The Benefits of Bike Touring

I race infrequently these days yet I still like to toe the line at my local Eurodistrict Triathlon Half Ironman. I also no longer have the time or motivation for regular long rides. However, penciling in a short bike tour the month before the event allows me to train short year-round yet be fit enough to enjoy race day. So why might you forgo the sun and comfort of a Training Camp in Lanzarote for the potentially muddy campsites of France or your local area?

It’s Cheap & Simple

As triathlon seems to get increasingly complicated and expensive, a bike tour is cheap and simple. Most bike tours require very little planning. No need to book ahead as even the most popular camp sites will find a space for your tiny tent. Unfold your map and sketch out a rough itinerary. Try and stick to backroads and forest paths. Include lakes for swimming and trails for running as part of your route. With everything you need for travelling, sleeping, swimming and running tucked tightly behind your saddle you can ride out of your garage and let the adventure begin.

Leave Your Best Bike in the Garage

Systems exist to attach a rack to your race bike or any other bike without rack eyes. However, it’s better to strike out on a bike that you don’t mind leaving out in the rain overnight. That you can lean up against a tree in camp. That you’ll be comfortable on all day. That allows you to ride confidently on dedicated bike paths, hard packed forest single track and quiet backroads. Don’t have a dedicated touring bike? Why not save an old frame from the scrapheap and build up a cheap, go-anywhere touring rig?

Get Comfortable

Why does my commuting bike always feel more comfortable than my race bike? I don’t move on the saddle. I flatten the pedals and drive them downwards. I feel great on the drops, hoods or tops. Saddle height feels perfect. Of course, I ride it every day. I’ve made fine adjustments to the position over the years. My body has adapted, strengthened and moulded to the bike. I also have the same feelings of comfort and power on my tandem at the end of a touring holiday.

I've sold my time trial bike and now have only one bike for touring, training and racing. My triathlon goal is to have a respectable cruising speed not a scorching top speed. To be comfortable rather than quick. Even if you don’t want to take such a drastic step you can still use a short tour to decide on a powerful position that you can enjoy all day long..

Slow Down

A bike tour is a holiday and a retreat rather than a training camp. Leave your Heart Rate Monitor at home and forget about Power Data. Don’t rush. Ride all day and get from campsite to campsite. Look at the scenery, stop at a castle, dip your feet in a stream, stop for coffee or a picnic, read, write, sleep and take photos. 

Have an Adventure

If you’re on a quick S24O from home make sure that you seek out roads that you’ve never ridden before. Turn off onto forest tracks even if you don’t know where they might pop out. When exploring foreign lands you’ll experience different cultures or grapple with a language you might not understand. When pulling into camp or stopping for a rest in a village, the sight of your bike is an instant conversation starter.

You know your destination exists as you’ve seen it on the map. But you don’t know how long it’s going to take you to get there and the obstacles that could be in your way. You’re riding into the unknown. See villages and countryside that tourist buses don’t stop at. That trains speed through and that planes totally ignore. See what’s inbetween and get there under your own steam. 

Work Hard

With your bike fully loaded you’ll be forced to build strength in the hills. With long days in the saddle planned an endurance boost is guarenteed. Why not push yourself on the last day with an extra ambitious route? You can ride pretty far when all you’ve got scheduled for the day is sitting on your saddle. You’ll have a massive sense of achievement, possibly set a personal daily mileage record and the beer on arrival will taste great.

Recover From Life

Go to bed when it’s dark. Maybe read for a little while with your head-torch. That novel you’ve had on hold for months. Get up with the sun. Eat Well. Stop and buy fresh, local produce for lunch. Get Inspired. Keep a diary. Switch off. No computer. No TV.

Pick Up Some New Skills

We look back on our early tandem tours as cultural and travel successes but bike touring disasters. It took us 3 or 4 years before we figured out what was worth bringing and what wasn't. Striking a balance between lightness and luxury. The logistics of camp cooking. How far we could ride in a day. Pitching our tent and striking camp. On an FSR Tour you’ll be fast tracked on all of these skills as well as being able to improve your French and learn the basics of on-the-road mechanics. 

