‘Naked’ triathlon

Sport for the fun it has the mantra for four-time Ironman World Champ of late, ‘stripping off’ has never been
so much fun, she says…

This year has been about stripping off. Riding when I feel like it, swimming if the water calls my name, running on road, off road and yes, even on a treadmill if I get an urge for that ‘data dose

Although naked triathlon might appeal, I’m not talking birthday-suit sport. Instead I’m referring to stripping ourselves of the gadgets, gizmos and paraphernalia that dominate our sport. To get back to basics; sport for sport’s sake.

One of the reasons I needed a break from full-time training and racing was that I’d lost a bit of the love. Instead of feeling like I wanted to ride my bike, I felt I had to ride my bike.

I was obsessed with the minutiae: every second, every calorie, every wobbly single-leg squat. I wasn’t seeing the scenery, hearing the birds or chatting to my friends. And I sweated the small stuff… the really small stuff that I would never have given a thought to when I first started. How many vents does my helmet have? Is my rear hydration system aero?

Don’t get me wrong, to some extent I believe this myopic focus is necessary. Attention to the detail of, and 100% commitment to, each aspect of training was fundamental to my success. But it can be incredibly draining.

For my first Ironman in 2007 I borrowed my teammate’s tri-shorts (still have them). I didn’t have a swimskin (instead wearing a swimsuit over my race kit). I had a road bike and training wheels. I asked an age-group pal about nutrition and she gave me some of her drink.

Six weeks later, in the week before Kona, I fixed my broken pedal with glue. I was staying in an apartment up a 20% gradient slope, which I biked every day with shopping on my back. I was sleeping on a single bed that was like a trampoline, sharing a room with a Spanish guy I’d never met before.

I hadn’t had a bike fit, my sunglasses came from a petrol station and I got two hours shut-eye the night before the race because the neighbours were having a domestic. And I won.

Before Kona, when I lived in Nepal, I spent hours on my bike. Of course, I was a sports junkie who wanted to race the boys. But there was more to it than that. Biking meant I could spend time with the locals, visit remote places and see sights that took my breath away.

I wore a shapeless canary yellow t-shirt and a pair of equally baggy shorts. I was yet to experience the cleat. My pre-training snack was two cups of sweet, milky chia and a deep-fried donut (minus the jam but complete with parasites).

Problems were generally solved with duct tape and ingenuity. We went up, we went down. We stopped when we wanted to. We laughed. Log books, intervals, heart rate and watts didn’t cross our minds. It was old school: sport at its rawest and most fun.

Of course, monitors, gadgets and gizmos can make us stronger and faster. And a market for these products is what helps us pros turn our passion into a career. But technology should never detract from the underlying recipe for success: dedication, perseverance, self-awareness and hard, bloody work.

This philosophy didn’t do Dave Scott and Mark Allen any harm. They weren’t sat in front of computer screens, downloading data or monitoring beats per minute (although, granted, they probably weren’t staying with random Spanish men or sleeping on trampoline beds, either). They trained hard, developed the ability to read their bodies and Dave tells me he hardly ever wore a watch. But their times are still benchmarks today.

So this year has been about stripping off. Riding when I feel like it, swimming if the water calls my name, running on road, off road and yes, even on a treadmill if I get an urge for that ‘data dose’. I’ve attempted cross-country skiing, roller blading, kayaking and paddleboarding. I’ve even perfected my yogic downward dog. It has been unstructured, unplanned and, yes, liberating fun.

Someone asked me a few weeks ago, “If you’re not racing, what’s your goal for this year?” My goal? “To revel in sport for sport’s sake and enjoy the moment.” For an obsessive compulsive that’s a huge challenge and so, to me, is as worthy a goal as any.

So next time you go out for a session, take the heart rate monitor off, find a trail you’ve never run before, feel the sun on your shoulders. Hear the sound of your heart and run wild. Stripping will never have felt so good.