On Track to Scary New Heights

Training Diary 13 Comments

So rather than bore you with more tales of narrowly avoided drowning, (I have had two more episodes with improved levels of buoyancy – aided by buoyancy aids, but still – progress). It might seem that swimming has become the major focus of my blog, and it’s fair to say, I do obsess about it more than the other 2 disciplines. But today, I thought I’d treat you, and regale you with details of my adventures into the second leg of triathlon: cycling.

I thought cycling was going to be relatively straight forward. After all, I have owned bikes in the past, and have managed to stay upright most of the time. As kids, my friend and I would pilfer a couple of garden canes from my dad’s shed, tie some string on the end of them and haphazardly tether them to our bikes, before disappearing off (for half a day at a time) to the nearest river to upset all the keen fishermen with our splashing and sploshing of homemade fishing tackle. We had it in mind that we would entice some fish to leap onto our rods. We didn’t have a plan for what we’d do with the fish we caught, and surprisingly, we never needed one.


And I guess that anecdote sums up my approach to most new ventures. I want to do it, so I’ll just see what I can scrape together and with no expertise, in fact, without even the faintest clue, I will merrily ride off to try my luck.

And so it was with cycling. No bike? No problemo – I will borrow Herbert’s mountain bike. Mountain smountain – flat handle bars and chunky tyres – all the same difference, surely… Riding in the dark? Aha, we bought Herbert some lights. Broken attachment for one of the lights? It’s amazing what you can achieve with an elastic band.

The thumb I didn’t suck at half-assery was clothing. Being the style icon* that I am, I have purchased cycle knicks and a cycle top. The Grumpster was delighted at my latest expenditure. (No, I couldn’t wait till I have a job. Sorry).

And through it all, I have managed to stay upright, steer and even change gear at vaguely appropriate times. I’m not too hot on going downhill and simultaneous hand signals…. That could challenge my record of staying upright. But all in all, I’m loving the whole cycling part of triathlon.

However, I have found there is slightly more to the world of cycling that I had appreciated.

First of all, there’s the whole actual bike thing. Frame size and tyre size. Then there’s the pedals. Which means shoes, because EVERYONE (who is remotely interested in cycling) has cleats. And then there’s the gears – because gearing is a thing and is different from a mountain to a road bike. (Who knew!!) And you can get electronic gears! OMG! Seriously! And brakes, because – yeah – they’re handy. (I am very friendly with my brakes at even the first sign of a decline)!!

But the most important thing about cycling isn’t the bike.

It’s the socks.

And they have to be a certain length. 10cm, I think. (Don’t worry – the comments will be full of corrections if I’ve mis-remembered this). The bit I am sure about is that they MUST NOT TOUCH THE CALF.


Personally, I suspect the cycling sock rules have been invented by middle aged European blokes. They’re the ones you’ve seen on holidays. You can recognise them, because they will be sporting white or black ankle socks with brown open-toed sandals. Or is that just my dad and the Grumpster?

Anyway, I’m not going to comment, because I’m pretty sure I got into fitness purely so that I could abdicate any responsibility for being *stylish. When you have tiny muscles that are nestled inside cosy blankets (some people refer to the blankets as fat, but they just aren’t being sufficiently imaginative with their use of language), tight lycra has a tendency to look less glamorous than the pictures you see in magazines. And as I love prancing around in my lycra, and have a tendency to look less glamorous than models in magazines, I thought it was my out from having to bother to do coordination or any of that brain-taxing stuff. Besides, so much of the lycra wearing happens before daylight, who even notices? Hey, Laura… 😉

Turns out that it is possible… I have seen stylish in lycra on regular display at South Bank Tri Club. Ladies – you are dismantling my illusion, one singlet to colour-coordinated visa at a time. Please stop it!!

So, having been initiated into the intricacies of road cycling, I got invited along to another cycling event. And not just any old cycling. We’re talking track cycling. Which is a BIG DEAL. I knew about the wall-thingy, where you have to cycle like crazy, or you might fall off.


I knew that. What I didn’t know is that those bikes have no gears. AND NO BRAKES!!! For realz!!

But I went along, because I figured I could just stand around and find someone to chat to and kind of miss out on the actual “giving track a crack”.

And finding someone to chat to was NOT a problem: cyclista-ladies are an immensely friendly bunch. As soon as I walked through the gate, a couple of ladies started talking to me, and the atmosphere was made.

I thought it would be like school. Was it just my school that had cliques based on sporting talent?  The “team players” resented the “not so sporty” because they made it less competitive and boring. And the “not so sportys” resented the “team players” because they wanted to be anywhere other than on this pitch playing this game and enduring those fingernails gouging flesh every time the ball passes near….

Anyway, the track day was anything but like that. I was surrounded by women egging me on to give it a go, and even when I was patently slow, shouting encouragement and telling me I was doing great.

The track has different colour lines around it, demarking different heights. Black is just barely on the track – it’s the sprint line apparently, and when you’re standing to the side, it looks like it’s pretty much flat. OH MY GIDDY AUNT. Not when you’re perched on a bike with no brakes. And very narrow handlebars.

Get on the drop bars, they said.

You’ll be more stable, they said.

I declined to believe them, and after one foray into drop bars, I spent the rest of the afternoon pronouncing too loudly and too often that “I’m only used to riding a mountain bike”. I did NOT use the drop bars again.

I had one turn, and as the bikes were being shared, and there was a good turn out, I couldn’t hog it. It was totally about sharing. Not shaky legs.

But later in the afternoon, the organisers were corralling ladies into guided rides. The guides were taking groups to the top of the track and then showing them how to swoop down and back up the banking.

I had been sufficiently freaked out by the place between the black and red line (i.e THE BOTTOM for the non-track initiated), which felt like it was on a 90° angle whilst I was listing precariously on my bike. But somehow I got talked into joining a group.

“Speed is your friend” intoned our coach.

Yes, I thought, but speed is not my legs’ friend today. They are tired. They are not used to being used so regularly in cycling and swimming and running manoeuvres.

Anyway, I reluctantly cycled out at the back of the peloton. They whizzed off and I puffed behind.

Round the red line we went. OK, I thought.

Up to the middle blue line. EEK, I thought.


Up to the top blue line. HELP, I thought. Keep peddling, I thought. OMG, I thought. There’s no way I can do the swooping thing. ARGHHH.

But down the group swooped in front of me, and as I hit the bend, I steered my bike down on an angle. WOOSH!. WOW, I thought. That was amazing. Up the bank at the far end they went. Up I went, huff, puff, huff. Keep peddling, I thought.

Down they went on the next corner. WOOSH, I followed them. I LOVE THIS, I thought. WHAT A BUZZ!!!!

And then we did a last lap in the duck board at the bottom and it was over. But not before I realised I had conquered new heights. Conquered my fear of heights. And had a blast into the bargain.

If you get the chance to give track cycling a go, I highly recommend it. I don’t think I’m a convert – road cycling is all new to me – so that’s enough for now. But for you adrenaline junkies, this just could be the sport that was made for you. TRY IT!!

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