I did a Duathlon on the weekend. But let me start at the beginning . . . . (this is another backlog post that will probably lead to a series of posts)
One of my very good friends (let’s call her TR) has always wanted to do a triathlon. She thinks triathletes are amazing and is completely in awe of what they do. She never imagined that she could do that too. She was not particularly sporty growing up and has had some injuries (from accidents) that make it difficult (and painful) to do a lot of exercise. Recently, however, she started going to the gym, doing spin classes and even, against all odds (due to back injuries), . . . running.
The idea started to form that maybe she could actually do a triathlon. This is the point that many people um and ahh and procrastinate and make up excuses for ever and never actually get around to doing one. My friend is a bit more determined and driven than this though, and she REALLY wanted to do one. There was still some convincing required though, and a suitable trigger to actually commit.
Enter another of my very good friends (let’s call her B). She has done many triathlons before but had her first baby in September and had targeted a triathlon in December as her comeback tri. Now, anybody who’s had a baby will agree that it’s pretty ambitious to attempt running, let alone a whole triathlon, less than 3 months after giving birth.
However, my friends are amazing. I have a lot of respect for elite triathletes, and ironmen (and women) and the people who go super fast around standard distance triathlon courses. I know how much training, dedication and pain goes into it. However I have just as much, if not more, respect for the people who aren’t at that level, and are possibly struggling even to complete the course on a mini-distance triathlon, yet still get out there and do it. Competing against yourself and the fear of failing is harder for most people than the elite competition against other athletes. It is so much easier to say “I can’t do it” . . . or as one of my friends disappointingly found “I could do that, but (insert 5 excuses here as to why they haven’t despite saying they want to)”. So many people let fear or general apathy stop them from doing things they want to. Luckily my friends are not like that!
So . . . a date was set!
I was along for the ride (no pun intended), and for moral support. I’ve done a couple of triathlons before, but only ever at the short distance as I am a terrible swimmer. My friends were such an inspiration (one doing her first ever tri to achieve a lifelong, seemingly unreachable goal, and the other completing a triathlon only 3 months after having a baby) that I felt like I needed to take on my own challenge to honour their efforts.
I entered the longer distance (“pursuit”) triathlon. The cycle (20km) and run (5km) were both fine for me. The swim (750m) was the big problem. I can swim to save my life, and I can swim quite a distance . . . using breaststroke. Breaststroke is not much good for triathlons as, besides being slower, it uses a lot of leg power, which leaves your legs tired for the cycle and run. My freestyle is terrible. Up until recently, I could barely do 50m of it. I have been gradually working on it over the last few years until I could do a few hundred metres non stop. That is still a long way from 750m though! Still, if my friends were taking this challenge on, unsure if they could complete it, . . . so would I!
I started swim training again, and that went quite well, with my first 750m non-stop test swim going quite well (even if I did feel like I was going to die for the middle 500m!). I also needed to do some bike and run training as I hadn’t done much of either recently. Sadly, right when I decided to start training I had a fatigue relapse (more on this later). It was hard to get myself out training at all and the training I did manage to do was nowhere near the target speeds I had chosen (30km/hr for the bike and 5:30min/km for the run). It was not looking good for race day. At least during my training I did finally claw back some competitive stubbornness (“NO I’m NOT going to give up!!”) rather than the fatigue survival tactic I’d fallen into over the last year (“Oh well, I’m tired and slow anyway”).
Having my friends doing it was a huge help. The training I did manage was mainly inspired by TR regularly sharing her training stories and results. We also had some fun preparing for the tri. We got to go road-bike shopping (yes, she had to buy and learn to ride a road bike to do this tri) and went tri-suit shopping. We ended up with matching ones, not because we tried to, but because they happened to be the only ones there that really fitted each of us. It led to much fun on race day though with matching outfits!
So, race day finally came around. We were nervous, but had done the training. Well, they had done the training and I had done the swim training and figured I could get through the other parts . . . it may just really really hurt! At least I seemed to be getting over my fatigue relapse.
