Author Helen Croydon has written a book about her transformation from a glamorous party girl to dedicated triathlete. Here she recounts how she braved The London Triathlon for the first time, and how it sowed a seed for an entire lifestyle change.
How I went from being a glamorous party girl to a dedicated triathlete
When I signed up to The London Triathlon in spring 2014 from the safety of my living room it seemed far away enough (4 months) not to feel nervous. Yet.
I didn’t own a road bike. But I had recently invested in a £200 hybrid bike. I was immensely proud of this. To a city girl like me, swapping heels and handbags for a backpack and splash-proof high-viz so I could zip around on a bike was the stuff of Bear Grylls.
I only got a bike because where I live in east London where there are plenty of canals and river paths so I didn’t have to face scary London traffic. One of the reasons The London Triathlon appealed was because the cycling circuit is on closed roads.
As for swimming, I was happy enough splashing around in my heated gym pool once a week (with fluffy towels and hair straighteners in the changing rooms). I’d do a gentle medley of breast-stroke, backstroke and a self-taught version of crawl, which resembled the moves of a drowning monkey. The closest I’d ever been to open water swimming was floating on a lilo off a rented boat in the Cotes D Azures.
Running was something I was more comfortable with. This was only because I’d joined a running club six months previously. I joined as a way to make new friends when I realised all my social circles were moving away and having children. I figured it was about time I too got a social life which didn’t revolve around cocktail bars and fancy restaurants.
It was joining a running club that had ignited a new passion for doing races and outdoor challenges on weekends. I spent my winter ingratiating myself with running club culture, which meant freezing soggy cross country races in waterlogged parks followed by the customary post-race pub trip, covered in mud.
Spending weekends outdoors and socialising in Lycra was so much of an enigma to a glamorous city type like me that I revelled in my newfound toughness. It made me want to push more boundaries and test not only my fitness but my resilience.
It was this spirit of newfound invincibility which led me to signing up to The London Triathlon.
I faced another challenge too. On the day I signed up, all the entries for the ‘standard Olympic’ distance were full. The only category that had spaces was a so-called ‘sub 2’40’ wave, which I concluded must be for speed monsters who probably do triathlons before breakfast.
I hovered over the entry button but entered anyway because even if I got thrown off the course for being too slow, it was better than not competing at all.
But as the August day approached, I became ever more determined to complete my race in two hours and forty minutes. I didn’t follow an official training plan but used common sense. I ran twice a week with my running club so I had base fitness. It was time to work on cycling and swimming.
First, I started spin classes (I was still too scared of cars to cycle on roads). At first these left me with a burning in my chest from breathlessness, but within a few weeks they felt easier. Soon I put in a swim before a spin class. At first I couldn’t swim more than 10 lengths of crawl without a breast stroke break. I invested in a course of five lessons. That was all it took for enough technique to be able to swim 1500m of crawl continuously.
Then I attempted open water swimming. Surprisingly there are many clean lakes and reservoirs around London. I joined one introductory session at Stubbers Lake near Upminster in Essex. Then I joined a Sunday morning session at the West Reservoir in Stoke Newington.
A few weeks before the race, I swapped my hybrid bike for a proper road bike so I could join long rides with friends from run club. My first one was 80km and it left me comatose on the sofa for the afternoon, but like everything else, my body soon adapted.
"I dashed to the cloakroom, retrieved my credit card, bought the first pair I found and then completed the entire race with my credit card wedged in the bra of my trisuit."
On the day of The London Triathlon, I wheeled my bike into the Excel Centre in east London and was blown away by the size of the event. Stalls were giving away freebie samples of flapjacks. I ate too many, believing it might make me faster, and then felt slightly sick.
Just before my race brief, I misplaced my goggles (nerves). I dashed to the cloakroom, retrieved my credit card, bought the first pair I found and then completed the entire race with my credit card wedged in the bra of my trisuit.
The pre-race adrenalin must have done me good because I completed my Olympic distance race in 2’29”!
I was so ecstatic about my performance that I was almost singing ‘2 hours 29’ on my way home on the DLR and that afternoon I celebrated with a huge lunch and cider with friends. After the London Triathlon, I decided that I would focus on triathlon. I enjoyed it more than just running events.
A year later, I went on to qualify to compete for GB in age-group World Championships in Chicago. I still find it hard to believe because I never thought of myself as sporty or tough.
I’ve written a book about my journey from party girl to GB triathlete. The sport has changed my life, not just the fitness but because it has given me mental resilience, confidence that I can get through anything, an affinity with the outdoors and many wonderful friends, who are not half as intimidating and sporty as I once thought they would be!
This Girl Ran: Tales of a Party Girl Turned Triathlete (Summersdale) is out now. £9.99