Why am I doing this?
The question came to mind as I set off at 8.30am on a Sunday morning on the bike. My plan was to practise a work commute going to Canary Wharf, then to go to Holborn or Regents Park, both of which I would visit after work for creative writing and cycling sessions respectively, then up to Hertford.
For an Ironman, you are supposed to work up to rides of up to eight hours. That’s a long time. I try to do my long cycles on Sunday mornings. My longest yet is five hours, and today I did four.
I always see interesting things on the bike – today I saw a neon sheep peeking out of the doorway of the shop of that name, cycled along the Regents Canal towards Canary Wharf and into the Limehouse Link tunnel before deciding it was too full of traffic and dangerous for me. I got off the bike and walked back to the entrance on a pedestrian pavement, at which point I saw a sign saying pedal cyclists were forbidden to use it.
However, there is no-one to share these experiences with, except you, dear reader. I keep feeling I am missing out on time with my family, even if in reality they are whiling away their Sunday mornings asleep in bed or studying a screen.
This week, I have heard more comments than usual from my wife about how she is not getting any sleep due to me getting up early to train.
She asked me to take our youngest daughter to a birthday party at 11am on Sunday morning. I grimaced. “It’ll screw up my bike ride.”
“I feel like I’m stunted and you’re Mr Freedom,” she said. I’ve heard similar comments from other women at work, as follows:
#1: “It’s interesting how some men take up lots of sports and women can’t because they’re too busy looking after the household.”
#2: “You seem to have an awful lot of free time.”
I don’t have a good comeback for these challenges. All I can say is that I do my training in the mornings and am back by lunchtime on weekends to minimise the impact on my family. I don’t mean to wake everyone up when I get up in the morning, but our front door has a lock that means you have to slam it.
I have paid the £500-odd entry fee for an Ironman: I am committed. It’s a double-edged sword: being committed gets me out of bed every day to do the training. It stops me thinking about whether I am in the mood to go on a three-hour run. It means I have little choice but to disregard the objections of my family, beyond mitigating the impact of the exercise on them as far as I can. Sometimes, however, all that training feels like a bind.
I don’t see triathlon as an integral part of my character – for me, it’s merely something that will take up a lot of time in the short term, like a driving test – but everyone else does.
They see me in a different way now: I’ve been called “inspiring”, “a machine”, “like Superman”. I’ve been told: “You’re all about exercise”.
One (unfortunately male) neighbour told my wife: “He’s been looking younger since he’s started doing lots of exercise.”
That feedback makes it hard to stop.
Why else do I do it? It makes my life more varied. I don’t go straight to work every day – I do something else. My extra-curricular life is about the mornings now, not the evenings, and I love the Pret coffee, croissant and porridge I have after a workout.
I also feel it’s an act of rebellion, although that might be purely because the last two books I’ve listened to while running (who knew triathlon makes you read more?) have been dystopian fiction (The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984).
Only one per cent of people do triathlon. Whether that makes me insane or heroic, I’m not sure. I can’t decide whether it’s a rejection of the status quo or the ultimate act of conformity.
In short, I haven’t yet answered the question of why. That hasn’t stopped me training, but I need to work it out before the Ironman event on July 12 if I am to make the finish line. Something tells me there’ll be plenty of questioning on the way.