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Before you can tri, tri again, you have to tri for the first time...

So, the 7Oaks Triathlon!

Amanda loves her swimming and cycling as well as her running, but this is to be her first ever competitive combination of all three. Indeed, her first competitive swimming event since schooldays, and first cycling one ever.  She's been learning to do crawl rather than breaststroke with a personal trainer and the Stragglers Triathlon group, and we've stripped her bike down from its normal shopping-trolley mode to something a bit nearer a lean mean racing machine. We're ready to rumble!

But first we have another first: she's going to make her world premiere appearance as a Straggler at parkrun! It so happens that this Saturday has been designated a Stragglers v Sutton mob match at Bushy Park, so this will be the venue for the grand unveiling.

But even firster than that, we have a problem...

This is the view from our driveway. That foliage wasn't there half an hour ago!

Oh. A tree seems to have blown down in the wind. Hmm... that will make getting the car out a bit tricky.

I go to the Elmbridge website to find out how to report this, but it turns out that it's Surrey's responsibility, so off I go to theirs. Then I fill in a report detailing the incident, and only after I've done that, it tells me that I will receive a response within 28 days, or phone this number if it's an emergency. So I phone the number, and spend half an hour working through the menu system which seems primarily designed for getting Social Services to help find your lost granny with dementia, and in the end a nice lady tells me that a crew will be around within two hours.

Well, can't complain about that, it may even be gone by the time we're back from parkrun. We were going to cycle to that, not take the car anyway, so we should be be completely sorted well before we have to leave for Sevenoaks.

And here she is, to the right of the picture in her Stragglers shirt and yellow Trionium beanie hat.

There's a lorra lorra Stragglers here, and while I don't count them or the Sutton boys and girls, there are clearly far fewer of the latter.

Well there we are, pretty much all gone! At last we feel we've had some value for money from our Council Tax.

In the afternoon, then, we head down to Sevenoaks. We are going to stay at the Premier Inn overnight because the race starts ridiculously early on Sunday morning, and also because Amanda wants us to drive the cycle route to give her an idea of what to expect. We had hoped to do an actual bike recce last week, but the weather was just too horrible so we scrapped that plan.

Fortunately, I've found a GPS track of the route on Strava, because the map as published on the website is a bit sketchy for navigational purposes.

The route is definitely, shall we say... undulating... But nothing that looks too unbearable, although it's noticeable that most of the first half is downhill; which is rather a bad omen for the second half. On balance, we reckon the hilliness is not dissimilar to the Portsmouth Road between Esher and Cobham, just three times the distance.

Arrival: the moment of truth is rapidly approaching!

Amanda's been terrified that her bike will fail scrutineering for some incomprehensible technical reason, but the chap just gives it a quick look over and it's fine. But he wants to adjust the position of her helmet number and the angle of her helmet slightly. Ooh err, she wasn't expecting to be adjusted by a strange man at 6:30am!

And note the guy behind in nothing but his swimming trunks. It's bloody freezing! Maybe he's one of these crack-the-ice-on-New-Years-Day types. Mind, we've seen a man cuddling up to a chunk of ice in the sea off Svalbard in nothing but swimming trunks, so maybe hypothermia is like the Lotus Position is said to be: extremely comfortable once you get used to the excruciating agony.

Now don't take this the wrong way, Ant, but my instant thought when I saw this picture was, "Penny for the guy?"

[An explanation for our younger readers, and a bit of an OMG! reality check! moment for older ones... Fifty years ago, it was considered perfectly normal for young children to loiter in the streets begging total strangers to give them money to buy explosives. Obviously a few went on to be suicide bombers, but really hardly any in the grand scheme of things, and even those almost never managed to blow up anyone but themselves. More common, though still rare, was simply to lose an eye or be scarred for life. But we weren't pathetic millennial snowflakes in those days, and if an adult saw you, say, dropping a banger into a glass bottle to see if it would shatter, they would simply tut-tut at you rather than calling in the anti-terrorist squad.

Happy days! We don't let children be children any more, and I personally blame the EU!

Mind, perhaps in another half century, people will be telling youngsters, "Why, when I was your age, literally anybody could log on to Facebook or Twitter. Without a licence, or even so much as a by-your-leave! I blame the EU, which is why I'll be voting 'Continue' in next month's referendum: Should we continue trying to find a way to leave the EU that will actually work or should we finally admit that if we haven't figured it out in fifty years we never will so let's just call the whole thing off?"

