First Triathlon at 57 years young – Part 1 from the trainer

Caroline MacKinnon is a mother of three who runs a business in Wandsworth selling school uniform.

I met her when I was working for British Military Fitness (BMF) from 2005-2008 as she was one of the Wandsworth 9.30am group. I didn’t really know her that well as most of the time when the class starts you call people by their bib number so one week she was “Number 27” and the next “Number 39”.

I gradually started to leave BMF in 2008. When splitting from my now ex-wife I realised that if I ever got injured I’d receive no pay from them if I was unable to work and being on my own I’d have no other financial help. I had to focus my efforts on building a business that would keep a roof over my head if the worst happened. On setting up my boot camp (aiming to get other instructors in to teach) in Richmond I had to say goodbye to the much-loved Wandsworth BMF group.

As this got more succesful the less BMF classes I could do. At one point I was Lead Instructor for Richmond Park, Old Deer Park and Bushy Park and running my boot camps and personal training. When BMF asked me to start another evening class in Bushy Park, I had to leave. Dividing myself between these 3 areas was tough but I had to concentrate on my own business. A difficult decision but a few years back I made a huge decision to terminate my 22 year RAF contract (job until 2017) and go it alone so this wasn’t as hard I thought.

Around this time I’d managed to pick up some more clients and one of them was Caroline. She was 53, had tried weight watchers and BMF but never seemed to get results. Now I loved teaching BMF but at the same time I believed it wasn’t for everyone…Caroline was one of these people. She’d pick up injuries from the classes as they are quite fast and potentially dangerous. My approach to getting people fitter is to give them something tough to do, just outside their comfort zone and give them adequate rest so they can go again. This isn’t the BMF way, it isn’t the military way…you are putting them under stress so that they have to deal with it to progress. The problem is humans will deal with physical stress in 3 ways by either improving, getting injured or finding every excuse to skiive, stop or not go back.

Caroline met me for my 90 minute consultation and said she felt a weight lift off of her shoulders. I had given her the basics in simple terms but said it’s all about working out the best ways to progress at a speed that she can cope with. Gone went the faddy diets and in 10 weeks Caroline saw results. Whenever I train her I am impressed by her attitude to ‘Just Do It’. She said it’s down to the trust she has in me that I will never give her something to do that I don’t believe she can do. I have learnt a lot from teaching her over the years especially from the open feedback she gives. It makes our bond stronger and therefore makes me a better trainer.

Now in four years we’ve done a hell of a lot of sessions and to bring variety to each session is tough so because of clients like Caroline I’ve become a kettlebell instructor then an advanced kettlebell instructor. A Boxercise instructor to an advanced Boxercise instructor. I needed to find new ways to ‘entertain’ my clients…she is part of the reason for my love of the Bulgarian bag! She loves watching weightlifting on TV and gets excited when they are doing the ‘clean and jerk’ or the ‘snatch’…”I do them” she says to her husband Charles with glee! I’ve used her in some of my ‘advent challenges’ challenging you to beat her ‘4 minute plank’.

2012 approaches and I started talking about triathlons. Months go by and the thought never occurs to me to mention it to Caroline until another clients says “I used to swim”. I mention trying a ‘Super Sprint’ triathlon (400m swim, 10km bike, 2.5km run) but she unfortunately declines. My very next client was Caroline so the subject is approached and she says “If you think I can then yes!”.

She signed herself up for the HSBC Triathlon at Eton. Her friends call her mad, the same set of friends who have said “you’re supposed to get fatter the older you get”, reasons some people cave in and listen to those around them but not Caroline who sees this as another challenge.

I’ve already booked my place for ‘My First Triathlon’ (London Triathlon) but it fell after the HSBC one. So to help Caroline with hers and to not be outdone, I sign up to The Concorde Triathlon for experience. Blog is here.

We set out a plan which involves her being able to achieve the Super Sprint distances and then add in some ‘brick’ sessions so she can manage more. In one session she got on her bike, rode, got off her bike, ran, got on her bike, rode, got off her bike, ran, got on her bike, rode, got off her bike, ran. We topped this off with a mini triathlon on the Wednesday before the actual race where she swam 300m+ in Tooting Lido, ran outside in her dripping wetsuit to meet me who’d set up her transition in the nearby Tooting Bec for her to ride a couple of laps and then run a lap. She was ready!

The morning of the HSBC Triathlon came and I got there with Leeson and Sean, 2 guys I’d roped into doing the Olympic Distance Relay  (1500m swim, 44km bike and 10km run) with me. Leeson is a very keen cyclist, had a £6000 bike and recently lost a shedload of bodyfat, Sean was once ranked top 3 in Europe as a swimmer and me? Well. I’m not a bad runner. On looking at last years times we set ourselves a goal of a top 10 finish.

Sean set off with 68 others for 2 laps of the 750m course with Leeson and I waiting in transition. As you can imagine with everyone in wetsuits and matching swim caps, you cannot tell who’s who but we were confident that he was near the front. 24 minutes 36 seconds later (joint 9th) he came sprinting past people heading towards us to handover the timing chip (our relay baton) to Leeson.

Once the chip was on our cyclist’s leg, he was off running out of transition to the ‘Bike Out’ sign. As well as the top 10 finish we’d agreed that we all had to finish with ‘nothing left’…Sean had done this as he was breathing heavily and had tired arms. After a few minutes we headed out to the bike course to cheer on Leeson during his 8 laps. The worrying thing about having a cyclist in a relay team is the thought of punctures as a having one would basically mean race over in terms of our competitive target. For what seemed an eternity Leeson had not passed until thankfully his distinctive Red and white outfit went whizzing past.

