I was 31 when I did my first triathlon. I had just become a single mum. I needed something to fill in the times my girls were with their dad that wasn’t destructive. The boozy nights trying to hide from my sadness and loneliness just weren’t cutting it. The one night stands trying to prove I was worthy definitely didn’t leave me feeling worthy.
I ditched the big nights and the random dudes and I started my journey to becoming a triathlete with absolutely no idea just what a pivotal decision that would be. I knew nothing about triathlon. I didn’t bother to look too much into it either, I contacted a good friend who had been doing them for years and whom had previously mentioned to me I should try one. I don’t know if he could tell how badly I needed it or if his love for the sport just meant he was keen to see another person give it a crack but he went above and beyond to set me up for that first race. He gave me a run down of the training I would need to do, created a basic plan for me to follow, loaned me his old training bike and taught me how to ride it (I had never ridden a road bike, I didn’t know how to even change the gears!) and let me borrow an old wet suit, complete with plenty of crutch space for the balls I would need to find when I hit the start line!
For the first time in what seemed like forever I had something to focus on that was just for me and I was excited about it. I prioritised time for training even getting our high school neighbour to babysit after school for an hour here or there to give me extra time alone to train. I really quickly saw the benefits, both physically and mentally, of what this new interest had created.
My first race was the December Gatorade race in 2010. I signed up for the first timers race. My dad and step mum came to watch me and help me with the girls. I look back now and realise I was so demonstrably clueless when it came to race day!
I had no race plan. I had not swum in the wetsuit. I had not done an ocean swim. I had not pumped up my tyres in 8 weeks. I didn’t even own a pump or know how to use one. I didn’t know what a ‘wave’ start was or a timing chip, or a race belt, or a mount line or dismount line. I didn’t know what drafting was or an aid station. I didn’t know how to rack my bike or that it was even a thing. I didn’t know about race numbers, technical officials or transition entry or exit. All I knew was I had to swim, ride and run. And that was ALL I had practiced.
Luckily I did take advantage of an information session run by a local Triathlon Club and I learned some pretty valuable tips in that 30mins! After that I did zip off and buy myself some elastic laces immediately! The rest I figured I would sort out as I went…
Race day was probably one of the most exciting, overwhelming and scary days of my life. When I look back now I am kind of glad I was so clueless and that I didn’t give myself the chance to over think it, glad I just went for it.
I went there alone. Walked over from home (which was one block from the start line). There were masses of fit people with fancy bikes and fancy race suits everywhere. I had on bathers which I planned to throw a singlet and shorts over after the swim and the old aluminium roadie with cages on the pedals I had loaned! I remember feeling like a deer in the headlights. Feeling terribly out of place and wondering what the hell was I doing there? But I am nothing if not determined.
It was a wild, windy, cold day. The usually, reasonably calm bay now resembled a surf beach with waves slamming down on Elwood beach. I stood, freezing on the beach watching as surf life savers returned swimmer after swimmer back to shore due to the horrendous conditions. I considered myself a pretty strong swimmer but again, when I look back I realise I was clueless, I can’t believe I got in. I guess it’s at that point I should have been thankful for the ‘ball’ space in my wet suit because I definitely had a pair that morning!
I vaguely recall just slamming my way through the water, I still to this day don’t know how because one thing I have most certainly learned is that I wasn’t really a strong swimmer, clearly just bloody crazy!
The whole event was a monumental shit show really. I had pumped up my tyres at one of the expo tents just before racking my bike, I had to bat my eyelids and ask for help having never pumped a bike tyre before but the generous lad who assisted refrained from judgement and sorted me out, I would later find out pumping tyres for the first time in weeks on the morning of the race was actually a rookie error...
I made it safely out of the swim and into the first transition. I threw on my shorts, singlet, helmet and running shoes and followed the crowds to the bike exit. As I went to mount my bike, I noticed I had a flat tyre. WTAF. There was a small pump attached to the bike frame that I tried fervently to use but to no avail. My brain went into overdrive and I quickly decided to head back into transition and make my way to the tyre pumping dude who had earlier helped me. It turned out this wasn’t as effortless as I had hoped as getting out of transition isn’t exactly straightforward once you are in! I had to climb the barriers with my bike, it was the only way. I made it to the bike mechanic tent and pleaded for assistance, they were fabulously speedy with replacing my tube (I actually did have a spare on me) and getting me back out on course (via more climbing of barriers). I probably lost about 8mins in total with this fiasco.
It’s kind of crazy really because if I got a flat in a sprint distance race now I wouldn’t bother repairing it and getting back out there I would just call it a day on that event but not once during that first race did I think about not finishing. It did not cross my mind to quit.
The rest of the race went by smoothly and I completed that first triathlon with my family cheering me on as I came through the finish chute. I can clearly remember how I felt at the end, the relief, the excitement and the huge sense of accomplishment. And I knew despite the challenges of that first race it wouldn’t be my last...