Act first, think later

triathlon swimmers competing in the water

There are times when I act first and think later.

The writer Chris McDougall calls this jumping into the swimming hole, in his iconic book, Born to Run.

Last summer that is exactly what I did: figuratively at first and a little later, literally.

I was sitting at my desk looking at the crowds swirling across Trafalgar Square on a rare, blisteringly hot day thinking of how I would like to escape the city when I remembered a long-held dream to learn to swim on the open water.

I was in the long, two-hour break between bulletins at a new 24-hour TV channel where I was doing some freelance presenting so I did a quick google search and read about a coach who, co-incidentally, lived near me in West London. A couple of days later I had coffee with Beate Vogt. She is an amazing woman who manages to be kind, strategic and forceful all at the same time.

She explained that she was not a personal trainer but a triathlon coach. She thought I might need some clarification. She was right.

In all honesty, I was happy to have found an interest that would give me focus and might get me into a smaller dress size. If you had told me that by now I would have competed in an aquathon, run three 5k runs – including one on Boxing Day morning – and was looking forward to a 10k and then an Olympic Triathlon in June I would not have believed it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a fairly determined character. I started my working life as a young reporter on the Daily Mail, went on to Sky News when it was a start-up operation before moving to Asia as a foreign correspondent and then pitching up at ITV where, among other things, I once drove from Miami (where I was doing an undercover programme on illegal cosmetic surgeons) to New York to cover the September 11 attacks. It is just that before meeting Beate my level of sporting activity was close to zero most of the time. My physical efforts involved walking in four-inch heels across some of the best known bars in London while carrying a range of designer bags. Any kind of cardio vascular capacity had long since disappeared.

The initial shock to my system was huge.

When I first started running I thought my ankles might snap due to the unknown stress – and that was within 100 yards of my front door.

I persisted but could only manage three minutes. My younger son heard me arrive home and thought he might need to call for medical help because I could hardly breathe.
When I jumped into the pool at London Fields for the Aquathon I had only learnt front crawl six weeks earlier and when I climbed out to do the 5k run I had no idea how it was going to go because I had never run even that distance before.

My lack of knowledge about what was involved was staggering.

Beate was struck dumb when I asked if I could put a hairbrush at the transition point. She had long since realised we had been living on separate planets but she still regards that question as the last word in idiocy. The race marshals were amused (to say the least) at a middle-aged woman who staggered out of the pool and insisted on drying her feet on a cute, little hamam towel before continuing with the race.

My start in cycling was far worse.

I bought an entry-level Boardman bike. Such was my ignorance I had to drive it to Richmond Park because I couldn’t actually ride it. Then, when I did ride it, I found my legs gave way underneath me when I tried to run immediately after I got off.

It is true that swimming has progressed well but I am still in a pool and not in my wetsuit on the open water.

And on top of all of this I am doing yoga to help stretch my muscles. I did not know my arse from my elbow with this one either. Literally.

But a really strange thing has happened. I am starting to love my active life.

I have developed a strange, hybrid wardrobe of active gear that means I can run for the bus, get off a stop early on the tube and jump on my bike to meet a girlfriend for lunch. OK, the new Hudson ankle boots were a mistake and I forgot to wear my padded cycle pants (critical error) but I got there and back in one piece.

Onwards and Upwards…..