‘If all the year were playing holidays; To sport would be as tedious as to work.’
William Shakespeare 'Henry IV, Part 1' (1597) 1: 2, l.
It was a warm and clear day on Sunday for the Triathlon events at Stratford Upon Avon with many tourists encouraging the participants in the pool, on the cycle and on the run, including those on leisure cruises on the River Avon as the run route goes along the towpath, for a short distance. It is classed as a fun but challenging event with a Sprint (400m swim, 18 kilometre cycle and 5K run), distance as well as supersprint, relay and youth events. In 2019 British Triathlon has a social media campaign, #TriLikeMe designed to show that triathlon is for everyone, and this was certainly in evidence with a range of different abilities.
Just the cycles alone used in the Stratford Triathlon varied from highly specialised to commuter models and many swimmers began the race with a steady front crawl. A range of disability athletes also completed the course, whether assisted by a dual athlete or unaided and it was a very supportive event.
Chaos in the pool
The worst element of the event, in terms of organisation, was the pool. In three 33 metre length lanes, participants had to swim up and down each lane four times, before moving under the ropes to the next lane, again completing four lengths and so on in the final lane. The problem with this were, firstly, that there was no seeding in terms of swimming times, so slower swimmers were mixed in the pool with faster swimmers, and secondly there was no particular guidance as to how to complete the four lengths. So some swam up and down while others swam clockwise around the lane, meeting other swimmers head on. It was therefore almost impossible to get a steady rhythm and trying to get around the slower swimmers was fatiguing, and with four or five abreast a lane, sometimes impossible. This should be improved in future events because it gets the whole race off to a bad start. Kelly swam particularly well and overtook lots of slower swimmers but for Jean, who 400m would normally take between 8 and 9 minutes outside of a race scenario, this was a frustratingly slow 12 minutes. Thankfully this could be made up on the cycle and run sections.
Shakespeare Country: Born in Latin, Died in English
Having taught English, Media and Theatre Studies for over ten years at a Sixth Form College in the 1980s and 1990s, Jean regularly used to bring students to Stratford Upon Avon for theatre trips related to their A Level studies. Stratford Upon Avon is the place where Shakespeare was born, we think on or around 23 April because he was baptized on 26 April 1564. He grew up in the market town, probably attending its famous Kings New School, a Grammar School, where classical Latin was the main language by Royal decree. He married Anne Hathaway aged eighteen and having three children together. Between 1585 and 1592 (his lost years) he moved to London, varying his movements between Oxford, London and Stratford. By 1599 his company had constructed The Globe theatre, and he also bought New Place in 1597, the second largest house in Stratford, also investing in the Parish tithes. What continues to draw people to the town today is the combination of the plays and poetry, which are taught to children in school as compulsory elements of the curriculum and the number of intriguing aspects of Shakespeare’s life that remain difficult to resolve. Not least, did one man write all these works of genius and change the face of the English language, so much so that it is said Shakespeare was born in Latin but died in English, as his funery monument has engraving in English language terms, and even more provocative, a curse against moving his bones. And historians have puzzled over why, having left her little else, did he bequeath his wife his ‘second best’ bed.
Shakespearean Sports and Pastimes
There are many references to games and pastimes in the plays and poetry, some that we would recognise, like archery that were the principle skill in battle at the time that were endorsed as compulsory by several Kings and Queens and to prioritise this others, like football, were banned as too violent. Backgammon, bowls, chess and games of strategy, ultimately invasion games, were also important for battle, politics and war. Others, like bat-fowling were more obscure. This was a sports practiced at dusk to catch bats but also as a reference to con men, who appearing to have dropped a valuable item, would ask the apprentice of a shop at about dusk to light a candle, whereupon when the apprentice’s back was turned would steal from the store. So bat–fowling was also a term for cheating. Flipping the toad was an even crueler form of blood sport practiced by young boys who would place the unsuspecting toad on a long plank of wood before using their cricket bat hit the other end to propel their victim to a spectacularly high, and ultimately fatal, final journey. Some of the richness of the language appearing in the plays is reflected in these terms.
The cycle route took us through some fantastic Warwickshire scenery in and around Stratford itself, and the villages of Charlecote, with its beautiful park and quaint village buildings. The run took us along the towpath where leisure cruises were perhaps bemused to see people working quite so hard in their Sunday morning leisure. Kelly finished in 1.13 and Jean 1.33, both of which they were happy with, considering the pool was quite so crowded. So, if you were thinking of challenging yourself with a triathlon, this is a very supportive and friendly way to complete a ‘bucket-list’ event. Why not #TriLikeMe? It is perhaps one of the most historic venues for a triathlon in the calendar and UK Triathlon is celebrating its 25th year so there’s no better time to sign up! Others like the Royal Windsor triathlon have been going for 29 years, so there’s something for all abilities.
