroke that makes even professionals look a little like they are drowning. I partially dislocated both my shoulders about 7 metres in.
My shoulders sorted themselves out with a modicum of pain. I wasn't even sure what had happened but I got out of the pool and managed to cycle home. I forgot about it until it happened again a few days later, in an Asda changing room. I was trying on a shirt. They didn't have it in my size but I reckoned I could manage a size down. I couldn't and I also couldn't get it off. Whilst wrestling with the shirt my shoulders popped out again. This time it hurt a lot but the humiliation of having to call an assistant to help pull the too-small shirt over my head acted as an anaesthetic of sorts. Once the shirt was off, my shoulders helpfully went back in, as if satisfied that I had been sufficiently chastised for my over confidence with a size 8.
My humiliation was rewarded with a diagnosis of hypermobility syndrome and an absolute ban on any exercise for two months. I responded by doing almost nothing for about 8 years.
So, when I signed up for a triathlon at the end of the 2017 season, I had bones to pick, bugs I had borne and a score to settle.
My relationship with Jemma had settled down to the point where she actually quite liked me leaving the house for a few hours in the evening. Encouraged it almost. I had started going to the gym again but was nowhere near as committed (obsessed) as I had been a few years before. I had the carb loading nailed but the rest of my training plan had gone somewhat awry. When I arrived at the starting line for the triathlon I had done one or two twenty minute runs with the dog and a bike ride where I desperately tried to remember which lever made the gears harder or easier. Oh with a break for icecream halfway. I had done the Great North Swim earlier in the summer so had then pretty much ignored swimming seeing as "I could do that". I wasn't exactly well prepared.
The triathlon went as well as can be expected. I was slow, of course, but I finished it and didn't stop to walk on the run. There was a sad moment where I arrived at the transition point after the bike leg to see my two friends there - hooray I thought, we can run together! I then spotted that they had medals on.... Nevertheless I plodded off on my run leg feeling tired but confident. I was, after all, doing it. As I came round the final corner I spotted my two friends and couldn't help triumphantly raising my arms - "I'm doing it, I'm really doing it!". They cheered me in and I finished the race feeling like a winner.
And I am a winner. For me the triathlon meant over a decade spanning several injuries, fitness followed by a slovenly disregard for fitness, the sort of fitness achieved by someone who until recently had a slovenly disregard for fitness, and the underlying intention that someday I would do it. It's nothing compared to the achievements of others - my colleagues leave me for dust with their activities. But it's a personal victory and I'm letting myself be proud of this one.
Hannah is the Marketing Manager for Cicerone and, when not working, can be found enjoying an array of extreme sports - marathon reading, epic afternoons in the park with the dog, and endurance cake eating. She also has a strange appetite for things she is bad at - running, swimming and quizzing.View Articles by Hannah Stevenson