And now for something completely different… I’ll be taking part in the London Triathlon 2019 as part of the Her Spirit team, in partnership with 220 Triathlon and Limelight Sports.
Although a complete newbie to triathlon, I have rubbed shoulders with amateur competitive sport and it has not escaped my notice that I – as a women – am distinctly in the minority. It has not escaped the organisers notice either, and they have consequently offered 20 free places to women as a kind of experiment. I will be sharing my experiences as I train and take part in 8 weeks’ time, here and on the Her Sprit app. Twenty minutes of sharing my experiences on an online form (ranting on the internet…) by way of application and here we are! I love to swim but I haven’t run regularly in years and I don’t even have a road bike, but I’ve committed now. Gulp.
My brush with amateur competitive sport has been in mountain biking. After falling in love with it on an all-women outdoor activity course with the Plymouth Filthy Foxes in September 2016, I took part in my first amateur mountain biking competition (and my first ever sports competition since failing spectacularly at long jump at Sports Day circa 2003) in September 2018. It had never occurred to me to enter a competition and I certainly didn’t take up mountain biking with it in mind, but with my local Swinley Bike Hub as the organisers and a special one-off women’s-only training session and women’s categories, I thought I would be in safe hands, it might even be fun! On the day, us women all raced together and though still in the minority, there was a very good turnout. I formed a close bond with a few awesome women that day, some who I had never met before. The eventual winner talked me down a tricky section where my rear wheel had slipped out in practice – and she didn’t talk to me like a competitor, but as a friend. This wasn’t just fun – it was a fantastic celebratory, supportive atmosphere! Many of the women across the age categories were also taking part for the first time – and relishing it. It was was even more than ‘just’ a fun day out on the bike, there were added friends and an added challenge, which I rose happily to.
I finished the Swinduro race 2nd in age category, a total shock, and was inspired to enter the Southern Enduro Mashup competition two months later, that November. I think perhaps 10 but certainly less than 20% of the entrants in this 300+ strong race were women to begin with, but in my entry level category (compulsory at Southern Enduro when you are new to racing) there were just 6. Of those 6, I was the only finisher and due to the ‘mashup’ structure I didn’t knowingly interact with the other girls in my group all day. I blended in with a small group of women across the categories and chased them down but I was constantly aware of holding up the faster men behind me and having to step aside (not easy on a slippery, off-camber course). It was a lonely podium for me, it didn’t feel like a win, but my wonderful friend Jemma who had got me there and another lovely lady mountain biker (Bryony!) who I met at the pub in Petersfield afterwards, made the day for me.
I haven’t entered any more mountain biking since but yet, I remained curious about competition. Not standing out on my own perhaps, but more the unique community spirit that came with it when I had other like-minded, high-spirited women around me. Not looking down on or sizing up the other competitors, but holding people up, celebrating seeing other women accomplish and achieve something that makes them feel epic. Whether that be standing in top spot, finishing the course, or just making it out for the race!
I will be taking part in the London Triathlon as part of a team of women, and it is a celebratory spirit that I believe we will embody. It is training with and running, swimming and cycling with a team that most lights me up with excitement when I think of the next 8 weeks. What can each of us achieve with a team behind us that we might not have on our own? And what might that lead to?
As a side note – there are plenty of wonderful and inspirational men out there too! Men who have helped and continue to help me enjoy the ride. They will have their place in my story and in this series of blogs. The fact remains however that more of them reap the rewards of sport and competition, whether it’s kicking a ball about in the park or this upcoming major triathlon. Why is that, and what small part can I play in changing that?
If we as a Her Spirit team can show other women out there just how much fun we’re having setting goals, smashing them, and revelling in each other’s strengths and achievements, perhaps women in amateur competitive sport won’t remain a minority for long!