Sat, Jul 19, 2008 - Page 16 News List

Triathlon man

When staff reporter Richard Hazeldine decided he needed to challenge himself, he signed up to compete in his first ever triathlon. He stayed the course and finished 57th overall out of the more than 1,000 people to start the race

By Richard Hazeldine  /  STAFF REPORTER

Thirty-six is too young for a mid-life crisis, so it’s still a bit of a mystery what inspired me to attempt my first triathlon.

Having always considered myself reasonably fit, despite being a few kilograms overweight for a couple of decades, I’d never really attempted the seemingly impossible or done anything that one could consider physically grueling.

Despite mulling running a marathon for several years, the prospect had always filled me with dread, as being a “marathon man” — with the hour upon hour of running it entails — seemed far too painful.

Another obstacle was the fact that running is just plain boring. When it comes to exercise I’m a bit like a puppy: not really interested unless there is a ball or some other object to chase, hit, or kick.

The triathlon seemed like the best option, as having worked as a lifeguard during senior high school, the swimming side didn’t hold any worries, and cycling is the main form of exercise for me these days (a 20-minute ride from the MRT to the office almost every day).

Even so, completing the Olympic distance triathlon (1.5km swim, 40km cycling, 10km run) in Taiwan’s heat and humidity seemed a bridge too far for a beginner, so when I heard about the half-distance sprint triathlon, or the “girly one” as one of my politically incorrect friends put it, my mind was made up.

The Uni-President sprint triathlon (750m swim, 28km cycling, 5km run) at scenic Sun Moon Lake in Nantou County, which took place on July 5, was firmly fixed in the sights.

It was mid-April, so with just over two months to whip myself into shape the first challenge was finding the time to do the training. Having a two-year-old child to look after and a busy work schedule meant there was limited time in which to squeeze in the training.

Triathlon basics: Training plan

► For the first full month of training, in May, I swam, ran or cycled five times a week. Swimming was my main focus, as I had not done any distance work for years. Starting with 800m sessions, I added 100m each week while gradually increasing the proportion of front crawl. Running was a flat 5km to 6km route along the Keelung River from the office to the MRT, while cycling involved once weekly rides from home to the office (26km one way) whenever the weather was agreeable.

The second month, June, saw the workouts increase to six days a week, including two double sessions, a swim followed by cycling or cycling followed by a run.


But it worked out that the cycling and running could be factored into the one-hour commute to and from the office, while the swimming would have to be done at the expense of lunch after dropping my daughter off at day care.

Training began in earnest at the end of April when the local swimming pool opened for the summer.

Overall, the training went well, but there were a few times when motivation was lacking as it becomes easy to skip a day thinking it would do no harm. Fortunately, I only missed one training session during the whole two months. Physically everything went well, but the mental stress got to me on more than one occasion.

The worst example of this was when, with less than two weeks before the big day, I learned that the winner of last year’s race had completed the course in just one hour and two minutes, a full hour faster than my combined time in training. Panic set in. The pace was duly stepped up and the target time was revised downwards from two hours to one hour and 45 minutes. It was not until after the race, and feeling rather foolish, that I discovered last year’s bike ride was 8km shorter, at 20km.

Eventually, the weekend of the race arrived and in the company of my cheerleading squad (my wife and daughter), we made the four-hour drive down to Nantou. We had booked a minsu (民宿), or guesthouse, in Yuchi (魚池), about a 10-minute drive from the race venue, but with hindsight it would have been better to book a place right on the lake and avoid the traffic controls in force on race day.

Nevertheless, we reached the race venue unscathed and I joined the throng of competitors as it headed down to the transition area, where you change between stages, to get ready.

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