Paul Coombes On Love and Lycra
XTERRA athletes are rapidly dispelling the myth that triathlon is a sport for the young. Libby Harrow, Charlotte Mahan, Johnny Davis, and Jon Adamson are in their 60's, 70's and 80's and are fitter than ever.
Paul Coombes of New South Wales, Australia, entered his first XTERRA at age 75. He graciously agreed to share his tale of love and lycra. In fact, Coombes has written a book about his journey into XTERRA, entitled Love In Lycra. He's looking for a publisher.
Q. What made you enter your first XTERRA at age 75? Has this always been a dream of yours?
A. My ventures into triathlon and XTERRA have nothing to do with being athletic. It was love of a lady and a desire to look sleek in lycra.
Q. Tell us more.
A. My partner and I lived in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney for 25 years. Both of us were senior journalists writing about finance and doing medal-winning rounds of the dinner circuit. Before long, our bodies needed new business suits. That's expensive, so we thought, let's change our home and habits instead.
Q. What did you do to get healthier?
A. We began walking daily with our energetic standard poodle, The Bear, but we were still out of breath. Sydney had too many easy temptations, so we built a house in Huskisson, 200 km to the south. There, we walked, ran, swam, and worst of all, met the Jervis Bay Triathlon Club. They looked like greyhounds so we decided to donate the extra 40 kg we had been carrying around to them.
Q. What intrigued you about triathlons?
A. In 2009 we entered some Fun Runs and my partner Annette did well. She decided she wanted to be a triathlete. She could swim, run, and was a championship equestrian in school. Only I saw the dangers of triathlon addiction.
I didn't necessarily want to be a triathlete at age 75, but that's where the love business comes in. My partner wants to do a triathlon, so I will follow. I even began eating Paleo with her despite the fact that I missed ice cream.
(Incidentally, this was right around the time we opened a bank overdraft to buy all the equipment and nutrition needed to survive, let alone find the podium in this sport.)
Q. Tell us about your first XTERRA.
A. My first XTERRA race was at Callalla, Jervis Bay, on a foul day. The surf was black with weed. The dense charcoal sky bucketed its contents, without relief. There I was, 75 years old, with a new knee and hip, courtesy of my football, squash, and tennis days. My friend Bill leant me his very expensive mountain bike and flashy boots. I had my own helmet.
But once I was out in the wild, I loved it. I raced - saturated, weed-choked, and carrying deep layers of mud.
Q. How did you finish?
A. How did I finish? I'll tell you. With two fractured ribs after crashing into a stump-infested swamp, which was one and a half meters deep with mud. Bill's bike and boots stayed at the car wash for a day after that.
The pain was ignored though, when the organizers and my mates pushed me up to the podium, where I collected my first-place medal and my first XTERRA shirt. I knew I would do another one.
Q. What's the best part of XTERRA?
A. The finishing chute, if you are more or less in one piece. Also, I can wear lycra now. I couldn't wear lycra looking like a Sydney finance writer. But now that I'm fit and have a house and garage filled with triathlon gear, I look good in lycra.