The agreement with the wife was that yes, I was cool (sort of) to spend a full day out Xmas shopping but before that, I needed to complete a specific training session. Once the session was over, we would head out shopping.
Back in those days I was competing in Ironman triathlons and the lads used to do some pretty-heavy content sessions. In the week before Xmas, our swim squad, led by coach Graeme Brewer (two-time Olympic swimmer, Bronze medal winner in the 200 freestyle from Moscow Olympics in 1980 and Captain of the Australian swim team), would complete a session of 100 x 100m.
That’s a 10 kilometre swim set for the maths geniuses.
For those not familiar with the geography of Sydney, I used to live in Manly, but my swim squad was in Nth Sydney which was about a 10-kilometre drive from home. I trained in an indoor 25 metre pool, but we always did the 10K pre-Xmas session in an outdoor 50m pool which was in a suburb called Lane Cove - a 17 kilometre drive from my house.
Never being completely satisfied with just the pool session, I asked temporary Manly resident, Czech triathlete Jan Rehula* to join in the session with me (please read below on Jan Rehula before proceeding with the story)
*My boss at the beach in Manly answered a knock on the Lifeguard office door one morning and opened it to find a square jawed dude who spoke very little English asking about triathlon in the area. Ching (my boss) said that it would be best if he spoke to me as I would be able to help him. The guy’s name was Jan (pronounced yarn) Rehula, he was from Czechoslovakia and was living in Manly for two years to study English. When we first met, I thought he would need to be studying English for twenty-two years as his English was rubbish to the point of being laughable.
I introduced Jan to our triathlon club and he began to do sessions with us. He did the long rides and runs on weekends and a heap of sessions through the week, he also joined our swim squad. Jan was an awesome swimmer and from a triathlon perspective he was already very good, having won the triathlon event at the World University Games and he was pretty much Czech’s best triathlete. I used to drive to the pool four mornings a week and would collect Jan along the way. His English was so crap (even after six months) he would always get his hellos and his good-byes around the wrong way. Jan would ring me in the evening and begin the conversation with ‘good-bye Woody’ will you collect me in the morning?
Moving back to the pre-Xmas swim session, I asked Jan if he wanted to run to the pool do the swim session and run home. Total session was a 34 kilometre run and 10 kilometre swim.
That’s a decent mornings work and I would be able to shop all day without guilt. Jan agreed to the session; of course he did - he always agreed to the session.
On the morning of this epic run / swim / shop session I walked out of the house at 4am and Jan was waiting for me. He was wearing only a pair of budgie smugglers, (it was summer in Sydney and it is/was warm - but please!!) he had clear lens Oakley sunglasses on (it was still dark), he had his swim kit in a small Arena back pack and on his feet were a pair of roller blades.
‘Good-bye Woody’ he says, ‘I think rollerblade today not run’.
We set off and Jan was just cruising along in the bus transit lane on one of the busiest roads in Sydney in the budgies, back-pack and sunglasses (I was running on the footpath). The big Czech was deadest ripped so he looked magnificent in the early morning light and I would’ve loved to hear the conversations in the cars that were travelling in the opposite direction.
We arrived at the pool after about 90 mins, the swim set took three hours and we set off for home.
The roads were way busier then and after five hours of exercise the Czech was even more shredded. Now in a full sweat he commanded the bus lane all the way back to the northern beaches. The weather was now quite warm and is was a bit of a grind to get it all done. Jan said his ‘hellos’ and rolled off into the distance, no doubt headed for bed and decent rest.
I opened the front door and there was Caroline ‘Ok, all done, let’s go.’ she said.
I can’t remember if I even grabbed something to eat, but I basically turned around and headed out the door. God help me, I thought, this was going to hurt.
A deal is a deal and one thing was certain, the shopping session set was possibly going to be way harder than the run / swim set. Shop after shop was ticked off. Late in the day I was struggling big time, my eyes were hanging out of my head and I was beginning to slouch and slur my words.
I distinctly remember hearing someone asking Caroline if her grandfather was OK.
Very late in this nightmare, whilst heading back from the loo I passed a store that sold furniture. At the front they were displaying a large sofa and I was so shattered I thought I might just sit down for a bit. This particular store was massive and the foot traffic in and out was super heavy. I don’t remember what happened, but I dropped off to sleep on the sofa.
The grip from the two burly security guards was stronger than I believed it needed to be as I was frog marched off to the shopping centre security office. Apparently sleeping in store is frowned upon and store management (obviously thinking I was a homeless vagrant) had notified the authorities of me and demanded my removal from the premises immediately. Only when I was able to use both hands was I able to show the two unemployable buffoons (sorry, security guards) that indeed my wife was in store and, seeing all the missed calls, was looking for me.
‘I was just about to call the Police’ she said, when she arrived to collect me. ‘No problem, they found me’, I said.
Australian Olympic kayaker (Bronze medal K2 1000 Los Angeles 1984 and multiple Australian open single ski champion) Barry Kelly once said to me when I was asking him about both his training and also his limited daily sleep time (Barry used to sleep just four hours each night)
‘You know Woody, it’s important in life to keep yourself busy at all times, have a good training program and don’t over think it. Remember, training is very, very simple. All you have to do is just GET IN, DO IT AND THEN GO HOME, but do it every single day regardless of other life commitments, weather and even shopping etc.’
Since moving to the UK, the message that Barry gave me that day has held me in good stead. Mornings driving to the river in winter when the temperature is below or around zero and it is driving rain and the wind is blowing cows over, I often think of that message.
I tell it to the crew also. And they do. Most of them! That pumps me up.
PS: In the year 2000 my friend Jan Rehula was selected to represent Czechoslovakia in Triathlon’s debut at the Sydney Olympics. Jan didn’t stay in the Olympic village with the other athletes, he chose to stay in Manly.
On the morning of the men’s race (day two of the Olympic Games) he jumped on the Manly Ferry for the 35-minute journey across Sydney Harbour. He then walked around to the Sydney Opera House (Olympic triathlon race start).
Five hours later he jumped back on the ferry but this time he had an Olympic bronze medal in his backpack. Later that day, Jan rode the same bike that he had won Olympic bronze with that morning to the Manly Swim Centre for the afternoon session.
Just get in, do it and go home.