Monday, 30 May 2016

Power of four: Brigg Bomber Quadrathlon

The rule of three is often used in stories: where three parts or three things are involved, it’s thought that the result is more effective, sometimes funnier, than when different numbers are used. Goldilocks tried three bowls of porridge. Three Billy Goats Gruff troubled the troll under the bridge. The fairy godmother granted Cinderella three wishes. Maybe that’s why triathlon has had so many best sellers.

There is a growing clan of multi-sport athletes who would like to claim otherwise. My brother, Steve, is one of them and, for a long time, he has been trying to convince me to give quadrathlon a try. Similar in format to triathlon, quadrathlon adds a fourth discipline into the mix – kayaking – and, over lunch and a pint after a race in February, Steve talked me into entering the Brigg Bomber Quadrathlon in Lincolnshire last weekend.

Looking nervous on race morning and wishing I’d had some porridge like Goldilocks, I put my bike and paddles in transition. A friendly lady racked next to me and struck up conversation, “are you Steve’s sister?” she asked. “It’s your first quad, isn’t it? Don’t worry, if you’re anything like your brother in a kayak, you’ll be great.” I smiled and thanked her, “yes, it is, but, no, I’m not…”

Until this year, I have probably paddled a kayak about once every 5 years. Once the race entry was in, we hatched a plan for some emergency training on the river and managed to squeeze in 4 outings - one of which was the night before and where I practised getting in the boat from the left, rather than the right, ahead of race morning. Steve had arranged to borrow a boat from his kayak club and some paddles from a friend, and met me in Brigg on Saturday evening, even though he’d fallen off his bike the week before and some sore ribs were putting his own race into question.

Quadrathlon started as a sport in late 1980s and I don’t think it was much later that Steve did his first race. In 2014, when the Brigg Bomber hosted the World Championships, he won the race and became World Quadrathlon Champ, which might explain why the kind lady in transition held such high hopes for me. Steve explained that the lady I’d been talking to was Jean Ashley from the British Quadrathlon Association - an experienced yet modest sportswoman with an impressive background in white water paddling, iron-distance triathlon and 15 years of quadrathlon – ‘The Quad Mother’, as he called her. “It’s great to see more and more women competing in these events,” said Jean. This year, doubling as the European Championships, Brigg had attracted a field of 10 women and, while there’s a way to go, perhaps my race entry was a very small nudge towards tipping the balance.

Arms bare, don't care: the start in the River Ancholme
There aren’t many European Championship races where a novice can race alongside the best: at 8.30 am, a mixed field of about 60 athletes started the 1.5 km swim in River Ancholme. It was chillier than I’d expected - my shoulder has been a bit grumbly in a full-sleeved wetsuit so I’d opted to go sleeveless and had to swim hard to keep warm. The kayak leg then followed straight after a quick trip to transition where I grabbed my paddles and ditched the wetsuit. “Be careful,” I reminded myself pushing away from the bank, “it’s cold in there,” and, given the number of beer bottles I'd seen float past, I couldn't be certain there weren't trolls under the bridges.

Jean overtook me shortly into the paddle and gave me a cheer – for a moment, I tried to match
"Swim then paddle, not paddle then swim" Photo from Danny
her stroke rate but I wobbled as she eased away into the distance. “Be careful,” I said again - I like swimming but this wasn’t the time. I saw Steve racing back from the turnaround, sitting just behind the race leader, and people continued to pass me. “It’s better to keep moving than to keep up,” I thought as I tried to stay relaxed and stay upright for the rest of the 7km.

Relieved to reach dry land, I lifted the boat out and gladly left it for the marshal to take up the bank while I ran back to transition. Another marshal yelled out to me as I ran the wrong way towards my bike, distracted by the ‘Kayak Out’ sign, “Sorry, I got confused – I’m OUT OF MY KAYAK!” It felt great to be on my bike. After nearly an hour in a boat, I was almost dry and definitely happy to be doing something more familiar again. I saw Steve for the second time, charging back towards the finishing loop; he’d lost the guy who I saw him paddling with and he looked to be having a strong race. Jean passed me in the other direction with another cheer; my mouth full of chewy energy bar, she had to settle with thumbs up from me in return.

The announcer called my name as I left transition with a big grin for the third and final time: “just a 25 mile run to go, Katie – that’ll give you something to smile about,” he joked. Two laps of a course through Brigg town centre and alongside the River Ancholme would take the run up to 10km – quite far enough for me, thank you. I saw Jean for a third time – a high five and a smile from my Fairy Quad Mother gave me a push to keep going and finish the last chapter. I finished towards the back of the field in a little under 4 hours to find out that Steve was 2nd placed and had been finished long enough to put my boat back on the van already.

Throughout the event, the volunteers, organisers and competitors had all been fantastic, enthusiastic and friendly – on the second lap, as I passed the marshal who had the role of being the turnaround point for the run lap, I asked if anyone would be along to collect her soon, “No, I like to run back with the last runner,” she answered. This is exactly what happened and we saw the team of run marshals running back across the last bridge to celebrate with the final finisher of the day. It takes more than just the power of three to come up with a fairy tale ending like that.
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