Triathlons are emerging as popular ‘breaks’ for those looking to swap R&R for active trips that push your body and mind to the limit

MIDDLE AGE CAN result in some alarming changes. While some of my friends have left their partners on a whim, others have jacked in their jobs to travel the world, and a few have forked out for Botox and a boob job. But possibly the biggest trend among my 40-something friends is triathlons. To prepare for these gruelling events they undergo intense exercise regimes, shave their legs, squeeze into spandex sports gear, and spend obscene amounts of money on carbon fibre racing bikes. To ward off middle-age spread, they discuss high-protein diets, pre-race carb-loading, the best sports drinks and the latest tips to prevent saddle sores.

Then, on their annual leave, they’re swapping that luxury spa hotel in the Maldives for a triathlon holiday overseas where they can be pushed to the limit, sometimes training for up to six hours a day, cycling over 100 miles up vertiginous mountains and swimming inordinate distances in the sea. As a 40-something, former international swimmer, should I join them, or keep them at arm’s length? I’ve heard the sport is addictive and I’m not sure I have the time — or energy — any more.

The growth of triathlon (swimming, cycling and running — one after the other) has been something of a phenomenon over the past decade, with some evidence to suggest it’s the fastest growing sport in the UK. British Triathlon figures show that in 2009, 120,620 participated in an event, rising to 174,293 in 2013.

Since making its debut as an Olympic sport in Sydney in 2000, its growth in the UK was given a boost following the gold and bronze medal performances by the Brownlee brothers — Alistair and Jonathan — at the 2012 London Olympics.