The Shouter from the Shore


I belong to the army of mothers:  the ever faithful, ever positive, ever present watchers of their children’s sport.  This may sound a simple task to the independent observer of, say, footy:  washing football jumpers to keen brightness, cleaning mud from footy boots off the carpet, chopping oranges into quarters, and rugging up for the Melbourne weather and perhaps, even, a tray of lamingtons thrown in, or a turn on the sausage sizzle.  Amongst these duties, there is the potential for socializing with other parents at the ground, barracking from the sidelines with at least half the people at the ground, driving off in search of a cappuccino or, in the country, tooting of the horns when the home team scores a goal.

But this is not the lot of the triathlon mother who cuts a lonely figure on the bayside beaches at an ungodly hour on a Sunday morning in the summer months.  The triathlon mother, that “Shouter from the Shore,” does not have the indulgence of a mini sleep in, a club house with a bathroom, a scarf or a beanie which aligns you with a club community.  Hers is a lonely pre dawn start, half bowls of muesli gobbled down at 5.30 am, and tea in the car driving through deserted streets to the requisite beach.  Once there, the landscape changes, and there are no car parks to be found, just thin people pushing bicycles with the intent of a new director going to a board meeting.

I arrive at the beach around 6.30 with plenty of time until the start of the race.  Sometimes, the weather can be calm and clear, but invariably I seem to be wearing a woollen jumper and a rain jacket despite the season.  No civies here, just sport shoes, with the mobile phone, car keys and loo paper in the jacket pockets.

I go down to the beach where The Son is racing.  I stay just to the left, out of direct eyesight, but there if a backpack needs to be dropped or a wetsuit forced into being zipped up.  I watch as the young men dive into the water for a warm up swim, and then gather at the shoreline.  I memorize The Son’s striped orange pattern on the arms of the wetsuit so I can follow those arms briefly in the water as they set off.  There follows a running to the water, diving, churning, pushing, kicking and shoving like the swimmers are being treated to a heavy duty wash cycle.  The leaders start to surge, and I wonder how I will fill in the next 15 minutes or so as they swim to the buoys in the middle distance.  Sometimes I find my fellow traveller, triathlon mother, mother of a female triathlete.  We comfort ourselves with complaining about the difficulty of the sport, and other platitudes.

The lead pack starts to appear, and I pray that I will see the orange stripes very soon.  They start to emerge from the water running towards the swim exit, pulling off caps and goggles, and undoing their wet suit zip reading for transition.  I start to count the places.  If the position is good, I relay this information to The Son.  If not so good, I shout general encouragement.  The Son says he only need look at my face to know how he is going in the race!

Then comes the bike.  It is all about getting into the first pack or, as I comfort myself, catching up to the first pack.  I tell myself all is possible.  The cycle pack is a dance and a game.  It is not necessarily about who is going fastest, as energy needs to be conserved for the run, but who is most tactical.  I try not to think about The Son’s race in Wangaratta, as a 13 year old, when his bike broke down and we had to borrow one with three minutes to go till the race, and then the finish that never seemed to come when, finally, he appeared blood flowing down his legs at the finish line.

I see The Son go by on the other side of the road, and I shout.  Time moves slowly, and I consult my watch whilst trying not to take my eyes off the busy road.  Age groupers are peddling happily along oblivious to packs of elites coming up on their tail.  The Son appears on the near side of the road and gives me the look on cue:  what is the front pack’s lead?  Unable to use technology and keep an eye on the road, and put my reading glasses on and off at the same time, I return to my junior school days of “one cat and dog” to count the passing seconds.  Sometimes, using this method, I reach over 60.  I inform The Son and shout again.

Long gaps of waiting ensue.  Did I miss the pack amongst the age groupers?  Are the age groupers drafting?  Will an age grouper swerve in front of the pack?  Is there a pedestrian deciding to cross the road at the wrong moment?  The front pack is always better served as a motor bike leads them through the course.  No such escort for packs two or three.

The pack arrives and cyclists dismount at the line and run elegantly into the transition holding the bike elegantly beside them with fingertips only.  Helmets are being undone.  They transition into a sea of bikes to do a change of shoes, and to put the helmet in the box, or there will be a time penalty, and then head out on the run along the paths that line the foreshore.  I breathe a sigh of relief:  it is hard to break a collar bone running.  I shout again as The Son goes past.

I then go to find my prime position just before the finish line.  Surely time will be made up on the finish line?  There is petrol in the tank.  There are no clubroom chats here.  Parents and girlfriends are looking as anxious as me.  Whatever is happening down the other end of the run, we cannot see.  Sometimes a dog walker and their dog stray on the track at this time.  The Shouter from the Shore has been known to loudly entreat them to get them out of the way.  No pedestrian niceties at this time of day.

Then the man on the bike appears along the track heralding the arrival of the first runner.  The runners come past and I start to count.  Some days the counting is low, some days it is high.  Those days will not be so happy at the finish line.  The Shouter does her stuff:  “Good stuff!  Go! Go!”

Across that line which has been all that the race is about, something happens.  Bending over to catch their breath, and in amongst the end of race requisite watermelon, triathletes change their persona.  They regroup again and drop their competitor skin.  They are, once again, a community.  The Shouter from the Shore’s place fades.  I wait.  Sometimes there is a prize to collect, sometimes a drink bottle, always the bike.  I wait.

Finally, it is time for the big breakfast and the debrief.  As The Son and I head to a Bayside café, we see people in the streets eating breakfast, reading the paper, and buying coffee and bread.  The pre dawn world of the triathlete is unknown to them.  There is a sense of accomplishment in that knowledge alone.

The final ritual occurs:  the breakfast and the race debrief with The Son and The Shouter from the Shore each giving their view.  The gamut of human emotions are covered until the fine “take” is agreed.  It is at this stage that The Son likes to remind me that, when he is racing his guts out winning is not uppermost in his mind, it is more that he is giving his all to get away from The Shouter’s “scary encouragements!”  The morning’s race ritual is thus complete.

About Clare Cannon

Watching sport is one of the things I do best; that and making tea. We know well the dramas of the cricket pitch and footy field, but there are stories to tell from the shore about the pre dawn world of the triathlete…


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Well done , Clare and your sun lots of aspects of love as a parent and following and being heavily involved in a lonely sport in some ways but a tightly knit group in another way . I admire both of your dedication to a demanding sport . Great read , Clare keep the articles coming please

  2. Love it Clare: gently constructed concern, nice sense of wanting the best, nice demonstration of the ritual. Excellent piece.

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