Well, it’s Ironman 70.3 Cairns this weekend — AKA my first endurance triathlon, and third tri in total — and here I am flicking through the ‘Athlete Information Guide’ (when I say ‘flicking’, I really mean meticulously poring over it with a highlighter and trying to work out what coloured bag goes where and when). I’m not entirely convinced I’m actually a real athlete yet, but I’ll go along with it for now because they don’t have a guide for ‘gross-motor-skill-challenged first-timers going out there to give it a crack’.
“I’m so proud of what I have been able to achieve by taking on this challenge, but I’m much more proud of the people around me who I watch every day gritting in and excelling — or not — but getting back out there till they do”
I can’t believe that the day is nearly here after seven months of fairly solid training (4am starts and often two sessions a day). Having never done anything remotely like this before, there’s no doubt that preparing for this event has certainly changed my life. And — despite whether I’m riding the high of nailing a time/speed/repeat that I never thought was possible, or swimming through a pitiful low of self-doubt — it’s a rollercoaster ride that I’ve honestly loved every minute of and intend to continue. And, gee, have I learnt some things so far.
But before we get to that, I’d like to give you a bit of context. I can safely say that when it comes to sporting performance I’m a total Gumby (yep, Gumby with a capital ‘G’). While I’ve always kept active and reasonably fit doing things like walking, mountain biking and yoga, my biggest sporting achievements include ‘Best Stack’ at the 2013 Dam Dark 24-hour mountain bike race and ‘Best Girl on Field’ for touch rugby… only catch there was that I was the only girl on the field.
So this past year has been a bit of a transformation for me. I’ve gone from ‘exercising’ to ‘training’ and it’s only when I stop to think back on how much I’ve learnt and what I’ve achieved that I can appreciate how far I’ve come. This Friday I’ll be heading to Cairns to join a large Townsville contingent that — on Sunday — will do a 1.9km swim at Palm Cove, a 90km ride between Port Douglas and Cairns and a 21km run around the Cairns foreshore (we’ll be joined by others from all over the world and some will be doing the full Ironman — 3.8km swim, 180km ride and 42km run — those distances still blow me away). When my husband Troy and I drove to Cairns last year to watch the race and take photos, I’d been road riding for six months, couldn’t swim freestyle more than 50m without stopping and hated running with an absolute passion (my mutters could be heard all the way down the road).
But there was something about seeing that Ironman and 70.3 race in Cairns that ignited a spark inside of me. I’d always been interested in triathlon, but seeing people of all shapes and sizes gritting in and achieving — I wanted a piece of that finish line euphoria. With the help of a coach and my riding mentors and comrades at She Spoke Women’s Cycling Group, I was doing my first triathlon by November — the Hamilton Island Sprint Tri (750m swim, 20km ride, 5km run). I had only done a handful of competitive events before that (like the riding leg of Adventurethon), and felt an enormous sense of achievement at surviving my first solo race (and coming sixth in my age group). Yet, after ticking this box, I still didn’t believe that I could accomplish a 70.3 distance (how could I possibly do a 90km ride and then still want to run of all things??), but after a lot of hard work and guidance, here we are.
I will be totally honest with you and say I’ve been anxious in the lead-up to this event. The pressure I was putting on myself was extraordinary. I gave it my all over seven months of training and was feeling so strong and going so well, until I wasn’t. I was injured (4cm stress reaction in fibula) and made the decision to pull out with about three weeks to go: I didn’t want to risk further injury and I wasn’t going to get the time I wanted. I was absolutely gutted. Then last week I was swimming — dutifully with the pull buoy and no legs — and a little thought crept into my head, “I wonder if I could do it?” Long story short, I’m back in business (thanks Ironman gods) and you can’t wipe the smile off my face. My goals are totally readjusted — no longer am I going for a specific time, but I’m going to finish it — even if it means walking that 21km. I’ve come too far not to.
Regardless of the result at the weekend, I’m so proud of what I have been able to achieve by taking on this challenge, but I’m much more proud of the people around me who I watch every day gritting in and excelling — or not — but getting back out there till they do. You inspire me to keep going and I’m so grateful for the friends, mentors, training buddies and trusted professionals around me — I won’t list you all, but you know who you are and your support has been invaluable (big sweaty hugs to you).
To everyone heading to Cairns this weekend — either as athletes, ‘athletes’ or support crew — good luck and see you out there!
Until then, here are some of my learnings from this crazy journey…
The A to Z of my journey to ‘athlete’
A: Aussie Butt Cream. If there’s something the Banish the Black Dog ride, Townsville to Cairns Bike Ride and the hours in the saddle training for Cairns 70.3 has taught me, is not to scrimp on this stuff — yep, don’t be shy to slap it around!
B: Bunch riding. Think of it as musical chairs on a bike — you get to rotate and talk to different people while you train. But remember the first rule of bunch riding — crossing wheels = catastrophe. As a beginner, if you can’t talk and ride because you’re too busy just trying to concentrate and breathe, then just ask your fellow rider questions that require really, really long answers.
