Training for the World Triathlon Championships – aged 70
I was overwhelmed by the response to my last blog. It’s great that so many feel inspired by an “older” woman – it really is never too late to start those steps towards feeling happier, healthier and more confident. Just two and a half hours of walking a week can make so much difference to fitness levels, not to mention your social life.
But my training has not been smooth, with just 21 days to go to the World Triathlon Championships in Hyde Park, London. In the London Tri the swim was OK-ish, but running with my bike to the bike start line, the bike slipped and I fell on top. The chain back on, I set off, but by the first hill (well, actually a gentle slope) it was hard going. I stopped, checked the back wheel – spinning fine. But it was hell. I was overtaken by everyone: the too-skinny Lycra-clad brigade on bikes making a whooshing noise; young and old riders; bikes with baskets; even Bromptons.
I despaired. “I’ll pack it in, I’ve overtrained, I’m too old for this” – endless gloomy thoughts until, exhausted, after 1hr 50mins, I reached the dismount point and began wheeling my bike into the Excel centre. Only then did I realise why it was hard to push: the front wheel was jamming because the brake was full on! It had never even entered my mind that there could be a problem with the bike.
I had a near-miss, too, in a rural area, turning right at a crossroads. I wobbled, thought I had a flat tyre, and only just managed to hold the bike up. Then an angry white van driver, hooting and shouting at a car driver, alerted me to the fact I had nearly fallen in front of the car when she had overtaken me, clipping my back wheel. It’s safer cycling in central London!
I’m a poor swimmer, born of a generation without hairdryers, head up and breaststroke the norm. But recently I have almost enjoyed swimming in the Serpentine in Hyde Park. I’m a member of the sociable Serpentine Swimming club – £20 a year to swim any morning, 365 days of the year. Clad in a wetsuit, I’m certainly not as hardcore as most members. But I loved it today, amid the ducks, sighting on the bridge, trees and buildings in preparation for next month’s 1,500m swim.
Then on my old, not-worth-pinching bike, I cycled to my favourite Parkrun (free, timed 5k run/jogs, 9am every Saturday). What a brilliant organisation Parkrun has created; volunteer-led and now in 209 UK locations. I love my Burgess Parkrun, the closest to central London, a secret green oasis amid residential Southwark. We run twice round a beautiful lake, on a flat asphalt surface that is ideal for dodgy knees and PBs. There is always an enthusiastic welcome for slower runners and those walking that final stage, and even bananas and mince pies on the finish line today. A brilliant feelgood factor to start the weekend.
Back to my knees. I don’t have an anterior cruciate ligament in either knee, which both have level 3/4 arthritis. There were periods of swollen knees and pain, but I’ve done endless exercising to strengthen quads, hamstrings and bum. It’s so boring standing on one knee, or holding bridges and side planks for England, even if my Radio 4 podcasts help. I rarely wear high heels or run downhill these days, but something has worked – I can run, albeit slower, and I love it.
Annie Emmerson is a great coach/mentor and friend who has pulled me through the lows with her pragmatic approach that “life is fun”, even when my kids beat me and all four grandchildren run faster. But how brilliant is it to compete alongside family members, with celebratory drinks all round when they beat an old woman?
Commentator Steve Trew, another great mentor, enthuses as I cross a finish line. But Steve, does the whole world need to know I am 70? However, “You don’t look 70” is the most frequent comment I get, followed closely by “I wish my mum/dad were a bit fitter.” So, as well as training for September, I’m also working to establish a charity called Silverfit, which aims to promote lifelong fitness and fun. We’re just getting started by piloting some small events, including Silver Tuesday Fun&Fitness session in Hyde Park, which combines the chance to try out various activities with socialising afterwards. We also ran a fun family relay duathlon at Herne Hill velodrome on 21 August.
I’m sure that other people and organisations are doing similar things all over the country, and if you are, we would love to hear about your experiences to see if we can collaborate in some way – we really think it’s possible to get everyone more active. If I can start at 50 and do it, anyone can! Find out more and get in touch at silverfit.org.uk.
Last week would have been my 39th wedding anniversary, so I am still the lucky one – “staying alive” and “having a good time”.
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