Holidays of the Future

Petrol prices are rising, air travel is becoming unfashionable and there’s a renaissance in exploring your own country. People are starting to value leisure time more and realise the importance of spending time in nature. The growth of cycle paths and the multi-terrain capabilities of many bikes also make it possible to plan tours that are virtually traffic free. The Path Less Pedalled has also recognized that bicycle touring is changing. People are taking shorter tours, combining train journeys with biking and taking advantage of bicycle friendly accomodation options and other businesses.

Simplify Event Travel

I hate loading the car and driving to events. I also have a little chuckle when fellow athletes open the boot of their car and piles of superfluous clothes, kit and equipment tumble out. As I race infrequently these days I prioritize events that I can ride to. I minimise kit, sometimes camp and enjoy having a full day or weekend of steady activity rather a balls-out, results based racing experience.

Camping Is Not Compulsory

On an FSR Tour we camp every night but if you organise your own tour you don't have to. Stay at the Ritz if you want. Get your butler to carry your Louis Vuitton luggage in your Rolls Royce if you want. Even if you’ve set off with the intention to camp there’s no rule that says that you can’t check into a bed & breakfast if it’s raining. 

Why I'm Sticking To Short Distances.

I wake up startled; my dream interrupted. I'm going toe to toe with Mike Pigg. Our slapping, straight arm swimming styles keep us in contention out of the sea. We trade the lead on the bike, keeping the pace up to repel chasers. The run is a contradiction of styles. Mike, smashing his feet into the trail as if excavating gravel for a new real estate project. Me, kissing the floor with each footfall and maintaining a quick, compact stride. 

still enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and camaraderie of an Ironman distance event but with 2 children and limited free-time, long distance triathlons are no longer a suitable challenge.  I want to focus on short, daily workouts and have therefore decided to set the 1500m / 40km / 10km format as my triathlon race distance ceiling for the next few seasons.

Save Time

My racing goal is to be comfortable rather than quick and just enjoy being out there and competing. Getting myself fit enough to complete the course only takes a couple of hours per week. If time allows I can then layer on some extra sessions to go that tiny bit faster. Even though I want to work out everyday, five hour bike rides are definitely not on the menu.

Race Hard

Ironman is about constantly holding back the whole day and the Half Ironman distance is a possibly unhealthy blend of speed and endurance. Olympic Distance racing is about gun to tape speed. I want to be serious about racing hard against guys my age and enjoy picking off some younger athletes. 

Start the swim fast, hold my cruising speed and accelerate towards T1. Seamless transition. Ride the first 5km hard. Flatten the pedals and drop any chasers. Stay low and don't brush off too much speed through the corners. Accelerate again in the last 5km. The run is flat out from T2. No need to pace. It's less than forty minutes. Fast feet. If I haven't dropped my man I'll need to sprint the last 200m.

Combine & Invent

 When I started triathloning in 1988, I wanted to combine the three sports in every workout. I'd chain my bike outside the pool to ride after swimming. I'd run after every ride and sometimes before a ride. I'd even put running shoes in my jersey pockets to run during a ride. This was a time when we used to turn up at an abandoned gravel pit, lean our bikes up against a tree and put on an ad-hoc triathlon.

I've often got just an hour for my workout. I head to the garage and blast my arms with weights, bodyweight exercises and swim elastics for 10 minutes. Onto the rollers to work on balance and fast pedalling for half an hour. Next, I'm outside on the road for a 10 minute jog. Out and back. Steady yet negatively split. Finally there's 10 minutes left for some squats. Even in the middle of a Winter in Strasbourg I'm celebrating triathlon.

In the Summer on Sunday mornings I like to spin to my local lake. There's a secluded beach and it's early so my bike is safe. I swim for 30 minutes finishing with some sprints and dragging my parachute. Out of the lake I have a flat 40km route with smooth tarmac and light traffic. I alternate big gear riding with riding at and above race cadence. Arriving home I dump the bike in the garage and squeeze on my Vibram Five Fingers. I pay close attention to the Garmin. The goal is work three kilometres like the first third of an Olympic Distance run.  

