Last summer, Hannah Nicklin completed her first triathlon. Below is a blog she wrote one week before she took part. Her new show Equations for a Moving Body opens at CPT late this month, and explores the physiology of endurance and the psychology of carrying on. FIND OUT MORE
This time next week I will have been racing for 11 hours, if things are going well, I’ll probably only have most of a marathon to do, another 3 hours or so.
I’m one week from competition day, and honestly, I’m fine with that.
If you’d spoken to me 6 weeks, or 8 weeks ago, my smile would have become brittle and I would have have wished I didn’t have to think about it, to try and answer your questions about how training is going without saying that training was terrifying because every time I did it it built into my day another moment where I thought ‘this is hard now, and this isn’t half as much as what I’ll attempt on the 26th’.
If you asked me 6 weeks, or 8 weeks ago, how I was feeling about it, the smile would have left my eyes and my mind would have ushered the flickers of thought swiftly away while I muttered something about ‘you know, it’s just a thing I have to do’, far enough in the future.
But right now, I’m one week from competition day, and honestly, I’m fine with that. Something has shifted. It’s close now, and I’m not going to pretend that my heart doesn’t swoop sometimes when I think of it. But also I feel OK. One big reason why is that 3 weeks ago I wrote a race strategy. I read through all of the race briefing, and I planned the week, the day before, the morning of the race, the race itself.
Suddenly it’s not 3.8km + 184km + 42km. It’s around 28 half hour segments. It’s a swim, and yes I’ve never started in a throng of 1250 people before, but I’ll be better than around 800 of them. I do swimming, I’m not scared of breathing in a bit of water, I’m a swimmer, I’ll find room, and I’ll find a rhythm, and by then I’ll be turning around the buoy, then I’ll be back in, climbing out of the water, fighting a little against the dizziness, then I’ll be in the change tent putting on my helmet.
It’s a ride, sure, a long one, but I know I can do 170km in 7 hours in the high 35kmph+ winds of Lincolnshire, and I’ll have 8.5 hours before the cutoff. It’ll just be a case of turning the pedals. That’s it. Watch the scenery, check in with my cadence, my pace, try and hit 26kmph average, eat half an energy bar or a gel every 25 minutes, drink, get new bottles at the feed stations. Find out if when it comes to it I’m able to wee on the bike (coach and internet says this is What People Do.). Just turn the pedals. Soon I’ll be repeating the first loop for the final time, soon I’ll have Holme Pierrepoint on my Garmin map. Soon I’ll be handing my bike to a marshall and walking (albeit unsteadily, in spds on shaky legs) back to the change tent. I’ll pick up the T2 bag with my number on it. The helmet will come off. Visor on, shorts, run top, trainers.
And then into the run. Before the past couple of weeks I could always see myself to that bit. I felt, 6 months ago, that push come to shove I could get through the swim and to the end of the ride no problem. But then, run a marathon? 26.2 miles? 42km?
Except it’s not 42km. It’s just 8 and a bit 5kms. I run 5kms all the time. Every long ride I’ve done I’ve run 5km afterwards. By the end of 5km it’s just starting to feel good. By the end of 5km I usually want to run another 5km just to be in the rhythm of it. So really it’s 6 and a bit 5km. And really, the last bit – 2km, something really awful would have to happen to stop me limping to the end of it. So it’s just 6 x 5km. And I have a plan for each of them. I’m going to walk through aid stations – around 500m – 1km, depending how I’m feeling. That’s about choosing when to walk, rather than your body forcing you. I’m going to think about cadence, and efficiency. I’m going to spend one half hour trying to remember all of the songs that I actually know the words of (Bugsy Malone is depressingly over-represented), another half hour will be spent counting, turning the world around me into algebra. Then there’s a daydreaming half hour. One small half hour where I get to dream about saving the world and falling madly in love and starting the revolution. Another half hour is the half hour of breathing. Measuring breath to step, and listening carefully to all the sounds around me. The last two 5kms are going to be hard. There’s nothing to help that. But it’s only one hour of my life. And saving severe illness or injury, an hour worth spending on being able to say “I finished”.
Oh and the finish line. Which even now I daren’t imagine fully. Like the beginning of a relationship when you daren’t daydream too far into everything perfect it could be in case you break your own heart before they have chance to. But the finish line. Which has my mum, and my brother, somewhere. Waiting to hold me up.
I am afraid when I think of the day before. I am afraid of trying to get to sleep. Of a fretful few hours, of waking at 3am. Of the 3 hours before, checking my gear, getting to the centre, checking my tyre pressure, putting on my wetsuit, crossing the start line, wading into the water. That is terrifying. The bit just before is genuinely horrible. Nothing’s going to stop that. But then it just becomes something to do. Something I’m doing, for 28 half hours. Something I have trained for, and because I trust my coach (what a luxury to have someone else to trust outside myself!) I know it’s something my body is in the best position for. So, it’s just some time I have, to settle down with my mind, and deal with this moment, the one I’m in, just this, for 28 half hours. Or so.
And finally, I’m beginning to see past a week today, to a week tomorrow. I don’t really think I believed that time existed. But it does, I have a day to get home and then a week in Camden People’s Theatre finishing this show (come see it!). Working out what the story of it is, having gone through The Outlaw.
I’m beginning to think about the things I will miss.
I’ll miss my body, this one, this slightly firmer, 6kg lighter, strong fucking thing I’ve cultivated. It feels hard and exciting.
I’ll miss the training, I’ll miss days where my job was to turn pedals for 6 hours in the countryside of South East England, the grit and the sweat and the pollen and the pollution thick on my skin.
I’ll miss having a coach. I can’t afford him normally (the show budget paid for him since February), I love so much having sessions set for me, have someone see the wood for the trees, finally returning to swim workouts that give me new-old ways to train like I remember from my club days, always, always pushing harder.
But I’ll be rewarded with sleep, and time, friends, and loved ones. With the pride of my coach, and my mum, and my brother. With a new part to my story. With guilty pleasures, with 30 years of my life lived, and hopefully, an achievement that to me stands next to my PhD as ‘things I have decided that matter’. In lieu of house ownership, a car, marriage, a Career Path, a measurement I have decided is important to me. A milestone of my own.
I hope, I hope, I hope.