What am I doing here?

‘Competing’ in the national triathlon championships

The lake

It has been a long time since I blogged here. And in 2020 there have been practically zero events here in France since the “First French Marathon at Cernay la Ville which I staggered round in just over 5 hours. Not much to blog about there.

Subsequent lockdown has ruled out all my regular events so just to keep oldsports.com alive I propose to tell you about my triathlon attempt of August 2019. This was the Triathlon de Levezou which I had done a few times before, notably in the L category in 2017. Curiously I have never blogged about my triathlons. Done a couple of Garmin Paris Triathlons (2 solo, one a relay with other family members) and four or five down in the Aveyron in the Sprint and L categories. So perhaps I should backtrack a bit, if only to remind myself of how I managed to compete in the French Championships with so little preparation.

Competing way above my pay grade is an old habitude. In my 20’s I bought a pair of grass skis and after a couple of tries set off to Butser Hill (southern England) where it so happened that the UK grass ski championships were taking place. I’m not sure that this Movietone footage is from the same year but it captures well the spirit of the event and the many painful wipeouts that grass skiing entails. Falls are hard on grass. When it was my time to set off I wobbled out of the gate on my new skis. The course began across the hill, not too steeply, which I managed OK, then it turned left and a forest of slalom poles appeared before me. I accelerated down for a few seconds and wiped out. More embarrassing than the fall was the fact that I was not even really up to negotiating my way down the steeper part of the course outside of the slalom and fell on my butt a few more times in front of an amused crowd of spectators.

And so, to triathlons. As you know if you have already read anything on oldsports.com I am OK with biking and running. The unknown is the swim. In my earlier attempts I managed to ‘compete’ doing the breaststroke. In fact I even did my first L (notionally a 2km swim) in breaststroke which saw me out of the water 15 minutes behind the second to last, but I did finish inside the time limit.

Breaststroking the Garmin Paris triathlon a few years ago saw me do the 1500m in the canal de l’Ourcq in 53 minutes. I was convinced that I would do better with a crawl, so signed up for a year of lessons. I had also heard (chit chat while waiting in line for the start) that a wetsuit pretty well guarantees “10% off your time”. Unfortunately, the following year it was hot and wetsuits were not allowed (my wife had bought me one for the event). That was a setback and left the 10% theory untested. Anyhow in I jumped and set off with the usual beginner’s crawl uncomfortableness for a few strokes before more or less getting into my stride. The result? 56 minutes. A year of lessons and three minutes slower than breaststroke.

So, to get back to the 2019 Triathlon de Levezou. I had given up on the lessons as being useless, so the choice was between a crawl plus wetsuit (for the as yet untested 10% bonus) and the breaststroke. Naturally I went for the crawl. As I said, the 2019 Levezou was doubling as a French national championship event. A few hundred triathloners set off before us 50 or so amateurs. As usual I let the others off first so as not to get in anybody’s way. Then discovered that they were a lot faster than me. I plugged on with my bad but wetsuitted crawl for a few hundred yards before getting a bad attack of crawl beginners’ breathing syndrome. I went over on my back to recover. Some folks in canoes asked how I was. I explained that this was ‘normal’ at least for me. Regained my composure and set off crawling again. Then the next problem emerged .. steering. With breastroke it is easy to have a quick look around every few strokes. With crawl this involves an awkward halt in progress and one does it less frequently. Every time I did check it seemed like I was pointed way off course. The subsequent course correction mean that in a few minutes I was pointing way over the other way. I went zig-zagging along as my GPS watch showed (albeit with some exaggeration. I don’t think I ever actually went backwards!).

Zig-zagging in the lake!

The course was a two loop event with an ‘Australian’ break in the middle where you get out of the water, run around a post and dive back in. Even with some composure recovered I was not really very comfortable on the first lap and, perhaps looking for an excuse to give up, told myself that I would quit if I didn’t make it in under 30 minutes for the first 1,000m lap. I staggered out at the half way point, checked my watch, damn! 29 minutes. So back in and off again. A few hundred meters into the second lap I finally got my breathing together and things were going OK except for the steering. As I course corrected again and again a couple of the kayaks tried to help me out by corralling me in the right direction. This really did not help. I would have rather been left alone with my free-form zigzags. The kayakers were also concerned at my slow progress. Eventually one of them  intimated that I had to quit, suggesting that it would be OK to carry on. So I duly made a bee line for the beach with around 500 meters of the course unswum.

When I got into the bike pound and explained my situation,  things were not so cool. I was clearly disqualified. After a bit of a parley I managed to negotiate that I could at least get my bike out of the pound and carry on as a free agent. This involved the complication of ferrying all my kit back to the car before setting off again. Had a pleasant pedal around the course saw no one. Another to and fro to the car to get my running gear and off again. The last leg involved two laps of the Villefranche de Panat lake so I ‘caught up’ with some of the stragglers who were starting out on their second lap as I began my first. I even managed to overtake one scrawny tanned gentleman. As I came up to him I wondered how old he was. He must have been a mind reader because as I overtook him he said “I’m seventy five”. I replied “I’m seventy”. “The best age” he opined. I couldn’t agree more.

So as I finished my first lap I was alone with the lake and the holiday makers on the beaches and cafés. Eventually the music and loudspeaker commentary from the base fell silent. I plodded along around the uninhabited northern end of the lake, and along the wooden walkways to the finish. Everything and everybody had gone. All the inflatable arches, railings and sound equipment was trucked away. I felt in quite good shape. Drank some warm pop in the car and set off home. Satisfied despite the contre-temps. Next time I think I will stick with the breast stroke though.  

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