If I go to a traditional triathlon it is a different atmosphere altogether. At the start line you are confronted with a wall of chiselled featured middle aged men, eyeing the water with a steely determination. (There are women and other age groups, but look at the demographic breakdown of any established triathlon and it is predominately male 35 - 49. Together we can change this, folks). There is very little banter and humour and the atmosphere is charged with testosterone. At the start of the swim people will swim over one another to get a better position and the ensuing melee has sometimes given me panic attacks. These very "nice", polite middle aged men turn feral once they hear the starting gun fired. God knows what they are like in the boardrooms up and down the country.
Avon Tyrrel is a different atmosphere altogether; the swim start to the ultra triathlons is the utmost in politeness with competitors shaking hands, hugging and letting other competitors get in the water before them. During the cycle sections and the run, we happily chatter, share food and drink and give lots of encouragement to one another. I am still in touch with the guys from the year of my Triple Iron and many others from this strange clique.
Why the difference? All of us came through the alpha male supercharged triathlon route, yet none of those aggressive attributes can be found when we race at endurance level. My theory is that it is all about humility. No one can approach any endurance triathlon or a 100 mile run with anything but humility. (By the way, Rob gets this. He came second in his 100 mile run in the New Forest. I have managed to avoid speaking to him ever since.) When you know you are going to swim 7 miles, cycle 336 and run 78 miles you give those distances the utmost respect. You know that you are attempting something that may allow you to compete, but could spit you out at any time. For a short period of your life you find your hold on finishing an event to be very precarious. You don't know if your amazing body (we all have an amazing body - please treasure it) will allow you to do this. You don't know if distance will grind you to a halt. You don't know if your mind will just stop supporting you and will suddenly, and it is very sudden, make you stop. This stuff is way bigger than me and I just trust that today may be my day.
I have a magnificently huge ego. I am now persuaded that I don't make the sun come up or go down at the beginning and end of the day. I know that there are some things that are bigger than me. One February I had picked my way across Striding Edge on Helvellyn and I stood at the base of the final steep climb up to the summit plateau. Nothing hard or technical. But at that moment in time as I stood on my own looking up at the track ahead, I felt so infinitesimally small, so insignificant - a fleeting visitor who was briefly allowed safe passage on a mountain. And so it is with ultra events. I am like a guest at a party way out of my social comfort zone. I won't be able to stay for long but if things go well, I may have a glass of orange, a quick dance and make a few friends. I hope the Arch to Arc allows me to briefly join with it. I hope it smiles on me in September. I am only asking it to look out for me once. I will give it the utmost respect.