The swim was brutal. Much worse than I ever thought possible. I had done so much practice, improved so much and had really felt like I’d be able to get through it competently. I completely underestimated the effect that being in the ocean, in a race, would have. I panicked on the word go, and couldn’t breathe properly. I tried to take a stroke and it was murky and dark. I was breathing so shallowly, panicking, that I couldn’t even hold my breath for long enough to take one proper stroke of freestyle. It was also rough. Not incredibly so, but enough that I was taking in mouthfuls of water and could never be sure where the surface would be. I almost turned around in the first 50m and swam back to shore. I’m not just saying that to be dramatic either. I actually considered it.
As it was, I managed to put into practice ONE thing that B had taught me while coaching my swimming: “If you get into trouble, just go into your survival stroke and keep afloat”. I switched to a combination of breaststroke and sidestroke and kept afloat. By this point (50m in) there were only two people behind me and the rest of the field was disappearing into the distance. But, I stayed afloat and slowly moving forward.
It took me 500m of bobbing along (I can’t even call it swimming) to finally calm down enough to do some freestyle. I managed it for a while, and even overtook some people, then freaked myself out again when I saw how far I had to go until the shore!
The only good things about the swim were that I got through it, and I resigned myself early on to being slow and conserved my energy so I was OK for the rest of the tri! My final time said 16 minutes which is pretty good for 750m but I think there must’ve been a mistake with the times, because there was no way I could’ve bobbed along that fast.
TR had asked me before the tri: “How do you find your bike after the swim”. My response: “It’s easy for me. It’s usually the only one left”. And so it was this time too. I had a reasonable transition (appreciating the tip from B to have a small bucket of water to wash the sand off my feet!) then got out on the bike leg.
During training I hadn’t been able to hold the speeds I thought I should, but somehow on race day it all just worked. It felt right and comfortable. I loved being on my bike. I was hitting speeds in the high 40s (km/hr) for the downhill bits and holding above 30 comfortably for most of it. I overtook heaps of people, and mainly only got overtaken by crazy fast people with super aero bikes and disc wheels!
I came off the bike still feeling strong (I’d made sure I hadn’t gone 100% and burnt myself out) and headed off on the run. I looked at my watch and it said I was running at 4:51min/km. What?!?!?! I can’t run that fast!! I thought it must be a glitch at the start of the timing. Nope, a few minutes later it still said that. Should I slow down? I was targeting 5:15min/km and didn’t want to burn myself out early. But I was still feeling comfortable, and strong enough that I could sustain this. I kept going, in my rhythm. After a few kms my watch still said 4:51/km. Nuh, it must be a glitch. The watch must’ve frozen up. Oh well, . . I’d just keep running at this rhythm. It was the best I could do anyway. A few minutes later my watch changed . . . . to 4:50/km. Whaaaaat?!?!?!?!! I really was going that fast! And I was almost half way and still feeling OK! What motivation to keep going! I’ve been trying to run sub 5min/km for years, and never managed it. Today, somehow, after a horrendous swim, 20km bike ride and limited training I finally did!
My results were middle of the field, like they normally are. But what was more important for me was that I achieved my two personal goals (the incredible run was a bonus):
- Complete the event in under 1hr 30min
- Look like I was enjoying myself the whole time
(I may not have achieved this in the swim, but I don’t think that counts anyway!)
I enjoyed it. The swim was horrible. Almost traumatic. But the cycle and run were actually fun, and I kept my head up and positive and smiling. Doing it with two friends, who also achieved their goals, made it even better. They were such an inspiration to me, and to everybody else I’ve told about what they did.
Post race lunch was also amazing!
Oh, one more thing. Four days before this tri I had hurt my leg at Jiu Jitsu. I’d pulled or strained something in my calf just below my knee. I could barely walk and couldn’t fully bend or straighten my leg. Lots of ice and some anti-inflammatories and I was mostly OK but still not 100% (and a month later and it’s still not fixed). It hurt a few times during the tri, but held up surprisingly well. Thanks body. You are awesome.