Monday, July 12, 2010

Sprint Triathlon Challenge - Part 4

It was as if all the drama had been exhausted in the first two legs that my running laps were delightfully devoid of any. By now I was resigned to the fact that I was indeed going to be bringing up the rear end of our group, so there were few surprises. But each time I spotted a fellow 500-numbered vest, I quickened my pace. Sadly, the 500s had all but gone and despondency weighed my legs down to a slow plod. Only the sight of my motley group of cheerleaders (husband, son, friends and their kids), lifted the spirits. As I turned in to go for the last lap, I promised them that I'd be back very soon.

But with over a kilometre left to go, I was overcome with inexplicable lethargy. Even the sight of the finish line in the distance did nothing to spur me on. I will finish in my own time, my mind seemed convinced. And I went back to a slow jog. Until I heard someone gaining ground on me. Funny that I could isolate a particular footfall among several hundreds. It grew louder as she drew closer. Soon, she was running alongside me and it was only when she was a few paces in front that I saw what was on her vest - 500-something! She was in my group and she had clocked me. She didn't want to end up last and was racing ahead of me. But I couldn't continue plodding and let her overtake.

The next few minutes saw me digging deep into the last reserves of energy as I willed myself to surge ahead. I ran in a blinding roar. I didn't care anymore. This was all there was to it and nothing more. I called out to the husband to join me in a last dash. And he sprinted along. Finally, there it was, the finish line. I crossed it and that was when I realised - I had been smiling all along.


Thursday, July 08, 2010

Sprint Triathlon Challenge - Part 3

Of the three disciplines, cycling was the one I was least worried about. The pressure was off me to perform. I had an instrument, a vehicle at my disposal. I only had to pedal and pedal and wheels would take me around the 20 requisite kms. How utterly wrong! I had completely overlooked the crucial aspect of choosing a good instrument. You cannot give a butter knife to a butcher and ask him to carve out a fine cut of meat. You can't paint a masterpiece with a toothbrush.

My husband's mountain bike that I had been training on was probably designed for rougher, more demanding terrain. It was woefully inadequate for the flat, tarmacked surface of the race. Cyclist after cyclist over took me and all I could do was huff more, puff more and grow more dispirited with every turn of the wheel. It took me close to an hour to do the 4 laps around the lake. Coming in to the transition area, I saw all the other bikes from the group that had started with me already racked in place. When I lifted my own bike to join them on the shelf, I wondered if I would be the last one to finish. Somebody had to and it could well be me. But not until I still had some breath in my lungs. I was going to give it all I got for the last leg.

(To be concluded...)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Sprint Triathlon Challenge - Part 2

I attempted my first open water swim back in March. I had been doing a fair number of laps at our local pool and reckoned that swimming in a lake would be no different. What I didn't know then was that open water swimming was similar to regular swimming in the same way as cycling was to boxing. A completely different kettle of fish! A realisation that dawned on me as I lowered myself into the freezing waters that cold, cold spring morning. But having ventured into the lake, I was not about to get out without giving it a proper go. Within seconds of being in the water, my limbs had grown stiff and my valiant attempts at breast stroke succeeded in moving me a few pitiful metres ahead.

I was now in deep waters of depth unknown and had to keep moving ahead as there was nowhere to pull up. But by now, there was no way of getting back and I had to necessarily complete the lap swimming. The last leg was sheer terror as I had to swim at least 150 metres non-stop and my arms were starting to hurt quite badly. With 60 metres to go, I started to panic and called out to other swimmers to come to my rescue. I must have cut a pathetic figure as I cried out for help. But my reputation was the last thing on my mind as I desperately sought to swat away a slide show of strategic images from my eventful if, tragically short life. Never again, I swore as I peeled off the wretched wetsuit, not if my life depended on it (which it might well have, that morning).

Some weeks later, a chance conversation with another mum from my son's school alerted me to the fact that a dad from the school had done an Iron Man challenge. He too had been battling similar fears earlier and had successfully overcome them. Richard's son and mine were classmates and I only knew him by sight. That afternoon I went up to him, introduced myself and regaled him with my disastrous first attempt at an open water swim. He volunteered to help me out and told me he'd pass on tips from the sports psychologist he'd visited when he'd been panic-stricken. We decided that the following Saturday was as good a day as any and that he'd pick me up from my door at 6.30 in the morning. But by Friday evening, I had lost my nerve and following a sleepless night, I rang him early on Saturday morning and canceled the swim. He was very understanding over the phone and we rescheduled for the next Thursday. He hung up with a polite threat that he'd drag me out of the house if that was the only way to get me to the lake.

A few mornings later, with the reassuring presence of my new training partner, I was able to overcome my an initial bout of hyperventilation and begin swimming. Tentatively at first but more firmly and comfortably soon. Breast stroke gave way to front crawl and I was infinitely more comfortable gliding along the surface. Week after week, Richard would increase my swim distance. By the end of the month, I was doing three laps non-stop where previously I'd struggled to get off the starting block.

On race day, as we lined up to get into the seemingly endless stretch of water, I found myself recalling what my son had told me earlier that morning. He'd wished me luck and told me that he hoped that I wouldn't drown in the lake. I smiled at the memory because I knew that was never going to happen.

The water was cool and welcoming. The race was about get underway in less than 5 minutes. We were given our instructions and there was nothing more I could do except start swimming. The horn went off and I was away with the crowds. I finished the 400m in 11 minutes and raced to the transition area to strip away the wetsuit and get into my cycling gear.

At that time, I thought the toughest was behind me. Who could have known that cycling would be such hard work?

(To be continued...)

Monday, July 05, 2010

Sprint Triathlon Challenge - Part 1

The most telling moment of my Triathlon challenge occurred right at the beginning when I was still racking my bike on the allotted spot. A couple of bikes from me was a lady with short cropped hair trying to zip her wetsuit up. Earlier I'd assumed that wetsuits were banned by the organisers because the water temperature was over 22 degrees (the maximum allowed temperature for wearing one). So when I approached her and asked her about it, she pointed to her chest and told me that because of her 'special condition', she would have to wear a wetsuit but clarified that it was indeed allowed for other competitors to wear one too.

It was then that I noticed her chest. Her left breast was flat where once there must have been a mound. It was probably the look on my face. 'I was diagnosed with cancer in 2008', she volunteered, 'and underwent a surgery a few months ago to remove it. This is my first race this season. I have to be careful where they operated on me'. She had been racing regularly before her diagnosis and had been completing the circuit in an astonishing 1 hour and 16 minutes. Training for the race was the only thing that kept her going through all those rough months of aggressive treatment. This time she was racing for herself, she asserted before wishing me luck on my maiden tri attempt.

As I went back to squeezing my bulk inside a wet suit, I reflected on the fact that we were both about the same age. And how being relatively young or reasonably fit (or highly so, in her case) was no guarantee against any virulent illness. And to be there that day, that moment, to be given such an opportunity, to have the health and circumstances that permitted participation and to not be timid about seizing it were about the only certainties. Indeed, how blessed was I to have so many fickle situations stacked in my favour!

With those lingering thoughts, I bunched up my hair, pulled down my swimming cap, snapped on the goggles and got ready for what was to be my most daunting challenge yet.

(To be continued...)
*Sprint triathlon challenged consisted of 400m swim, 20 km bike and 5 km run