Compete Locally

No need for me to travel to Zurich, Lanzarote, Copenhagen, Wanaka, Kona or Wolverhampton. I have lots of  Olympic Distance events close to home. For the last two years I've also raced at the Windsor Triathlon. The race village and swim start are only about 5km from my parents' house so I don't even need to load the car or deal with parking. I just stick my equipment in a small backpack and ride to the race. I like to simplify race day logistics, ride some extra miles and be home for lunch.

Swim Stress Free

I can't think of anything worse than lining up for an Ironman next to 2000 other swimmers waiting for the gun, klaxon or conch shell to sound. I'd be lucky to get clear water in the first kilometre and the first 200 metres might even be quite scary. Not the best start to a long day. Many short events either have less entrants or are organised into wave starts. I can swim the way I want; starting at a reasonable speed before finding a suitable pack to swim with.

Simplify Race Day

Most Olympic Distance Triathlons don't require you to register on Saturday afternoon and with early starts in the UK my race will be finished by midday on Sunday. As I'm only out on the road for a couple of hours there's also no complicated kit choice to make. I've worn a vest and cycling shorts since seeing Hamish Carter in the 1993 World Championships in Manchester.

There's also no need to devise a Nutrition Plan and figure out how to carry all that food and drink. I'll probably be able to get your bike back not long after finishing and if I'm lucky enough to have a won something the Awards ceremony won't be on Monday morning.

Easier Spectating

My parents are hardcore triathlon fans and have come to watch me in several Ironman events. However I've never even suggested that Gwen and the kids come and spectate at an event that long. As well as there often being hours between sightings you are generally not in the best physical shape to entertain the family post-race.

An Olympic Distance Triathlon is short enough to hold the children's attention and there's often plenty of athletes to watch even if I'm not visible. With the event taking up less than half the day we can use the novelty of being in a different town to visit a museum or local landmark or reward the kids for asiduous spectating with a trip to an adventure playground or leisure pool.

Have More Energy In The Day

Less training or short, hard training sessions that invigorate me rather than exhaust me will leave me more energy on training days than if I was following an Ironman programme. I can use this energy for quality time with the family and to focus more at work.

No Aches & Pains

When preparing for an Ironman the pressure of the race day distance has often forced me to make regrettable decisions and push on to finish a session when my muscles and joints didn't feel 100%. I'm also not convinced that long term, hard endurance training and racing is what our bodies were designed for. Is this first generation of weekend warrior, extreme athletes heading for health problems later in life?

Eat & Drink Better

Working out for less than an hour on most days I can easily keep my carbohydrate intake low. No huge bowls of rice or sugar cravings. No need for gels, bars and sports drinks during training. On race day water works fine.

Look After My Equipment

If I'm completing less and shorter sessions I can use the extra time to really keep my bike in stunning working order. Clean, well-oiled and finely adjusted. Make sure the garage is always swept and my home gym stays tidy and welcoming. 

Develop Other Fitness Abilities

Minimising my endurance workouts will give me time to work on weight lifting, body weight exercises, speed, agility and mobility. I like to build these skills into my endurance sessions or use free days for stand-alone workouts. I use Strength & Conditioning For Triathlon Becoming A Supple Leopard, Jumping Into Plyom etrics, Olympic Weightlifting For SportsThe Runner's Yoga BookYoga Conditioning For Athletes and Developing Agility and Quickness  for ideas.

Spend Less

Entry fees are definitely less than for Ironman events. I can enter my three local Olympic Distance events near Strasbourg for a total of less than £80. This also doesn't include any exotic travel. Over shorter distances equipment is also not so much of a factor in performance. No need for the latest aero helmet, ultra rigid frame or best wheels. Anyway, getting into a comfortable yet aerodynamic position and pressing hard on the pedals have always been more important to me than what I spend.

Have Another Hobby

My guitar sits idle and my wheel building kit untouched. After a 45 minute turbo session I can spend 15 minutes learning a new cord. I might run for half an hour, lift and bit and then stay in the garage to lace a new wheel.

Don't Worry

With the threat of a painful and disappointing Ironman race day hanging over my head I have often resorted to an extreme inverse taper. Throwing out the schedule that I had previously okayed with my family for extra miles. I've paniced and my family has also felt it. I've also adjusted my attitude so that the success of a weekend at an event doesn't only hinge on the race result.

