In order to achieve this seemingly impossible goal, I had to overcome a severe fear of cycling, brought on by crashing my bike (more than once!), and learn correct breathing techniques so that I could get from one side of the pool to the other without feeling like I’m having a heart attack.Totally doable, right?! So, how did I end up doing my first triathlon?
I can’t recall when I decided I wanted to do a triathlon. Not once did I think, “I want to do this”, when I watched friends take on three disciplines on the same day. But perhaps supporting so many events just rubbed off on me. I know that writing about it will celebrate what was an epic experience and it will show anyone who doubts their own abilities that trusting your abilities and shutting down your fears are vital in achieving your goals.
Step 1: ENTER YOUR RACE!
Once you enter the race you’ve chosen to do, you are committed. It creates an urgency and drive to then train consistently and with maximum effort.
Step 2: SHOW UP FOR TRAINING READY TO WORK!
The training is the hardest part. For me, it was 5am swims and 6pm runs. As the swim training got more strenuous I had to make sure my swim training and running weren’t on the same days. Imagine doing speed work in the afternoon after pushing yourself to swim perimeters of a 50m pool. This was such a daunting workout. At first I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t want to do it. But my coach would say, “Okay, go.” And I didn’t have much choice. I had to start swimming. When race day came around I had complete trust in myself. I knew that it wouldn’t be perfect but I would get to the end of the finish line.
Step 3: CONTROL YOUR EMOTIONS; DON’T LET THEM CONTROL YOU!
I worked hard at focusing my mind on positive thoughts so that the nerves I felt would not overpower my mind. Trying to control your emotions and not letting your emotions control you is something I have been working on for years. In race conditions it is extremely important to stay focused at all times.
Step 4: SURVIVE THE SWIM!
The swim section was the most nerve wracking. My heart rate was very high and I couldn’t calm down enough to swim with my head under water because I would feel out of breath immediately. I didn’t want to waste time so I just kept swimming freestyle above the water and doing breast stroke. I took me 15 minutes to swim 600m but I got it done! I wasn’t even the last women out of the harbour so I felt like a winner running to my next transition. At that point I felt like I had won my race already.
Step 5: STAY FOCUSED ON THE BIKE!
The bike section required the most mental control. I fear going downhill. This fear started building up during my first two years of cycling. The first time I crashed was during a chilled group ride with training buddies and the other time was during the Cape Town Cycle Tour. I lost control of my bike going down Hospital Bend and crashed 4km into the race. Thankfully a marshal was right there and five minutes later the ambulance came by. So, the Discovery Triathlon was the first time since my crash that I was racing and before the race I just did a few loops at Rondebosch Common to get used to the bike again. The wind on race day was crazy at times. I had to focus on not losing control and veering into the way of other riders. I had to stop any fear I started feeling when I approached the slightest incline or had to do tight turns (which there were plenty of!). By the end of this section of the race it was another weight off my shoulders. I was so excited to run because it’s the one discipline in a triathlon that I excel at.
Step 6: HAVE FUN ON THE RUN!
The run section was obviously the best part for me. I set the goal of running sub 30 minutes for the 5km. I ran my heart out. By the time I started running I wasn’t as exhausted as someone who had cycled a lot faster than me. I passed many who had started the run before me and this was fun because I kept thinking, “This is what I do. I’m a runner. I’m going to finish strong”. I enjoyed the course and as I passed other participants in the race I shouted encouraging words to them to motivate them to keep pushing. I flew to the finish line and seeing my family and friends at the end cheering for me was an experience I will never forget.
Surviving my first triathlon was more about believing in myself and trusting that the outcome of my race would be positive than how much training I did. The training does make a difference but if you have no confidence in your own abilities then no amount of training will make your mentally strong. You need mental strength to get through most races but while doing the triathlon I realised once again how important being mentally strong when you want to be an athlete.
So, if you are interested in taking on the challenge of doing your first triathlon you must be aware that it’s not just about training for each discipline. You must train your mind because your mind is what gets you through when your body starts struggling. I enjoyed this event immensely and I think it’s the perfect event for first timers. I am now a marathon runner as well as a triathlete. This means the world to me because I was not a strong athlete last year but I am making a comeback!