But I digress. Back to the plot.]

This is it: getting ready to swim into the unknown!

The marshals explain how the system works. They'll recognise her in the water because she's been given a blue cap, and then they will count her lengths and put a flag in the water to tell her when it's just one more up and down pair to swim before exiting.

There are up to three competitors in a lane at any given time, and just ahead of Amanda is a chap she would like to overtake, only he doesn't seem to have remembered the etiquette they were all briefed on: if somebody taps your foot, wait at the end of the lap and let them turn ahead of you. A little later, though, two much stronger freestyle swimmers are able to overtake Amanda directly without needing her to stop.

[Afterwards her StragTri coach Barbara will congratulate her on her awesome first time, then say she's got her head too high and her legs too rotated!]

Ooh! It's cold!

This will be the first time she's ever tried to put on cycling gear while soaking wet in the chilly open air. I can't say I've ever tried it myself, either.

Ok, it somehow looks a lot easier when the Brownlee brothers do it, but mission accomplished. Just remember, don't get on the bike until you're out of transition and cleared by the marshal. So much to remember!

I will now jump in the car and head off to some strategic spots. I'm doing it pretty much blind, just following the GPS instructions to points that looked plausible on the map, so I've no idea how it's going to work out.

First stop, and there she goes. This road has a lot of long sweeping downhill curves, and I suspect a degree of nervousness has prevented her taking best advantage of them for speed, but she's doing ok. When we drove it on Saturday afternoon, it was not hugely busy, but she's still much happier with essentially no traffic at all.

Second location, and it's a pity we don't have some sunshine to bring out the bluebells more. We've had the occasional hint that it might be trying to break through, but not much more. Still, we don't have yesterday's wind to contend with: that could have been seriously not fun in places.

Some rather different cyclists are heading in the opposite direction to the racers. Not as fast, but then they are going to France, so they need to conserve their strength a bit.

Here, the would-be-pretty-in-the-sun bit is cherry blossom.

Right, that's the third of the three points I'd picked out, and they've all worked fine in terms of logistics, although maybe slightly lacking in photographic variety. I'd deliberately not chosen any urban locations, but perhaps I should have had one for contrast. SSP have got a guy at the top of the hill back into Sevenoaks and they know a lot more about this event than I do.

But I'm going to drive back to the Leisure Centre, then take my bike into Knole Park where the final running stage is.

The return route by car is the same as the race, so I pass Amanda outside Sevenoaks but I'm not going to be that far ahead of her on arrival so I don't know if she'll have been through T2 by the time I've parked and got the bike off the rack and ready. I watch the transition area for a couple of minutes, but I don't want to take a chance so off I go. [Later Amanda will tell me that she sees me depart just as she arrives.]

I'm almost certain I'm ahead of her at this point, but it's not until I recognise a couple of people that I'm finally sure. In fact, I'm more ahead than I'd realised, and in retrospect, it's clear that I could have waited for her at T2 without any problem.

Parts of the running route are on open ground, but it's dry and solid, so not too tricky. The only previous time Amanda has run in Knole Park was the Sevenoaks Seven in 2015 when it was utterly hideous weather and really slippery on the grass.

Just about 3km to go from where I'm standing. As you can see, we're getting a little hazy sunshine now, but not enough to create any real warmth. The woman in the yellow top right in the foreground is one of the previously mentioned people who indicate "Amanda will be along in a moment", partly because it's not a Stragglers vest she's wearing but it's pretty much the exact same colour.

Ok, when Amanda passes me here, I'll head back. As I said, it's 3km for her, but only just over 2km for me so I should have no problem getting to the finish in plenty of time, and indeed I don't.

Here she is emerging from the recreation ground path that connects the Leisure Centre to the Park.

It's not the prettiest race finish the world has ever known...

Ant takes the front view, I take the rear!


I bet nobody's ever thought of that little bon mot before.

And spot the old perv checking out her arse in the background :-)

Unsurprisingly, she's done best in the running and worst in the swimming, but overall it's a solid mid-pack result, which is really something of a resounding success for a first-ever triathlon. None of her worst fears materialised, as pretty much everyone but her knew they wouldn't, and her coaches assure her that she will continue to improve her weaker disciplines.

Yep, we'll definitely be opening a bottle of the good stuff tonight!

Love to all,


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