As the cyclists pulled up and freewheeled around the sharp turn where I found myself standing, the bikes fizzed past, making a sound as though they were powered by angry bees. The riders wheezed and gasped like beekeepers who had made the mistake of their career.
Cleopatra was also fond of contraptions powered by angry bees, according to a boy I sat next to in history class one afternoon when we were both about 15. I still find it hard to believe. The risk to reward ratio just doesn't fit. I think, more likely, he was fond of the thought of Cleopatra being fond of contraptions powered by angry bees.
I've never been particularly good at sports, nor at spectating. As to the first point, I was lucky enough to attend a private primary and intermediate school where you wear funny little caps, work days longer than your parents have to in order to foot the bill, and have your hours and little prepubescent skulls crammed with all things prim and proper. As such, the sporting world was my oyster and I was given the ability to cast my sights upon the new sporting horizons which awaited me, to do my school and country proud.
In turn I found out that I'm not particularly good at cricket, rugby, soccer, softball, hockey, tennis, surfing, sailing, table tennis, tiddlywinks or any variation of their internal components - running, jumping, catching, throwing, and certainly not, as I've noted before, swimming.
Soccer had the most appeal to the 8-year-old me, because I figured out that as goalkeeper, your job came in flurries and left as fast as it had arrived. The remainder of the time lends itself to bird watching, digging holes in the mud with your new spiky shoes, picking daisies. I once found myself with my tongue stuck to a frozen goal post as the opposition made an advance down the field.
Standing in a field came more naturally to me than moving across a field using any form of human mobility, and I preferred standing in the frost to standing in the scorched brown earth of cricket.
As much as I downplay my enjoyment of soccer, it was there somewhere, because I found myself playing it 10 years later at the opposite end of my schooling career, in my final year as the head boy of my high school. I don't mention the title for any reason other than to set the scene, as an entire class of Year 9 students spectated a match in which I was playing.
The opposition lobbed the ball my way from about 50 metres down field, and in my fervent rush to collect it, I managed to run myself directly underneath the parabolic arch of the ball that had bounced just in front of me, before nuzzling gently into the net behind me.
A boy turned to the coach, who happened to be a senior member of staff, and inquired if that was the head boy standing in the field with his head in his palms while the opposition danced around his lone figure - "Of course not" came the reply.
Which leads to my second point. I've never been much of a spectator either. My formula for enjoyment has always been that the enjoyment derived from watching a sport is directly proportional to the level of skill I possess in it - oh dear. It would probably be a more apt description to say I admire sports in the same way you might admire a car that you couldn't dream of affording. You know it will never happen, you will never be "in" with that, you're not even allowed to touch it, but you know it's beautiful, nonetheless.
But the triathlon I found myself watching last weekend was something different. It pushed the boundaries of my formula. Perhaps because, despite my insistence otherwise, I am capable of swimming (finally), riding a bike, and running. I don't have to possess the ability to bowl a cricket ball in a straight line, or remember to duck the boom when the wind changes direction, or line up to tackle someone and then pretend to trip safely out of the way at the last second. I just have to be able to do things I already am capable of.
With that knowledge comes deep burning guilt in your gut, as you watch a crowd of very normal people doing things that you could do just as well, or perhaps even better. The gap between human and superhuman is tantalisingly bridged - you're no longer watching the world's best putting on a show of pure and refined skill, dedication, natural ability and ultimate output of power and talent like whenever the TV is on; you're watching Dave from down the street slog past you in the same trainers he was mowing the lawns in yesterday.
It's a beautiful sight in its ugliness. These sweaty, puffing people look like people in great pain, not the underwear models who look like they sweat coconut oil and rich brown tan, and spill thick glistening rubies of blood without expression when they play rugby.
There's something alluring about the raw pain and toil. The pros might makes it look effortless, but the painful, sickening effort is something human nature finds appealing.
Perhaps Cleopatra (or Shakespeare) put it better - "All strange and terrible events are welcome, but comforts we despise".