ETC Positivity Series 1 – Thea Brown

Thea Brown – my Triathlon journey…

The beginnings… SWIMMING… about to turn 50, and overheard a work colleague mentioning his wife was going to swim the ‘Great North Swim’ in Windermere – and thought, I wonder if I could do that, I can swim and I visit that area all the time – so what’s the excuse? Well, hadn’t really done any swimming (other than holidays) since childhood (at least 35 years ago). So before I could wimp out I entered as a ’50th year challenge’ to myself. I visited a local pool, and, this is no lie – swam one length and was out of breath – what was I doing thinking I could swim a mile in a lake, couldn’t even swim in a warm pool. Additionally, I couldn’t swim freestyle with my head in the water or do bi-lateral swimming. So the challenge to myself began – 3 to 5 times a week I went swimming for months, sometimes before work, getting up at 5am to fit it all in. Weight started falling off and I was getting fitter and slowly improving my swimming style. Then as the event drew nearer, I thought I had better get some open water swimming practice in, preferably in a lake. This is when I joined Ely Triathlon Club (ETC) so that I could swim in Mepal, but before I went there I tried out a wetsuit, courtesy of TriSquad – Andy Sole helped me overcome my fear of open water swimming – after he witnessed how scared I was at one of the Cambridge lakes (Histon?). Anyway – with much perseverance he got me round Mepal. Ely Tri Club helped me every week with swimming style and form and their inclusive attitude to all abilities encouraged me onwards. The event day arrived, and I was standing at the side of Windermere with slightly shaky hands adjusting my goggles – countdown – 5,4,3,2,1, horn blasted and 200 of us entered the water. Oh my God, what a shock – arms and legs everywhere, some people gave up after 50 feet, others lost their goggles or ankle chips, but I persevered and got into my own little ‘space’ and concentrated on swimming to the next buoy. I wasn’t very fast (I think it took me 42 minutes), and I did breaststroke a few times, but I made it – I felt absolutely great, the atmosphere was fantastic – this is one of the biggest open water swimming events in Europe (approx 8 to 10,000 people over 3 days). There are varying distances ranging from half mile to 10K so something for everyone. From here, I continued entering open water events, also completing the 3k Fritton Swim, Great East Swim, Rutland and others.


Next…. RUNNING…. as I gained more confidence and lost more weight I participated in other

activities, Insanity classes (very high intensity, fast paced, and yes – sweaty!), ‘core’ training, etc. I have to say ‘core’ training is my favourite. One day, one of my Insanity classes was cancelled and I had all my gear on, so thought I’d try a little run up the road from my house (now bear in mind, that I swore I would NEVER run, and definitely would NEVER cycle!). To my surprise I could run a little bit (as it turned out – 2 miles – a minuscule amount compared to the super marathon runners in our Club), but you have to remember I am definitely NOT built for running!! I never did cross country running at school and only ever remember doing one track event of relay – I hated it! My love was horses, which is what took up most of my time into my teens. Well, as you’ve guessed I kept the running up here and there in little chunks and got to 5k. I now even take my running shoes on holiday with me. My first event that involved running was the Aquathlon at Mepal, a 750 metre swim of 14 mins, followed by 5k at 34 mins I think (slow I know), but a start. Recently, I got below the 30min 5K mark with 00:29:28 mins at the Cambridge Park Run (age graded score of 57:58%), with 408 other runners – this was a big deal for me, as I have been trying for ages to get below 30 mins. I have now started attending the Thursday night running with ETC members, run by Michelle and Kevin – it is hard – but I know I am improving all the time. Everyone is inclusive and encourages each other, we do interval training, track running, street running (excuse the nontechnical terms). I believe I have got up to about 8.5k (not sure exactly), but improving all the time. My aim now is to complete a 10k in the not too distant future.


