The very best and most unexpected benefit of my decision to get fit five years ago is the friends I have made through races, social runs and through the online forum of Fetch Everyone. Like all online communities, it has its ups and downs and it isn’t right for everyone, but generally I’ve found it very friendly, supportive and useful. And the Fetchies I’ve met in real life are some of the loveliest people I know.
It’s how I got to know Lesley, my fabulous tri buddy who lives in Scotland. We hit it off instantly, exchanging messages about our swimming progress and keeping track of each other’s training. We eventually met up with a massive hug at Edinburgh parkrun and have been firm friends ever since.
She very kindly hosts a few tri training days every year, where a few of us meet up at her house and go swim, cycle and run in the lovely countryside around North Berwick. It’s a two hour drive for me, but when you know you’re going to have the best fun and a decent training day, it’s really nothing to make the journey.
I loaded up my car with bike, wetsuit and an assortment of kit for all weathers. My Polo is great for getting in all my tri gear in. I just drop the back seats and take the front wheel off my bike and it all fits perfectly. And yes, I did choose the colour of my car to match my bike! I’d just had it serviced the day before, so we purred along nicely.
The sun was shining and it grew brighter and brighter as I headed north, singing along with the radio, glancing at blue skies, blue seas and bright yellow fields as I escaped to the borders.
Soon I was welcomed with hugs and jaffa cakes and talking ten to the dozen, with Lesley, her son Al, his girlfriend Michelle and Charlie who was about to take the plunge on her first open water swim as we headed to the beach.
Now, I’m spoiled for beaches. I have three beautiful sandy stretches within walking distance of my house, and even more a short bike or car ride away. I got married by the most beautiful beach in the world and can still hear the roar of the waves on the moonlit night before if I close my eyes and listen.
But Gullane is up there in my top ten and after we’d donned wetsuits and posed for a photo to prove how crazy we were, we dived, plodged or just fell into the waves. The shock of the cold took my breath away, but I was laughing and exhilarated, rather than scared and anxious. A few minutes bobbing around, getting used to the movement of the water and I was soon off and swimming.
It was a headfreeze the first couple of times I put my head in and I was thankful of the shallow sandy bay that meant we could stop and gather our breath and regroup at regular intervals. But gradually there was more and more swimming and I was loving it.
Buoyed up by the salt water, buffeted into the shallows, there was no thought of technique or pickiness over swim style, I just felt natural joy moving through the water, aware of the sea playing with me, tossing me back into the shallows or walloping me with a big wave and filling my throat with salt water when I got too cocky.
Was it cold? After the first few minutes, I didn’t feel it. With the sunshine and blue sky, I was buoyant and giddy. With friends around me, I felt safe and happy. I couldn’t have had a better start to my open water season.
After about half an hour in the water we dried off and enjoyed a lengthy transition back to at Lesley’s house to meet Ann and Les, change into cycle gear, eat bananas and jaffa cakes and pose for another group photo with our bikes before the magnificent seven rode out into the sunshine. Lesley’s husband Bob is a fantastic photographer, so it was great to have him capture our sunny day. You can see some pictures on his facebook page.
For once, the bike felt easy, flying through the country lanes, clicking through the gears. Even into the wind, I felt strong, not sapped and defeated. Towards the end of the ride, there was a busier bit of road (though nothing like the traffic I face at home) and we decided to split into two groups to ride single file. I was delighted to be put in the lead group with Al and Ann. I’ve never been in the fast group on the bike before! We got a mini chain-gang going with a few blasts of speed.
A mini sprint for a flying finish and back in for another quick change of shoes and out for a little run around the fields. My legs had already done a good bit of running this week, so I wanted to go easy, but it felt good to be out in shorts and sunglasses, running side by side with Lesley.
As I eased into the change from bike to run, I felt free and easy and without a word we seemed to pick up the pace. Looking at the splits much later, we managed a sub 5 min km – so we were by not dawdling! Lesley’s had a bit of trouble with her achilles recently, so I was really happy that she could run so well without injury.
The short run done, we turned indoors and descended on bowls of soup, bread and a magnificent choice of cakes like a hoard of hungry triathletes, with plenty of second helpings. Even three or more conversations at once didn’t stop us clearing the table in alarmingly short order.
Too soon, it was time to go and I drove back into darkening clouds and rain showers. But my head was full of happy memories from the best tri club in the world.