With the launch of This Girl Can happening in February, I wanted to find local women in the North East that empowered what This Girl can is all about and that is when I started talking to Michelle. Michelle to me empowers everything that This Girl Can is about. Below she is going to tell you about triathlon and about how she got involved in the sport. I hope you enjoyed this post.
I am a triathlete. It gave me a massive thrill and sense of achievement to be able to say that when I completed my first event in 2011.
A triathlon is made up of a swim, a cycle and a run. You do all three sports one after another, with no rest.
You may know about it through the Brownlees, brothers Alistair and Jonny who are Olympic medal winners and World Champions for Team GB. They compete at the very highest elite level and push themselves to the limit, but triathlon isn't just a sport for the super fit. It's the fastest growing participation sport in the UK. Anyone can do it - even me.
My triathlon story starts back in 2008, when I began running as part of a bid to get fit and lose some weight. I hated it at first, and couldn't manage more than a few hundred metres without getting out of breath. My first milestone was to be able to run continuously for 20 minutes, and it took me a while of running and walking to work up to that.
Somewhere along the way I started to enjoy it. Within a year, I went from being unable to run a mile without stopping, to running 13.1 of them on the Great North Run. It was an amazing transformation. I was fitter, slimmer, and more importantly had made a whole new group of friends through running, so I was happier too.
I loved the challenge. I found I enjoyed training for races and then running as fast as I could, chasing better times, and the feeling of the adrenaline rush when I crossed the finish line.
I worked with a personal trainer, Ian from Inspire Fitness who has helped me stay strong and avoid injuries. He did triathlons too, so I went along to watch him and some of my running friends race at the QE2 Park in Ashington. Just like the running community, I saw a bunch of friendly, enthusiastic people, doing something slightly crazy and challenging on a weekend. And I knew then that I had to give it a try.
I took lessons to improve my swimming, cleaned up my old bike and started training. In 2011, I took part in my first triathlon and I loved it so much, that I signed up for another one two weeks later. Since then, I've challenged myself to do triathlons that involve swimming in lakes and the sea, and done longer distance events.
Triathlon is an amazingly inclusive sport. Ordinary people like you and me can race on the same courses as the elites. I’ve swum, biked and run on the same route as the Brownlees in Leeds, and then stuck around afterwards to cheer them on. There’s not many sports that give you that kind of access and experience of being close up to the best.
There's nothing to beat triathlon for a feeling of satisfaction, for the sense of really having achieved something. And because it involves three sports, you get three times the adrenaline rush.
Anyone can give triathlon a go
I am nothing special. I am not particularly fast, or especially fit. I've found triathlon to be very friendly and I encourage anyone to give it a go.
1) What if I can’t swim/I can only do breaststroke?
If you can’t swim, then it's a great skill to learn. It could save your life. Swimming is great exercise and yes, it can be hard to learn, but it’s well worth it.
Most people swim front crawl in a triathlon because it’s faster, but there's no rule to say you can't do breaststroke.
2) I don’t have a road bike
Some people spend a huge amount of money on the latest go faster carbon fibre, streamlined machines that weigh less than a bag of sugar. But you don’t have to. I did my first triathlon on an ancient old mountain bike, that I could only just lift into the car. I do now have a lovely road bike, but any decent working cycle will do. You must have a helmet though - that's in the rules.
3) It’s expensive
Like all sports there’s always a fancy bit of kit, gadget or gizmo that promises to shave seconds off your best time, but ryou only need a few basics of a bike, helmet, running shoes and something that you’re comfortable to wear to swim, bike and run in.
Bear in mind that you'll be getting straight out of the water and onto a bike, so you need to wear something that's comfortable and won't chafe. A pair of lightly padded bike shorts, or specific triathlon shorts is a good buy.
For open water swimming, you may need a wetsuit, but you can often hire these for a day, week or season.
Race entries can cost a bit more than a run, because there's a lot involved in making sure races are safe and well organised. You can get a discount on entries by joining a triathlon club that's affiliated to your National Triathlon organisation.
Here in the North East, VO2 Max Racing, who organise the very best triathlon events I've taken part in, will offer a free entry to one of their events if you volunteer to marshal at another.
Find out more about triathlon events and clubs in the UK:
4) I’m too fat/too unfit/too old/ I’ll come last
If you feel fat and unfit, what better way to change that than to add some exercise to your lifestyle and start training? Having a goal or event to aim for is a great motivator to get out there. There are short distance triathlons, including novice or super sprint events that are easily achievable with a bit of training.
Don't worry about how you think you'll look. Everyone’s too focused on swim, bike, run to give it a second thought. And if you don’t fancy a tri suit, you can throw on a T-shirt and shorts before the bike.
There are often a great range of age categories at races and some will even award prizes for different age groups, so getting older doesn’t have to mean you’re at a disadvantage.
If you think you’ll be way behind the rest of the field, remember, the only person you’re really competing against is yourself. Even if you do find yourself the last to cross the line, I can guarantee you’ll get a bigger cheer that the speedy person who came through in first place.
Michelle Nicol is a writer and triathlete. When she’s not swimming, cycling or running, you can find her at www.word-struck.com, and on twitter @I_am_wordstruck