Family planning in the search for glory
A DAD'S LIFE:TETCHY IS what I call it. Angry, demented, distracted, deluded, these are words being bandied around by my family.
I have started training for an iron-distance triathlon. Because I am unsure whether this old frame will stand up to the rigours of such a training schedule, I have not yet signed up for the actual race.
Instead, before committing, I am waiting to see if I will still be able to walk after six weeks of what is proving to be an all-consuming programme. I am three weeks in. There are three weeks to go before a decision will be made, followed by another 20 weeks of this nonsense and then the event itself. It could be a long year.
The schedule is simple. You swim, bike and run every spare waking moment. When you’re not engaged in exercise, you’re eating and attempting to think about anything else.
For the uninitiated, the sensible among you in other words, an iron-distance triathlon consists of a 3.8km swim, a 180km bike ride, topped off with a marathon. A few years ago I would have dismissed such an event as ridiculous, the preserve of the insane, but in recent times a creeping desire to crack this nut has grown to the point that not having a go at it seems ludicrous. Which is a pointer to the depths to which my delusions have sunk.
But deluded you need to be, at every level. You need to convince yourself that training for between eight and 20 hours a week while trying to work and raise a family is normal.
You need to convince yourself that on the day, doing such a prolonged bout of intense exercise is not going to cause long-term irreversible damage. You need to convince yourself you look like a superhero, or at least a non-pervy hero, prancing around in a one-piece tri-suit and wolfing down hi-carb gels without taking your hands off the carbon bars of the bike you replaced the family’s health plan for. All while ignoring the despairing sighs of your heaving middle-aged body after every lung-crumbling, torturous session as it cries out for a little compassion and a tube of Pringles in front of the soaps for a night.
Because without those hard-held beliefs, you might think what you were doing was just plain daft.
In search of solace and support, I turn to my family. The reaction to my plan has been muted.
“How long is this going to take?” asks the elder, already a veteran of standing around in the rain at underwhelming triathlon events.
“Maybe 12 hours if things go very well,” I say, “Maybe 15, if the wheels come off.”
“That’s longer than I’m awake some days,” she says, “What are we supposed to do for all that time? In this place, whaddaya call it, Athlone? What do they have there?”
“Well, y’know, the truth is I haven’t been in the place since they bypassed it but I’m sure there will be something to occupy you. I’m sorry to be putting you out like this, but during the course of the day you might be able to squeeze in a couple of meals, a playground and even a cinema trip. It would be nice though, if you made it to the finish line cos I might need someone to carry me home.”
She is dubious, as is her sister. They come at me in tandem. “You know you’ve been super grouchy since you started training for this,” says the elder. “Yeah,” says the younger, “Like really grumpy. Like you wouldn’t even let me watch One Born Every Minute the other night.”
One Born Every Minute is the latest fascination in our house. I challenge you to cope with roaring women in the throes of labour and far too personal shots of Caesarean sections when you’re struggling to convince anyone who’ll listen that you’re not on the verge of collapse after another swim session. This is not familial viewing at the best of times but they love it, the bloodier the better.
Interspersed, of course, with pleas to their parents to furnish them with a sibling, within the week if possible. I look at the missus and my look tells her I’m too knackered to go for it right now. But if she whips up a protein shake and gives me an hour or two, well, who knows? The romance never dies.
So, to get to the metaphor I’ve been nudging at throughout this column, doing a long-distance triathlon seems very like family planning. There is nothing guaranteed but fatigue and pain. Endurance is key. And all realistic ambitions for the future must be put aside in the vain search for ultimate glory.