A compact guide to triathlon's trial by bike
Running out of daylight during a birdie blitz on the back nine, being kicked off the five-a-side pitch before a comeback has been completed, rain stopping play a few runs short of a top score: these are the ones that get away for every amateur. Unfinished symphonies that sound better with every replaying.
But imagine you are chasing a world record, something you have dedicated five years of your life trying to achieve, and you are finally - after numerous public failures - on target to do it, even if it is just a practice session.
And then Punctual Pete turns up at the velodrome and tells you your time is up, it's his track now. Ten minutes away from breaking cycling's hour record but it might as well be a lifetime. You will never get that close again.
That happened to Michael Hutchinson, the most successful male time-trial rider in British cycling history, and the fact he can tell the story without any bitterness made my mind up that he is the right man to explain how to cycle set distances (an Olympic triathlon's 40km, for example) as quickly as possible to glorious amateurs like us.
This is the bit of a triathlon that makes you feel like a salamander that has evolved into an ostrich overnight. Well, that's how Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami described it in his book "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running".
But let's not worry about that for now (a "transitions" guide is coming), let's focus on slicing through the air like a sleek, powerful, pedalling machine - somebody like "Dr Hutch", then.
Michael Hutchinson in aerodynamic Commonwealth Games action for Northern Ireland. Photo: Getty
Since 2000, the 37-year-old academic turned cyclist has won national titles at every distance from 10 miles to 100 miles, as well as two victories in the 12-hour championships (he rode 290 miles both times) and another title for the relative sprint of a 4,000m individual pursuit on the track.
But it was Hutchinson's heroic and often hilarious attempt to break the world hour record that first brought him to my attention. I say hilarious with respect as he wrote about it in one of my favourite sports books of recent years, "The Hour". The subtitle of the book reveals the gist of the story - "Sporting Immortality the Hard Way" - and ultimately it is a very British tale of derring-do, making do and not quite doing the do.
It would be a huge mistake, however, to dismiss Hutchinson's ability just because he failed to join the likes of Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Chris Boardman in the pantheon of cycling greats who have held the hour record. His is a talent that almost went undetected but continues to deliver now it and the right sport have been introduced to each other.
On Saturday, in filthy weather in North Yorkshire, Hutchinson won his sixth National 100-Mile title, taking his career total at all distances and times to 51. He was eight minutes clear and only two minutes off the competition record. Not bad considering he missed a turn and had to scramble down a grass bank.
So how does he do it?
"Time-trialling is all about the balance between the power you generate and your aerodynamic drag - it's a battle between what makes you go forward and what stops you," Hutchinson explained.
The "battle" bit sounded familiar so I asked about these things that are stopping me.
"You've got to be compact on the bike. Keep your elbows in, head tucked low, back flat," he said.
"Most amateurs don't make the most of what they've got because they're not working efficiently. You can see them, sitting too high, head up, elbows out, and they just don't look balanced on the bike. It's a struggle."
Yep, that pretty much nails it. I'm an ostrich on the bike when I should be a swallow.
For Hutchinson, the remedy is simple: practise. There's nothing to stop you getting into an "aero" position on a safe section of your commute, for example. The key is to get comfortable being compact.
He also recommends investing in a set of "aero" or "tri" bars but strongly advises against simply bolting them on to your horizontal handlebars and assuming that will turn your steed into Boardman's famous Lotus "superbike".
This brings us immediately to the thorny subject of equipment: does kit maketh the cycling man?
Hutchinson says no...and yes.
Clearly, it is possible to spend ludicrous amounts on the constituent parts of your bike but the most sensible investment you can make is not something you can hang on a garage wall. If you have £50 or so to spare, forget the tri bars and have your bike fitted properly. Get the geometry right and you're halfway there.
And once you've found this state of harmony with the bike, relax.
"People can get obsessed about what gear they're pushing but my advice is to not listen to too much advice," Hutchinson said.
"Self-select a gear - something in the middle, it's not that important as long as it's comfortable - and stay tight, in terms of your aerodynamics, but loose in terms of your effort."
Sounds simple, doesn't it? But you've got to practise being relaxed when you are not.
The Northern Irishman says the basic training ride should be one where you are slightly out of breath. From there, you could introduce bigger efforts of five and then 10 minutes to build endurance and speed.
You should also use the bike leg to rehydrate. Most amateur triathletes will be on the bike for somewhere between 60 to 90 minutes so this is the time to take on some liquid.
Don't go mad, though, a litre will do as you still have 10km to run. But that is a story for another blog, another expert. Now go do some training.