The Sexy Walrus Inter-Club Triathlon
This great and glorious event is the life blood of the club and walrus are expected to be familiar with its unusual workings.
The most curious thing about the Sexy Walrus Inter-Club Triathlon is that, presuming all athletes have been honest when submitting their season’s scores to George, everyone should cross the finish line at exactly the same time. It is one of the only races where, in its perfect form, there would be no winners or losers. This is due to its unique ability-based categorisation system, whereby athletes are placed in a category – Pig, Slug, Cucumber, Monster, Beast, Seal Elite – according to their predicted time, with each category enjoying a suitable time advantage. The slowest athlete from the previous year – White Fang – leads the pack.
Whilst the reality is very different to this ideal, the effects of this system are glorious and multiple. Firstly, it means that the event is competitive for all athletes, regardless of ability, as everyone should stand a reasonable chance of winning their category. Whether they are a seasoned Seal or a first-time Pig, everything is to play for. This creates a transition atmosphere like no other, with competitors of all abilities united by the sense of panic mixed with the desperate and unenviable need to go to the bathroom – caused by one too many (or too few?) bananas – that accompanies all triathlons.
Secondly, it creates the unique and tantalising atmosphere of the hunt. As White Fang sets off, he or she knows that a full pack of slavering beasts is hot on his flippers. The same goes for all categories that follow behind, right up to the Seals who essentially take on the role of a ravenous pack of hounds. Every year the athletes speculate prior to the event as to what might happen should a Seal catch a Pig, metaphorically and literally.
The final effect of this system is that it makes it very difficult to tell how well one is doing at any point during the race, as athletes from all waves cluster during the ride and pass one another regularly. All anyone can really know is that, somewhere in the distance, somewhere far behind, rising up out of the water like some Homeric monstrosity, Jonny is coming for you.
Preparations start months in advance as athletes prepare the bodies and minds for the occasion: athletes simultaneously train intensively while complaining about how they haven’t trained for months – ‘doing a Burns’ as it is known. The aim of this process is both to lull other athletes into a false sense of security about their chances, and also to trick George into lowering your category. And it’s all part and parcel of the event, permitted and encouraged by the rules.
Race day itself begins with the Briefing – done on one knee around Uncle Jonny, the one who taught us all – in transition. White Fang gets a customary cheer upon arrival along with furtive, greedy looks from the Seals. Transition buzzes with activity as preparation gets underfoot. Bikes checked, helmets carefully placed, trainers brushed. Athletes fuss around their allocated transition areas. Nervous chit chat drones. At one end, the Seal Elites and Beasts, measured, careful in preparation, minimal equipment, heart rate low. At the other, the Pigs run wild, confused, panicked, talk of talc, nose-clips and gloves, gobbling flapjacks and Lucozade like sweet nectar. White Fang’s bike is usually still locked to itself, the key lost many moons ago. Like larvae the sea creatures slip on their wetsuits and swarm around the briefing area. Instructions are handed out. Nods of agreement. Nerves manifest themselves as chuckles.
The historic walk to the swim entrance follows, then the team photograph, a quick dump in the bushes, and then off they go! White Fang is set loose on the course, followed seconds later by the thrashing pigs – released into the water kicking and screaming. Splashing around like buffalo. Once the pigs are off the Cucumbers slither into the ink and before they know it they are on their way. The Monsters follow, then the Beasts and then the Seals! Each group sets off at speed for this short swim, some like they have outboard motors, others like they are trying to run through a heavily laden washing line. The rescue boat, when available, chugs alongside, keeping a keen eye out for struggling fish. Marshals patrol the banks shouting encouragement and sipping gels.
Out of the swim, off comes the suit. Run 200 metres on gravel up the path to transition. Transitions vary from the fast: drop suit, helmet on, shoes clipped in, off – to the slow: drop suit, dry off feet, gloves, socks, towel, glasses, flapjacks, double check working bell on bike, off. Timings are kept accurately by the marshals and the first morning wanderers of the village see lycra-clad animals in varying positions on colourful contraptions zooming out of the village and onto the 22k ‘flat as a butcher’s back’ bike course. It’s a short stretch up to ‘Gypsy Turn’ followed by a straight and steady back-and-forth action along a flat road. Grimaces and grunts are shared as walrus pass one another, bowels roar with each gel, and sweat pours from tired brows. Back into transition and then a trail run through the fields, two loops, back through the village passed The Plough and across the line. WHITE FANG.
To the pub. Packing burgers into colons the athletes celebrate at the Plough Inn. Roman Sea Pelican hands out the lovely blue Tshirts while stories are shared and musings about the order of the day. Who has the fastest time? Who is the new White Fang? Has anyone soiled themselves? Another briefing and a goodbye to a few but the evening dinner beckons.