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The Terror is a fearsome event

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: June 27, 2013

  • HOME: Appledore Pilot Gig Club member Rachael Ward can relax at last. Picture: Paula Davies. To order call 0844 4060 269 and quote Ref: BNPD20130623B-016_C

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IT is 7.40am on Sunday morning and many an anxious look can be seen on the faces of those assembled inside the entrance to Torrington Pool.

It is a big day in the history of Torrington sport, the morning when the town stages its first triathlon and, in common with the national trend, a sizeable portion of the field comprises first-timers.

They are 20 minutes from the start and Shebbear College sports teacher Sue Standford admits to being scared. "I think it's the transitions," she says, asked what is worrying her.

That's the part of triathlon where competitors do their Clark Kent impressions.

In T1, as the sport likes to call it, it's off with the swim-look and on with the bike-look. In T2 the triathletes transform themselves from cyclists into runners, while trying to convince themselves they are Superman or Superwoman, leaving behind their everyday lives to achieve something special.

Primarily due to the London Olympics, and especially the medals won by the Brownlee brothers, triathlon in Britain has never been more popular and now North Devon has a third event on its calendar following those in Bideford and Ilfracombe.

They say you need three things to take up the sport – a swimsuit, running kit and a bicycle – but it is clear you need a fourth. A reliable alarm clock. Oversleep and you miss it.

"I was up at five," says Natasha Acres, the ladies' captain at Appledore Pilot Gig Club, who has brought three team-mates to join her in a collective triathlon debut.

Rowing, which is what pilot gig racers do, may have its regulations but triathlon is the Olympic gold medallist of the rulebook. Faster, stronger, stricter.

Passing on the laws of the sport to its participants, Torrington organisers list the dos and don'ts. From not bringing your dog into the pool to no nudity in transition, everything is covered, so to speak.

"Very topical on cycle events currently is the annoyance of gel wrappers littering the course," entrants are told. So don't do that.

Other don'ts include breaching traffic laws, abuse of motorists or marshals, and drafting, which means not slipstreaming behind another rider. You must keep outside an imaginary seven by three metres box.

"In rowing you get in a boat – that's all you have to worry about," says Natasha. "Here you have to make sure you've got your bike helmet set up, your shoes set up, then, after the bike, you've got to run and you think: 'have I got this ready, have I got that ready?'"

And Sue Standford says: "I don't know how I'm going to work out how to stay seven metres behind the bike in front. I am just going to cycle and whatever happens, happens. No stripping off, I know that bit."

Gareth Walkley, another first-timer, prefers to strip – the rulebook – back to basics. "Pretty nervous" though he is, he says: "Just swim, ride and run. It can't be that complicated."

At 29, Gareth is set for his first triathlon, having begun training three months ago "to lose weight and improve my health". Train mean, get lean, they say. So how many pounds lighter is he? "I haven't lost any," he says. Why not? "Junk food." Faster, stronger, fatter? Where does it say that in the training manual?

Torrington – or the Torrington Terror to give it its full name - falls into the category of a "sprint distance" triathlon. But this is not a Usain Bolt kind of a sprint. In fact Bolt would probably run a mile should anyone suggest he try a triathlon.

Designed for first-timers, it covers a 400m swim, a 32-kilometre ride and 4.5-kilometre run. In all, 62 will take to the start, 59 will finish, one will drop out, and two will be disqualified.

The main trophies will be won by two new generation triathletes, 19-year-old Kieran Boulton, from Minehead, taking the overall men's title, and 20-year-old Becky Plummer, from Bridgwater, the overall women's.

In the men's event North Devon Triathletes clubmen Steve Hill and Rod Lomas will take second and third. In the women's section, second and third will go to Samantha Stevenson, of North Devon Road Runners, and Anna Brown, of North Devon Triathletes.

The Torrington event comes two weeks after the first big triathlon of the British season at Blenheim Palace where, over much the same distance, some 7,000 took part, of which 3,500 were novices.

The sport's recent growth is illustrated in figures given by British Triathlon, the national governing body. In 2009 the number who lined up to start a race was 120,620. By 2010 this had grown to 132,235, by 2011 to 141,206 and by 2012 to 149,308 in 2012. A record 856 events were staged last year.

It is a growth reflected in the south-west and in North Devon.

"We are finding a lot more people taking part," says Lomas. "And now you don't have to travel outside the South West to compete because we have got Tiverton, Taunton, Torrington, Burnham, Bideford, Bude – Ilfracombe when it's back next year."

Many others too. "A few years you had to travel far and wide just to enter events, now events are selling out," adds Lomas.

The tremor effect of Alistair Brownlee and his brother, Jonathan, taking men's gold and bronze at London 2012 has been felt all the way to North Devon.

"People are looking for that challenge other than just running a marathon or a 10k race and they are looking to go a bit further," says Lomas. "But the Olympics and the Brownlees have got an awful lot to answer for."

Jody Foy, Torrington's joint race director, agrees. He says: "People have seen triathlon on the telly at the Olympics where Team GB did fantastically well – first and third – and that has encouraged them into a fashionable sport."

Foy's Total Buzz Events team puts on Torrington in partnership with 1610, a not-for-profit charitable trust that operates the pool. The Torrington Terror is one of five events in a series, comprising triathlons in Torrington and Dorchester and 10k runs in Bridgwater, Castle Cary and Shepton Mallet.

Of triathlon, Foy adds: "We organise eight in a year – our furthest one north is Frome and we come all the way down here, so you are looking at close to 100+ triathlons in the South West.

"I would have thought it has gone to a 40 per cent increase, maybe more, over three years. There has been a massive influx of new events, some good some not so good." And Torrington after its small but promising start? "I really hope this one grows because the countryside is fantastic around here," says Foy.

"It's an event I would like to do myself. Torrington is a little gem that we have just discovered – the town centre is nice, people seem friendly, the roads are quiet, the road surface is good, and it is beautiful scenery."

Even if it is tough for a novice. The winds make the steep hills feel steeper and the cold turns the dial marked suffering to full-on. Nevertheless, Foy hopes they are enjoying it.

The toughest part for a novice triathlete? "Getting to the start," says Foy. And their biggest crime? Unbuckled helmets? Drafting? Nudity? "Not smiling enough," he says. "There are a lot of grimaces out there when they should be enjoying it."

Enjoyment may not be the word but when Gareth Walkley completes his 16 lengths of the 25-metre pool he keeps going. He should have been on his way to T1 by now but he is still swimming. One extra length, two extra lengths, and almost a third before a marshal screams at him to stop.

Crossing the finish line after one and a bit triathlons he still finishes faster than his fellow first-timers from Appledore Pilot Gig Club. Walkley is 39th while the rowers place 44th (Zoe Sims), 45th (Natasha Acres), 48th (Linda Stella) and 52nd (Rachael Ward).

Asked before the start what she had hoped to get out of her first triathlon, Rachael said: "The sense of achievement, the sense of pride you get at the end." The rowers may have won no prizes but they get what they came for.

As for Walkley, he is already planning his second triathlon, in Bideford in August. Sue Standford, too, is coming back for more. "It was fun, it was hard, I would do it again," she says. You are, after all, a first-time triathlete only the once.

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