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Runner, writer and occasional breaststroker, Rhalou, dons the Lycra and tries her hand at triathlon.

As a running fanatic, I’ve always been loyal to my favourite sport and thought triathlons sounded a bit daft (sorry tri friends). But, mostly because I wanted the hot body that training for all three pursuits seems to produce, I also secretly toyed with the idea of entering one. Spurred on by my desire to look sexy in hotpants, earlier in the year I entered the Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlon with my friend Susie.

Although I knew what triathlons entailed, I hadn’t considered the implications of taking on a sport that requires so much bloody kit. As a runner, I’m used to slinging on my trainers and dashing out the door. Triathlons are ridiculously complicated. Not only do you need a wetsuit alongside your running kit, but you have to acquire a bicycle and a helmet too; ludicrous.

Rhalou and Susie tri girls

After taking my usual lackadaisical approach to training, a couple of months before race day I suddenly panicked and set about honing my pins to trisexual perfection. Determined not die on my first tri, I even got myself a swim coach. Although I love running and I’m confident on a bike, swimming is a whole different ballgame. I could just about summon up breast stroke, but I was incapable of submerging my head without crying (I hate to ruin good make up) and the temptation to drop out was strong.

A couple of swimming sessions at Swim4tri put an end to my fears and I even managed to master the art of front crawl. After running to the pool a few times, I discovered that swimming really benefits my overworked leg muscles. I also borrowed a tri suit off my cool friend Katie and felt surprisingly sexy in the Lycra onesie.

When race day finally rolled around, Susie and her ace boyfriend Shaun picked me up from Windsor and we set off for Eton Dorney Lake. Upon arrival the tri waves were already well under way. With precariously balanced bike racks, mountains of kit and hundreds of other women queuing up to get involved, it all seemed like a massive ball ache and I wandered if it was worth it. But as we approached the bag drop, I was struck by the incredibly laid back atmosphere. Although my fellow competitors were clearly busting their guts out, everyone seemed relaxed and I felt instantly at ease.

Katie, Rhalou and Susie

While dropping off my bike and dumping my gear in the transition section, I chatted with fellow competitors. There was a real sense of camaraderie, which I suspect might have had something to do with the lack of male competitors. We were all in this together and no one was going to elbow each other in the face to get the top spot. Feeling slightly more confident, I waded into the water in my onesie and prayed for forgiveness from the tri Gods.

Even with swimming lessons and the aforementioned prayers, the first stage still sucked. Flapping around in the water I swallowed so much of the lake, that I quickly gave up on the front crawl I had worked so hard to master and stuck to breast stroke. But when a floating race marshal threatened to make the last one out the water buy him lunch, I mysteriously sped up, beating a few knackered ladies in the process, and finished in 12:29.

Next up was the cycle; four times anti-clockwise around the lake on a reassuringly flat path. Despite riding a hybrid, I felt confident and happy whizzing around the water and enjoyed picking off competitors on much fancier road bikes. It was great to see Shaun cheering in the crowd as I cycled round (I knew boys were useful for something). I could have happily kept going and finished in a comfortable 56:55.

Rhalou and Susie

It was a blessing to complete the trilogy with my favourite pursuit; the running section. By the time I hit the road it was baking hot and my competitors looked exhausted, but I felt the strongest I had all day and skipped along the path grinning like an idiot. I had my doubts about the out and back route, but was glad of the chance to high-five my friend Katie running the opposite way, and whoop like a baboon when the amazing Susie lapped me to finish in seventh place overall. I didn’t cough up a lung or come close to Susie’s inspirational efforts, but I felt strong and comfortable, finishing in a not too shabby 28:55.

Having entered The Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlon on a whim with reservations about the sport and the concept of gender specific events, it was a pleasure to be proven wrong on both counts. I thoroughly enjoyed race day (apart from the swimming bit) and racing alongside so many lovely ladies was the perfect introduction to the sport. After such a great tri taster, I can’t wait to don a Lycra onesie and go back for more.

Having recently entered the Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlon in pursuit of a hot tri body despite not owning a bicycle or knowing how to swim, I was given the opportunity to meet my cycle idol Victoria Pendleton. Check out my interview with the Olympic cycling goddess and keep your eye out for my tri training update, coming soon.

Victoria Pendleton

Rhalou and Victoria best friends for life

How have you found the training for the running section of the triathlon?

I’ve really enjoyed running. Since I’ve retired I’ve been doing a lot of running, just to do something different. As a cyclist I wasn’t allowed to run because of risk of injury, so it’s been quite fun doing something completely different. I’ve also been running my dogs a lot, which kills two birds with one stone; they love it, I love it and everyone’s a winner.

What sort of cross training do you do to supplement your training?

