Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fearing my first

“Fear is a great motivator” a friend once told me, and it has certainly proved true on many occasions in my life. Most generally it’s when I’ve left studying for exams or completing various Masters’ thesis/assignments until the last minute before they are due.

So following true to form, I’m once again motivated by fear. I’ve really have to get a wriggle on as I don’t have long now.
My first triathlon for the French season is in 3 weeks….eeeekkk! Have I been putting in the hard yards and nailing my training? Ah, no. Have I been swanning around Paris, drinking wine, eating cheese and doing the occasional training session? Oui.

To be fair it took almost two months for my bike to arrive, only to get a busted wheel on my first ride, and the fact that I take 8 hours of French lessons a week cuts into my available time. I’m not making excuses, but I have come to realise that, like with a many things here in Paris, I’ve had to make some adjustments. Things are simply different here, and I’m living a different lifestyle as a result.

However, this doesn’t stop the fact that I’ll be lining up at the Etamps Triathlon on 1 May 2011 feeling pretty underdone. Although at least I can say that I am now a fully fledged member of the Fédération Française de Triathlon. Having this membership means that I have been assessed as medically fit to compete in multi-sports. Yes, you know by now that the French bureaucracy required me to visit a doctor, have a check up and have them attest to the fact that I’m A-OK to compete.

My licence number ends in "AUS" - love it!

One of the benefits of this membership, however, is that I don’t have to pay for any public liability insurance as part of my entry fee. Given that triathlon is a multi-sport discipline, this means it also applies to any swimming, running or cycling events I want to compete in as well. 

No…I’m not trying to distract you from the matter at hand by bombarding you with administrative detail…hmmm, perhaps I’m becoming more French than I realise.

Getting to the pool has been the most challenging aspect of my training, not to mention the most frustrating. Although my new found Parisian zen patience means that swimming alongside the French and their love of slow breast stroke, kicking me in what would be my k-nackers if I had some, makes me think that it is just another way of additional practice for the open water frenzy that a triathlon start can be.

After being closed for a period of three weeks for its annual clean last month (not an excuse), I was able to get to my local 50m pool – Piscine Keller. By Parisian standards, Keller is meant to be up there as one of the better pools in Paris. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice, but it’s no Melbourne Sports & Aquatic Centre. Having said that, it has a retractable roof so in summer it will nice, and it is open most nights until 10pm, and in summer it will be 11pm, that’s cool if you fancy a late night dip. Although it doesn’t open until 7am, which will then be 8am in summer. Just another example of one of my many lifestyle adjustments.

My Velib station
To get to the pool I take a Vèlib. Very lucky for me, a 20 second walk from the front door of my apartment there is a Vèlib station, which is where you can hire bike for free for the first half hour* (*only after a number of provisos, quid pro quos, terms & conditions, attestations, memberships, cheques, activations, validations, etc.  - otherwise it is €1 for regular folk). So I hike it down at 6:45am on my 3 speed heavy Vèlib, handbag and lunch in the front basket and swim gear in a pack on my back. For some amusement, this morning I tried to race a guy on a road bike who was clipped in. I beat him, but that’s only because he fell at the lights when this van edged him off the road. I asked if he was ok, but he was too angry with the driver, so I cycled around him and continued on my merry Vèlib way.

There is only one way to describe protocols at Parisian pools – weird! No footwear, other than thongs, is allowed to worn basically beyond the entry turnstile. To actually reach the communal, yes communal, lockers I have to enter a double-sided changing ‘closet’. I enter through a door on one side, change, then exit the door on the other side of the closet to put my belongings in the locker. However, most people have their swim gear on underneath, so often people are changing at the lockers.
Piscine Keller

I then have worked out that the most convenient thing for me to do is to take with me my post-swim shower gear, as well as my training gear on my way to the pool so as to hasten the return journey. En route to the pool, it is obligatory to take a quick communal shower prior to swimming. Then, I climb the stairs, which feels a bit strange that a pool would be upstairs, and walk through a shallow pit of water which is to wash my feet.

Vending machine for all your needs
I’ve finally arrived at the pool. No one is to swim without a swimming cap, men included. If you forget – not a problem, just buy caps, goggles, etc. from the vending machine down stairs. The lanes are not designated by speed, nope, it’s a free for all. So you have people like me, and some other triathletes I’ve spotted (by their complementary swim cap from tri events), trying to swim freestyle at some sort of pace, having to battle with the slow breaststrokers.  I even managed to see one lady swimming with white sports socks the other day, yes, white sports socks, god only knows why.

I went along last week on a Thursday morning which proved to be the worst morning of the three where it opens at 7am. Stade Francais, the Parisian premiere rugby side train there on Thursday, so the pool is down to two lanes and you can’t use any pool aids (paddles and flippers). Hmmm, didn’t realise it was the Stade Francais boys, might have to go back and persevere with the session in that case.

On Tuesday and Wednesday though, all the lanes are available and so I swim in the priority lane for flippers and paddles, mind you I don’t use my flippers. I only swim in this lane because it is the fastest and most free flowing. Until of course I get to the other end of pool where an underwater spotlight is badly positioned and shines directly into my eyes and feels like I’m about to have a head-on collision with some sort of underwater exploration vessel.

Oh and of course I traverse the lanes in the opposite direction to what I’m use to. Going up on the right hand side and down on the left. A little strange at first and my brain still has to make the adjustment sometimes when I hop into the pool initially.

Once I’m done, I wade through the shallow foot washing pool and back down the stairs to the communal showers. Now this is not very convenient if you’re a female, whilst boys on the other hand can still generally have a good wash being in their budgies.  So I’ve now determined that the handicapped cubicle showers are the way to go for me.

Back to the lockers, grab my things, change in the double sided closet and exit like Superman in reverse, dressed for the working day. Unfortunately for me there aren’t any power points at the communal mirrors, so I have to accept that my hair on swim days is not going to be the best (another, although unappreciated, lifestyle change). There are however, hand dryer- looking contraptions which are designed for you to dry your hair. They do a reasonable job, so at least I don’t turn up to the office looking like a drowned rat.

It feels nice to be back in the pool, but make no mistake; the fear that my first tri is going to hurt plenty has not subsided in the slightest.



  1. Love it!!! It is so French!! U can see why the Europeans are not such good swimmers! I bet u will be out in front in the swim! U will be surprised! Brett

  2. Hilarious. More please.....

  3. Love yr blogs taliya. always so funny as u work yr way thru a foreign country. I think Im with u and would be using the handicapped Im sure u will do fantastic with yr triathlon. Kick those Parisien ass'!! All the best..xx