We were able to time his laps and started to recognise the people before him so we could gauge each lap. With 2 laps to go I got ready for my 10km run. As mentioned in my Marlow 3km Swim blog, I sustained a ‘dead leg’ from someone landing on it before the race started and through bad recovery and training this had now become an Achilles injury/pain. I was nervous and excited as I got ready to run for 2 reasons, nervous because of the injury and nervous and excited because of what Sean had told me earlier. Sean said “Do you know of Tim Don?”, “Yes” I replied. Sean then smiled and said “Good, because you’re racing him”. We laughed and I said it’ll be fine as long as he doesn’t lap me. If you haven’t clicked on the link, Tim Don was World Triathlon Champion in 2006 and regularly pulls out 31 minute 10kms! I though all will be good as long as we don’t leave transition together.

We saw Leeson coming in through ‘Bike In’ and jog over to our racking point. Bike on the rack, leg out and I proceeded to take the chip off of his leg and stick it on to mine. A couple of seconds later and I started to make my way out of transition WITH Tim Don…Oh balls!!! Within 50 metres of leaving he was already 20 metres ahead! I thought about my own race and kept to a steady pace of just under 6 min/miles and as you can see he was leaving me for dust!

The run route was 4 laps of a 2.5km route up and down the banks of the famous Eton Lake. Lap 1 was fast with 2 and 3 gradually getting slower for me to try to finish strong. Along the route I overtook loads of people in ‘Trisuits’ as they’d done the full triathlon. All I could think of was in a week’s time I’ll be shuffling along like them at The London Triathlon. Some of them looked like they were doing great and I had to work hard to catch some however, others seemed to be in pain, stopping to stretch out cramped calves and quads. I saw Tim fly up and down the laps getting closer and closer but fortunatley I’d manage to keep him at bay even though he’d eaten up 2/3 of a lap!!! 38 minutes dead and I crossed the finish line, 2hrs 17mins 27secs after Sean had set off on his swim. We later found out that we’d come 7th, quite a way behind 6th but not far ahead 8th. Mission accomplished!

Full results are here.

Anyway, back to Caroline, she’d arrived and saw part of my run and headed to register. By the time we’d had lunch and a cheeky post race Guinness, her and her sister Sophie had got their bikes racked up and were putting on their wetsuits.

I was getting nervous, probably more nervous than she was. After a bit of transition coaching I said to Caroline to simple “enjoy your race”. I then chatted to her husband Charles and daughter Alice. They were immensely proud and Charles even said that he’d been here with his sons when they were rowing, many years ago and if someone had told him then that he’d be back here X number of years later supporting his wife in a triathlon, he’d never had believed them.

They got into the lake and 5 minutes later they were off. Within a minute one women and turned back and another had waved for help from a member of the rescue team. I was worried but had faith in her and kept my eyes on the swimmers. I kept looking towards the rear of the field after all she is in her 50’s and doing her first triathlon. As approximatly half the field were out of the water Sean said “there she is”. I thought how could he tell as all the swimmers looked the same but he pointed her out running towards her bike in T1 (Transition stage 1).

I was impressed and couldn’t believe that she was out already. Goooooooooooo Caroline! STOP Caroline as she ran about 10 metres past her bike. She turned round, found it and then cracked on with getting out of her wetsuit and onto her bike. In two and a half minutes she was out of there and on her bike. As she set off she even had time to wave to her support team!

Off she went to do 2 laps of the 5km course with her younger sister in tow. Her sister is a keen cyclist and is heading to India on a charity ride and although we hadn’t thought about a competition between the two suddenly the support teams were taking virtual bets! One lap down and Sophie had caught her and was ahead as predicted but Caroline wasn’t that far back. We headed back to watch down on now T2. In came Sophie and 90 secconds later in came Caroline. Sophie left transition with Caroline not far behind.

It was just one lap of the 2.5km course so we made our way to the finish line and waited to see who would be the victor! 16m21s later we had our answer, Caroline had done it, she’d clawed back the deficit and at the same time entertain the audience by flashing most of them.

She crossed the line in 57mins 55secs, just 5 secs ahead of her sister and could now call herself a triathlete. She was tired, very tired, she’d left everything on the battlefield just as we’d done many times in training. Caroline kicked ass, especially her own. She’d surprised me and herself. She said to me as she was catching her breath that she’d never been in a swimming race, or a bike race or a running race…what an inspiration. She’d finished in 69th position out of 105 men and women. The rest of her amazing results are here. She said she now has something to beat next year!

We had an amazing day at the HSBC Triathlon as many other people did, especially families. I saw kids from the age of 4 upwards enter the Scootathlon where they do a 400m lap on a scooter, then a bike finishing off with a run. I saw a family enter the relay where the Mum did the swim, someone else did the bike and the Dad did the run enabling them to hand the kids over during the bike stage. There was a duathlon for non-swimmers and in our relay team we had 3 friends do one event each. There’s something for everyone. Why not look into it for 2013…it’s fun!

The day, in my opinion belongs to Caroline MacKinnon, the 57 year old Triathlete who went home to a bottle of Champagne and a pizza!!

Well done Caroline!

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Dom says:

    Tremendous blog, and well done Caroline. I’ll be 50 in 2015 and reading stuff like this and Stuart’s Ironman tweets is making me seriously consider a three year plan to join in. I joined BMF just as you were leaving Stuart and caught a few of your sessions. Bring it on (maybe!).

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