Distances Are Balanced

You've got to admit that swimming for an hour or so, riding for five or more and running for three plus hours is a weird combo. What about swimming for about 22 minutes, biking for just over an 60 and running for 40? 

Triathlons Were Never Meant To Be Long

The first triathlon probably took place in San Diego. The distances were a 6 mile run, 5 mile bike and 500 yard swim. The goal was fitness, Sunday morning fun and a break from just running. The members of the San Diego Track club never invisaged triathlon as a mighty challenge. It was simply an extension of their beachside lifestyle. 

Avoid The Medical Tent

There's no glory in voluntarily pushing yourself so far that you need medical attention. Ignoring personal warning signs of dehydration and hunger. Not attending to the risks of sunburn, chafing or black toenails. None of these should be an issue with Sprint and Olympic Distance racing. 

I Can Convert My Fitness

When towards the end of the race season my mates are heading off to an ironman distance event I don't have to feel left out. I could become their sparring partner. Helping out with pacing, strategy and fuelling during long training sessions. I'll get the fitness boost of some long distance training without the destruction and potential disappointment of race day.

Alternatively, I'll use the power and speed that I've built up during the year as the fitness base to start a three or four week period of Ironman preparation. My mental and physical freshness should allow me to tackle some specific sessions without drastically increasing my weekly training budget.

Why not schedule a two or three day bike tour? I always come back from even the shortest tours with the skin on my butt cheeks toughened up, strong legs, a refreshed head and the confidence to perform on race day. A day that should be approached as a day-long adventure and comfortable jog.

Sustainable Tri: Do Less. Enjoy More.

In June 2013, after nearly 25 years of triathloning, I sat in a Strasbourg café with a new pencil and fresh notepad. I’d had moderate success as an athlete in the nineties. Medals in national championships and race wins in the UK and France. However, I was now nearly 41 years old and for the last thirteen years my training had been stop - start and my fitness inconsistent. 

Although, my desire to have a healthy body and a relaxed mind had overtaken the motivation to compete; I still wanted to be fit enough to casually toe the line at a few events. With two kids and ever decreasing free time I also needed to reduce my training footprint by stripping out the impractical and unimportant. I started to write a set of ideals that would redefine my attitude to exercise and become my manifesto for a sustainable athletic future. 

Stay Fit Year-Round

I used to think that the key to family-man training was working out little and often. Squeezing in short jogs in the morning or pre-dinner, diving in a pool for half an hour on the way home from work or quick solo rides close to home. Unfortunately, I never got that athletic high, sore leg feeling or race day specificity.

To stay fit, fresh and avoid injury at all costs I’ve designed 3 enjoyable workouts and a fourth optional workout that can be done every week. Alone or with training partners, Monday to Friday or at the weekend. Early before the family is awake or late when the boys are in bed. 

No micro cycles, macro cycles, peaking, tapering, data collection or online coaching. I’ve suggested content for sessions but sometimes I just head out of the door and see what happens. Five minutes. Half an hour. No session is too short.

  1. Club Swim. Getting to the pool, changing and getting a workout done is a big time commitment. I can't do this more than once a week but I really enjoy my Monday night swim with ASPTT Strasbourg Triathlon. If I can't make it to this session my local outdoor 50m pool is now open year-round and I can get a 30 - 45 minute swim done on another night.
  2. Steady ninety minute ride. Forty-five if on the Turbo or Rollers. Could include some efforts at high force, high cadence or race intensity. Followed by 15 minutes of jogging.
  3. Easy Run. For as long as time and energy allow. Might include a section of Super Fast Feet in the second half. 
  4. Optional Workout.  A dip in the pool on the way home from work or a spin to the lake for an open water swim. A longer, exploratory road ride or another short ride on the turbo or rollers. An easy jog in the park or to the track for some bare-footing. A Free Triathlon. 

Lift Everyday

I got into Weight Lifting while living in Beirut. I had access to a well equipped gym and wanted to strengthen my legs to deal the latter stages of an Ironman run. I've recently attended a few coaching courses and I'm enjoying the process of improving my technique. 

I use Strength & Conditioning For Triathlon Becoming A Supple LeopardJumping Into Plyometrics, Olympic Weightlifting For Sports, The Runner's Yoga Book, Explosive Lifting For Sports and High-Powered Plyometrics as guides.