Mainly weights as I’m a sprint cyclist, but also I’m a big supporter of doing stability work. Cycling is quite hard on your lower back; if you don’t have strong core muscles it can cause a bit of discomfort in your shoulders and lower back, so I do a lot of Pilates.

How do you stay hydrated?

I think it’s useful to have a drink with a bit of electrolyte in. They can be quite strong, so I tend to dilute them or add coconut water. You’ll absorb more if it’s got a bit of electrolyte or carbs in it. Also don’t worry to much as there are regular on site feed stops so don’t feel like you have to carry loads of bottles and weigh yourself down.

What do you make of the Women’s Tour cycling race?

It wasn’t really my distance being a sprint cyclist, but it’s great that there are opportunities for the road women to really showcase their skills, training and expertise. There’s a massive inequality between male and female events for women cyclists, especially on the road. It’s nice to see they’re getting an opportunity to race in a high profile event for a change. I’m all for it, and for giving younger girls something to aspire to and work towards.

How often do you get treatments?

As a full time elite athlete I used to have a weekly leg and back massage, and probably one or two physio sessions a week which might involve some mild massage relief. I had a lot of acupuncture as well because I found trigger point acupuncture worked really well to relieve muscle tension without having to get into the muscle damage.

If you could only do one fitness or exercise again in your life, what would you choose?

If I could only do one, it would probably be cycling. I like running; I like the fact you can get the intensity in a very short space of time and you have to be totally focused on the moment, but I love the freedom cycling gives you and the areas you can explore, the places you can go and the views you can reach. It gives you an extra element of freedom. I love being outdoors and going to new places.

Victoria Pendleton 2

Victoria looks perfectly calm when Rhalou tries to cup her boob

What do you think of hybrid bikes?

I think hybrid bikes are great for somebody who’s getting into cycling or looking to do this event. It gives you a bit more stability than a road bike would, and for someone who hasn’t ridden with dropped handlebars before it can be a little bit more comfortable. Having a bike that suits more than one scenario is a great place to start and you’re more likely to use it in a lot of different ways, and get more out of it. Also the tires tend to be a bit thicker which will give you stability and more confidence.

What’s the importance of women only events?

The big thing about women only events is the fact that the environment is a lot less intimidating. Having been brought up in male orientated environment my whole life, it’s definitely a different experience. When guys get involved it’s always about how fast you go, and what’s your best time. It all becomes very performance orientated rather than did you enjoy it? Women only is a lot less intimidating. Women are good at banding together and getting their friends involved and making it more than just an event. It becomes a social team, where you pitch in and stick together.

When you’re preparing for an event, do you have any lucky charms or superstitions?

I was very disciplined with the way I approached my training as an athlete; it wasn’t so much superstition, but I had to do everything exactly and precisely, like if I had to do a certain time on the road, then I would make sure that I literally go past that minute. If I go under, then I haven’t done the full time, which is crazy, you’re literally talking maybe 30 seconds on a road ride of two hours! For me it was all about the discipline and doing everything very precisely rather than actual superstition, but it gave me the confidence going into the competition.

Do you ever lack motivation?

As an athlete I never really struggled with motivation, one because it’s my job, and I was lucky and felt very privileged to have it as my job, so it wasn’t like I could pull a sickie for no reason. But also approaching training, I always thought there’s someone in China or Russia who is training today and they’re training harder than me, so they might beat me on race day. I have to do it and I have to do it better than everyone else is doing it right now if I want to go to the line and really stand a chance.

I guess now that translates that if I want to look a certain way, enjoy my food and not feel guilty about what I eat, if you want that, then you have to pitch in; there’s no way of avoiding it. For me, that’s what keeps me motivated. The end result is clear in my mind and that doesn’t come for free, it requires hard work and dedication. I love the discipline anyway; If it’s hard when I push myself, I feel it’s a lot more rewarding than when it comes easily.

What role do you think events like Cycletta play in getting women involved in sport?

The biggest thing for me in inspiring women to get involved and take up sport is about opportunity. If there’s plenty of opportunity, it makes them more possible. I’m a big believer than everybody is good at some sport or fitness activity, they’ve just got to find it. So it’s all about creating as many opportunities that are appealing for you to get involved with. More women only events that really cater for the novice through to the serious is the way forward.

Do you feel any sense of responsibility or duty to the nation to encourage youngsters in particular to get involved in cycling?

I do feel a little bit of responsibility, but for me mostly it comes down to the fact I have had an incredible career and feel like I’ve been really blessed with the opportunity I was given, and what I personally got from sport as a human being. I used to be the most shy, timid child. Sport has given me so much confidence and so many opportunities; that alone is enough for me to encourage people to get involved with sport. I’ve met so many great people and traveled the world and I’ve got so much from it. As someone with a profile through sport, it’s worth me using that platform in order to encourage someone else. I’ll keep trying anyway!

To enter the Shock Absorber WomenOnly Triathlon click here