Triathlon – A Family Affair


22.09.16 at 12:57 pm

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My wife fell asleep in the car when she was supposed to be helping me at T1 during Celtman. Perhaps I should make her watch a video of Alistair Brownlee? 

David Burrows

“I wish the flipping idiot had just paced it right and won the race. He could have jogged the last 2km,” said Alistair Brownlee having just carried his brother Jonny across the finish line at this week’s World Triathlon Series finale. I’m sure you’ve seen the videos, but to recap here it is with an emotional American commentator…

To win the series Jonny had to finish first – and then hope that Spaniard Mario Mola came no higher than fourth. But out in front and with only 1.5km to go his legs went and he started to weave all over the course like a teenager after a couple of Babychams. Just behind was Alistair and – forfeiting his chance to win the race – he scooped his younger brother up and helped him to second place. “I’d have done the same thing for anyone in that position,” Alistair said.

Amidst a heat-sapping and furiously competitive finale, this was a moment of true sportsmanship – and one that the world stopped to breathe in (all apart from Mola that is, who claimed the title whilst mumbling something about his goggles being pulled off by Alistair. Boo hoo).

After the initial ‘is helping a competitor allowed’ chat (it is, apparently), the focus amongst training experts has turned to nutrition and race pacing. However, the case also brought to mind support, in particular during endurance races.

Some of the longer, more remote events require competitors to have a support team. I’m thinking Norseman (Norway) and Celtman (Scotland), for example. “The support team is a necessity for security purposes, but also an important part of the Norseman atmosphere and experience,” it says on the Norseman website.

I had the pleasure of competing in the inaugural Celtman race – a 3.8km swim, 202km bike (2000m ascent) and a marathon over a couple of Munros (in English, that’s a hill at least 914m in height). From the 3am wake-up to the late-night finish my wife would be with me as leader of my support team.

It didn’t start well. Emerging from Loch Torridon I made my way to my bike in T1. All around me there was activity as wives, husbands, partners and friends helped other shivering athletes from their wetsuits and into their bike gear. I, however, cast a lonely, wet figure. Where was Sarah? I can’t have swum that fast. Is she OK? The questions circled my mind as I stood there, shaking.

I’d begun to de-wetsuit but was struggling. A kindly spectator helped out and, as I climbed into the last bit of cycle clothing who should appear but Sarah. “I’m sorry, I fell asleep in the car,” she said. This is a woman who likes to keep time, or so I thought. I’d like to talk now of my disappointment or anger, but I felt neither because her being there – however late – calmed me.

Rather than rush off soaking wet into the cold Highland air, she forced me take a quick sip of sugary tea and put on extra layer (I passed a dozen or so riders in the first 20km who had pulled in to add more layers).

Sarah, together with three friends, then followed me by car for the remote long-distance bike leg. We had a plan in terms of when I’d stop to refuel and the time I needed to make to have a chance of making the cut-off for the second half of the run. It was always a pleasure to turn a corner and see them there, huddled around our bright red Ford Focus, boot open, as if the four of them were operating a mobile tuck shop.


A quick stop and a check on how I was doing was enough. That helped me stay remarkably relaxed (the bike leg was the one I was expecting to suffer on most). Later I heard tales of other competitors swearing at their support team (including some parental) for stopping too early or producing the wrong gel as they flew by, grumbling like amateur Mario Mola.

My pal Alex then steadied me on the first half of the run (if you want to run at a certain pace, Alex is your man), whilst Sarah was my mandatory support runner in the mountain half. In the last few miles I had a Mola moment or two myself as my legs threatened to do a Jonny Brownlee. But I made it, crossing the line with my team.

The ‘My mate David’ blog is written by David Burrows, environmental journalist and friend of Yellow Jersey. You can read previous blogs by David HERE and you may like Why Turning 40 could improve your results and Exercise + [coffee + cake] = enjoyment.

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