Race Infrequently

I'd like to race often enough that I still feel competitive and take some important personal time but also have minimal impact on my family. Three triathlons per year is enough and the above sessions get me comfortably to the finish lines of Olympic Distance triathlons. I prioritize local events that are low-key, cheap to enter and that I can cycle to. I also try and get over to the UK once a year to race; selecting an event close to my parents' house and taking my kids with me.

Reduce Equipment

As a teenage triathlete my equipment was always very basic. I never asked my parents for an expensive bike and they never offered. Their investment was time and miles in the car. I’ve always known that getting into a comfortable yet aerodynamic position and pressing hard on the pedals were more important than what you spend.

What’s the absolute minimum I now need to train and compete? I’m selling or giving away the rest; keeping a small collection of well maintained equipment. Buy infrequently and buy quality. For 2013 I’m back on a steel framed bike with down-tube shifters, drop-bars and clip-ons. It’s my training, racing and touring bike. There’s clearance for wide tyres, rack eyes, a saddle bag and a Brooks saddle. It’s been designed and built for moderate speed and extreme comfort.

Eat Well

I’ve been tidying up my diet since 2009. The whole family is also on-board and we try and stick to the following principles: Maximize fresh vegetables. Local when possible. Eat Meat. Grass Fed and Free Range when possible. Eggs, Fish and Fruit. Sweet potatoes and white rice. Drink water. Eliminate processed foods, grains, sugar and salty snacks. Minimize caffeine and alcohol.

Where's Daddy?

A diet that eliminates energy highs and lows, sleeping well and exercising consistently should provide more time for sports, play, reading, art and getting outside. The best moments with your kids are clearly when you’re really engrossed in an activity. Not half doing and half thinking about other things. Work, training or digital distractions. On weekdays I’m limiting my computer time to 15 minutes early in the morning and an hour or so on Saturdays and Sundays. No switching on the computer in the evening!

Agree on a Family Schedule

At the start of the school year we merged our work and personal obligations. We can now both do our sport knowing that the family and home stuff is getting done. Gwen works on Saturday mornings so I take the boys to the market and then to gymnastics. On Saturday afternoon we just chill out close to home or go into town.

On Sunday morning I ride or jog and then take the boys swimming. Sunday afternoon is family outdoor time: urban or forest biking, a trip to a park or work in the garden. In the summer we might swim at a local lake. Early evening I take an hour to speed-clean the floors, deep clean a room or take on a small DIY job. On weekdays there’s the evening routine: pick up from school, play, bath, meals, story and bed. We take turns every night to do Kid (play, baths) or Non-Kid (laundry, cooking, washing up) chores. One kid each at bed-time. I get up early to prepare breakfast.

I try to sneak out for a beer on Thursday or Friday night.  On Monday I go to the supermarket straight after school and then swim. Gwen dances on Tuesdays. Once a fortnight we organize a baby-sitter and head out to a restaurant. We save big trips until the school holidays. Drives into the mountains, museums, the zoo, hikes or longer bike rides. We are also looking forward to getting back into the family bike touring with the boys in 2015.

The FSR Guide to Baby Jogging

I wrote this about two years ago. Elliot is now five and we've added Etienne, nearly two, to the family. However, the information is still relevant and we're going through the whole process for the second time with a different passenger. Elliot now rides his bike while I jog. He has the endurance and patience for anything up to about 10km. I've therefore added a section about Biking & Jogging at the end of the post.

In the first year I could jog for as long as I wanted. Sometimes up to 90 minutes. The relaxing motion and gentle wind on his face would send Elliot to sleep. In fact, going for a run became a tactic for getting him to sleep. I’d leave the watch at home and tour our city’s parks, waterways and historical centre.

In the second year he still loved getting out in the Jogging Buggy. He loved seeing the town, the forest, the park and encouraging other runners. My runs were shorter now, up to an hour, and always finished with a trip to the playground. I’d stretch, rehydrate and do some push ups while he’d go nuts on the play equipment.