As regular readers of the blog will be aware, jjheritage prides itself on being historians and project managers who take on new sporting challenges each year. Joanna and Jean have both run the London Marathon, and The Great North Run and Jean has swum a mile in the Great North Swim, in Lake Windermere as well as smaller challenges such as the Serpentine swim, covered in a previous blog post.
This year’s sporting challenge involves Jean, and her niece Kelly who ran the London Marathon last year, completing the Stratford Upon Avon Sprint Triathlon, on 19th May a 400m pool swim, 18 kilometre cycle and 5 kilometre run. In order to prepare for this, Jean and Kelly will take part in the Nuneaton Tri Club Aquathon on 5 May with a 400m pool swim and a 5k run. This will help us to practice our transitions between water and land.
Triathlon as a sport
The rise of triathlon comes off the back of the rise in running marathons, and it is interesting to note that more people have now run marathons in the last twenty years than at previous points in history, paradoxically because our lives are becoming more sedentary and we have the time and leisure in which to train, aided by better nutrition and training aids. Triathlon is defined as a three-discipline sports event containing swimming, cycling, and running. This is a continuous event without a rest. The triathlon can be an individual or team ‘relay’ event over varying distances. A relatively new innovation, triathlon developed as a way of providing challenging track training, back in the 1920s in France called variously ‘Les trois sports’, ‘La Course des Débrouillards’, and ‘La course des Touche à Tout.’ The first modern tri was hosted in 1974, at Mission Bay, San Diego, California, USA. The San Diego Track Club sponsored the event and the triathlon then comprised a 10 km run, 8 km cycle, and 500 m swim, with the first Ultra "Ironman" triathlon in Oahu, USA in 1978 (3.8 kilometer (2.4 mile) swim / 180.2 km (112 mi) bike / 42.2 km (26.2 mi) run).
In 1989, the International Triathlon Union (ITU) was founded in Avignon, France, and the first official world championships were held. The official distance for the triathlon was set at a 1500 m swim, a 40 km cycle, and a 10 km run—taken from existing events in each discipline already on the Olympic program. This standard distance is used for the ITU World Cup series and was also featured at the Sydney Olympic Games, when Triathlon was first featured, having been given International Olympic Committee recognition in 1989. Triathlon races are held over four distances, known as sprint, Olympic, long course, and ultra. There are also para-tri events and world championships. So how have Jean and Kelly been training?
Training for our first Triathlon
Realistically, Kelly will go for good time in the Sprint event and Jean will look just to complete the event. First of all we began eight weeks before the race, making sure that we were covering each of the individual distances that we would need to complete in the race and, where possible, going slightly beyond that distance. We have also used a technique called ‘brick’ training to prepare for the transition from cycling to running, when the legs can feel heavy because blood has been pumping to cycling muscles rather than running muscles so this has involved short transitional intervals of ten minutes running and ten minutes cycling. At this stage we wont have to worry about open water swimming, so the techniques for the pool mainly involve coping with race conditions and other competitors. Mainly, by swimming at race pace, we are focusing on keeping breathing and stroke smooth.
As Jean is not a very confident cyclist, buying her first new bike for 25 years to complete the event, we’ve benefitted from the Race Rapid Club’s use of Mallory Park circuit to cycle in a traffic free environment to put the miles in our legs which costs £5 each session. Race Rapid are also hosting a number of short Tri events on Wednesday evening in May in order to facilitate those who are new to the sport or want to hone their transitions the first being 15 May swim a 200m open water (lake), bike - 5 miles and run - 1.5 miles. Maybe those of you who live locally and want to try the sport will see us there?
Compared to the first London Marathon in 1981, where fewer than 300 of the 6,300 finishers were women, 44% of the 414,168 people who applied for the 2019 ballot applicants were female. There has been a general rise in marathon completions by first timers, as much as a first time ‘bucket list’ target, as amongst regular runners. It looks like triathlon is following that trend as it is estimated that 1% of the world population will now complete the distance. However, along with obstacle races such as Tough Mudder, and other endurance events this marks a general rise in experiential events and the shorter distances are a way of attracting the first time athlete. So we will check in with you after 19 May to let you know how we got on in Stratford Upon Avon.
Posts written by Jean or Joanna.