Fresh from completing an Olympic distance triathlon carrying a 100lb tree, Ross Edgley tries to convince us he isn’t barking mad.
Why?! What was the inspiration behind the tree-athlon?
It came about over dinner with my friend (and triathlon champion) Jane Hansom. She told me about the island of Nevis and their ambition to become the world’s first carbon neutral island by 2020. With a mouthful of cheesecake I thought this was amazing! A potential turning point as we try to mend our fragile relationship with Mother Nature. If one small island in the Caribbean could become carbon neutral, what’s to stop entire towns, cities and even countries doing the same? She then told me Nevis hosts one of the world’s most beautiful triathlons. By the time we finished our desserts, the Tree-athlon was born.
Secondly, I have to admit the athlete in me wanted to just see if it was possible to condition my body to do it.
Do you have a swimming background?
Thankfully I was a (semi) good swimmer in my youth. What this meant was while all the cardio-respiratory endurance and muscular endurance of swimming was lost, the technique and motor patterns were still stored from years of training. So training was really to dust off the physiological cobwebs and get back swimming fit.
Did you train and compete with the same tree?
Because we didn’t know what tree I’d be using until I was out in Nevis we had to train with trees of all shapes and sizes (as long as the weight was the same). I quickly found that different trees have different absorption rates and by the time you’ve finished the swim you’d find it wasn’t the same weight that you entered the water with.
Where did you get the tree from?
The day before the event we found a tree on Oualie beach on the island that had been blown down in a storm. It was a slightly awkward shape, but it was buoyant which was good enough since the swim was my first concern.
How did pulling a tree affect your swim?
Not as much as I thought. I basically attached a 5-metre rope to the tree and attached that to my trunks. Although it interfered with my leg kick and the drag was of course noticeable, it was (dare I say it) enjoyable as me and 100-lbs of wood were able to glide through the water with relative ease. I was even able to overtake a few people!
What was the reaction of the other competitors?
I must have looked so odd turning up on the start line with a tree attached to my trunks, but once I explained to people why I was doing it their confusion immediately turned to unbridled support. High fiving and hugging around the course, some of the elite athletes even stopped and slowed down when they saw me with a puncture. For this reason alone it was an amazing personal experience and one I will never forget.
Which was the most difficult of the three disciplines and why?
Each discipline was so integrated! For instance if I didn’t pace the swim, I’d be ‘swimming in lactic’ for the cycle. But without doubt the cycle was the hardest part for two reasons: cardiorespiratory endurance and core stability.
What was your time?
Incredibly slow! Although the athlete in me wanted to race and compete, I quickly realised when people wanted me to stop for pictures that the Tree-athlon wasn’t a race. Spreading the ‘green’ message of the island was far more important than a fast time, so everyone who asked for a picture got one and my time was 4 hours+ as a result (and four punctures didn’t help either!).
What is your next challenge?
With record high pollution levels in London there is talk of taking the Tree-athlon concept to London to promote greener energy. Stay tuned.