In the third year, Elliot decided that he too was a runner, like his Mum and Dad. I couldn’t get more than a kilometer down the trail without him asking to get out and run beside me. Awesome. We now have our family running nights. All three of us get dressed for running. Elliot has his running kit, cap and shoes. We load up the jogger with water, sandbox toys and maybe a book.

The Baby Jogger

Don’t think that you need a lightweight, name brand Baby Jogger. Many generic brand buggies with 3 big wheels will work. These can often be picked up second hand. Make sure the front wheel of your chosen buggy can be locked in position so the it will roll straight. Check that it has a high, possibly adjustable, handle. Pump the tyres up hard and maybe zip lock a bottle cage to the frame. A compartment underneath is handy for carrying your stuff. I often use my jogs with the buggy to run errands and used to pack extra shoes when I was easing myself into my Vibram Five Fingers. 

The Baby

Manufacturers’ websites suggest 9 months as a minimum age for a baby in a sling seat style baby jogger and 3 months for children in the car seat style attachment. We checked with our pediatrician and were given the all clear when our son was 10 -12 weeks old. The doctor essentially wanted to ensure that the baby could support his neck and spine sufficiently and was adequately thermo-regulating. This time frame also coincided with Gwen's return to running after the birth.

Our son has seemed to enjoy every outing we have made and generally spends the 1st half of the run looking at the countryside and the 2nd half sleeping. Younger children should be facing you and older children seem to enjoy facing forwards. Ensure your baby is wrapped up warm but can also still see out to look around at the scenery. Make sure you've got extra clothes for you and the baby, water for both of you, nappy changing equipment and maybe an extra blanket. I also carry money and a mobile phone in the small container at the back of the seat. 

Even in fairly good weather, don’t hesitate to install the clear rain cover on the baby jogger. This will cut out any drafts and allow the baby to create their own micro climate. In warmer weather ensure the baby is not dressed too snuggly and is in the shade of the buggy's canopy or umbrella. Avoid extremes of temperature and monitor your child’s condition throughout the run.

Technique

It’s vital that you stabilize your core and run tall to ensure the most efficient forward propulsion, minimize the risk of injury and maximize the fun of baby jogging. If you want to run anything like you run without the baby jogger, you have to push with just one hand. This is a skill that is tough at first but is soon developed with practice. Try to spend as much time pushing with each hand and constantly check that the carriage of the non-pushing arm is as natural as possible. 

Set your pushing handle nice and high and as far away from the body of the baby jogger as possible. I probably swap hands every 2 minutes and obviously use both hands when crossing roads or on technical sections. The fact that all my baby jogging runs are in a park on flat, smooth and traffic free trails also means that sometimes on straighter sections I can even push the baby jogger a few feet in front of me, run a few normal strides to catch up and then push it gently again.

The Fitness Benefits

Just as swimming with a band on the ankles will highlight any dead spots in your stroke, baby jogging will highlight any inefficiencies. I therefore concentrate on a powerful, precise footfall, a cadence of over 180 foot falls per minute and minimal contact time. I’ve worn a HRM once or twice just because I was interested in the difference in the HR response for a given speed with and without the buggy. I’d guess it’s about 10 beats per minute. 

This extra cardiac stress, as well as the fact that there is an increased tension in the muscles and joints because of pushing something heavy, means that you should be careful not to over-do it. However, I had my best Cross Country season and ran Half Marathon PB after an Autumn of regular Baby Jogging.

Safety

Apart from ensuring that your baby is dressed appropriately, not only for the ambient temperature but also for the effects of the wind you should also fasten the seat belt around your baby and always slow down on bumpy or downhill sections. The standard guidelines for crossing roads with push-chairs obviously apply. I also make sure that I’m never more than about a 15 minute jog from home in case of any eventuality.

Finally, although, parenthood insists that full on training plans are put on hold for a while, family fitness can continue with a couple of Baby Jogger runs per week. I really get into it and after a while I prefer to be pushing something along then running alone and free. Strange!

Biking & Jogging

Elliot learnt to ride a bike pretty quickly. From the age of two alternating a Balance Bike and a Tricycle with a chain-drive and pedals in the right place. By three he had mastered both and when he was about 3 and a half we bought him a second-hand 12 inch two wheeler. I also bought a handle so that I didn't have to bend over and hold the back of his saddle to help him balance. The combination of the hours spent freewheeling on the Balance Bike and pushing down on the Tricycle's pedals had done the job. He was proficient riding his two-wheeler in one weekend and confident starting, braking and stopping a few days later.

