When you start out in the sport of triathlon every new event is a first (even if it’s not technically your first race). Because regardless of the outcome – your time or how you perform based on your perceived abilities – the result inevitably becomes the benchmark for that event. Those benchmarks remain until you fast-forward 12 months-or longer-and front up again for another go.
Fronting up again for the same event brings out a new mixed bag of emotions. The standard race day nerves remain, but now there is the added pressure to, presumably, show improvement.
Last year, when I toed the start line at Mooloolaba Triathlon, I only had one thing on my mind: to enjoy every minute of being active, even while it was hurting. There was a good reason for that mindset: two days post race, I was booked in for the final piece of the cancer treatment puzzle – my final reconstruction surgery. And that final surgery would, once again, force me out of action for another six weeks, and I would have to rebuild my fitness and mobility.
Knowing a lot of the fitness I had gained during my five months of training, post-double mastectomy, for Mooloolaba was going to be undone, I wanted to push to set a good benchmark for myself. And I was happy with my result. With a goal of under three hours, I finished in 2:53.
The morning of my final surgery, I was genuinely excited while recapping the race to my surgeon. I was content to go forth with the final stage of treatment, and they were content to put the gas mask on my face to stop me talking.
But I digress…what has all this got to do with Mooloolaba Triathlon 2016?
Since my last surgery on March 15, 2015, I’ve had no required treatment. Nada, zip, zero. And it has been the first year since 2013 that I have been able to train consistently without any breaks for treatment. As exciting as that sounds, it’s also a daunting thought: all my excuses for not getting on the podium are no longer valid. And this year I’ve had eight months to train – three more than last year.
In those past eight months, I also moved to Brisbane and started training with a new coach and club, who have motivated and inspired me every week. For me, the refreshing part was that knowledge of my previous cancer-patient-status was limited; I was encouraged based on my improvements as an individual and athlete.
I have joked previously to friends that there is no ‘previous serious illness’ category in triathlon, you compete in your age group and that’s how you’re qualified. When I train and race I don’t think to myself: you’re doing well considering you had cancer. I think: you’re doing well because you’ve worked your butt off to try and get fitter and faster. Although I must add, that this is my personal outlook. Anyone who has had a serious illness has every right to be proud of their achievements, especially for being brave enough to make it to the start line. For me, I consider myself just another number in the 30-34 age-group category (soon to be 35-39…)
This year there were 72 competitors in the 30-34 age group, and I managed to place 23rd, in a time of 2:47. I’m still a long way off the podium, but each year of being treatment free allows me to continually improve.
And this year, two days post race, I will be chatting excitedly about my race to anyone who will listen at university…and they won’t be able to shut me up with a gas mask (I hope).