Writing about my preparation for my first triathlon made me nervous at first. One of my acquaintances approached me about my training and shared her own fears of training for a triathlon and told me that her fears stopped her from embarking on this journey. She felt inspired by my training and thought I was doing really well, but I did not share her sentiments. During this process I was filled with fear too.
When I used to go to the beach as a child, I was only allowed to play in the sandy area of the beach and build sandcastles. We never ran into the waves, we fled from them. Whenever we went to the beach, my parents always kept an eye on us and never let us get too deep into the sea. So building sandcastles was the enjoyment of the day. As my childhood options for recreation were limited and owning a bicycle was a true luxury, I never owned one or even rode one.
I had many fears as an adult. I was afraid to swim in the sea. I was afraid of a bicycle. Swimming was always going to be my weakness. To learn the fundamentals of swimming, I signed up with a swimming instructor. My triathlon coach Shevaan was really helpful in teaching me and giving me exercises to aid and enhance my swimming strokes at the Sea Point pools where she watched me swim and gave me appropriate advice. She was on the sub when I completed my first canal swim, and she advised me to hold onto the sub if I ever felt fatigued while swimming. In the end it was a lovely experience, and her presence gave me lots of encouragement. For my second canal swim, Steve Atwell threw me in the deep end, so to speak, and gave me instructions as if I had been swimming for years. Despite my considerable concern, I chose to enter and followed the instructions. Knowing that I was swimming without any assistance made me beam the entire time. That swim boosted my confidence.
The next week, I registered for the ATB swim at Long Beach in Simon’s Town and I swam my first 750 meters through the kelp. For someone that gets scared by her own shadow, that morning was an intense experience swimming through kelp and choppy waters and coming out alive. After that I just had to remind myself to show up for every swim. No matter how slow or challenging the swim might be that day, it was important to just get through the swim. My sole weekly objective was to participate in every open water swim. Every session required a lot of guts on my part, but eventually I conquered my fear of the open ocean.
What can I say? I used to tremble when getting on my bike. The fear of falling off as well as not having the necessary cycling skills sent my anxiety levels through the roof. But my fears were laid to rest when my tri coach took me to the Urban Park to teach me bike skills on the grass. Just lifting one hand off the handlebar was a challenge, but my confidence grew with each practice. She taught me all the necessary skills: when to change gears, how to do hill inclines and so on. All I had to do was to show up for our Wednesday morning cycle and the rest was taken care of. My next objective was to ride wearing cleats. After mastering the art of riding in cleats, how could one ever go back to riding in takkies?
I never imagined that I would require any help with running. At the time I thought I knew how to run. That said, I had never been to Garth’s sessions before. After my first session of track and hill training, my mindset changed from “I am never coming back” to “let’s try to get through each training session”. His motivational quotes before each run inspired me and made me show up for every session. I was always the last one finishing the track and hill training, but the other athletes made it so worthwhile to come to each session; they would come to fetch me and run with me to help me complete my sessions. Garth also would encourage all the athletes to keep going. I felt bad because during the training I could hardly say a word to anyone and never really spoke to the others as I was always trying to “stay alive” and just breathe. I admired how the others could have a conversation during their runs while I was gasping for air all the time. One morning after a run, I was pleasantly surprised when one of the runners called me by my name and he wanted to know how my training was going for the triathlon. I did not even know that anyone knew my name, so it felt heartwarming for someone just reaching out to check on me. (I still do not know his name!) I learned many new skills in my running discipline and, surprisingly, I ran less but I ran stronger. Each week I could feel the strength growing in my legs, from aching muscles and hardly lifting my legs to no aching muscles and running more swiftly.
Brick and mock sessions
Embark organised brick sessions as well as mini mock triathlon sessions. Even though this made me nervous, I just reminded myself that I would have support in the sessions and there was no reason to fear anything. My tri coach Shevaan was at my side at every brick and mock tri session. She would remind me to keep going and that she was right behind me. The sessions were essential in preparing me for my first triathlon. After our last brick session, my coach and I went for a coffee and a chat on the rock at Bakoven. I told her about my fear of completing my first triathlon and, as always, she advised me on what my focus areas should be for each discipline.
The day of the triathlon
About a week before the triathlon, many people were sharing how hard the swim can be, with the choppy water and the headwind coming back to the lagoon. I’m not sure why I lent my ears to such tales but I did, and the nerves started to set in. On the morning of the triathlon when we had to rack our bikes there was not enough space for everyone’s bike, so I had to be at the side of the railing in the transition area. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as this spot allowed my tri coach to have full access to me. That morning the water was 22 degrees and I managed the swim. Shevaan was there when I got out the water guiding me through what to do next, at the transition session when I changed into my cycle gear, and at the next transition to prepare me for my running. Getting personal, one-on-one coaching for my first triathlon was a next-level experience. She helped me to stay focused which kept my anxiety at bay and did not allow any negative thoughts to enter my headspace. When I got to the run, she reminded me to hydrate before I went on the run. I was so glad she suggested I do that, because it was 35+ degrees and there was a water shortage on the route. Her guiding me though the transitions and literally being next to me for my first triathlon was truly invaluable. I will be eternally grateful for having her as my coach. Sometimes at these events things work out the way they are meant to. Even though it was very hot on the day, I thoroughly enjoyed my first triathlon. The tri bug has bitten, and I am hoping to do many more under the Embark banner.
This comes to why I chose Embark for my training, The word Embark means to take action. We can have the best plan on paper but without action it will only be a plan. In order to live a meaningful and conscious life, you need to be an active participant in your life and you need to apply yourself. Before signing up for the triathlon programme, I was considering neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) which is a pseudoscientific approach to communication and personal development. After enquiring about this approach and the cost, it turned out that R80 000 for one week of training was far too rich for my blood. My next option was to sign up for a triathlon which in my case has quadrupled my return on my investment over this short period. It not only strengthened my mental capacity but also provided me with emotional and physical strength. It is truly a metaphor for life. It is a holistic approach to one’s wellbeing. In a way it has become my daily psychology. I have learned to be disciplined and I have learned that consistency is key to success.
I have also learned that everything in life needs to be balanced; if not in balance, success cannot be reached. Embark provided the programme and the environment for me to be successful, and I needed to do my part by showing up and applying myself to the programme. It sounds easy, but for me this was very challenging. I am truly grateful to everyone that held space for me in the Atlantic Seaboard group for beginners. I appreciate every interaction and all advice that was provided. It is also important for your personal growth to surround yourself with like-minded individuals. Never let your past circumstances influence your growth. Let the pen that writes your life story be held in your own hand. It is always better to be an active participant then an armchair spectator. It is better to come last than not to start at all.