From the time that Elliot was on the Balance Bike he was coming out on short jogs with me. We'd stay close to home or take the car to the forest or park. I quickly realised that the goal of these outings was for both of us to get some outdoor exercise rather than me getting a decent run done. Often I would even push an empty Jogging Buggy. When Elliot got tired he would climb into the buggy and I would strap his Balance Bike to the handle with a bungy cord. Remember your child will definitely want to stop to look at stuff and play. Be prepared for this while sometimes encouraging them to push on a bit and improve their endurance.

Now there are three of us on the road. Elliot rides his new 16 inch bike and Etienne relaxes in the Jogging Buggy. Bigger, wheels, longer cranks and a higher gear allow Elliot to go faster and further than before. He has no trouble handling up to an hour of riding with occasional stops at playgrounds.  I also still take a bungy cord with me in case Elliot wants to do some running himself and I need to attach his bike to the buggy's handle. He can run up to about a kilometer with short walking breaks and has even entered his first race. Happy Family Trails! Ross.

We All Squeezed The Stick...

...and we all pulled the trigger. Except that we couldn’t. Before the internet and live race feeds you had to wait until Tuesday morning before the Daily Telegraph printed the results of major races. It was August 1989 and my triathlon hero, Glenn Cook, had just finished second in the inaugural ITU Short Course World Championships in Avignon, France. The Short Course was the fifteen hundred, forty kay, ten kay format before Olympic politicians put their branding on it. No drafting and flat out from gun to tape.

The swim in Avignon was led by American-Irishman Garrett McCarthy and New Zealand’s Rick Wells. I was also a huge fan of Wells. He’d won Nice and an unofficial World Short Course Championship in ‘87. Cook was a few seconds back. Brad “the croc” Bevan was a minute from the front and potential race favourites such as Mark Allen, Mike Pigg, Rob Barel and Miles “the kid” Stewart were nearly two minutes behind.

The rolling hills on the bike course not only allowed determined cyclists like Wells and McCarthy to break clear but also ensured that strong riders such as Allen, Pigg, Cook, Barel and Stewart stayed in contention. The weather was super hot and McCarthy started to fade immediately on the run. Wells pushed on but knew that the win wouldn’t be his, even with a 46 second lead on Allen and 56 on Pigg after the bike.

Cook caught Wells 4km into the run but then needed a few more kilometres of surges before claiming his silver medal for good. Allen ran 33:06, a full minute and twenty faster than Cook, to take the gold. Wells dug deep into his Speedos to hold onto the bronze and future world champion Miles Stewart finished 4th with the fastest run of the day.

In the next issue of Triathlete magazine there was a double page poster of Cook running toe to toe with Rick Wells. Cook had cut his Ron Hill vest navel high and felt-tipped the letters GBR across his chest. Both athletes had their moustaches pinned back from the speed and the sweat. I carefully picked the staples out of the middle of the poster, put it on my bedroom wall and drew endless inspiration before dropping off to sleep.

As Glenn was riding himself into medal contention he was doing it on a Dave Russell bike. Dave was the British team mechanic for the Avignon trip and his kids swam at my swimming club. I bumped into him at the pool on his return. He regaled me with tales from Avignon and we discussed the progress he was making with the bike I’d ordered: a fluo-green and white Reynolds 501 Russell Frame specced with a Shimano 105 groupset.

I’d finished my first triathlon just six months earlier. I’d been a runner since the early 80’s inspired by Coe, Ovett, Cram, McKean, Geoff Smith, Spedding, Buckner, Gratton, Moorcroft and Steve Jones. In the winter of 1988 I'd bought the book Dave Scott’s Triathlon Training and started training for the May 1989 Wokingham TRY-A-TRI. My ride back then was a powder-blue, 10 speed Peugeot Elan with the seat right down and my running shoe shod feet loosely surrounded by chrome toe clips and Binda leather straps.

