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Mon 16th Sep 2019
From couch potato to triathlete
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Monday 21st October 2013

Tags  Thomas Arms  |  Tom Arms

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While the Ironman World Championships may have taken place barely a week ago, not everyone in the sport of triathlon is as honed, fit and chisselled as the bodies beautiful that frequent Kailua-Kona in Ironman week.

While the mainstream press continue (to drive us crazy...) with the use of the word "gruelling" whenever triathlon is mentioned, the reality is, that our swim / bike / run sport is actually very accessible. Evidence of that here is from Tom Arms, who describes his preparation for triathlon as "...for 42 years, mainly eating big lunches, writing about international affairs and running my own news agency".

At 64 years of age, fat (his words!) and disabled, Tom ran out of excuses to avoid his wife's pleas to get fit - and is now a triathlete.

I am fat, wear a caliper and orthopaedic boots because of neuropathy and a twisted left ankle, am one-eyed, have two wonky knees from my days as a wannabee American football star, am bald, 64 years old and extremely ugly.

In short, I am the exact opposite of everyone's vision of a triathlete.

But circumstances conspired against my couch potato existence to put me in the field at the recent Dorney Lake triathlon.

One was the desire to raise money to help my two-year-old great nephew's battle against brain cancer. The second was time on my hands after selling my news business and the third was that the aforementioned sale meant I no longer had a ready excuse to my wife's constant pleas to get fit.

So, I joined the local gym and spent two hours a day six days a week swimming, lifting weights and cycling from one end of London to the other.

Tom ArmsFinally, the big day I arrived. There were problems even before the starting klaxon was sounded, beginning with the wet suit. I know triathletes are supposed to jump in and out of wet suits with gay abandon every other day. I have never worn one in my life and being 6 foot one and 105 kilos, was concerned that they had a hire suit big enough to fit me. Fortunately, they did. Unfortunately it came without instructions on how to put it on.

To start with I put the wet suit on backwards. Fortunately, a kind fellow triathlete spotted the problem (thanks, Phil) and came to the rescue. Next I stuck my right leg through the right arm hole. Phil to the rescue again. Finally, after about twenty minutes of various mishaps and a lot of squeezing and squirming, a massive two-legged whale sporting blue swim goggles and a bright yellow swim cap emerged amongst the field of super fit triathletes.

The swim itself was quite nice after the initial shock of the late September temperatures of Dorney Lake. Once you are underway, your body heat is trapped inside the suit, but until then it is very, very cold. I had no problem with the distance. I had managed two and three times that while training in the pool. The result was that I didn't come in last. I came in third from last out of a field of about 100.

My next problem was getting out of the lake, wetsuit and onto the bike. Why, you may ask, is that such a huge problem? Sounds like a piece of cake. Not, as is my case, if both feet and your left leg are pretty much useless pieces of meat and bones stuck at the end of your legs. I am relatively okay when I am wearing braces, calipers and orthopaedic boots. Unfortunately I couldn't wear those while swimming and therefore could barely manage to stand to stagger up the ramp, out of the lake and hobble to my bike. The race organisers took pity on me and assigned a steward to aid my staggering hobbles.

The cycle section of the race was the one I was actually looking forward to. I love cycling. I could happily cycle all day every day. And, I started off going just as fast as everyone else in the highest high gear. I even managed one of those 15 degree racing leans going into a bend near the start of the course. This is going to be fun, I thought, as I whizzed along the north side of the lake on the first half of four laps. Tarmac under the wheels, flat course and high gear. I was flying—until I hit the head wind.

Any cyclist will tell you that the thing they hate most is head winds. They are worse than the steepest hill. And this was a very strong head wind. All down the sheltered north side the conditions were perfect, but the moment you turned left and headed east you ran into a brick walled wind tunnel. For some reason it didn't seem to affect my fellow triathletes as much as it did me. Their aerodynamic helmets, bikes and - most of all - bodies enabled them to slice through the gale and whiz past me. My bike and I have a lot in common: built for comfort rather than speed. The result was my manly chest and shoulders acted as a sail catching the wind in the wrong direction. I would have made better time if I had tacked the eastbound section of the course.

By the time I finished cycling I was no longer hobbling. I was wobbling. And I still had the hated run ahead of me. My rotten feet and twisted left leg means that it is painful for me to walk or run long distances. Needless to say, I am NOT a fast runner. In fact, I am probably the slowest runner in the history of triathlons. I could walk faster but it is a matter of misplaced pride that I run. Usually my long-suffering and wonderful wife Eileen runs with me part of the way to encourage me to keep putting one foot in front the other. Actually, she strolls alongside doing what she does best—talking.

My fellow triathletes were great supports. They shouted encouragement and struck high-fives as they ran past in the opposite direction. But at the same timed their encouragement was tempered with worried frowns. “Are you sure you're all right?” “I'm fine, thanks,” I shouted back with a double thumbs up. It wasn't until I reached the halfway point and the course medic that I learned the cause of their concern. I was spraying blood. My lime green running shorts (very fetching colour, eh) and left thigh were covered in scarlet splotches--the same colour as my left hand.

The day before I had cut my left index finger on a broken pot. It stopped bleeding after a few hours, but just in case I put a plaster on it before the race. It slid off in the water. During the cycle ride I gripped the handlebars a bit too tight, reopened the wound and the blood poured forth. By the time I was a quarter of the way through the run I looked like an escapee from Sweeney Todd's barber shop. The medic wasn't worried. He gave my finger a couple of paper stitches, applied a fresh plaster and sent me off on the second half of the run.

The last stage, thankfully was uneventful and I was pleased and relieved to hear the cheers and applause as I dragged my tenderised feet, and tired and blood splattered body across the finishing line.

I didn't win. In fact, I came in eighth from last. But I raised over £2,000 for my great nephew and left the field determined to be on the course next season. Even though I am 64, lame, have two wonky knees….


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