Next……you’ve got it… CYCLING – Hoorah! My very words to other ETC members were – ‘I will

NEVER do cycling’. Now I’m not exactly sure how or why I decided to give it a go, but my initial

foray was 5 minutes up the road on my husband’s bike, wobbling all over the place and nearly

falling off. Wind the clock forward a bit and for some strange reason I decided to get a bike! My

husband helped me choose one, I went for all the bike fittings, etc, got all the gear and hey presto started cycling on the local roads from my house. Did I mention cleats? – ‘I’m not having cleats on my bike shoes’ I told everyone, but again husband encouraged me, saying I would get more control and it would be easier up hills, etc. So got the cleats. Before I could say ‘I fancy some chocolate instead’, I’d entered a Wiggle Sportive at Newmarket in the Spring (43 miles I think). The day started off with rain and one very nervous cyclist and ended with rain. It was also

absolutely freezing, my hands were numb even borrowing my husbands thick gloves. If the start of the event had been on YouTube you’d all be laughing out loud – we were at the start of the next group, getting our briefing – ‘OK – off you go, take it easy folks, it’s slippery out there’, the briefer said. Then, the minute my front wheel hit the plastic strip on the start line, over my bike and I went! Backside in the air, bike on its side and all the riders behind trying not to pile into me! After a few blue words, off we went…With my husband’s encouragement – alright – most of the comments were ‘get a move on, put some effort in, peddle, peddle, peddle’, I pushed on sadistically I quite enjoyed the event, despite the rain, wind and cold and did get a ‘move on’. I missed the ‘silver’ rating by 2 minutes, but was very pleased with myself cycling amongst regular, experienced cyclists and getting a half decent time. I have since participated in Pedal Norfolk (about 52 miles), Suffolk Sunrise (62 miles, and 2nd in my age group), and recently the Suffolk Spinner (73 miles, the heat at 27/28C was the worst thing). Next is Wiggle Super Series Essex Sportive (51 miles).


Finally……TRIATHLONS !! …….. how could I possibly do a triathlon – I can only do one thing at a time, I’d never get things in the right order, surely I’d miss bits out or go the wrong way. But did I have an excuse now – I could swim, cycle and run a bit and I was a member of a Triathlon club after all! So I entered the Newmarket Spring Tri (apparently suitable for beginners). I got there super early and got a really good spot for my bike in transition. I registered and got my number written on my arm or leg (can’t remember which). Prepared my gear in transition and headed to the small pool to do some warm up lengths. Got in the queue for the pool swim, in line according to speed ability (or perceived ability). Remembered some advice – 70% effort on swim, 80% effort on cycle and 90 to 100% effort on run. So that is what I did. My time was approx 6:20 mins. I ran out of the pool to transition wasting a few minutes putting on a cycle jersey (as it was cold), trying to remember – ‘DON’T TOUCH YOUR BIKE TIL YOUR HELMET IS ON’. Off I went to the mount line, soaking wet and cold, but the adrenalin overtook all that and I knew the route as had driven it the week before. I was a bit nervous to start with, but soon got stuck in, with a time of approx 50 mins for the 22k. When I ran into transition (or hobbled), quickly racked my bike, threw on my running shoes and forgot to move my tri-belt number to the front, soon righted, off I went on legs that didn’t belong to me! I had never felt so disconnected from my legs in my life (well perhaps in a drunken stupor in years gone by), they moved, but must have been set to slow-motion somewhere. Although the run was only 4k, it was very hard after the cycle portion – mainly my own fault because I had not done any ‘brick’ training. But, finished the event in 1hr.26min and 4th in my age group. Half way round the run, I swore I would never do another one – but running through the finish line, thought I might do another one, and got home and promptly entered the Monster Sprint Tri. Next on the agenda is the Ely Sprint Tri.

One of the positives of all this, is that I have also lost three and a half stone so far (couple more to go) and although this journey has not been about my weight it has certainly focused my mind on things other than yo-yo dieting. It also helped me cope with the sadness of seeing my father slowly fade away from a dreadful lung disease – but on a happier note – he was able to see my first medals and see me get fitter before he passed away, which means a great deal to me. He always said to me as a child ‘THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CAN’T’.

So there you have it, maybe I can call myself a Triathlete – maybe, maybe not, but I can certainly say I completed a triathlon or two. Without the help and encouragement of all the brilliant people of Ely Tri Club and associated TriSquad friends I never would have done it. Thanks to everyone, and watch this space! I shall keep on pushing.