Marshmen tri hard

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The start of the swim leg

Triathlon (or ‘tri’ for short) consists of three distinct elements. The starting leg is a swim, usually in open water ( a lake, river or sea). The competitors then enter “transition” (a secure area where all their kit is kept), swap their wetsuits for a bike, cycling shoes and helmet and head off on a circular course that will eventually return them to transition. The bike is “racked” (placed in special racks to prevent damage), running shoes are “donned” and it’s off on a run to the finish.

Saturday May 16 saw the annual ‘Marshman’ triathlon organised by Velocity Events. Based at Lydd, the 8am start under a grey sky, chill wind and the threat of rain, did little to encourage the 63 wetsuit-clad triathletes lined up ready for the off. This was an “Olympic distance” race so the swim was 1500m, the bike leg 40km and the final run 10km.

Among the competitors were 70 year old Bob Sharp and his son John. Bob has competed for Great Britain in his age group (triathlon events are divided into 5-year age groups so that everyone competes against others of a similar age), and uses Rye Tennis Club as his training base, where he is a member (and a familiar sight, arriving on his bike in immaculate lycra then setting off on a training run). Who better to provide a first-hand account of the race?

“The day started”, reports Bob, “with a 5.30am alarm. Having packed all our kit the night before, it was now just a case of downing a couple of Weetabix, preparing energy drinks for the bike leg, strapping our well oiled bikes to the trusty Micra, then off for the half hour drive to  the Action Water Sports lake south east of Lydd town, with my 36 year old son John who was also participating.

Bob Sharp and son John, ready to go
Bob Sharp and son John, ready to go

“First to registration and pick up our all important timing chips which we Velcro to our left ankles. Next, it’s on with the tri-suit and wet suit, not forgetting to oil the cuffs and legs for a speedy removal after the swim.

“The bike is racked in a row along with 80 others (some were for a shorter, sprint event). Make mental note of position. Zero bike computer. Set pedals for a quick getaway, then lay out bike shoes, helmet, race number belt and run shoes beside bike. The big decision is what clothes to add for the ride. Too little and you freeze. Too much and you overheat.

“The start gun is scheduled for 7.50am but before that there’s a safety and route brief from Mike, the organiser.

“Now its swim hat and goggles on and into the water. ‘Good luck son’,  ‘Good luck dad’. Initial shock as the cold water creeps into the wet-suit, reluctantly ducking head and pumping hard to acclimatise. Everyone is jockeying for their favourite start position.

“From the bank it’s count down time. I start my stopwatch. The horn blasts and we’re off, all of us in a washing machine trying to find a bit of space. We bump each other fore, aft, port and starboard. It took me 500 metres of the 1500 metre course to get out of the melée and find my rhythm. My sighting wasn’t brilliant and I slipped off course a couple of times but once sorted I felt comfortable. Swimming is my best discipline. For John it isn’t! Stumbling up the exit ramp there’s a feeling of disorientation. I asked the marshal to unzip my wetsuit. He obliged. My stopwatch read 29 minutes-not bad but could be better. Perhaps I have saved energy for later on.

“Next, it was run or rather stumble while removing wet-suit, to the racked bike. I donned a lightweight jacket. Glasses on. Helmet, bike shoes and race belt on, unleash the bike, run to the mount line then off for a 25 mile circuit round Romney Marsh, trying hard to push the average up to 20mph on the flat course in fair weather.  Fuelling and hydration are important, so over the distance I down my litre of booster liquid and a couple of energy gels. My choice of jacket had been right. I was neither too cold at the beginning nor too hot at the end. I had been practising a fancy dismount and it worked.

“Transition again – rack bike, off with helmet and on with run shoes. Whoops! I had forgotten to powder them pre-race for easy slip on-30 seconds wasted. Now out for the run.

“To achieve my target there were 65 minutes left to run the 10km.  Two circuits of Lydd town, very marginal for me after the previous exertion. Half way round the first circuit a familiar voice, ‘Hey dad, how you doing?’ as John breezed past. Running is his forte but my nightmare. In truth I was struggling. The brain says ‘faster’ the body replies ‘you must be joking’. Wow, the finish banner comes into view. The clock is running down. I manage a poor apology for a sprint to cross the line. Stop the watch. Joy of joys, I’m home and dry.

“Triathletes are a great bunch. It’s applause and hand shakes all round even for me. I was delighted to find that I was fastest in my age group, but that wasn’t difficult seeing I was the only 70+ year old in the event! Much more satisfying was my time: 2hrs 59min 00.35sec. I had achieved my target with a minute to spare. Brilliant!”

Photos: John Minter and Bob Sharp