In the overall arena of contests and endeavour, the Polkerris Biathlon doesn’t loom large. A 1.5km swim, followed by a 6km run – for some isn’t that far. But for me it was and it underlined five simple truths about why I love to GetOutside.
Completing Not Competing
“Are you competing?” said the guy pointing people towards registration.
“Yes”, I said automatically.
“No”, said my friend at the same time. “We’re taking part”.
And she was right. This wasn’t about speed and race positions. Yes, we were here to challenge ourselves and step outside our comfort zones – but it was more about finishing and having fun.
This is the face of someone who is really very nervous. I love sea bathing, but I’m not a speed or distance gal. 1.5km would be the furthest I’d done. At my painfully slow swimming that’s 45+ minutes in 13 degree seas (in a wetsuit). Worse still it was a blustery day with a four foot swell – from the beach it looked an awfully, awfully long way … Luckily I had two good friends to tell me I’d be fine. Could I do it? I kept wondering, eyeing a very bouncy sea. Their answer, always: “of course you can”.
Trying Something New
If the sea was off-putting, the transition zone was baffling. Great advice from the organisers saw me equipped with a washing up bowl (to rinse sand from your feet before putting them into trainers for the run). And friends had advised on how to dress (a bra under the swim suit was a top tip) but how to best arrange the gear was all very unclear. It adds to nerves when you can’t quite envisage how things will pan out. And everyone else seemed to know just what to do …
This is the route (marked up on OS Maps). While the swim worried me, it didn’t remotely phase my friend. While the run didn’t worry me, that was her bug bear. We could have chosen to do the event as a relay. But we wanted to help each other around. As I plugged away, horribly slowly on the swim, my buddy kept me company – encouraging, chatting, being chilled and calm. She could have swam four times as far (at least), but instead chose to help me. Eventually we made it (yay!!) and we headed onto a sometimes hilly and slippery course. It was now my turn to go a little slower than I could (note: not much slower), as we chatted our way around, taking in the views.
“Failure” & Success
Because of that determination to finish together – to match the pace of each other at our slowest, we came very spectacularly last. But you could also say we triumphed. Not just because that last place – and the spirit in which it was ‘achieved’ – netted a bottle of Prosecco each. But it was a kind of triumph because we’d been bold and stepped outside our comfort zones. Because perhaps the only failure is not to try.
We were there not to compete, but to complete. And we did that in fine style.
Fancy trying something new?
The Ordnance Survey has lots of good ideas on how to GetOutside in its Beginner’s Guides section.
The Polkerris Biathlon was run by the excellent Mad Hatter Sports – they have plenty more events in Cornwall this summer, over a wide range of distances, for you to try.
Let me know how you get on …
Tempted by the idea of a classic foreign train ride? What about those trips closer to home …
Why ride the UK rails?
Perhaps it’s because so many of us commute by rail. Or perhaps it’s because British train trips don’t somehow feel exotic – whatever the reason, you might not take a long UK rail journey for fun. But ever since a cross-Europe jaunt, I’ve hankered for a long-distance British train trip. Something to get your traveller’s teeth into.
Where to go?
So when plotting an adventure in the snows of the Cairngorms, I plumped not for the plane or an epic drive, but to ride the rails. All the way from Plymouth to Edinburgh (around 8 hours) aboard CrossCountry trains, and then onto Aviemore (3 more hours) the next day. It was partly inspired by this article in Telegraph Travel: The 50 Greatest Train Journeys on Earth – Aberdeen to Penzance is number 22.
The first section was familiar – from Plymouth through Devon’s hummocky hills to the scenic, edge-of-shore stretch at Dawlish. I always love this section (although I normally want to get off and swim); when heading west it signals heading home.
After Exeter came the route up to Bristol Temple Meads. No getting out here – I was in for the long haul. In fact, once aboard your biggest responsibility is remembering to get off. And knowing you don’t have to get off for six more hours is actually very relaxing.
The Long Haul
Those next six hours had a sense of sight-seeing as seat-viewing, of being static yet moving, of the country being rolled out for you to see. Station architecture became interesting: barrel roofs at Bristol and Darlington; ornate Victoriana at Burton upon Trent; subterranean modernity at Birmingham New Street.
There are fragments and fleeting, flitting images. Graffiti tags intrigue. Fields, factories, housing estates, trees and power lines speed past. Bridges, cathedrals and terraces glide by – glimpsed and gone. Your mind is free to be both idle and curious (houseboats – who lives on houseboats?!). This odd way of seeing Britain is strangely compelling; incomplete visits that make you want to return.
Passengers come and passengers go. They help each other with bags. The crew makes sure a disabled woman has everything she needs. There’s free wi-fi; I get heaps of work done. The sun comes out at York. It gets misty. Accents shift. Another crew change. Around Newcastle the sun gleams low on the horizon. By Alnmouth it’s pretty much set, which means glimpsing Dunbar in the dark. Finally, eight hours after starting, I emerge at gracious Edinburgh. It sparkles in the floodlights.
The Return Leg
And now? After three days hiking with friends in the snowy hills of the Cairngorms, of being wind-blasted, tested and awed by that environment – I’m chugging along that Dawlish stretch by moonlight. I’m coming home.
This journey from Plymouth to Edinburgh was courtesy of CrossCountry
Here’s where they run: