beyond the ninth wave

“Wave after wave, each mightier than the last,
Till last, a ninth one, gathering half the deep
And full of voices, slowly rose and plunged
Roaring, and all the wave was in a flame”

~ Tennyson “Idylls of the King: The Coming of Arthur”

 

This post started life as a couple of race recaps, and a more reflective piece… however, despite the fact that it will make this post really really long, they are in fact integral parts of the same, single, story… if you want the “tldr” version, I decided to give triathlon a go, I achieved the initial goals much sooner than anticipated, and I am hooked….

in the beginning…

It started as a way of mixing up training, of adding swimming and cycling as cross-training options; a switch to shorter sessions with more variety, after spending 32 weeks training for a 100km ultra…

The novice course was a perfect way of breaking the running monotony, revamping and refreshing my training, and getting me back on track to being a runner, and picking up my pace again. However, it also stirred up an old secret dream, one that resided in a similar place to the marathon dream – in the darkest suppressed recesses within me. Impossible dreams.

But of course, “impossible” has become nothing more than a challenge to me in recent times, and long-suppressed dreams are making a habit of surfacing when I least expect them, and dragging me down yet another amazing pathway.

the training course

10 weeks of training, 10 weeks shared with a bunch of awesome people who started off, by and large, as strangers who were nervous and generally had a fear of one or more of the three disciplines that comprise triathlon. 10 weeks of having advice, coaching, tips and experience shared by 3 fantastic coaches; Rob, Michelle and “Slim”.

I had the wind knocked out of my sails at our first pool session. I knew my swimming would be the weak spot, but I wasn’t ready for the complete lack of swimming ability that defined my level of pool prowess. At the first pool time trial we had options of 200m or 400m. I managed 100m, I was uncoordinated, I didn’t know how to breathe properly, I wore myself out with just a couple of freestyle arm strokes, and my legs just wanted to go vertical.

The running wasn’t so bad, I knew where I was with that – I have become used to being a back of the pack runner, and knew that whatever was thrown at us, I would complete. Reality was that the training was fabulous and we did some speed sessions that really pushed limits, and also improved performance in a short period of time!

Cycling? I was dreading the sore backside, I was dreading wearing lycra, I turned up to session 1 with my $99 pretend mountain bike. By week 2 I had acquired a proper road bike from Gumtree, by week 3 I had padded cycling shorts. By week 4 I had cleats and cycling shoes and clip-in pedals. A “MAMIL” was born.

By the end of week 10, that group of strangers became club-mates (pretty much all of us have joined Perth Triathlon Club, which is a testament to the coaches and to the levels of crazy that exist within the novices). Not only club-mates, that group is now a group of friends, sharing their triathlon dreams, other goals, and in many cases doing their first and second triathlons at the same events, under the same club banner…

triathlon number one

it was a familiar feeling, almost identical to Perth Marathon 2013. On that occasion I had spent 18 months from the decision to complete a marathon, to rocking up for the event itself. This time the entire process was closer to 18 weeks; hesitating, contemplating, signing up, realising that the course aligned with a couple of potentially doable events, committing to those goals, and then achieving them…

the swim worried me most. 250m seemed a lot, but I had been gaining confidence with swimming, and a couple of swims in the ocean made me realise that the additional buoyancy afforded by salt water meant that I would be able to get the distance done at my own pace, and without too much fear of drowning or getting into trouble.

so it was that I headed up to Mullaloo at “adventure o’clock” on a pleasant but cool Sunday morning. the nervousness of the swim had been replaced by worrying about getting transition setup right – did I have all my kit with me? had I forgotten anything vital? had I omitted to do something that would see me being turned away by technical officials??

I smiled to myself as I wondered if the other cars on the road were heading to the same event, and then seeing the street light glinting off the wheel of a bike in the back of one vehicle… yup, here we were, all driving on otherwise empty roads, bikes in or on our cars, kit bags prepared and a plan to swim, ride and run our way through a triathlon. it was scary and exciting.

once at the venue, I parked up, got my bike out, pumped up the tyres and started heading over to the transition area. My first time, I was clueless, I didn’t know if I had skipped a step, though I had already registered and collected the race pack the day before. A sticker in the pack needed to be attached to the bike for identification. OK… Helmet had to be worn and strapped up, a tech official checked it as I presented at the entrance. He checked my brakes, they weren’t the best but he let me through.

I was in…. the bike racks were slowly filling up, and here I was… about to set up my transition area for the first time. Luckily the course had covered this aspect too, and the bike was quickly put on the rack space with my race number on. Helmet was placed on the handlebars, sunnies resting inside. A bright red towel laid to the left of the rear wheel, and my running and cycling gear laid out on it.

Wow, this was me… the former fat guy, the completely non-sporty, non-athletic bloke who now had not only done marathons, ultras and more… but was now setting up at a triathlon. Seriously… triathlon?????

Once set up, I did a bit of mingling. Amazingly I spotted and chatted to Michelle Duffield – Michelle and her twin sister Katy are professional triathletes, and I was privileged to speak at the same motivational event as Michelle, and have followed her journey on Facebook ever since. Michelle reminded me that when we first met, I had said that I would be interested in a triathlon, but the swimming part bothered me…. no change there then!

After that I spotted Bron and Emma – a couple of parkrun buddies who have been tearing up the Tri Series this season. We had a really good chat, and the presence of familiar faces, from a world where I was vastly more comfortable, was reassuring and helped settle any nerves.

I made my way to the club tent where some fellow novices, existing members of the club, and our cycling coach Michelle were gathering. I am not sure how long we were there, but before too long it was time to head to the beach for the race briefing.

The race director described the swim course, and probably the cycle and run course too but I was fixated on the swim… not that I was particularly nervous, I was just focused on getting the job done. In actual fact, for our training session the day before, we’d actually completed a full triathlon with a swim of the same distance, and a slightly longer ride and run!

10 seconds to go….

This was it, the moment of truth, and before much longer I was running towards the water, hanging out towards the back rather than putting myself in a position where I’d have to deal with the pack passing me as one…

The water was warmer than the air temperature, and before long I was beyond the break, swimming towards the first buoy. I was slow, but I just applied the same mentality that I do with running – I didn’t care about anyone else, I focused on my own race at my own pace. When I needed a breather I would break out a bit of breast stroke until I was ready to try a bit more front crawl – the swimming version of run/walk 🙂

And that was it really, I just kept going, I felt relaxed, I felt comfortable and at ease – and ultimately I was swimming back to shore, feeling very happy that I’d completed the “worst” leg and just needed to keep moving forwards on the bike and run.

Then I got out of the water… started to run up the sand towards the transition area, and had a huge dose of reality. I was shattered!

instead of powering effortlessly up the beach, providing an awesome action photo opportunity, I ran a few steps and hit a concrete wall. I walked up the beach. I walked while I tried to catch my breath and recover.

Transition 1 was slow, and I made the mistake of trying to remain standing while drying off feet, putting on socks and shoes etc. Also there was a lot to do – my rashie had to be removed, the cycling top put on, my swim shorts removed and cycle shorts replacing them… and the socks, the shoes, the helmet….. all while I was shattered, and a bit disoriented.

But I made it out, helmet on, bike removed from the rack, trotting on my cleats towards the “mount” line. Over the line, on the bike, clipped in and heading off up the road. After a little while I got into a rhythm and my breath had returned to relative normality. The heaviness of the chest had dissipated and I was enjoying the ride. Just one thing that made me nervous – I had a lot of punctures in recent weeks and had yet to see proof that the last round of changes had fixed the problem… but I powered on in any case, just keeping half an eye on the tyre situation.

10km was soon covered, and it was back to transition. Dismount before the line, trot gingerly on those cleats to the rack area. Rack the bike up, remove helmet, swap cycle shoes for Hokas, helmet for running cap… grab a swig of water… and back out for a 2km run.

When I had seen the enticer distances initially I had scoffed at the 2km run – “was it a warmup?” I had asked… that 2km was one of the hardest 2km I have run to date. It’s the 2km at the end of a 42.2km marathon, not the 2km at the start of a 5km parkrun….

Just had to keep going, no walking, just keep running. It looked like the 1 hour goal I had set myself was possible, but I had to keep going….

1km mark reached, turned around and headed back, keep going….

There it was – the finish chute, keep going, pick up pace as you turn into the chute, strong finish, power through the chute… my name being called out by the other novices…  yes! crossed the finish line, medal unexpectedly thrust into my hand… 59:57, the first triathlon was done! I was hooked…..

the ninth wave

I was left with a strange feeling after Mullaloo “enticer”… it was over too soon, I finished feeling as though I could have gone on longer… maybe I didn’t push hard enough… in actual fact it’s the perfect distance to give people a taste, enough of a challenge to keep people’s interests, but not so hard that it puts people off. Quite the opposite, as I was finding out…

so it was a strange mix of gratitude and nerves that Hillarys triathlon rolled around a week later. The 5th and final event of the SunSmart Tri Series, I was entered in the “pursuit” race, which included a 750m swim, 20km ride and 5km run. It was a bigger event, and I was in Wave 9 – 45+ yr old males…

the same nerves kicked in – sure I was more familiar with pre-race setup and what was required, but I was worried about forgetting something all the same… when I arrived, Slim was setting up the club tent area, and people had already started gathering. There was a strong PTC representation at the event, and yet again it was wonderful to be there as part of a great club. This translated further in the race itself, with people calling out encouragement on the ride and exchanging high-5s on the run…

We once again headed down to the beach for race briefing. The swim course looked massive… could I really do this? 3 times the distance of the enticer???