When bent into my drop bar aero position I imagined that the two looping lengths of brake cable formed my windscreen and I was Joey Dunlop negociating the deadly Isle of Man TT course at great speed.  Oncoming cyclists probably thought that they had been beaten to the turnaround by an on-form Elton John or Dennis Taylor. Although head protection was optional at the time I wore a massive Vetta helmet and, obviously, masking taped a banana to my top tube.

Despite having to switch to breaststroke a few times during the 500m pool swim, I comfortably maintained upwards of 150 RPM on the bike and my transition practices on Cippenham Green allowed me to finish with a strong run. I was 16 and I’d made the decision that I wanted to be a professional triathlete.

I imagined the sport developing along the golf model, allowing the journeyman pro to make a respectable living but remain relatively anonymous to the general public. There would be multiple circuits like the US, European and Asian tours in golf. Athletes would have to race at all distances while attempting to be on peak form for “the majors”.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the Carlsberg Grand Prix Series provided interesting pocket money for a small group of UK-based pros. These included Rick Kiddle, Ken McClaren, Mark Marabini, Rick Morris, Mark Edmonds, Alan Ingarfield, Tracy Harris, Richard Hobson, Bernie Shrosbee and Jon Ashby. To make more serious money you had to race regularly on the continent.

I’d read in Triathlete Magazine that Glenn Cook had perfected the logistics of this. Leaving at dawn on Friday from his Devonshire home, he’d fly from Heathrow into Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands or France. He’d check out the race course on Saturday before racing on Sunday, collecting his cheque for winning or placing and making his way home on Monday.

The golf thing obviously never happened but Brett Sutton did come up with an imaginitive way of keeping triathlon draft free at the highest level that was published in an early issue of 220 magazine. The idea was to make the World Championships and eventually the Olympics into a two day, short distance / long distance combo. On Day 1, a Sprint Distance Individual Time Trial. On Day Two a Long Distance non - drafting race for the top 24 qualifiers. It would be a 4km swim, 120km bike and 30km run. However, the swim would take place in a rowing lake. A typical rowing facility is 2000m long with eight, 13m wide lanes. Three athletes per lane. Get this…no drafting on the swim. Nobody listened.

I progressed steadily through the early 1990's thanks to traditional 2 hour swim sessions at Windsor Swimming Club, brutal nights turbo training in my parents’ garage, hard Cross Country seasons and racing in France as often as possible on family holidays. After garnering a national universities’ title and GB elite selection for the 1995 World Long Distance Championships in Nice I managed to negotiate a place on a French team,  GT Vesoul 70, at the end of 1995.

After some frustrating faxes and awkward telephone calls I made plans to move over in April 1996. After a winter of HARD training, including some memorable nights at Palmer Park velodrome, my dad dropped me at St. Pancras Station. This was pre – Eurostar so I had to haul my massive bike bag and bulging green suitcase from train to cross channel ferry to train, between two stations in Paris and then back onto another train. My baggage contained parts to repair various improbable bike mechanical incidents and clothes for every social and sporting occasion.

My train eventually pulled out of the Gare de l’Est laden with hundreds of soldiers heading back to their barracks in the east of France. About an hour out of Paris I got out my phrase book. I was tired from carrying the outsize luggage and greetings such as “bonjour, enchanteé de vous faire connaissance”, were getting harder and harder to memorise. At least 2 hours; no towns, no stops, no street lights. Then some brief stops in small dark towns. Then finally Vesoul, a basic station building and tiny platform.

I was met by the club president. I learnt later that he’d battled for my includsion in the team. I was first the athlete from outside the region to be invited into this rapidly improving group. That year I raced every weekend, learnt french, won a race and stepped onto the podium with the team at a Grand Prix event.

The beginning of my pro career also proved to be the end. I’d spent far too much time criss crossing the country in the back of a Peugeot 806 and I realised that I lacked the killer instinct needed to make a living in triathlon. My descending skills were not up to standard and I clearly wasn’t prepared to put in huge amounts of work for small gains.

I did however move back to France in July 1999. I worked part-time and raced for my local club, Rouen Triathlon; winning a regional title and helping the team gain promotion to Division 1. After a few years of casual training and not much racing I’m now a non-performance driven runner and triathlete. I like to go comfortably quick on a good day and be comfortable rather than quick on other days.