I think it’s clear I have a habit of throwing myself in the deep end. Act now; think later. Sink or swim. It’s a common theme in my life. Recently, it’s been clearer than ever: I signed up for the CrossFit open after month’s absence from the gym. I signed up for a 10km run having only run 2 x 5km in a few months. What next?
The past few months I’ve kept an eagle eye on the local triathlon schedule. Each month came and went and I was forced to peacefully accept that it wasn’t time to return to my new loved sport. Knowing surgery is weeks, if not months away, I re-visited the triathlon calendar. Hello April. Hello Luke Harrop Memorial. The race is conveniently held on the Gold Coast, an easy commute from Ipswich.
Now, I haven’t taken part in any specific triathlon training in the past nine months. I wasn’t allowed in public pools during chemo and I had a self-inflicted cycling ban (incase I fell off and broke something; me, not the bike). The goggles and bike have been collecting dust, literally.
Two weeks out from the race I finally committed and registered. I knew I would have to work my way back into things, slowly, so I signed up for the ‘Enticer’ distance. The, as I like to call it, ‘baby distance’. Also commonly known as the ‘fun distance’. It would be crazy of me to jump back into a longer distance race. This would be my tester race; see how the body holds up. I like to believe in muscle memory – surely the body will remember how a triathlon works and just go along with it. Right?
With a bit of time up my sleeve – two weeks – I emailed the head coach of the local Tri Club. I told him I was finally ready to start attending sessions. Two weeks and three training sessions came and went. I managed to get back in the pool and on the bike. It wasn’t enough training to expect a podium finish but enough to regain my confidence.
The morning of the race I was more relaxed than I’d ever been before. Even before a longer distance tri. Maybe because my expectations of myself were lower than normal. I hadn’t been training. It was just for fun… Right?
The parents and sister came for support. I gave them a tour of the transitions so they knew where to take some snaps and cheer me on. In no time we were heading to the swim start. I jumped in the water and swam some laps to calm my nerves – this was going to be my weakness, it had been nearly nine months since I’ve done any proper swim training. I exited the water and returned to the support crew to wait for the start. The race briefing started and the first wave commenced. Then the orange caps were called to start. That was me. A 300-meter swim would have been fun before, now I was concerned. The starting horn blared and the body propelled forward. No more thinking; just doing.
In standard race form there were legs and arms everywhere. It was all coming back to me. Unfortunately it was an uncomfortable swim. I couldn’t get a good rhythm; I couldn’t calm my breathing. But I kept going, one stroke at a time. The exit was in sight. Out of the water and straight into transition – this I remember; this treatment couldn’t have affected. The family missed me coming out of the water as I joked they would have time to relax and grab a coffee while I flapped around in the water. I should have given them a realistic time. It was only 300 meters. I was out in 7 min 44 sec.
Shoes on, race number on, helmet on. Pick up the bike and run. Transitions have never been my strong point. I can’t blame chemo for that weakness. Getting on the bike is also a weakness. I haven’t mastered the elegant movement of gliding a leg over and locking into the pedal. Have you ever seen a giraffe kicking their leg about? That’s me. Next purchase will be triathlon bike shoes. Every second counts…
Thanks to the coaching from my friend Scott while out riding last week, I was comfortable moving through the gears. I managed to keep a good pace. Every time I saw another competitor with standard sports shoes and pedals on their bike I sped up and overtook them – it’s as bad as a Barclay bike rider overtaking you while you’re in your professional cycling gear. It’s not acceptable. They should not be going faster than you. 10km was a breeze. I sped towards the end point and dismounted. A few seconds lost, again, but no embarrassing stacks.
I zoomed back to transition with cheers from the family. I racked the bike and changed into my running shoes. Now for the 2.5km run. After two track sessions with the Tri club, an average of 10km per session, this should have been easy…but it wasn’t. I’ll be honest… I struggled running. Frustration set in. I was mentally comparing myself to my former self – mentally I was heading into dangerous territory. I tried my best to block out the thoughts and continued looking straight ahead. Inching towards the finish line I picked up my speed and emptied the tank. There may be photo evidence that I overtook a young girl to sprint to the end. Hey, every second counts…
Then it was done.
Was it fun? Yes. Did it ignite the fire in my belly? Yes. I’m quietly happy it’s near the end of the tri season. A whole year to train and aim for podium finishes next year.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out I finished 10th in my category. Top 10. I really can’t complain. Overall my times were only one to two minutes slower than last year – pre-treatment. I’m confident I’ll gain those minutes back, and more.
The morale of this story is that treatment (and cancer) hasn’t ruined my life. It’s given me a new one. New goals. New targets. I have mentally decided treatment is over. I know I still have surgery to come, but I feel healthy and am feeling stronger every day. No more bubble wrap, no more cotton wool. Life is returning to normal.