The race director described the 3 courses, and also explained the infringement penalty system, how different coloured cards meant different penalties (stop/go or a time penalty) that would be served in the penalty box… what???? wow, this was starting to sound serious… a feeling reinforced by the athletic bodies on the beach, encased in wetsuits, and looking like actual triathletes… not to mention the space ships that were masquerading as bicycles…

Still, there was nothing for it but to get into place at the appointed time, and when the air horn sounded, we ran into the water… my wave quickly pulled away from me, once again I didn’t worry about that. I was racing my own pace, looking to achieve my own goals (goal A was to survive the swim, goal B was to complete in 2:15 or less).

It was a bit disconcerting at first, but when the first of the next wave caught up with me it started to feel really good – I got a real sense of what it was like to be swimming with the pack, including bumping into random limbs and having random limbs bumping into and knocking mine….

the happened a few times as I plodded my way around. It was fun!

a really strange thing happened just after halfway into the swim – I started to get into some sort of flow; I managed to keep my head down for 3 or 4 strokes in a row, take a breath and then back down for a few more strokes… I started to see and feel the water flowing and reacting to my underwater strokes. I could see the water “streak” with the forward motion I was generating…

It felt amazing, I truly felt like a swimmer, and even now a couple of days later, that feeling is there inside and making me look forward to doing more ocean swimming, and making even bigger improvements!

Finally I turned the last buoy and swam to shore… I knew what was coming next, I ran a little as I could, but was already fully resigned to walking up the beach, before breaking into a gentle trot into the transition area…

Transition 1 was a much smoother operation – Slim had kindly lent me a tri suit, so this time I just had to sort out my feet, put on socks , cycling shoes, helmet, sunnies…. and take the bike off the rack… I learned a huge lesson from the week before and sat down to do all of this – soooo much easier!

Out of transition, trotting along on those cleats again and over the mount line….

The ride was awesome. The previous week it had been my strongest leg by far, there had been no punctures, and I was simply aiming to do more of the same this week. I applied all the skills wed been taught for climbing the hills, getting down and getting into high gears for the downhills, relaxing my grip as much as possible… I would be passed on the uphills, only to regain lost ground and more on the way back down. I’d wondered if I would be a bit over the ride by the time we were on lap 3, but reality was I was enjoying it and enjoying being part of a larger cycling event with some amazing riders showing us how it is done!

My thighs were burning on lap 3, but I just told myself that I’d be soon using different muscles on the run leg…

Dismount, trot into transition…. rack up… change shoes, change headgear… and back out for a 5km run. Just a parkrun, right?

Just like the previous week it was hard, and was just a case of maintaining that forward progress and not letting the brain win the argument to stop and walk… run all the way, keep going, take your time but don’t stop….

The turnaround was reached and I was heading back.. and funny thing was that the final 2.5km seemed to be over a lot more quickly than I imagined… yes it was an effort to keep going, but as I turned into the finish chute I opened up the pace as per usual. Strong finish, run hard across the line and squeeze out the bit that is kept in the special reserve for finishing…

More cheers from club members, another wonderful atmosphere, another magnificent sense of achievement and pride…. 2:06:12 on the watch (later confirmed in official results) and my first pursuit/sprint distance triathlon was done!

an addict is born

so what happens now? what happens beyond the ninth wave?

I had already put out the goal to complete a full Ironman in 2019, and as part of this there are plans to train with Slim for a half Ironman in May 2018.

So that changed… that changed big time. As I spent my first day of recovery, my body filled with a strange but familiar mix of soreness, aches, pain and a proud glow, and desire to do more… I slowly committed myself to tackling the half ironman distance in December this year. 5 months earlier than planned. 8 months from now.

reality is that I have found the next frontier for me to explore. I have felt the same feelings that I had when starting off on this amazing journey. a journey that has gone from marathon, to ultra, to crossing Australia on foot, and now to the amazing sport of triathlon and the iconic Ironman….

I once struggled to call myself a runner, then I called myself a marathoner, then an ultramarthoner. After a while I added the identity of trail runner, and adventurer. Triathlete is the latest label that can be applied, en route to that of Ironman… reality is that I am all of those. I will continue to pursue running goals, take part in marathons, half marathons, ultras… I will continue to run trails because trail running is nourishing to the soul and simply fantastic… and I will develop as a triathlete too…

what levels of amazingness are possible? There’s only one way to find out, and I fully intend to!

 

 

 

Leave a Reply