C: Chocolate. You can really eat as much of it as you like when you’re doing that much training. Life’s holy grail.
D: Drops. Didn’t know what they were, but it turns out they are the curly bits of your handlebars on a road bike. Best to get on them when descending or pumping into the wind.
E: Energy. Instead of focusing on weight-loss and reducing calories, for the first time in my life I’ve been aiming to get more energy in. See ‘C’. I should probably note here that I’ve lost 7kg since August.
F: Four am. Early morning starts are the new norm (never get sick of seeing that sun come up). 6.30am is a sleep-in and getting up at 8am feels like I’ve wasted half the day.
G: Gels. The first time I had one it reminded me of flavoured snot. It’s amazing though what your body will suck up when it needs to.
H: Husband. Mine wasn’t too impressed when the precious little free time I had was taken up with training. So what did he do? Join in. Now Troy’s doing Cairns 70.3 too and has lost 13kg along the way. I’m so proud of him and I couldn’t have got to the start line without his support.
I: Injury. Sucks. Big. Time. Happens to the best of us, but it’s how we adapt to it and keep moving forward that matters. At the end of the day, only you know your body and goals and have to just decide what’s best.
J: Job. Something I’ve needed to fit around my training, morning coffees, frequent mealtimes and early nights.
K: Karaoke. This is something of the past, along with nightclubs, late-night kebabs and late nights in general actually. These days I’ll be tipsy after two drinks, but then looking for my bed instead of the dance floor.
L: Lycra. I have more of this now than normal clothes and I’d much prefer a new Specialized kit for my birthday than a dress.
M: Money. Or should I say, lack of. I must say here that you absolutely don’t need to spend a fortune to do your first tri, but it is hard to resist upgrading when there are so many shiny, pretty things all around you… that make you go faster.
N: Nanna nap. My all-time favourite thing to do on a Saturday is no longer to go shopping or out to dinner, but to have a sneaky mid-morning or afternoon nanna nap. Absolute weekend gold.
O: Olympics. As one of my most respected mentors reminds me, most of us will never go to the Olympics, so we need to enjoy our training and whatever challenges we sign-up to. Of course, still try your hardest and give your goal the respect it deserves, but keep some perspective; which includes minimising the pressure you put on yourself.
P: Powder. Not the illegal kind. I’m talking protein powder, electrolyte powder, magnesium powder, BCAA powder — going through the airport could get interesting.
Q: Quit. We’ve all wanted to do it at some stage when the going gets tough, but taking the time to look back on what you’ve achieved gives you a great boost and reality check — it’s easy to forget that running 5km without stopping was a challenge just a year ago.
R: Red top. As in “Go on the red top”. As in pool clock. Yes, had no idea what this expression meant or even how to read said pool clock. Turns out when that red arrow gets to the top you need to swim. Fast. P.S. It never slows down to wait for you.
S: Splits. Had no idea what this word meant either (beside the banana variety). Little bit obsessed with running splits now though (and monitoring how your pace fluctuates with weather, fatigue, etc) — oh, the science of it!
T: Team. Training for a big event is rarely a solo effort. I never would have got through without the support of my husband, friends, training buddies, coaches and my trusted experts (health professionals and those in the technical know-how like Top Brand Cycles).
U: Ummm, do I really need another cycle kit/sports bra/pair of running shorts/goggles? (insert nano-second pause). Of course I do! Refer to ‘M’.
V: VO2 max. You can get this tested. Along with a myriad of other things I never knew were possible – sweat tests, lactic power tests, skinfolds, the list goes on. I’m yet to venture down this path.
W: Watch. As in the triathlon variety, AKA Garmin. That thing that is now surgically attached to my wrist and is the source of much frustration when you forget to put it on/pause it and forget to re-start/battery dies mid-training or it just clean fails for the hell of it. Worse when you also have one on your bike and it happens to both. Double Garmin Fail.
X: X-ray. What happens when things start not going so well. See ‘I’.
Y: Yoga. An essential for me, but any sort of stretching is a must. Great activity for a rest day to give the body some well-earned recovery time.
Z: Zzzz. By Friday, getting up at 4am every morning starts to take its toll. That’s when you find yourself avoiding ‘K’ and opting for ‘N’.
The sport of triathlon is become increasingly accessible in Townsville and we have some amazing events for you to sink your teeth into around the region from Enticer distances to full Ironman events. If you’d like to start your journey get in touch with the Free Radicals Tri Club or Townsville Tri Club to find out about sessions. The Townsville Tri Fest is August 19-21 this year and hosts a massive nine events in three days on The Strand. For the first time, there’s a new tri just for ladies with really achievable distances. Find out more here: https://thegotownsville.com.au/event/intersport-townsville-triathlon-festival-2016/.