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Wed 29th Jun 2022
So… Those early races…
Posted by: Steve Trew
Posted on: Friday 9th February 2007

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I raced the London to Paris triathlon relay in 1984 (and now look at what Eddie Ette, Andy Mouncey and Ivan Newman have done -- the whole deal by themselves!). We had teams of four and had to split it into a 100 miles run from London to Dover on day one, swimming the Channel’s 20 odd miles on day two, and then cycling the 200 miles from the French coast into Paris on day three. I slept a lot the next week…

Actually, we were not very well prepared at all, although we thought that we were, and it was a huge learning experience coupled with a pretty poor performance as a team but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. On the triathlon circuit in Great Britain, there weren’t too many events, and we used to see the same athletes at most of the races; it was a good atmosphere, almost a club type scene.

Training camps and one of the immortals

I went on what I’m pretty sure was the first British warm weather training camp in 1984, it was in Ibiza at Easter time, and I met the infamous Mark Kleanthous. Now, Mark has done more in endurance events and triathlon than anyone I know; Ironman, double Ironman, 100 mile road running races, piece of cake; all grist to the mill! Back to Ibiza, all this was very much pre-wetsuit times, and a lot of the swimming training was getting used to dealing with the cold. Roger Parsons from the LDSA was swim coach and he had this rule of; “if you feel yourself getting cramp, or you’re in difficulties, put your hand up and shout out, and we’ll get a boat to you”. Very straightforward and safe, or so I thought… We were swimming late afternoon, water temperature was SO cold (about 55°F) and Mark got cramp. As per instructions, up went one arm and out came a shout… So far, so good….. But then Mark got cramp in the other leg as well. Being a logical chap, the thought process went something like, “one leg cramp, one arm up; therefore, two legs cramp, two arms up”; so up went the other arm, Mark exits stage beneath, under the water!

Actually, there’s so much more about Mark Kleanthous, so much more! He was one of the original nut-case trainers; sleep, eat and train, that’s all, that was life!

Mark used to live over in Dagenham, East London. He’d cycle into work and, being Mark, would race all the way. One of the old red buses from Dagenham into Central London was called the “Dagenham Flyer”, it came right down the old A13 main road and Mark, being Mark, would take this as his personal challenge to beat it into work. The bus would get ahead, but as it had to stop for traffic lights or heavy traffic, Mark would sneak up on it; honours were about even.

And then… and then…… It was a Christmas Eve back in the early eighties. Train on Christmas Eve? Of course, what else is there to do? So Mark was flying though, last chance to beat the bus into work. Mark pulled up to the traffic lights, almost into town and ready to challenge the bus over the final five miles.

The bus pulled dangerously close to him, preventing him from getting away –we’ve all been there, right? Some annoyed motorist who can’t take the pressure of being beaten by a mere cyclist… Now it was Mark’s turn. The safety door on the bus opened; out got seven passengers, from behind a back was pulled out a red cycle jersey, emblazoned on the back were the words, “THE DAGENHAM FLYER”!

The same (pretty much the same) passengers every day had become fascinated by this strange apparition who raced them in every day and had decided on an early Christmas present, much respect earned!

Mark has never NOT finished a race; but he’s come close on more than a couple of occasions. The Blaenavon triathlon, hilly and tough; Mark crashed quite badly coming into the cycle to run transition, in fact badly enough to be taken to hospital, blood spurting from numerous wounds. The proud record was gone; a race unfinished.

And then, and then… The final stragglers were dragging themselves into the finish, almost over, the race organizers rubbing their hands, tired but happy, ready now to go home.

An ambulance moves up the road, back to race site, it stops and the rear doors are flung open and a racing wraith – who else but the legend Kleanthous? – leaps from the vehicle, running shoes are forced on and he's out onto the final discipline!

And then there was Nice, a Mecca for triathlon. That particular year there were jellyfish – lots of them. It happens, you get on with it and hope you don’t suffer too badly. Except for Mark, naturally. One jellyfish lodged itself right on the neck of Mark’s wetsuit and he swam the entire four kilometres with an aqua passenger to cope with; “couldn’t brush it off, would have slowed me down!” Tough things happen…

So, Mark runs into transition, knowing now that the worst was over and he could get on with his two better disciplines… …to find that the seat pin bolt has snapped! This really was it, surely over now? Naaah! This is Mark Kleanthous we’re talking about; into town, find the local friendly bike shop owner, get the seat bolt, back into transition, fix it and then get on with the ride. Nice one Mark, if you’re reading this anywhere, love to hear from you again.

Next time, more stories of Mark and others and, maybe, some of the best pre- and post-race speeches I’ve been privileged to listen to.

Thanks for listening.

Steve Trew About the Author

Steve Trew has decided that it is OK to play the “IF” game in one particular area; that of age. However, everyone knows that triathletes are like good wine; the older the better. Steve can be reached for coaching and for training camps on [email protected] He is still taking his chances, still coaching, still writing and still commentating. We think it’s about time he got a real job.

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