Can you turn a runner into a triathlete in 8 weeks?


I'm clinging to slippery tiles, fingers rapidly wrinkled, while small children play happily on foam tubes near me. In between the waves of sickness I'm wondering when these spaghetti-like buoyancy aids were invented.

Did they have them when I was young? Was I deprived of the joy they're bringing nearly ever child in this pool? Would I be able to pass as a swimmer now if I'd had one?

These are the thoughts running through my mind as I attempt to come to terms with the fact I've got to run the Windsor Triathlon (do you run one? Do one? Try to tri? I'm not even sure of the terminology) in less than 2 months.

It's day 1 of 62, I've got into the pool for the first time in five years and after 50 metres of what I think is front crawl, but probably more akin to a dying dolphin, I'm coughing up chlorine and panicking. I'm never going to be ready to race a triathlon (OH, RACE. That's it) by June.

It's technology's fault. I've had the Garmin 920XT strapped to my wrist for a couple of months now, and every time I skip past the 'Swim' or 'Triathlon' settings to start a run I feel a pang of guilt. This watch wants to be swimming and cycling too.

So I make a promise to this inanimate object last Sunday as I stand waiting for the start of the Hyde Park 10K race. If I can post a decent time here (the distance of the final leg of an Olympic triathlon), I figure it won't be too hard to add in splashing and spinning to running. The race goes well, I post my third best time ever, and I'm confident I'm fit enough to easily tame this triathlon.

Garmin 920XT

I thought we were friends, Garmin. Stop SWOLFing me.

24 hours later I'm certain I won't. What's worse: the Garmin, which I was sure was going to help me supercharge my swimming, has let me down. It's telling me things about SWOLF and asking me if I want to start drills – I have no idea what's happening. And the pool I'm in is so small there's not even a mode for it on the watch, so the length counting is all wrong.

I flop up and down the posh pond for another 700m in the next hour before calling it a day, my great hopes that the Garmin would somehow give me swimming superpowers sadly not come to fruition.

Help me, magic swimming man

The next day I call in the reinforcements. I head to the London YMCA (where I hear it's fun to stay) where they have dedicated triathlon swimming sessions, praying this will help me pick myself off the ground.

But as I stand on the side of the pool, shivering while impossibly well-built men laugh confidently with one another next to me before plunging into the pool and racing off into the distance, I realise something: my internal equation of 'me being sort of fit from running + fancy gadgetry = easy triathlon' is miles out.

I'm going to need training. Lots of it. Possibly more than I can cram into the time left. So after a harrowing 90 minutes, where it was kindly suggested a few times that I sit out a couple of drills, I slink back home and back to one of my greatest skills: Googling stuff until I find something that makes me feel better and I can forget I was worried in the first place.

I learn that SWOLF isn't an enemy from Doctor Who - it's the metric Garmin came up with (inexplicably a mixture of swimming and golf) to see how efficient you are per length.

I find out how to turn drills off. I learn that I'll need SO MUCH STUFF to do a triathlon (two different kinds of shoes, lubricant to get the wetsuit off more quickly, … there's even a company that specifically makes towels to help you transition between segments) that it's either going to be brilliant fun to try all this stuff out or a horrendous mess that sees me line up dressed as Left Shark for the 1.5KM swim because I've got confused.

And I find someone who might agree to coach me for this event. Speaking on the phone, you can hear the pause when I tell him what's ahead of me. Yes, eight weeks to go. No, I can't do 400m swim yet. Well, I cycle about a mile each day to the station.

So he sends me a few tests to see where I'm at, meaning my entire weekend is taken up with a mini triathlon to find out if I can do this, leading to me sprinting 8 minutes in my local Parkrun before hopping on the bike for another 16 minutes of hell.

While pedalling I realise another two things: I'm going to need a helmet (because you can go really fast on a bike if you push really hard, which is a recipe for tree crashing) and the Garmin Fenix 3, which I've been testing since Friday, needs a brighter screen because I keep looking down to squint at it and forgetting about the road (more on that next week).

Today comes the swim test, followed by a long hill session for the legs. The fact I'm looking forward to the latter, my usually most-dreaded drill, tells me this is going to suck.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.