Flat tyred, but inspired for new age group goal

PETER GIBBS
Last updated 13:00 26/10/2012

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Training for top-level sport is a tough process - it doesn't matter what age you are.

Writing a weekly column can be just the same. Sometimes, you're brimming over with ideas - at other times, you feel flat and uninspired. I've had so much happen in the past week I don't know where to start, so, as usual in such instances, I begin by interviewing myself.

For this week's Triathlon World Championships, 30 Nelson competitors have trained their hearts out over winter.

I've been one of them. At 64, I may look older than most (but not all) of my Nelson team-mates, but that hasn't meant any lessening of the dedication put into training and bringing honour, or at least respect, to the New Zealand team uniform.

Young and old, we've shared the experience of getting out in the cold and wet to train; the exhilaration when things are going well, and the despair when they're not; the early mornings of swimming, the dark nights of running.

By the time the competition arrived last week, several had fallen by the wayside with sickness or injury. In the final few days, more were added. On race day itself, there was further attrition.

I had what I considered to be a great race 10 days ago in the Aquathlon World Championship. I left the water after the 1km swim in fourth place in my age group. Although I slipped to sixth during the 5km run, I couldn't have been more delighted when my clubmate Ben Van Dyke took the gold medal in our venerable section.

In the Olympic distance triathlon on Monday, my race went wonderfully at first. Another good swim, leaving the water in 14th place (of nearly 70), but close to the front of things. I made up time on the transition to the bike section and got smoothly through the business of mounting the bike and slipping into the shoes as I started pedalling.

All too soon, things can turn to custard. Within seconds, I realised that my front tyre was flat. As I slowed and got off my bike, a second disaster, with another cyclist hitting me full tilt from behind. I was mortified to see him crash to the ground - was it my fault? A bit of that, but he'd had his head down and was trying to pass me on the wrong side as I pulled to the left. With a choice of no road or me, he chose my pudgy little back to drive his aero bars into.

He had a nasty spill and I had a big lump on my back, which was to come back to haunt me.

In the heat of an event, a lot goes through your mind in an instant. Should I pull the plug? It was obvious that any serious chance of a good result was gone. I've got a full summer programme coming, and the sooner I get back into training, the better, so maybe cutting my losses was a good idea.

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On the other hand, it seemed a bit shameful to quit. Without my glasses on, it wasn't easy to replace a tube and get the tyre back on and pumped up, but I did it and set off, trying to decide what to do.

My tyre was soggy, I'd lost 10 minutes and my chances were gone, but I'd spent a long winter and a lot of money to get to this race, so I carried on.

After a sluggish 40km bike, the 10km run wasn't much fun, with the bruised muscles in my back calling for mercy. I managed 39th in a field of 64. I'd hoped for top 20.

You never stop learning lessons in humility. My race wasn't good, but others fared worse through bad luck or bad fortune.

On the other hand, there were some tremendous Nelson results, with three medals in the aquathlon and two in the triathlon events - our best ever.

What do we learn? Triathlon is amazing in giving competitors the chance for a cradle-to-grave experience. And no matter what your age, you can compete against the best in the world representing your country.

You have the incentive to stay fit and to keep an optimistic and positive state of mind.

Even as I struggled with a sub-par performance on Monday, I was measuring how much the experience was going to benefit me. If I'd been three months older, I would have won the gold medal in the aquathlon world championship in the 65-69 age group. I think I have a goal for September next year.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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