HSBC Human Race Triathlon and a lesson in trash talk

“Good afternoon fellow triathletes”, read the email, “Do you want to represent Deloitte in a triathlon?”.

Why yes Charles Pennington, of course I would.

So began the 16th August. A day like any other, except for this juicy looking email in my inbox. This was to be the start of the gathering of a rather eclectic Deloitte team, designed to take on the best that the other Corporate Behemoths had to offer at the Eton Dorney triathlon. It was also a rather sharp lesson for me in learning to perform some due diligence on your own team members before trash talking them.

It began predictably. An email chain containing 10 highly competitive individuals will descend rather quickly into a “debate” about who is going to win. In this case, the conversation was almost certainly precipitated by me, and I pushed the barriers regarding suitable conversation to-be-made-with-people-you-have-just-met still further when I sank into some rather personal (but lighthearted I assure you) abuse. In particular I was honing in on the mental fortitude of the aforementioned Mr Pennington, claiming to have found his kryptonite. My exact words being:

“Although physically very strong, Charles is mentally weak and fragile. Get in his head early doors and he will fold like a cheap suit with crippling self-doubt.”

On 99% of your corporate triathletes this argument would be water-tight. A bona fide mic drop. Disappointingly in this case, it wasn’t.

For those who are less well read in your Tri247 articles the person I had directed my string of abuse at was, unfortunately for me, the same man who had formed the basis of a 2015 article entitled, “The speedy Charles Pennington.”

He was quick to respond.

“I was a Royal Marine for 16 years so self-doubt isn’t high on my list of attributes …”

A robust defense of one’s mental strength if ever there was one. Well played Mr Pennington. Indeed, the quickest of googles would have revealed to me a whole string of impressive triathlon feats: 2nd in Age Group at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, a PB of 8:45 for the Ironman and a 2:34 marathon PB to boot. I googled myself afterwards to see how I would appear should he reciprocate. Needless to say, the results were not quite as good.

I decided to lay low for a while, hoping to regain some face.

I knew a few others in the team, Tyler O’Callaghan being one. An impressive age-group athlete of yesteryear, Tyler had hung up his wet-suit and bike a few years ago and focused solely on running, recently completing a 2:44 London Marathon. I hoped that this weekend would not be a repeat of the last time I raced in a team with Tyler, that being the ‘Crisis Square Mile Relay’.

The Crisis Square Mile debacle

That event was a rather embarrassing tale. A runner within Deloitte sent an email to a few others, Tyler and I being 2 of them, asking if we’d like to compete in a 4 x 3km relay race round Embankment. We agreed. When the team was finalised, we thought that we had a quite a strong team. Tyler and I were two GB triathlon age groupers, yet were still the weaker half of our team of 4 by a long way.

The thinking turned out to be false, we didn’t just have quite a strong team; we had a VERY strong team. It quickly became apparent that we had massively misjudged the event, turning out what was essentially an elite team to participate in what was basically a charity fun run. People were competing in fancy dress. We won the whole event by a full 6 minutes, and were quite frankly embarrassingly far ahead of the second placed team.

However, this was to be a different beast altogether. The Human Race Eton Dorney events are much bigger and would attract some high quality athletes. An early morning text from the race organisers revealed a last minute change, apparently an algal bloom had forced their hand and the race was now a duathlon. I had never done a duathlon before, so this was an exciting alteration to proceedings.

Should this precipitate a change in tactics? How should I approach the race now? Hmm. The most obvious effect was that this would remove the option for the essential nervous pre-race urination in the lake. I would need to address this before the starters horn went. I used some nearby bushes instead.

Race day. Overcast.

The race started in an organised fashion. We were in a Big 4 wave, and we could see a few EY and PwC tri-suits around, looking very professional, however we had good strength and depth in the Deloitte ranks and we were confident of victory. The first run was 2.5km up and down the side of the lake. Charlie went off just ahead of me and I tried to stick with him. I was within touching distance until around the turning point but then his pace took its toll and I had to slow up. The run was reasonable however, and I clocked the second fastest time of the day for the first run.

Charlie had kindly waited for me in T1 (he claimed he had got lost) and we exited together onto the bike. As he began pedalling, just yards ahead of me, I seriously considered just sitting on his wheel, drafting him and “getting in his head” as per my earlier plan. I quickly reconsidered however, when I remembered his military history. One of my friends once got into an aggressive discussion with a Marine, and he described afterwards how quickly he’d found himself suddenly surrounded by a group of enormous men whose natural expressions were not ones of happiness. He decided to leave the bar. I decided to back off Charlie’s wheel.

The bike was flat, but fairly windy in one direction. I enjoyed it though, there were plenty of sections to get up some good speed and having just done some maintenance on the bike it was running well. However, during maintenance I had removed the bottle cage that was usually affixed to my handlebars, and so was without water for the whole race. I remembered this only when halfway through a particularly sticky gel. Gels are good for energy, but without water they tend to form a paste in your mouth that after 5 minutes of being masticated, stands more chance of decomposing than being ingested.

One other member of our Deloitte team, Chris Kakoullis, came past me right as the bike ended. I was impressed. Only 19, and already (I think) two Ironmans completed, he clearly has some real potential ahead of him. I thought about nicking his water bottles as he glided past in order to get some moisture to release my jaw, but after a near fatal weave decided that dehydration was probably the safer option. Later on that evening, and having watched Jonathon Brownlee finish in such dramatic scenes in Cozumel, I realised that this may have not been the correct decision. It probably was for the best however, his Dad Panos (and ultimately my boss) would’ve likely have fired me had I seriously injured his son whilst attempting the theft.

Chris finished the bike just ahead of me, but luckily T2 is a specialty of mine and I managed to get out ahead of him onto the run. I tried to press away early to keep my advantage. A few hundred metres in however, I realised I didn’t really have any good running legs in me – probably from having pushed too hard earlier on. The run was flat however and being a two lap, straight out and back affair, you could gauge the distance to your enemies on the switchbacks. I could see the distance growing between me and Chris and began to feel confident of holding second place. The final member of our team was Fred Gill, an ex-GB rower now turned triathlete, and he was not far behind Chris. This was impressive stuff from a big guy and he looked to be running extremely well. He was certainly too focused to wave when we crossed paths.

I tried to push it for the last kilometer in and felt like I finished strongly. I was cheered in by Charlie who had already finished and, no word of a lie, had a half finished beer in his hand. I ended up taking 3rd spot in the sprint for the day, but our Deloitte team took 1st team by miles. Within our wave, Charlie and I took first and second, Chris took fourth and Fred 9th, so there was no competition. Fred’s girlfriend Saskia also took 3rd fastest female as well, so all in all an extremely successful day from the inaugural Deloitte team!


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