Triathlon is a hard enough sport as it is, now try doing that whilst being tied to someone else…
Two weeks ago, I was presented with the opportunity to be a guide for a Visually Impaired Athlete at the Oceania Championships in one of his first tris. A lot of stars aligned, and I was able to take this opportunity and give it a crack. The Athlete I guided was Sam Harding, a talent transfer from athletics, who recently competed in Tokyo at the Paralympic games. We had one phone call to meet each other, before booking flights to Tasmania a week before the race to get in some practice. I am about as far from an expert as you can get, but here is my breakdown of the sport.
Paratriathlon is broken up into several categories depending on your impairment. For Sam this is vision and shortened to PTVI (Paratriathlon Vision Impaired). PTVI is then further broken down into 3 categories, B1, B2 and B3. B1 athletes are completely blind and have to wear blackout goggles for the entirety of the race. B2 and B3 have some vision and are categorized accordingly (I’m still yet to figure out the difference between these two). Evening out the playing field will forever be a controversial argument around what is fair, but currently B1 athletes are given a 2 minute and 46 second head start. B2 and B3 start together and whoever crosses the line first out of the three categories wins.
The swim start is in waist deep water as to limit hazards running in or diving through waves. The ruling states that
“The guide must swim next to the athlete within a maximum separation distance of
1.5m from the athletes’ head to the guide’s head. The tether must be elastic rope with
bright or reflective colour and up to 80 cm long measured with no tension. It can be
fixed at any point of the athletes' body.”
Neither Sam nor I have swum attached to anybody before, so this was going to take a bit to figure out. We headed into Lincraft to find something that would work as a tether and came up with the below image, a piece of elastic with clips on both ends. After some advice from fellow athletes and guides we decided to attach the tether just above our knees. We discovered very quickly that the elastic was not firm enough to provide any guide, so I ran three lengths of elastic and braided them all together. For us this fixed the problem.
The ride is completed on a tandem bike and once moving it is relatively simple. The challenges arise trying to mount and dismount the bike and communicating/coordinating our body and pedal position for cornering. The pilot up the front is responsible for steering, brakes and gears, whilst the man on the back puts his head down and pedals like mad!!!! Communication is key, and my ability to talk under water came in handy. I had only Piloted a tandem road bike for the first time 5 days before meeting Sam, thanks Dean Cameron for trusting me enough to learn with you. Tandems front and rear pedals are connected by a chain and synchronised to be the same. Unfortunately for us we dropped our chain during the race, and when I put it back on, I didn’t sync the pedals. This made for a very wobbly ride back to transition and can be put on my list of things not to do again.
Transition 2 is pretty similar to normal, with the only addition being attaching another tether. “Each athlete must be tethered during the run to his/her guide. The tether shall be made from non-elastic material and not store energy and/or offer a performance gain to the athlete” The maximum separation distance between guide and athlete is 0.5m so tethers are relatively short. For ours we used a race belt each and tied a rope between, as seen below.
Each course has different zones where a guide can have contact with the athlete, however they cannot propel the athlete forward via pushing or pulling. These zones are for technical areas such as corners, speed bumps or change in surface to prevent any falls. When crossing the finish line, the guide must be next to, or behind the athlete but within 0.5m.
Sam and I crossed the line in first place and will be lining up again in 2 weeks at Stockton Newcastle. We have plenty of things to work on and I’ll try to keep my website Thelukeharvey.com up to date with our progress and any other insights of my new venture into the world of Paratriathlon.